PMY 221 : Leaving West Africa to Fulfill a Dream of Being a Physician

Session 221

Akosua is starting medical school soon after successfully reapplying. Her dreams started in Ghana and she shares her journey with us on the podcast.

Full show notes coming soon



Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years, session number 221.

Hello and welcome to the two-time Academy Award nominated podcast, The Premed Years, where we believe that collaboration, not competition, is key to your premed success. I am your host Dr. Ryan Gray, and in this podcast we share with you stories, encouragement, and information that you need to know to help guide you on your path to becoming a physician.

Welcome back to The Premed Years if this is not your first time here. If it is, thank you for joining us for this first time in your life. Thank you for putting on those headphones, plugging in in the car, wherever you're listening, I appreciate it. Today's podcast is an awesome one with a student that I had worked with for her applications, and getting ready to apply to schools for her second time, and we talk through her journey coming to the US as an international student, and navigating the premed path, and figuring out how to get into school, and now how to figure out where she wants to go to school with multiple acceptances. So let's go ahead and jump in and talk to Akosua.

Akosua, welcome to The Premed Years. Good to have you.

Meeting Akosua

Akosua: I'm excited, and hello.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Hello. You are in the middle of your application season now, and we'll dig into your successes and your challenges for that, but I want to find out when it was that you had this desire to go on this crazy path and be a doctor.

Akosua: It started when I was really young. I have- I cannot really describe a distinct moment, but I have my godmother is an OB-GYN, so I think indirectly there's always been that influence and I really, really loved sciences growing up, learning more about the human body, and I was just really fascinated by that. So gradually it sort of narrowed down to medicine over the years but I never had any strikingly ‘ah-ha' moments for that.

Dr. Ryan Gray: You've had to overcome a lot just to get to the point of thinking about being a physician though. You are not from the states.

Akosua: No I'm not.

From West Africa to the States

Dr. Ryan Gray: So talk about growing up in West Africa, and the thought process behind you being a female wanting to go into what over there is considered a male field.

Akosua: Yes. So I was really fortunate enough to have parents who really pushed for me to do well in the sciences, mainly because of certain societal perspectives on what females should be doing, and males should be doing. I grew up hearing that boys were naturally good in the sciences and math, girls not so much. So my parents, especially my father, really made sure that I spent extra time studying the sciences, and getting tutorials if need be, and do well in them. Also in terms of- I didn't really see that many female physicians growing up apart from my godmother, but even with that, that came with a lot of stories about certain obstacles that she had to go through to pursue medicine herself. So that was that contrast between being female and just wanting to pursue medicine, and not just- I mean outside my family's support though, just being in class, there was sometimes intimidation from people. So for the most part I didn't really speak much of it, it was just more of within the confines of my household of what I wanted to do, because I didn't want to be discouraged even though I would hear some people in passing commenting on what they viewed females should pursue. So I didn't really talk much about it.

Dr. Ryan Gray: You ended up in the states to do your undergraduate years, your undergraduate training. What brought you to the states? Why did you decide to come here? And as you- knowing that you were premed, how did you figure out where in the state you were going to go?

Akosua: So there were a lot of factors. One of the major ones were I wanted to get away from home. Not even a bad thing, I just really needed to distance myself. I am the youngest of my family, and I was very protected growing up, so I just wanted to strike out and be an independent person, and just see how I would survive in this world on my own. So that was part of the reason, and also by the time I was graduating high school, there weren't any liberal arts education programs where I grew up. And I was drawn to liberal arts education partly because I read this book, ‘The Ben Carson Story,' and I remember the part where he went in for his neurosurgery residency interview and somehow the conversation turned into classical music, and with him growing up his mother really emphasized that he got other interests outside of medicine. So that really struck me. You know here was a guy going into pediatric neurosurgery and he knew so much about classical music which at the time I didn't. So I was really amazed by that, and I wanted to pursue tertiary education where I would be well-rounded as well, so a liberal arts education seemed like it was the ideal option for me at the time, and I decided to also go very far away from home.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Very, very far away.

Akosua: I ended up here.

Dr. Ryan Gray: How many miles away were you? I'm sure you know that number.

Akosua: No actually. I can check.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That's alright. So you come to the states, are you here on a student visa? How did you come over?

Akosua: Yes I did come with a student visa.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay so you're here on a student visa, an international student studying humanities, wanting to go to medical school. How did you plan this path once you were here? Were you planning on going back to West Africa to study medicine? Were you planning on staying here? How were you getting the information that you needed to figure all of this stuff out?

Getting the Information to Enter Medical School

Akosua: So for some reason I just knew I wanted to stay here, mainly because of the number of medical schools here in this country, and access to all sorts of research, and potential mentors, and high tech equipment used, learning more about health policies. I just felt that pursuing medical education here, I would gain a lot more from it than going back home. So going back home wasn't really an option for me for some reason, I was just very focused on getting into medical school here and pursuing medical education here. So our school had a premed community and I got a lot of information about applying to medical school from undergrad. And at that time I didn't find it too daunting because from my high school I did international college, and that was a pretty, pretty intensive course load for a high school student. So I saw it as challenging but I knew it was absolutely doable. And I also loved the fact that apart from just doing well in school, and applying to med school, part of the process also required you to have all these extracurriculars and just explore other interests. So I loved that. It wasn't so straightforward. There are other ways to make yourself look like a competent applicant. So I was drawn to that.

Overcoming Obstacles as a Premed

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. You're an international student at a US school interested in going to US medical schools. How did you figure out the barriers or obstacles that you'd have to overcome to get into a US school?

Akosua: Well mainly for me the advice I got from a premed advisor at my school was that it was very close to impossible to get into a US medical school as an international student. So my options were do extremely well in school and on the MCAT and have above stellar grades and MCAT score, or show proof of I think almost like $200,000.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Akosua: In a bank account stating that you would be able to pay for it. And also one route that I was told was pursue an MD PhD. So those were the options that were given to me.

Dr. Ryan Gray: What was the hardest thing for you coming over to the states, starting off on this journey, or going through this journey to where you are now? What has been the hardest part of this premed path for you?

Akosua: Oh there are a lot. I would say for me especially having gone through this process twice, I would say the- it really takes a blow at your self-esteem and self-confidence, and it sometimes is a constant struggle to be positive and not give up, because obviously when you quit you are out of the game and you want to stay in. But in like gathering the necessary dumb shit to stay in it sometimes can be extremely challenging. There's been a lot of tears, and doubts, and heartache in it, and just pushing through is not entirely easy.

Dr. Ryan Gray: How do you push through?

Akosua: I talk. I mean I've spoken to you, I talked to my husband, I talked to my family, and also importantly other peers of mine going through the process. It's just so easy to have a better perspective on things when you really think you're not going through this alone. There are other people going through it and you'll make it. And also talking to other people who've been through it, and are in med school or residency, just so you know that it does take some blood and sweat but you'll survive it. Whether you choose to survive it or not really depends on you, but it's doable. Yeah talking, talking it out with all sorts of people.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So you came to the states premed wanting to be a doctor. Did you ever divert from that path?

Akosua: A little bit. I did think about becoming a financial analyst for a while. I took an interest in economics when I was in high school and pursued it. I took a bunch of economic classes and that got me into taking some business classes as well. So that seemed like a good alternative to medical, but it was just briefly. When it came to business law it was just all too gibberish for me. Like yeah, maybe not so. Back to the plan.

Lessons Learned During First Application Cycle

Dr. Ryan Gray: You mentioned applying twice. Talk about your first application cycle. What did you learn going through that first application cycle? What mistakes did you make that you want to pass on to the student listening.

Akosua: Okay so this is why I say listen carefully. Number one, apply early. That was probably my biggest mistake. So I remember applying, I clicked submit on Sunday the 26th of October of the application- I know. Please don't do that. Don't ever do that. And also it is a lot of work trying to come up with a very good application, do not underestimate that. The process is extremely competitive. You want yours to stand out so as much as you have to apply early, start working on the application early as well. So early number one, number two, I think have a plan in terms of time management. It can be time consuming, so you need to schedule your time for whatever else you do in such a way that you have adequate time to focus on your application process be it writing a personal statement, writing your extracurriculars, researching schools, writing secondaries; it all takes time and if you decide to have other people look over your work which I really advise that you do, you also need to take other people's time into consideration. So you want to give yourself enough time to put out good drafts, and you also want to give other people you choose to look over your work enough time to look over it, give you good feedback so that you can incorporate it. So apply early- and I think it all boils around time. Apply early and give yourself more than enough time to work on your application.

Dr. Ryan Gray: What was the hardest part in the application for you?

Akosua: My personal statement. The personal statement and secondary essays. So the personal statement was very tricky for me in the sense that I fell into the trap of writing out something that I thought that admissions officers wanted to see about me, and I didn't really focus on my motivation behind wanting to pursue a medical career and my journey. So I really paint a very vivid visual picture for them to get to know me. And also through that I realized that there were a lot of kind of like personal issues behind my medical journey so far that I hadn't dealt with.

Dr. Ryan Gray: There might have been some tears.

Akosua: A lot.

Dr. Ryan Gray: There might have been some tears in those discussions. That's okay, that's between you and me and nobody else listening.

Akosua: Yeah. So that was tough, you know trying to be vulnerable I guess. But being vulnerable in sort of like a sophisticated way, like you just don't want to be a Debbie Downer and not have an admissions officer look over your work and be like, ‘Oh I don't want to deal with you. Maybe you're too negative.' So you're being vulnerable but also trying to portray yourself in a positive light.

Getting to the Root of Her Desire to Enter Medical School

Dr. Ryan Gray: Good way to think about it. You had mentioned writing about what you thought the admissions committee, or the interviewer at that point, would want to read. Were you trying to describe qualities or traits that you thought you had that would make you a good physician? Is that what you mean by that?

Akosua: Exactly. You know pretty much, ‘Oh I did X, Y, and Z, look at me, check me out, I'm good, you should accept me.'

Dr. Ryan Gray: ‘I'm hot stuff, look at me.'

Akosua: Right? And that wasn't it, that wasn't it. And I also think that I didn't really at the beginning kind of- I didn't dig deep enough into how the interest started as well. You know, I know I made the mistake of I liked science so medicine came naturally. And I remember you pointing out to me that there's that bridge in between, and you wanted me to focus on that and talk about that. So there were a lot of reflections, and not to digress, in that sense I would advise premeds to really journal things down.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yes, very important. So we went through this process, and I kept hounding you and asking you questions. What do you think was the question that helped you the most to try to get to that deeper root of why you were trying to pursue this?

Akosua: I think more of why I did certain things, and what I learned from them. And I know that sounds very obvious, but I don't think I focused on those too much, and those forced me to be very reflective and pretty much just play out experiences in my mind. Yeah like what I learned from them and how those experiences have influenced my decision and me as a person. How did I grow from it and how does that translate into how- the kind of physician I'm going to be in the future. And that was the one thing I- well not one thing, one of the many things that you highlighted out to me was this is not just about med school, but looking back at these experiences, how is that going to affect the kind of physician I'm going to be? And I wasn't thinking that far out.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Akosua: Because that's the end goal, med school is kind of like one of those intermediary stepping stones, but you forced me to really project farther.

Dr. Ryan Gray: It's a big old stepping stone. But it is, it's one of intermediary steps, so definitely. So your first application, I'm assuming you didn't get any interviews applying just a couple days before the deadline. Is that correct?

Akosua: Very correct.

Moving Forward After No Acceptances the First Cycle

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. So how do you go from applying- and I'm assuming at that point you didn't know that you were doing things wrong. So you get back secondaries, and you fill them out, but you don't get any interviews. How do you pick yourself up and keep pushing forward?

Akosua: I think- well it wasn't too horrible for me. I think it's also mainly because I had very limited knowledge about the application process itself. So it was tough but I was okay. It wasn't until I started doing more research, I met you, and just finding out all those little details that go into the application process, and what's expected of you that- not to scare anyone, I realized just how profound it is. Like it's pretty important, you have to take it seriously, and I don't think I really did at the beginning. So that's when it became very daunting to me, and I think that I made the mistake of being a little bit fearful, you know? But I was pretty ignorant the first time.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Did you take any time off between your first application and the second application, or did you turn right around and re-apply?

Akosua: No I took time off.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay.

Akosua: So as I was doing my research and just realizing how much needed to go into it, I knew that I needed to learn as much as I could so that the second time around I would put in my best work and effort and I wouldn't look back and be like, ‘Oh I should have done X, Y and Z.' Just got all the necessary information and go on from there. So I knew that would take time, and also- that's not an excuse but being out of college and working just is a lot of responsibility that came along the way as well. So I needed to-

Dr. Ryan Gray: Life is getting in the way of your aspirations of being a physician.

Akosua: Yeah I needed to be realistic about my responsibilities, and not just that, but just how badly I wanted this, and I wanted this bad enough that I knew I needed to give it that necessary time to learn from my mistakes, learn more about the process, and work really hard on my next application. I didn't want to underestimate it again. So yeah I took two years.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. And you found me in there, and we worked together. What was the most enlightening thing for you working with me and having me kind of push you along?

How Dr. Gray Helped Akosua during Her Application Process

Akosua: The most enlightening- can I talk about two?

Dr. Ryan Gray: Sure.

Akosua: Okay. So I really like the fact that you take your job seriously but you kind of always make it fun. Because I'm assuming when I came in I was very nervous about the next step, but- and I obviously, I mean applying late I just had so many red marks on my previous application, but you didn't make a big deal out of it. Like we talked about it and it was like, ‘You know what? It's happened, let's focus on the future, and we are going to make this work the next time around,' and you were positive about it. So that definitely helped my spirit.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I hope so. Be like, ‘Hey thanks for working with me. I don't know if we have a chance but let's try.'

Akosua: No but you were confident. Like I remember you were so confident that I would have multiple acceptances. I wasn't, I was just hoping for just one. But you were, so you were able to really kind of harmonize taking the application process very seriously, but at the same time not letting it overwhelm me.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay.

Akosua: Which is very important I think. I see too many people just be very stressed out about this.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay.

Akosua: I didn't feel so much like that with you. And also I like the fact that you have a lot of experience under your belt. I mean with you and the podcast, and interviewing various people, I think you really do have very unique insight into what the admissions committee usually and typically are looking for. And I also really, really admire the fact that you stress on kind of owning your own voice in the application process.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Akosua: Yeah it was more of you help kind of grab the raw material and motivation behind it, and you find- you help- I think that's the thing. You really equipped me to focus on the most important things I was supposed to portray that I was losing sight of. So yeah those are the things.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay.

Akosua: But I really liked number one because I know I'm a worrier. You know I just get anxious and stress out a lot, so going through this process and somehow having some positivity through it despite all the uncertainty was very pertinent for me and my peace of mind.

Applying for a Second Time

Dr. Ryan Gray: What was it like applying the second time? What were the challenges that were unique because you were a re-applicant, if there were any?

Akosua: I would say the pressure that I put on myself. I was sort of like, ‘You kind of messed up the first time, don't do it again.' So you sort of psycho-analyze every tiny step towards it, and sometimes that's not helpful because you kind of dwell too much on unnecessary things instead of focusing on the bigger picture. So just- and there was some self-doubt as well. Like you didn't get in the first time, how do you know you're going to get in the second time? So yeah, just I almost viewed it as a failure. And I don't- I think for the lack of a better term, I don't think it's so much that way because I learned so much and I think it was supposed to happen, so the second time was supposed to happen, and all the positive outcomes out of it too.

Dr. Ryan Gray: What were you telling yourself if you didn't get in the second time?

Akosua: I was- so first of all, with working with you, I felt like I had- I was in a really good position in terms of just right from the onset. Retaking the MCAT, to writing a much better personal statement, to all the secondaries, prepping for interviews, all of that. So it was just so hard for me to not see how I wouldn't get in with all the support and new skills I'd been equipped with since the last time. But I knew I would do it again. And I know it sounds crazy but part of really reflecting into why I want to pursue this profession and I feel this is what I'm meant to do. This is part of my purpose in this life I've been given, so I wasn't going to give up, and maybe there was something I would do wrong and learn from it and applied next time. So yeah I would have definitely re-applied if I didn't get in this time.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. We didn't mention the fact that at this point you have your green card so you're a permanent citizen, which obviously makes things a lot easier.

Akosua: Yeah.

What the Interview Process Was Like for Akosua

Dr. Ryan Gray: What was it like on the interview trail after writing about what you wrote about in your personal statement, and getting a little vulnerable as you talked about, and then preparing for the interviews. What was it like on those interviews? Did you find that you were able to really just relax a lot more because you had been vulnerable in your personal statement, and everything else that you wrote about that things just seemed easier?

Akosua: Mostly yes and no. I think my first interview I definitely let my nerves take the better part of me. But then coming out of that, I was lucky enough to have other interviews lined up so I remember talking to you and just realizing that this is pretty much like the last hurdle you have to go through, the interview. And if they like you on paper, that's how come you've been invited over and they just want to see that you're a decent person, you talk well with people, really just get to know you. So I was a lot calmer the other times after my first interview. And I also realized that talking a lot more to the other applicants helped because everyone pretty much is feeling the same so it's like, ‘Oh don't worry.' You're nervous, they're like, ‘Don't worry, it's going to be fine, just be yourself.' I'm like, ‘Okay.' And just talking and finding out where they're from. So I think for me not focusing too much on what I'm going to say during the actual interview, and just really getting to know people, and the campus, and the other medical students there just helped take my mind off the interview itself, and helped me relax more. Yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. You have a couple acceptances, you're still waiting for some more.

Akosua: Yes.

Dr. Ryan Gray: What- congratulations on that. We won't talk about where you're accepted because you're still in the middle of this process.

Akosua: Yeah.

Words of Wisdom to Premeds

Dr. Ryan Gray: For the student listening that had applied previously like you did, and made some mistakes like you did, and is trying to dust themselves off and figure things out, what words of wisdom do you have for him or her as they're on this journey?

Akosua: I would- well I have a number of them. I would say first of all really try to figure out why you want to go into this, and have a very authentic answer for yourself that you own that no matter what happens, it's still what you want to do. So take some time off and really reflect on why medicine? Why do you want to go into medicine? And not just that, like how can you contribute to it? What is it that you have? Because somewhere along the application you're going to have to either talk or write about that. So it's just good to have that figured out early. And secondly I would say know that you are more than just numbers. Granted yes, GPA and MCAT scores are very important, but there's more that you can offer than just those. So again, as a re-applicant I know my ego suffered after the first time applying, but just know that there's more, and just as there are more schools taking the holistic approach, they're looking at more than just the numbers as well. So take solace in that. That doesn't mean don't do well in school, or don't do well on your MCAT, give it your best shot and whatever you get, if it's decent, work with it. And also I would say learn to interact with people early. I know during the interview trail even though they said that they're not really paying attention to you or how you interact with other applicants or other medical students, and also what you say, I'm sure they are. So be comfortable around people. I mean medicine largely is kind of like a people interaction profession, so learn how to talk to people. Just random people, even if it's the security person at the school, like learn to strike a conversation, learn to find out more about them and talk to them. Not only does it show that you're interested in the other person, but it also shows to admissions officers that basically you can interact with people. And for me personally, it helps me keep my mind off the pressure of doing well, performing well in an interview. And I would also suggest that- get all the help you can on your application. Definitely have maybe an accountability buddy for studying for your MCAT. And also with applications, make sure you find someone or some people to go through your personal statement and proof-read them for you. Practice for an interview, have mock interviews, practice, practice, practice. Take the application process very, very seriously, and also be a nice person. Smile, say hi, be decent, be professional because it all is going to come into play eventually. I know sometimes when you've had multiple interviews you kind of get worn out, and sometimes some premeds will kind of take the challenge attitude, so yeah the real you will show up somehow, so just make sure the real you is just a decent person.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright again that was Akosua talking about her journey. Thank you Akosua for joining me, if you're listening to this. There are so many guests- just to give you some behind the scenes of The Premed Years, there are so many times that I have guests on the show sharing their stories, and I talk to them, and they're like, ‘Yeah you know what? I never listened to that episode. I just can't stand listening to my own voice.' And I understand. I obviously dealt with that, everybody deals with that, but I've gotten over it at this point because we're 221 episodes into The Premed Years, so I've heard myself a lot.

Alright anyway, I hope you enjoyed Akosua's story and were able to get some information that will help you on your journey. If you have any recommendations for people I should interview, topics I should cover, please shoot me an email,

I would like to thank Next Step Test Prep for sponsoring The Premed Years. If you have not heard of Next Step Test Prep and you are getting ready to prepare for the MCAT, you need to stop everything you're doing and go check them out, They are known for their one-on-one tutoring. If I had to do it all over again, to choose between sitting in a classroom or sitting on the computer, and sitting through a ‘class' and learning from an instructor the material that I probably should have already known, I would not do that again because it was not a fun experience for me. I would have chosen a company like Next Step and used one-on-one tutoring to help me figure out how to take the MCAT for basically the same price that I would be paying to sit and learn content from an instructor. So Next Step is known for their one-on-one tutoring. No matter where you are in the world, the US or Canada, anybody taking the MCAT really, you can use Next Step Test Prep's tutors to help you prepare for the MCAT. But if you're not interested in their one-on-one tutoring, if you want a class or course to cover all that material, again you're in luck. They have a new MCAT course that they came out with that covers so much material, more than the other big box companies like Kaplan or Princeton Review, and for less cost. You also get live office hours with the instructors that wrote these courses, and wrote the tests that they have, so go check out their course now at They also have full length practice tests that you can buy and use that simulate the real testing environment, and they have a whole set of books that you can get off of Amazon. So check out everything that they have to offer, and use the code MSHQ to help you save some money as well. Thanks Next Step Test Prep for supporting The Premed Years.

I hope again, that you enjoyed today's podcast, I hope you have a great week in front of you, and as always I hope you come and join us next week here at The Premed Years.

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