Chad, a 32-year-old student, shares his story about struggling with undergrad as he needed to work, being rejected from Caribbean medical school, and his recent application success.
A little back story… Chad has been part of the Hangout Group and it was actually through this platform that a member of the group reached out to Chad and helped him secure an interview at one of the medical schools he applied to and where he ultimately got accepted to.
Chad felt relieved after getting accepted to medical school as well as his family who has been supporting him through this journey. They’re now all excited for the next step and they feel ready for it.
[03:29] The Dream to Be A Doctor
Chad initially became interested healthcare having watched his older brother who went to medical school when he was still in high school, and actually the first one in the family who took the healthcare route. His brother then became his source of inspiration. He always knew he wasn’t going to take the business or sales route so medicine seemed to be a good fit for him. However, he was also really involved in music and bands. His senior project in high school was even putting on a fundraiser concert for the Red Cross.
As time went on, he went to serve on a mission in Brazil for two years and developed an interest in helping people. After which, he volunteered in a hospital and started to explore healthcare as a career more seriously and that’s when he knew it’s what he really wanted to do. He was 21 years when he came home from Brazil.
[05:35] A Long Path: Struggles in High School and Undergrad
Chad struggled in high school and wanted to go to a certain undergrad university but he was told by his high school advisors that he would never be able to go there because he was not a good enough student. Upon coming home from Brazil, he went to a community college to build up his academics enough to be able to go to Brigham Young University (BYU). He went there and struggled big time. He got married when he was on his first year of college and they started having kids right away. His wife struggled too before they had kids but after they had their first child, she did amazing in school while Chad did the other way around, doing really well in BYU and when they had kids, things just fell apart for him although he kept pushing himself to try again the next semester. It was a drawn out process of him failing classes and trying again.
Chad was one of those students who just didn’t know how to perform well. He was dedicated to homework, studying, and his grades. Behavior-wise, he was fine but academically, he was simply struggling.
[08:16] Premed and Course Correction
Chad went to his brother to seek advice and he always got sound advice but he just struggled a lot, not having a good way of pinpointing the reasons although he admits to having this kind of mindset that he could make up for it in other aspects of his life. He really dug into working in healthcare and sought out any job he could in a wide variety of places (psych hospital, home health, regional hospital), with that thought that showing his commitment to the career could make up for his poor core academics.
He knew he had some changes he had to make with the way he approached schooling and it was something he was never really good at. Only recently that he was able to make it all come together and commit himself to school the way he needed to be successful.
Chad thinks he has put in a sincere effort to course-correct. In fact, he would utilize the different on-campus services to learn about scheduling your time better and how to study better but he failed to apply the material properly. He describes it as a major commitment issue considering he had to work and provide for his family which he had to always put first before academics. It wasn’t until later on that he learned from an advisor who told him that you’re not trying to prove to medical schools that you will make a doctor, you’re trying to prove to them that you’re a good student.
[11:57] Inability to Commit to School
Back in school, Chad used to work full-time and sometimes even more than full-time. He always had at least one full-time job and frequently a part-time job of some sort. He’d try to find jobs that would allow him to both work and do his homework like take a graveyard shift at a psych hospital and be allowed to do homework through the night. So he had this mindset that he could make both work as some people are able to do both work and study. But as he went to do postbac, he and his family committed to just focusing on school and quit his job and didn’t have any other on the side so he could finally perform well. Again, there was a major issue with Chad’s commitment to school and treat it like a full-time job.
Chad’s school had a way of doing academic suspension or probation where if you got below 2.0 one semester, you would be put on an academic probation but you were allowed to just go the next semester. He had this floundering around a 2.0 and below 2.0 for years. Finally in 2012, he got an academic probation again and then below 2.0 the next semester, he was put on a year-long academic suspension. Even then, he didn’t take a break and bounced over to another university close by into classes during that year in the hope of being able to get back to BYU before the year was up but they did not approve it. As a result, he was able to go back to BYU after a year and changed his major to something he would be able to finish much faster, graduating with a degree in Exercise Science by just taking one more class. At this time, Chad also took the MCAT although in hindsight, he wasn’t actually sure why he did that.
[15:48] Rejection from Caribbean Schools
Many of the doctors at the hospital where he was working actually went to Caribbean schools and was told that he’d be able to commit himself to school there and he would do great. They encouraged him to apply there and told him they were going to write him a letter of recommendation.
In 2014, he applied to St. George’s University and the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine but he got rejected from both schools. (They actually do reject students!) and he said he was probably one of the few people in the world who has just been rejected from Caribbean schools. Chad admits that he was just a wreck.
At the back of his mind, Chad worried the whole time that it affected his ability to do well in school having had confidence issues since. He was telling himself that he wasn’t going anywhere with this but he wanted to be a doctor so bad and he wasn’t willing to walk away from it. He’s been told by premed advisors that this wasn’t the best option for him. But then, he always had different individuals in his life that would keep encouraging him, telling him that he could make this work. Once he received those rejections from two Caribbean schools, everything just crashed down on him and realized the mess he had created.
[19:00] Family Support and The Aha! Moment
Chad and his wife have had numerous conversation regarding his situation and she was just highly supportive of whatever his endeavors were. He basically talked to her the same way he would talk to himself, trying to convince her that things would work out. In fact, she was ready to go to the Caribbean with him. She became his ultimate support along the way, all through their struggles. Part of improving his academics was going through marriage counseling for months which made a huge difference. They basically supported each other while Chad learned to focus his time and energy on what is going to make a big difference for them down the line.
Shortly after the rejections happened in 2014, Chad’s friend started working for a Utah-based software company and he suggested for him to work there as they had some job openings. This was a time when he had just graduated from BYU and not knowing what to do next, it was a tough decision considering the job offered a decent pay but it also meant walking away from healthcare. So he left his hospital job and started working for this software company which he would describe as really awesome especially to their employees, having cool break rooms and their families being sent to Disneyland. However, he was not happy even after just a few months of working there. He could tell that if he wasn’t able to make this work for him to become a physician, he was going to regret it for the rest of his life.
Nevertheless, working there taught him a lot about dedication to projects and working in a professional space that allowed him to be on his own and do well. It basically gave him a lot of tools to go back to school and perform well. It was his big aha! moment that he could not just substitute his dream of being a doctor for something else. He and his wife talked about this. Thankfully, they were on various social programs which were a big help to make things work financially to where he was able to go back to school and solely do school.
At this time, he got in touch with a premed advisor at another school who was actually the person who introduced him to this podcast. She ran through all of his transcripts with him and advised him to do some major postbac correction and GPA fixing, utilizing that old AACOMAS policy of GPA replacements. Chad knew then that this was last chance to make it work. For him, working outside of healthcare for a few months was all it really took.
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[25:25] Postbac and MCAT
Having decided to take a do-it-yourself postbac. Chad worked with her mentor and figured out what classes to take, several of which were repeats from undergrad while a few of them were upper level sciences. During his academic suspension, Chad went over from BYU to Utah Valley University to take some classes. Another large school in the area, Utah Valley University had an open enrollment with no minimum requirements so he was able to put together his own academic plan and took it from there, also knowing that he had to take the MCAT. (Chad’s initial MCAT score was 22. Oddly enough, it wasn’t what held him back from Caribbean schools. In fact, that was the only one thing that came up as a positive in his application.)
Chad then started taking the postbac course, retook the MCAT, and several things happened along the way. One of which was winning a Kaplan prep course, something he would not have afforded to do. He ended up getting an MCAT score of 501, which was actually a much lower score than the average score he got on his last three full-length practice tests (where he got 502, 504, and 507 respectively and 507 being the official AAMC) but it was good enough. After his postbac, he had to go on and do a Special Master’s Program (SMP).
Chad did well on his final postbac, getting a GPA of almost 3.8. Also at that time, he was working as a teacher assistant for organic chemistry in the hope of establishing good connections for new letters of recommendation.
Breaking down his performance during MCAT, CARS was his best score getting a 127 while Chemistry/Physics was where he struggled with. Chad never actually took Physics for his postbac or Gen Chem for that matter. In fact, the last time he took Gen Chem was back in 2004 or 2006 back at the community college. So he knew that he was going to struggle if he got hit with a bunch of Physics passages but gambled with it anyway. True enough, he got hit with three physics passages on his Chem/Phys section that brought his score down. The advice he got from different people while prepping for the exam was just to focus on where he can and not really try to dig into all physics otherwise he would be ignoring stuff that he could do better on.
[30:40] Messed Up Transcripts, GPA Calculation, and SMP’s
While Chad was applying, he went through his AACOMAS application and his calculated GPA was incorrect so he paid for the professional transcript entry service and had all of that put in. He tried to catch all of the errors made in the professional entry but didn’t understand the markings as repeats worked from one institution to another. So all of his poor grades at BYU that got repeated in his postbac, instead of the GPA being replaced, they were only averaged together causing his GPA to come up as below a 3.0, not the GPA he was expecting. After much follow-up, they recognized the mistake they’ve done. He also started to realized he was going to get screened out of schools considering he has already submitted applications at this point, another mistake for submitting prior to verification.
Meanwhile, Chad also heard of the SMPs and aware that he was going to take a gap year due to the way his application was set up, he decided to take a one-year Master’s program for the Fall especially after this whole GPA dilemma happened when he was supposed to end up with a 3.4.
Why another year of SMP? Chad looked at it as an opportunity to just “get started with medical school.” He was quite happy with what he did because three months later, AACOMAS announced they were dropping the grade replacement policy, which would otherwise have been a tricky situation. Without having enough resources to know more about SMPs, Chad looked into different schools over the Internet and considered moving east in order to be closer to her family. They also talked to the advisors of those schools and decided based on the information they got.Chad describes the SMP as somewhat rigorous. They had one actual medical school class, which was the medical gross anatomy with the med students, along with other graduate classes. By the end of his postbac, he was able to establish a good system for himself to do well in school and was able to perform very well as evidenced by his 4.0 GPA.
[37:33] SMP versus Application Timeline
Chad finished his application early in June. In his case, with the GPA calculation and looking into SMPs, most SMP applications have been closed by then as they’re generally for students who have been rejected. But he was able to talk to these schools individually, three of which let him apply and one program finally let him in as a late applicant. His performance there actually ended up factoring into the same application cycle so had that Fall semester and updated all of his grades. That factored into him getting accepted to the school where he also did his SMP in Tennessee.
Moreover, he was also offered an interview and accepted into another school at Nova University in Florida after the Fall semester, which was where he was ultimately going. And this all worked into the same single application cycle. This was the application where he had messed up transcripts that showed less than 3.0 GPA that actually got him into medical school. He was never actually able to update this formally to fix the grade replacement but he had a graduate GPA of 4.0 with the SMP. Now, his accumulative GPA after the Fall semester was about a 3.08 putting him a little over the threshold.
AACOMAS basically told him he had to contact schools individually so he could break everything down for them which was difficult to do in a concise email that would make sense. Chad contacted several schools and the common response he got was that there was nothing they can do about it and just had to go by what AACOMAS says. This was what actually led him to look into the SMPs realizing he was up against the wall.
[41:13] The Biggest Lesson
The biggest lesson Chad learned throughout this whole journey was to pick something and dedicate yourself to it. For him, it was academics that he had to go all the way with since he used to always just spread himself thin. Hence, he learned how to focus on one thing at a time and this has made a big difference.
That moment when he walked away from healthcare and took a software job was actually never a Plan B for him but more of a new opportunity after a door has been closed. But coming back into it and even with all these challenges he faced along the way, he never gave himself a Plan B even when he was told to constantly. He is thankful he didn’t though otherwise he wouldn’t be where he is right now. After finally receiving that acceptance, Chad and his wife and kids cried for joy. Every now and then, his kids would come to him and hug him, telling him how proud they are of him.
Lastly, Chad hopes to be able to spend time mentoring and helping students that are struggling. Looking at the journey he has gone through, he wished he was able to tell his 24-year-old self that everything is going to be okay and that you need to find a way to dedicate yourself to success. Whatever thing that is that you need to be successful with, you need to drop everything else that’s distracting and preventing you. And if you do, new doors of opportunity are going to come your way because you head-on faced the thing that you struggled with the most.
[45:41] Magic in the Medical School HQ Hangouts Group
After the interview, Chad shared with me the benefit of being a part of the Medical School Hangout Facebook Group. Another member in that group who is an ambassador for the medical school that he goes to reached out to Chad and encouraged him to apply to their school. This was more than halfway through the application cycle and Chad has already submitted his primary application but didn’t submit a secondary in that school. So he eventually did, got a phone call from the Dean of Admissions and was accepted and invited for an interview and ultimately accepted to where he is going to go to school. As you can see, magic happens in the Hangout so you too should be part of our Facebook group. It’s free and easy!
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St. George’s University (Caribbean Medical School)
Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years is part of the Med Ed Media network at www.MedEdMedia.com. I’d love for you to go check out The Short Coat Podcast which is part of the Med Ed Media network. The Short Coat Podcast can be found at www.TheShortCoat.com.
The Premed Years, session number 230.
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 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.
I wonder if I should change that to ‘becoming a medical student.’ Because really that’s what we’re trying to do. Anyway, welcome to The Premed Years. I want to take a second and thank Cram Fighter for continuing to be a sponsor here at The Premed Years. Cram Fighter, if you do not know, is the perfect place to go and set up a perfectly customized study schedule for your MCAT. You log into the website, you tell it the materials that you have, the date that you want to take the test, when you’re starting, and let it work its magic. Go check them out, www.CramFighter.com. I’ll have a coupon code that I’ll give you in a little bit to save 25% off their service.
Alright so today I have an awesome guest, somebody that has been part of the Hangout, and if you’re not part of the Hangout group, you need to be, www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/group. It’s our private Facebook group specifically for listeners here at The Premed Years and all of the Med Ed Media shows. So www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/group. Now Chad doesn’t really share this during the interview, but I’ll talk about it a little bit at the end. There was a member of the Hangout that’s reached out to Chad and actually helped him secure possibly an interview at one of the medical schools that he applied to, and was ultimately accepted to. So I’ll share a little bit more about that after the interview. Let’s go ahead and dive right in.
Chad welcome to The Premed Years, thanks for joining me.
Chad: Thank you very much for having me.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Congratulations on your recent acceptance to medical school. I want to know what it was like for you to receive your acceptance, and finally have that golden ticket to medical school.
Chad: Oh honestly it was such a relief for me and for my family. My wife and my kids have been supporting me through this journey of mine for ten years now, it will be ten years in July that we’ve been married, and so we’re relieved and we’re excited about the next step, and we feel ready for it.
Dr. Ryan Gray: How old are you now?
Chad: So I’m 32, I’ll be 33 when I start school in the fall.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright so 32, ten years on this journey. We’ll get to why it took so long in a minute, but when did you realize finally that you wanted to be a doctor?
Chad: You know initially I became interested in healthcare with watching my brother- so I’m the youngest of four boys, and I have an older brother who went to medical school while I was still in high school, and he was kind of the first one in our family to take the healthcare route. And I’ve always looked up to him a lot, and admired him and everything, and so I took an initial interest in healthcare there, and always kind of knew for myself that I didn’t want to go into business, or anything to do with sales. I struggled with the idea of doing something like that as a career, so medicine seemed like a good fit but I was definitely torn early on because I was really involved in music, and bands, and things like. And my senior project in high school was putting on a 911 concert, like a fundraiser concert for the Red Cross, and so I kind of thought that I would go into that side of things. But as time went on I went and served a mission in Brazil for two years and kind of developed an interest for helping people and things like that. And so after that time I volunteered in a hospital and started to explore healthcare as a career more seriously, and that’s when I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Dr. Ryan Gray: How old were you at that point?
Chad: I was 21 when I came home from Brazil, and that was eleven years ago.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay so there’s that ten, eleven years.
Dr. Ryan Gray: So assuming you start school and you hit it hard, four years of undergrad, and apply to medical school, but it’s been ten years for you. So what has happened in the interim that has led to such a long path for you?
Chad: Yeah I wish I could say that I graduated and went on to some other career and then changed my mind or whatever, but honestly I just struggled, I struggled big time. I struggled in high school even. I wanted to go to a certain undergrad university and I was told by my advisors in high school that I would never be able to go there just because I was not a good enough student. And so when I came home from Brazil I went to community college and kind of built up my academics enough to be able to go to BYU, and then went there, and struggled big time. I got married the first year that I was at BYU, and we started having kids right away, and it’s funny- my wife, she struggled before we had kids and after we had our first child she did amazing in school, and I was totally the other way around. I hit BYU early on doing really well, and then we got married and started having kids, and it just kind of fell apart for me. But I wasn’t willing to step away from academics or anything like that, I just kept on pushing myself to try again the next semester sort of thing, and so there was this big long drawn out process of me failing classes, and trying again, and things like that. It was a pretty terrible rut that I dug for myself for sure.
Dr. Ryan Gray: You talked about struggling even in high school, and as you began college. What does that mean? What does struggling mean? Were you not finding enough time to study? Or studying inefficiently? What does that exactly mean?
Chad: I think I’m one of those students who genuinely just like didn’t know how to perform well. I was not good at dedicating myself to homework, and to studying, and grades, and things like that. And so I was always perfectly fine in terms of behavior and that kind of thing, but I struggled with my academics, and honestly I just wasn’t a very good student.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Going into undergrad, I’m assuming because you had come back from your mission trip with this purpose, that you started college as premed. Is that right?
Chad: Yeah, yeah I did.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay.
Chad: I started taking pre-requisites even while I was doing community college after my mission.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. So you’re premed, you have an older brother who has been through the process, so I’m assuming he’s helping you a little bit understand what needs to be done. With knowing- with the assumption, I’m assuming you knew that grades were important, and being a good student is important. Why wasn’t that drive there?
Chad: Yeah again, I mean I went to my brother a lot for advice and things like that, and he was very successful, and when I look back at all the different things that he told me, he always gave me sound advice but I struggled. I struggled with school a lot, and I don’t have like a really good way of just pinpointing, ‘this is the reason why.’ It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t understand the importance of doing well in your classes, I did. I think I kind of had this mindset that I could make up for it in other aspects of life, and I really dug into working in healthcare, and sought out any kind of job that I could in like a wide variety of different places. So I worked in a psych hospital, I did home health, I worked in a regional hospital for several years, just kind of thinking, ‘I’m going to make up for my poor academics by showing my commitment to the career,’ and obviously that just wasn’t the right way to approach it. And like I said, I mean I had some changes that I had to make in the way I approached school, and it was just something I was never really good at. And only recently in the past couple of years was I able to kind of make all that come together and actually commit myself to school the way I needed to, to be successful.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Those first couple years where you’re struggling along, what were you doing, as I talk about on this podcast a lot, to course correct? Or were you even trying to course correct? Or were you just kind of going at it the same every time going, ‘Okay maybe this time will be different.’
Chad: You know I seriously think I put in a sincere effort to course correct even with my academics and stuff. I would utilize the different services that were on campus to learn about scheduling your time better, and how to study better, and things like that. I just didn’t- I don’t think I applied that material properly. I think there was a major commitment issue for me with my working and providing for my family and stuff like that, I always was putting that kind of stuff first before academics. It wasn’t until much later on that I really learned something that an advisor told me, was that, ‘You’re not trying to prove to medical schools that you will make a good doctor. You’re trying to prove to them that you’ll make a good student.’ And I just really hadn’t taken the time to do that.
Dr. Ryan Gray: How much were you working back when you were in school originally?
Chad: I always worked full time, sometimes more than full time. I always had at least one full time job and frequently a part time job of some sort. I would try to find jobs where I could be working and doing homework or something like that, or I would work graveyards at the psych hospital and you were allowed to do homework through the night, and kind of had this mindset that I could make both work. And it just- you know, some people do. My family has always worked and gone to school at the same time and many, many people do. But when I finally went back and did postbac and stuff, my family and I committed to just focusing on school, and I quit my job, and I didn’t have any other side things going on whatsoever, and I was finally able to perform well. So I think there was major issues with me being able to commit to school.
Dr. Ryan Gray: It sounds like it because talking to you and hearing this story it’s like, ‘Okay I had this issue, I had this issue, I had this issue, and then I was finally able to figure out the last couple years.’ But you’re also saying the last couple years you focused 100% on school.
Chad: Right I mean I think that really was the issue, was just my inability to commit to school and treat it like a full time job, you know?
Dr. Ryan Gray: By saying ‘inability,’ do you mean inability for you to wrap your head around it, or inability because you needed to have a job to bring in income?
Chad: Well I just thought that I always had to have a job to bring an income, and that I couldn’t make it work any other way. So I guess when I say ‘inability,’ I mean wrapping my mind around that idea.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Lack of thinking outside the box.
Chad: For sure, yeah.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay, interesting. Alright so you struggled along it sounds like for a while. As you- obviously ten years into this process, how long were you in school, or did you finally give up before ever getting your degree?
Denied from Caribbean Medical Schools
Chad: So I struggled along man, and the way that they would do any kind of academic suspension or probation at my school, if you got below a 2.0 one semester you would be put on academic probation, but you were allowed to just go the next semester. And so I had this like floundering between a 2.0 and below a 2.0 for years, and finally in 2012 I got an academic probation again, and then below a 2.0 the next semester and was put on a yearlong academic suspension. And honestly even then I didn’t really take a break from me trying to do work, and school, and all that stuff. I basically bounced over to another university close by and took classes during that year, and tried to get back into BYU before the year was up, and they did not approve that. So I eventually was able to go back to BYU after a year, I changed my major to something that I would be able to finish much faster. They said, ‘If you graduate with a degree in Exercise Science, you can be done by just taking one more class.’ And so that’s what I did. And I took the MCAT at that time, which looking back I was- I’m not sure what I was thinking to be honest, but I took the MCAT, I kind of had in my mind like I knew these different doctors from working at the hospital and many of them actually went to Caribbean schools, and they were like, ‘Don’t worry Chad, you can go to St. George’s, you’ll be able to commit yourself to school, and you’ll do great. So just apply there and it’ll work out great, I’ll even write you a letter of recommendation,’ and such. I applied to St. George’s and AUC and was actually rejected from both of them.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Really? They actually reject students?
Chad: They do, I’m probably one of the few people in the world who’s been rejected from Caribbean schools.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Wow. When was this?
Chad: I was a wreck, man. It was terrible. Let’s see that was probably the end of 2012- no it was 2014. It was 2014 when that happened.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay so you’re floundering around- hovering around a 2.0-ish GPA, maybe a little bit above. At what point or any point did you say, ‘You know what? Maybe I’m just not cut out for this doctor thing.’
Chad: I think I kind of worried about that in the back of my mind the whole time, and honestly it probably affected my ability to do well in school. I definitely had confidence issues, I always have, and so kind of in the back of my mind I know that like I’m not really going anywhere with this, but I want to be a doctor so bad, and I’m not willing to walk away from it, and I’m being told by advisors and even premed advisors like, ‘Look Chad, this is probably not the best option for you.’ And even then I always had different individuals in my life that would keep encouraging me, or say, ‘You can make this work.’ Such as like for examples those doctors telling me that, ‘Don’t worry, you can go to a Caribbean school, you’ll do well, and everything will be fine.’ And so once I received rejections to those two Caribbean schools, it all kind of just crashed down on me, realizing like what kind of mess I had really created. And the time went by so fast. You know talk about a student going through undergrad for ten years but I’m working full time, and I’m having kids at the same time, and it really just flew by. I didn’t even realize how big of a mess I had created, you know what I mean?
Dr. Ryan Gray: So you get these rejection letters from the Caribbean schools, which again I think is the first time I’ve ever heard of that. But congratulations? What discussion- obviously you’re married, you have kids, this journey is not just you. How do you sit down and have a discussion with your wife about this saying, ‘Look I just- I was rejected, what should we do from here?’ Did you have that conversation with your wife?
Making Medical School a Priority
Chad: Oh yeah, yeah. We’ve had that conversation many times, and my wife was super supportive of whatever it was that I was going to try to do, and I would talk to her kind of the same way that I would talk to myself, just kind of convincing us that it’s going to be okay, and we’ll just work it out, and she was ready to go to the Caribbean with me, and all that stuff. And so she was just kind of like the ultimate support along the way. We struggled for sure, like it definitely put some difficulties into our marriage and stuff, and part of my turning around my academics was us spending time- we went to marriage counseling for several months, and it made a big difference in us supporting each other I think, but also just me being able to learn to focus my time and energy onto what is going to make a big difference for us down the line.
Dr. Ryan Gray: How did you eventually come to the conclusion that you needed to stop working full time and dedicate yourself to being a student? How did you come to that situation financially and talking through it with your wife and figuring out everything? Because I know for nontraditional students it’s a huge hurdle, is giving up the income to go back and study.
Chad: Yeah. Yeah I actually- shortly after all of that happened in 2014, a friend of mine started working at a software company in Utah, and they had some job openings and he suggested that I come over there and work with him. And I had just graduated from BYU and was kind of at this impasse of not really knowing what to do next, and this job was the first time I had been offered something that paid anything decent. It wasn’t incredible, but I mean it was enough for us to live on, but I knew that it meant walking away from healthcare, so it was really tough. I talked about all those healthcare jobs that I had, none of them paid over $10 an hour, so this was the first time something with a decent salary was being offered. And so I walked away from my job at the hospital and started working for this company and they were such an awesome company. I mean like the kind of place that has the super rad breakroom, and like they would send our family to Disneyland and stuff like that. And even then after just a few months of working there I was like, ‘Man I am not happy doing this. I can tell that if I don’t make this work for me to become a physician, I am going to regret it for the rest of my life.’ But working there taught me a lot about dedicating myself to projects, and working in a professional space, and kind of being on my own and doing well. And I think it gave me a lot of tools to finally go back to school and perform well. But it was my big ah-ha moment of, ‘I can’t just substitute my dream of being a doctor for something else.’ So my wife and I talked about it and thankfully we were on various social programs, foodstamps and things like that, and so there’s no way I would have been able to go back to school if we weren’t. But we were able to make it work financially to where I was going to go back to school and just do school. And at the time I had gotten in touch with a premed advisor at another school and she’s actually the gal who introduced me to this podcast, and she just kind of went through all of my transcripts with me and was like, ‘Look if you want to try to make this work, you can.’ Basically the plan was to do some major postbac correction, and fixing of the GPA, and utilize that AACOMAS policy that was still intact at the time, or GPA replacement, and I knew that this was kind of my last chance to make it work. So working outside of healthcare for a few months was all it really took.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Wow, interesting.
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So you find an advisor that gives you a little bit of hope. How did you work your postbac? Did you just go to an undergrad institution and kind of put stuff together? Did you go to a formal postbac?
Putting Together a Postbac
Chad: Yeah it was definitely like a do-it-yourself postbac. I sat down with her and just figured out what classes I should take, several of them were repeats from undergrad, a few of them were upper level sciences. And I mentioned that during my academic suspension I went over to another university and took some classes, well this was the university that I did those classes at. So I went from BYU over to Utah Valley University which is another very large school in the area, it has like 30,000 plus students, but they’re open enrollment, there’s no minimum requirements or anything like that. And so I was able to kind of just put together my own academic plan and take it from there, and I knew that I was going to have to retake the MCAT, and was really hoping to make it work from there.
Dr. Ryan Gray: I’m interested to know what you scored on the MCAT the first time you took it with your poor prior academic performance.
Chad: Yeah so my initial MCAT was the old MCAT and it was a 22.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Crushed it.
Chad: Yeah. So and oddly enough the 22 was not what held me back from Caribbean schools. That was the one thing that came up as a positive in my application. But so I started going to this postbac, and then I retook the MCAT, and I mean a lot of amazing things happened along the way. I won a prep course through Kaplan which there’s no way I would have been able to afford to do that. I got a decent score, I didn’t do terribly well on the MCAT, I actually got a much lower score than what I was averaging on my full lengths, but it was good enough I guess. Well I mean I say it was good enough, but I still after my postbac had to go on and do a Special Master’s Program, so there was still more ahead.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah so let’s go ahead and chat about that. So let’s talk about the MCAT score. So you did your postbac, you retook these classes, how did you do through the postbac now that you’re being a student full time?
Chad: Yeah so I did really well. My final postbac which I took like 33 credit hours in my postbac and my final GPA was just shy of a 3.8, it was like a 3.79 or something like that.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay very good.
Chad: So I did get a B in there. But I did well in that and was able to actually- I mean I kind of did a little bit of work during that time, I was able to TA for organic chemistry through that, and establish some good connections for new letters of recommendation and things like that along the way. And so studying for the MCAT I ended up with getting a 501 as my final score, which like I said I was disappointed. My last three full lengths were 502, 504, and 507, and 507 was the official AAMC and this was like right when the MCAT had just changed, you know?
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. So you get a 501, that’s still a decent score. It’s not a great score, it’s an okay score. It’s interesting to hear that you scored a 507 on the official AAMC one and then a 501. Was there one section that brought you down the most? Was it CARS like for most people?
Chad: No actually CARS was my best, my best score, I got a 127 on the CARS section. It was actually the chem / phys section which in all of my postbac I never came back to physics at all, or gen chem actually. I took gen chem back in like 2004 or something like that, 2006 when I was still at the community college. And so I kind of approached it knowing that if I get hit with a bunch of physics passages I’m going to struggle, but I really- unless I retake physics I’m going to- I kind of just gambled with that and unfortunately I got hit with like three physics passages on my chem / phys section and it brought my score down significantly.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Bad luck, oh well.
Chad: It kind of is a little bit bad luck. Even when I was working through the course and stuff and talking to different people they were like, ‘You know you’ve just got to focus where you can,’ and I wouldn’t try to dig through all the physics because you’re going to end up ignoring stuff that you could do better on by just providing effort there.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. So you finish your postbac, you retake the MCAT, get a 501, I’m assuming you applied to medical school at that point in time and weren’t accepted again?
Chad: You know actually I applied and while I was applying I went through my AACOMAS application and the GPA that came up, my calculated GPA was actually incorrect. This is a little bit of a long story, so I apologize, but I paid for the professional transcript entry, had all of that put in which obviously there was a ton to put in there. I tried to catch all of the errors that they had made in the professional entry, which there were tons of little mistakes and stuff, but I didn’t understand how the marking it as the repeat worked from one institution to another. So all of my poor grades at BYU that got repeated in my postbac, instead of the GPA being swapped out, instead of the grade replacement being used, they were just averaged together. So my GPA came up and it was just actually below a 3.0 and that was not the GPA that I was expecting. And I actually talked to you about it at the time, and you were saying, ‘Just keep calling them, tweet it, and email them, get them to change it.’ And they recognized the mistake but it fell on me for missing it even though I paid for their service, I should have just entered it myself at the time. So I start to realize like, ‘Oh man I’m going to get screened out of schools and stuff.’
Dr. Ryan Gray: So you had already submitted at this point?
Special Master’s Program
Chad: Yeah, yeah I submitted- I had already submitted before the verification had occurred which was another mistake. And when I saw that GPA being below a 3.0 I knew I was going to get screened out of places and I had just heard- I didn’t even know what an SMP was, I had just heard about it from the Old Premeds Podcast when Richard Levy was talking about this other option of doing a one year Master’s. And so I was able to kind of scramble and get enrolled into a Master’s for that fall, and I knew with the way my application was set up and the way I finished my whole postbac before applying, I was going to have a gap year anyway. So I thought, ‘Well I’m just going to use this gap year to do a one year Master’s Program,’ and after this whole GPA just happened I was probably not going to get accepted anywhere anyway.
Dr. Ryan Gray: What was your GPA supposed to be roughly?
Chad: So it was going to end up at about a 3.4.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay which is a decent GPA.
Chad: Sure, yeah that’s where the grade replacement was going to put me.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Talk to me about the thought process behind going and accruing more debt in an SMP versus just waiting a year, doing some volunteering, some shadowing, whatever and just reapplying with the correct GPA.
Chad: You know I felt at the time like if I wasn’t doing something academically related during that gap year- I thought about doing another year of postbac during the time. I thought I could even get my GPA up higher and reapply with a better GPA, and we were really tempted to do that. There was the option to do this Special Master’s Program and we found a school where the medical school classes that are involved in the Master’s Program, you don’t have to repeat them if you stay on at that school. And so we kind of looked at it as like an opportunity to just get started with medical school if that makes sense, and jumped at that opportunity. And I’m so thankful that that’s what I did because three months later the announcement comes out from AACOMAS that they’re dropping the grade replacement policy for the following year or whatever, and I would have been up a creek big time at that point. It would have been a really tricky situation.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. How did you go about researching SMPs and finding this program that had this policy?
Chad: Just started Googling different schools basically. I didn’t find a good resource to specifically look at different SMP programs, and how much they cost, and what their different policies were, and things like that. So I just started Googling different programs, and knew that I was going to try to move east toward where my wife is from so we could be closer to her family and such. So we basically just took a bunch of schools that were top of our list anyway, and looked into their programs, and talked to advisors from those schools, and kind of made our choice that way.
Dr. Ryan Gray: How was it going from undergrad postbac classes to an SMP where you’re basically taking classes a lot of times with the medical students? What was that transition like for you?
Chad: It was a smooth transition thankfully. The program was rigorous, and the only- you would have one actual medical school class which was Medical Gross Anatomy with the med students, and then you would have all these other classes that are graduate classes. And I think by the end of my postbac I had kind of established a good system for myself to do well in school, and was able to perform very well, I had a 4.0 coming out of that program. So it was a smooth transition. I realize that those programs can be kind of a high risk opportunity; high risk, high reward, right? But I think we were confident that we were going to do well there.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Usually with starting an SMP, the timeline for starting the SMP and for the application cycle, you don’t get a lot of time in the SMP before you’re already applying for the next application cycle. Is that how it was at your school there as well?
Chad: Yeah, actually it was. I mean so I finished my application early in like June, and all of this stuff happened with the GPA calculation and looking into SMPs, and by then most SMPs were closed as far as like applying to them and things like that because it generally is for a student who’s been rejected, and then maybe the school reaches out and offers you this program or whatever. But I was able to talk to these different schools individually and found three that would let me apply, and then one that let me in as like a late applicant. So my performance there actually ended up factoring into the same application cycle. So I had that Fall semester and updated all of my grades and things like that, and that factored into me getting accepted to the school I did my SMP at, and then I was actually offered an interview and accepted to another school after the Fall semester, and ultimately that’s actually where we’re going. So I did my SMP at LMU-DECOM in Tennessee which is where we are now, and then after the fall semester- so just recently I was offered an interview at Nova in Florida, so we’re going to be going down there.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Great, that’s awesome.
Chad: So yeah it all worked into the same single application cycle, so we can go in fast.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah so explain that timeline again. So you apply in June, your transcripts are messed up and show a GPA of 3.0 or less. That’s the application that got you into two medical schools?
Chad: Yeah, yeah with the Fall- this most recent fall semester of a 4.0 in an SMP. But yeah that’s the same application, and I was never able to actually update it formally to fix the grade replacement, but the 4.0 in my fall semester of an SMP. So I have that graduate 4.0 GPA, postbac 3.78 GPA, and now my accumulative GPA after the fall semester just barely got bumped up above a 3.0, like a 3.08 or something like that and that put me over the threshold.
Dr. Ryan Gray: How did you go about- since AACOMAS said, ‘Sorry nothing we can do about it,’ I’m assuming that you went and notified each of the schools individually and gave them a breakdown of what should be your GPA?
Chad: I tried to do that. They just have so many different applications to sort through, and AACOMAS basically told me, ‘You’re going to have to contact the schools individually and break this down for them,’ which is incredibly difficult to do in a concise email that makes sense. But I contacted several schools and was being contacted back and told, ‘There’s nothing really we can do for you. We just go by what AACOMAS says,’ and that’s actually what got me to look into the SMP programs and stuff like that because I realized that I was up against a wall.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Interesting, okay. What has been your biggest lesson learned on this whole journey for you?
Chad: There’s been so many, you know? But probably just to pick something and dedicate yourself to it I guess. For me it was academics. I just really had to go in all the way with that, and it’s something that I’ve never really been good at. I’ve always kind of spread myself thin. So I’ve learned how to focus on one thing at a time. It’s made a big difference.
Dr. Ryan Gray: I talk a lot about plan B’s, and not having a plan B. At any point along the way did you start trying to formulate a plan B?
Chad: I did not. I mean other than that moment where I walked away from healthcare, that was never really a plan B for me, that was more like, ‘Okay this door has closed, now what?’ And then coming back into it, and even with these things happening along the way, I never gave myself a plan B. I was told to constantly but I’m thankful that I didn’t because I probably would not be where I am right now if I had a plan B.
Earning an Acceptance to Medical School
Dr. Ryan Gray: What did your wife say to you when you finally received that acceptance?
Chad: Oh we cried a lot, my kids cried. They’re old enough now to where they understood the struggle that we were going through, and they were always- every now and then they’ll just come up to me and hug me and tell me how proud they are of me and stuff like that. So they’ve all been very, very happy and excited.
Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s awesome. As we wrap up here, what would you say to a student who’s in your situation that’s struggling through their undergrad, and not doing well on their MCAT, and just ready to throw it all away even though it’s been their dream their entire life?
Words of Wisdom
Chad: Yeah I really hope to be able to spend time with mentoring and helping students that are struggling because I struggled so much. And when I look back at my journey to where I am now, I wish that I could go and talk to my 24 or 26 or even 28-year-old self and just kind of first of all say, ‘Everything is going to be okay, and that you need to find a way- you need to find a way to dedicate yourself to success.’ And whatever thing that is that you need to be successful with, you need to drop everything else that’s distracting you, that’s preventing you, and if you do, new doors are going to open for you. New opportunities are going to come your way because you faced head on the thing that you struggled with most. So kind of those two things. Everything is going to be okay, because I sincerely believed many different times that it was not going to be okay, and that you need to dedicate yourself to whatever it is that is stopping you.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright thank you again, that was Chad sharing his story from a struggling undergrad to a struggling postbac student and now a successful medical school applicant and will be starting medical school soon. And so Chad shared with me after the interview- and I won’t share all the specifics, but he shared with me after the interview the benefit of being in the Hangout- the Medical School Facebook Hangout. Again www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/group to be part of that Hangout. And he’s a very active member in this Facebook group and was sharing his story, and another member in that group who is an ambassador for the medical school that he goes to reached out to Chad and said, ‘Hey you should apply to our school because I think you’d be a good fit here.’ And this was already more than halfway through the application cycle roughly, and Chad had submitted his primary application but didn’t submit a secondary to this school. And so Chad submitted his secondary, got a phone call from the Dean of Admissions, was accepted, invited for an interview, and ultimately accepted at that school, and that’s where Chad is going to go to school. So magic things happen in the Hangout. So I am super psyched about that story, and I’ll probably use it all the time to talk about how you should be part of this Facebook group. It’s free, it’s easy, www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/group.
That’s all I have for you today, I hope you have a great week, and we’ll catch you next time here at The Premed Years.
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