Chad, a 32-year-old student, shares his story about struggling with undergrad, being rejected from a Caribbean medical school, and his recent application success.
A little back story… Chad has been part of the Premed Hangout Facebook 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 ultimately got accepted to.
Chad felt relieved after getting accepted to medical school, and so did his family, who have been supporting him through this journey. They’re now all excited for the next step and they feel ready for it. Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[03:29] The Dream to Be a Doctor
Chad initially became interested in health care when his older brother went to medical school when Chad was still in high school. 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. His senior project in high school was 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 health care as a career more seriously, and that’s when he knew it’s what he really wanted to do. He was 21 years old 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 Brigham Young University, but his high school advisors told him he was not a good enough student.
Upon coming home from Brazil, Chad went to a community college to build up his academics enough to be able to go to Brigham Young University (BYU). He was able to get into BYU but would end up struggling big time.
Chad got married in his first year of college, and they started having kids right away. His wife struggled academically too before they had kids, but after they had their first child, she did amazing in school while Chad went the opposite way: things 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, but he was simply struggling.
[08:16] Problems with Low GPA
Chad would go to his brother to seek advice, and he always got sound advice, but he just struggled a lot. And he struggled to pinpoint the reasons he was struggling academically.
Chad 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). He thought showing his commitment to the career could make up for his poor academics.
He knew he had some changes to make with the way he approached schooling, but it was something he was never really good at. Only recently has he been able to commit himself to school the way he needed to be successful.
[Related episode: What MCAT Score Do I Need If I Have a Low GPA?
Course Correction: Recovering from a Low GPA
Chad thinks he has put in a sincere effort to course-correct. He utilized 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 before academics.
It wasn’t until later on that Chad was told by an advisor, “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’re a good student.”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're a good student.Click To Tweet
[11:57] Inability to Commit to School
While 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 taking a graveyard shift at a psych hospital where he is 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 when Chad went to do his postbac, he and his family committed to just focusing on school. He 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 treating it like a full-time job.
At Chad’s school, if you got below a 2.0 GPA, you would be put on academic probation. Chad’s grades floundered around 2.0 for years. Finally in 2012, he was put on a year-long academic suspension due to his grades. Even then, he didn’t take a break; he bounced over to another university to take classes during that year
He was able to go back to BYU after a year, and he 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 isn’t actually sure why he did that.
[15:48] Rejection from Caribbean Medical Schools
Many of the doctors at the hospital where he was working actually went to Caribbean schools, and Chad was told that he’d be able to commit himself to a 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!) Chad believes he is probably one of the few people in the world who has been rejected from Caribbean schools. Chad admits that he was just a wreck.
Everything Crashed Down
He’s been told by premed advisors that medical school was not the best option for him. But he wanted to be a doctor so bad, and he wasn’t willing to walk away from it. In addition, he always had different individuals in his life who would keep encouraging him, telling him that he could make this work. Once he received rejections from two Caribbean schools, everything just crashed down on him, and he realized the mess he had created.He's been told by premed advisors that this wasn't the best option for him. But he wanted to be a doctor so bad, and he wasn't willing to walk away from it.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: Is the Role of Your Premed Advisor to Tell You No?]
[19:00] Family Support
Chad and his wife had numerous conversations regarding his situation, and she was just highly supportive of whatever he wanted to do. 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 actually going through marriage counseling for a few 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.
Chad’s “Aha! Moment”
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 Chad had just graduated from BYU and didn’t know what to do next. It was a tough decision; the job offered decent pay, but it also meant walking away from health care.
Chad 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 the ability to take vacations 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 things work to become a physician, he was going to regret it for the rest of his life.I can tell that if I don't make this work to become a physician, I am going to regret it for the rest of my life.Click To Tweet
Last Chance to Make It Work
Nevertheless, working there taught Chad 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 that would allow him to go back to school and finally perform well. It was his big “aha! moment” that he could not just substitute his dream of being a doctor for something else.I can't just substitute my dream of being a doctor with something else.Click To Tweet
He and his wife talked about this. Thankfully, they were on various social programs, which were a big help for allowing him to go back to school and solely do school.
At this time, he got in touch with a premed advisor at another school. That premed advisor would eventually introduce him to this podcast. She ran through all of his transcripts with him and advised him to do some major postbac grade enhancement and GPA fixing, utilizing that old AACOMAS policy of GPA replacements.
Chad knew then that this was his last chance to make it work. For him, working outside of health care for a few months was all it really took.
[25:25] Postbac and MCAT
Having decided to take a do-it-yourself postbac. Chad worked with his mentor and figured out what classes to take. Some classes 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 thing that came up as a positive in his applications to the Caribbean.)
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 could not have afforded to do.
He ended up getting an MCAT score of 501, which was actually a much lower score than the average scores he got on his last three full-length practice tests (where he got 502, 504, and 507 respectively, with 507 being an official AAMC practice test). But it was good enough. After his postbac, Chad had to go on and do a Special Master’s Program (SMP).
Improving His Stats
Chad did well in his postbac, getting a GPA of almost 3.8. Also, at that time he was working as a teaching assistant for organic chemistry, hoping it would lead to good letters of recommendation.
Chad’s best section on the MCAT was CARS, getting a 127, while he struggled most with Chemistry/Physics. 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 his test had a bunch of physics passages. He gambled on it anyway. Sure enough, his MCAT had three physics passages that brought his score down considerably.
[30:40] Messed Up Transcripts and GPA Calculation
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 the errors made in the professional entry, but he didn’t understand how the markings for repeats worked from one institution to another.
So all his poor grades from BYU that he repeated in his postbac weren’t erased like they should have been. AACOMAS averaged them together, causing his GPA to come up below a 3.0, not the 3.4 GPA he was expecting. After much follow-up, they fixed this mistake. But he started to realize the schools will still screen him out, considering he already submitted his applications.
Deciding to Take an SMP
Meanwhile, Chad also heard of SMPs. He knew he was going to take a gap year anyway, so he decided to take a one-year Master’s program during that year, starting in the fall.
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 family. They also talked to the advisors of those schools and decided based on the information they got.
What Was the SMP Like?
Chad describes the SMP as somewhat rigorous. They had one actual medical school class, which was the medical gross anatomy with the med students. The others were graduate classes. By the end of his postbac, he was able to establish a good system for himself to do well in school. With this system he was able to perform very well, as evidenced by his 4.0 GPA in the SMP.By the end of my postbac, I had established a good system for myself to do well in school. Click To Tweet
[37:33] SMP versus Application Timeline
Chad finished his application early in June. Most SMP applications are 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 and earned him an acceptance to the medical school where he did his SMP in Tennessee.
He was also offered an interview and acceptance at another school, Nova University in Florida, after the Fall semester, which was where he would ultimately go. And this all worked into the same single application cycle—the same application where his transcripts showed below a 3.0 GPA. He was never actually able to update this formally to fix the grade replacement, but he had a graduate GPA of 4.0 from the SMP. His cumulative GPA after the fall semester was about a 3.08, putting him a little over the 3.0 GPA threshold.
AACOMAS basically told him he had to contact schools individually so he could break everything down for them. This was difficult to do in a concise email. Chad contacted several schools, and the common response he got was that there was nothing they can do about it. The schools just had to go by what his AACOMAS application says. Getting this feedback was actually what led him to look into the SMPs.
[41:13] The Biggest Lesson
The biggest lesson Chad learned throughout this whole journey is to pick something and dedicate yourself to it. For him, he needed to fix his academics, by not spreading himself so thin anymore. Hence, he learned how to focus on one thing at a time and that made a big difference.The biggest lesson Chad learned throughout this whole journey is to pick something and dedicate yourself to it. Click To Tweet
Don’t Give Yourself a Plan B
That moment when he walked away from health care and took a software job was actually never a Plan B for him. It was just a job he took because he thought the door had been closed for medicine. Even with all the challenges he faced along the way, Chad never gave himself a Plan B, even when advisors told him to. He is thankful he didn’t, 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.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.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: Stop Looking for a Backup Plan! It’s Hurting Your Chances]
Advice for Premeds and Other Students
Lastly, Chad hopes to be able to spend time mentoring and helping students that are struggling. He wishes he could tell his 24-year-old self that everything is going to be okay; you need to find a way to dedicate yourself to success. Whatever thing you need to be successful with, you need to drop everything else that’s distracting you and preventing you from it. New doors of opportunity will open when you head-on face the thing you struggle with most.Whatever thing you need to be successful with, you need to drop everything else that's distracting you and preventing you from doing it right.Click To Tweet
[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. Chad had already submitted his primary application, but he hadn’t submitted a secondary for that school. So he eventually did, got a phone call from the Dean of Admissions, and was invited for an interview and ultimately accepted to where he is going to go to school now.
As you can see, magic happens in the Hangout, so you too should be part of our Facebook group. It’s free and easy to join!
Links and Other Resources
- Check out my Premed Playbook series of books (available on Amazon), with installments on the personal statement, the medical school interview, and the MCAT.
- Related episode: Journey to a Carribean Medical School.
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)!