Today we’re talking with David, a member of our Premed Hangout Facebook Group. He’s happy to share with us the struggles he faced in getting into medical school.
David is a former member of the military and current med student. We discuss his journey with ADHD, PTSD, and what made him successful getting into med school. He talks about what he did for his personal statement and what’s he’s doing now in medical school to make sure he’s succeeding.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:20] David’s Interest in Becoming a Doctor
Although David thought about it when he was younger, he really didn’t take his interest in medicine seriously until college. He accounts his military experience for helping him clarify that he wanted to do it.
His role in Baghdad was nothing medical. Then he saw their medical team helping Iraqi women whose kids have spina bifida get assessed and referred to clinics in the U.S. and Europe. And after seeing the reaction of the mothers getting help for the first time in their lives, he knew he wanted to be a part of patient care.
David worked for the VA in a mental health clinic after his time in the Army, but he was just filling support roles. So he decided to go back to school and get his postbac for medical school.
[Related episode: How Do I Transfer from the Military to Being Premed?]
[06:30] Dealing with ADHD as a Premed
Although David had ADHD growing up, it wasn’t until he got into the U.S. Army that he got diagnosed for it. He was intelligent, but it was hard for him to just put a book down and read. It was a struggle for him. Besides medication, the military also helped him acquire the discipline he needed. But it wasn’t until he went to college after the military that he realized how good he can do.
Aside from medication, the other ways that David tried to handle ADHD while in college was talking to his wife or his dogs. He would teach them and explain concepts to them. This makes it easier for him to remember things.If you teach it, you know it.Click To Tweet
Study Techniques and Finding What Works
Whether you have ADHD or not, teaching is a very effective way to learn. This is actually why study groups are great. Especially when studying for the MCAT, building that network of students is important. You each might struggle with different material, so you just have everybody teaching each other.
Being a nontrad and older than his peers, David would only have random study groups every now and then. But for the most part, he’d do it at home (with his dogs and wife). Teaching greatly helped him for subjects like microbiology. For psychology, he would just go on walks and listen to Khan Academy videos. He’d download videos onto his phone and listen to them over and over again.To study psychology, he would just go on walks and listen to Khan Academy videos over and over again.Click To Tweet
Different Learning Styles for Different Subjects
Different learning styles work for different people. For David, it’s a little bit of everything. When studying socio/psych, audio was great, but that’d didn’t work as well for biochem, orgo, or gen chem. For biochem, he would just write everything down. So how he learns depends on the topic.Try different study techniques every day and see what works. If it clicks, keep on going.Click To Tweet
[14:40] Should You Talk About ADHD or PTSD in Your Personal Statement and Interviews?
David also got diagnosed for PTSD from his experience in Iraq. He thought it was a crucial part of his narrative. Otherwise it would have been weird to explain in his personal statement how he ended up on this path.
He thought talking about ADHD and PTSD in his personal statement might be risky. So he decided to not say he had PTSD exactly. He just mentioned dealing with the loss of some of his comrades and how that affected him. But he definitely mentioned how he overcame his ADHD in his personal statement.ADHD is more accepted than it used to be. There's less stigma around it today.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: Will My Medical History Affect My Chances at Med School?]
Anxiety About Medical School Interviews
David describes being horrible at his interviews. His anxiety went through the roof. Although he prepared for it and did mock interview prep, once interview day came, he did really badly. He was mumbling, which was the feedback he got.
David’s advice is to do professional rehearsals, especially if you have anxiety. It wasn’t until his interview that David realized there are some medications he could get on that would help in those kinds of stressful situations. Having gone through war, David figured his interviews were going to be okay. But the importance of the interview hit him harder than he expected.
David admits having minimal experience with doctors, and he says this affected his anxiety. He had one shadowing experience and had worked with a couple doctors at the mental health clinic. So he didn’t really know too many doctors. It wasn’t until later in the interview season that he started shadowing again. He started really feeling comfortable after that.Part of my interview anxiety was anxiety about being around doctors in general.Click To Tweet
[19:47] Choosing Which Medical Schools to Apply To
David actually got accepted in his first application cycle, but not until later in the cycle. He actually had already started the process of reapplying for the next year by the time he found out he was accepted. David was shadowing and volunteering more during the application cycle, to strengthen his application for reapplying.
He got into the medical school at University of Alabama at Birmingham. Alabama is his home state, and he’s lived there for a long time. In choosing schools to apply to, David says he didn’t apply to as many schools as he probably should have. For in-state applicants in Alabama, they had a pretty good chance if you’re decent enough, as opposed to other states that are more competitive.
David didn’t apply to DO schools because he didn’t shadow any DOs. But in hindsight, he considers this a huge mistake. So when he started his reapplication process, he had already shadowed DO’s and applied to about 16 programs.In hindsight, David considers it a huge mistake that he didn't apply to DO schools.Click To Tweet
Basically, he applied to certain MD programs based on his MCAT score, along with the in-state schools. He applied to six programs total. The average number of medical schools people apply to is fourteen or fifteen, so six is definitely way below average.
[22:53] Huge Mistake: Choosing Schools Based on Your MCAT Score
David actually got a score of 505 on the MCAT, which is pretty decent. But David made a mistake that a lot of students make, which is comparing their score to the median MCAT listed for each school.
That median number doesn’t tell you anything other than the fact that 50% of the students got higher than that score and 50% got lower than that score. That’s the only thing that number tells you. It leaves out all the details about what else those students did and how their story adds context to their scores. Itcan’t tell you whether or not you’d be competitive at that school.The median MCAT score listed for a school cannot tell you whether or not you'd be competitive for that school.Click To Tweet
[24:15] The Agony of Being on the Waitlist for Medical School
When David got interviewed at South Alabama, he wasn’t accepted until the end of June. He was on hold status until the end of the interview season, and at the end of the interview season, he was put on the waitlist.
So from March until the end of June, he was in limbo. And as soon as he was put on the waitlist, he tried to reach out to the school. He was trying to get some feedback, thinking he wasn’t going to make it. For David, it was a very confusing time.
So during this interim period, he already applied again for the next year. He was utilizing the Fee Assistance Programs from the AAMC and AACOMAS this time around. He was basically doing all the right things that he didn’t do the first time around. The second time around, he just felt more confident that he would get in.
Calling the School to Check on His Waitlist Status
David found out he got accepted because he called them and asked to speak with the Dean. The school was going to start by end of July, so he had to be prepared. He wanted to know if he had to make a move or not.
When he was on the waitlist, he’d check in with the school about once a month after the interview season ended. He was talking with the Dean at that point, and he asked for feedback from him. David was told that he would’ve already been accepted if he didn’t interview so poorly.
When he got accepted, it was a no-brainer for him to take the acceptance. But even if he hadn’t been accepted, he thinks he would have been fine. He was just so confident about getting accepted the second time around.
[31:20] College vs. Medical School: How Different Is It for Someone with ADHD?
The metaphor of medical school being like drinking from a fire hydrant is accurate. There’s a ton of information coming at you, and you have to take in as much information as you can process. Everyone in medical school feels like they have ADHD, as they’re not able to process everything.
As someone who actually has ADHD, David says many of the tools he used to focus as a premed still work. Specific studying techniques have to be adjusted, though.If it worked for you as an undergraduate with ADHD, it could work in med school. You just have to work a little harder than everyone else.Click To Tweet
[32:43] David’s Final Words of Wisdom
If you’re struggling with ADHD or whatever it is that’s making you doubt whether you’re smart enough or good enough to get into medical school, David says it’s just a diagnosis. Success on any academic level is a function of your effort.
If you want to do it and you put forth the effort, you can make it happen. Doctors are not perfect. You just have to put forth the effort.You can't let this diagnosis get in the way of what you want to do.Click To Tweet
David is one of those students who show you that whatever hurdles are in your path, you can overcome them. Get the support behind you to do it, and most of all, believe in yourself.
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: Ignoring Advice, He Disclosed His Bipolar Disorder in Apps.
- Related episode: Crushing It with Mental Illness During Med School.
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” at Next Step Test Prep!
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