A couple of weeks ago we talked to a student with a 2.7 undergrad GPA who is now a first-year medical student. This week, we have a similar story. Michael struggled through his undergrad with a 2.75 GPA and only realized afterward that he wanted to be a physician. Listen to his journey and what he learned.
[01:17] Meant to Be a Physician
Michael was out of college by the time he realized he wanted to be a physician. He was around 24-25 years old. But he has always been interested in nutrition and the health and performance aspects of physiology. He studied biology in college and had some struggles.Michael was out of college by the time he realized he wanted to be a physician.Click To Tweet
When he got out of college, he started working as a trainer, thinking it was the path he wanted to take. But he started to question that path. At that time, he’d be working with clients who had a lot of medical problems. And he was struck by how little he knew and how little he was able to help them.
Michael thought he had already learned so much. He had taken certification and studied biology in college. But he realized how little he knew about the human body.
This was the first moment he thought he wanted something more, intellectually. But he also wanted a career that was going to be centered around people. So he thought medicine may be right for him. But he was still hesitant at that time given the struggles he had back in college, having had bad grades. He wasn’t sure medicine was going to be available as an option.
Aimless and Immature in College, Leading to Bad Grades
Michael studied science in college because that was what he found interesting in high school. However, he really didn’t have a plan. He had interests and hobbies, but the academic part didn’t go the way that he had really planned.I really didn't do a lot of deep exploration early on in college. I was in a very immature stateClick To Tweet
So his thought process after college was just going back to what he was interested in and hoping he was going to find something that would push his interests further.
[04:20] Considering the Medical Field
Michael explains that you can Google any condition, but these are very complex processes. He had a biology background and he understood how complex the body was. He was struck by how much he missed the academic studying part and how much there was still left for him to learn.
However, the thought of having those academic struggles held him back. He didn’t know where to go from there. But he knew that working with his training clients was not challenging him enough intellectually.
He knew that if he were to extend and develop his training career into the future, it wasn’t going to provide him with the level of intellectual challenge he wanted. That being said, he was enjoying the interactions he had with his clients, so he found the job satisfying. But he knew personal training was not his future.
His First Leads into Medicine
Then Michael had a client who was a PA, which was the first time he ever heard about the profession. He thought he wanted to explore medicine, but since he didn’t have the grades to do it, he considered applying to PA school. He assumed the entrance requirements to getting to PA school were easier than for medical school.It's very hard to get into PA school, especially now.Click To Tweet
He also had heard about a scribe job back in college. His mom was a nurse who worked at an emergency room that had scribes. So he applied to a medical scribe company and got the job. He thought if he could jump in there, then maybe somebody can give him the mentorship he needed at that time.
[Related episode: MD vs PA! Let’s Talk About It with a PA to Help You Decide]
[09:30] The Biggest Mistake He Made
Michael was in a biology program as an undergrad, which was full of premed students. And he was always under the impression that if you weren’t a perfect student there were no opportunities available to you. So he didn’t even ask questions about it. He had a 2.7 science GPA, so he just thought he had no shot.
Even when he was already working in the emergency room, he wasn’t completely honest with the physicians and his co-workers. He was ashamed of having done so poorly with his undergrad GPA. It wasn’t until he started to open up that he got support from people. They were so encouraging about him pursuing it. But they were also honest with him that he had to perform well going forward.I was very much embarrassed by having done poorly in undergrad. But holding back about my story was the biggest mistake I made. Once I opened up, I got nothing but support from people.Click To Tweet
Finding Resources as a Nontrad Premed
To figure out how to get things done, he did a lot of reading and research on the internet. He talked to physicians and scribes he was working with. He had several friends who went to medical school, so he had gathered from them the general idea of what he needed to do. But he had no clue about DO grade replacement. Thankfully, he got it just before it ended.
So he did a lot of research on his own and formulated his own plan. Maybe not the smart thing to do, but he wanted to build some credibility before going to his advisor telling them he’s serious about it.
[11:05] Grade Replacement vs Grade-Enhancing Formal Postbac
His total GPA when he applied to medical school had gone up by almost six-tenths, which is a big jump. He retook several classes.Below a 3.0 GPA, you're at risk of getting cut from the first run through of applications—just having your application filtered out.Click To Tweet
Michael reckons that if he had to go through all this without any grade replacement now, he would have to do a formal postbac.
Tackling the MCAT First
When he was looking at the premed process, the first thing he did was take the MCAT. He thought that if he took the test and did really well, then it could boost his confidence. And it could allow him to apply to a grade-enhancing postbac program, if he chose to go that route. A lot of those programs require an MCAT score as a screening method to get in.
It’s actually confusing as to why postbac programs have this requirement. But Michael thinks maybe they want to know how competitive you are.
[15:14] Preparing for the MCAT
So he decided to do the MCAT first. And without a solid foundation, he actually scored so high. He self-studied for it, using a program on the Student Doctor Network, a four-month plan for your content review, and Examkrackers.
While studying the content, Michael felt like there were concepts he was just learning the first time. So he took the time to really go back and understand the concepts. It was trial and error in terms of finding the study strategies he had to incorporate, which was a great learning experience for him.Studying for the MCAT was actually where I solidified my study habits and adopted better strategies for learning. It was a huge confidence booster.Click To Tweet
Staying Motivated for the MCAT
To stay motivated the entire time, Michael made sure everybody around him knew what he was doing. He was very open about it, sharing about the path and his struggles. Once he did this, other people started to open up, too.
He was also just motivated to prove himself to everyone around him who was surprised how much he struggled academically. He felt like if he could do well on the MCAT, it was going to be the first step he needed to get the ball rolling.
Finding Support by Opening Up
Since he had been out of college, he was so ashamed he didn’t want to tell anybody about his bad grades. But he went through an evolution out of self-reflection and introspection. He tried to understand how he got to that point.You're not defined by your failures.Click To Tweet
Michael adds that people are not going to talk about their struggles unless you’re open about yours. So he took little steps. He began telling his friends, and they were just so supportive.
[20:12] Recovering from Bad Grades as a Premed
Once he had his MCAT score, he started community college. Then he decided to up the difficulty. He took biochemistry among other classes at a four-year university. Then he took a full load of classes, including retakes. He spent two years on classes after the MCAT. After finishing his do-it-yourself postbac, he applied in 2016.
Community College vs Four-Year University
I was asking Michael whether it ever came up in his interviews that he went to a community college after not doing well at a four-year university. He knew this could have been a red flag. But he clarified that he only took a couple classes during the first semester. The rest, he took at a four-university. It would have been a different story if he had done all the retakes at a community college.
He actually went back to the same college he had issues at before, just to prove to himself that he could do it, to prove to himself that he had the ability. Michael wanted to make sure that if he got to medical school, there was no question or doubt that he belonged there academically.He wanted to make sure that if he got to medical school, there was no question or doubt that he belonged there academically.Click To Tweet
[23:53] Struggles with the Personal Statement
Michael says writing his personal statement was one of his biggest challenges. He felt he had done enough academically. But how could he explain the fact that he was a 2.7 student in undergrad and then was able to get to 3.9 and a good MCAT score? He knew he had to dig into his past, which he found uncomfortable.I felt like, okay I've done enough academically that I should at least be considered, but then there was the question of how I explain all this?Click To Tweet
Tips for Writing a Medical School Personal Statement
This was the time I stepped in and worked with him. Michael describes how I grilled him but it was worth it. He said it made him so confident going into the process. He actually followed my advice to transcribe his thoughts. It felt weird at first, but I tell students to just let go and don’t hold back trying to make it sound perfect.
Usually, when you’re writing, you’re trying to put the best version of your own thoughts on paper. But when you dictate, you’re just word-vomiting and letting it go. Then you can try to find a little thread and follow that.
[Related episode: How to Start Brainstorming Your Personal Statement Draft]
[26:15] Preparing for the Interview
While preparing for the interview, Michael accused me of grilling him.
Kidding aside, he was most concerned explaining what happened in college. Ultimately, he thought if he just told the story in terms of what he was interested in and what his anxieties were, and how this led him to take the long path to medicine, it would all come together. And it did. But again, he had to get to that point since it was initially difficult for him to tell that story.
The Value of Personal Statement Editing and Mock Interviews
Although this is something you could do on your own, Michael thinks it’s important to find other people you can tell your story to. Admissions committees are going to evaluating you based on a piece of paper. So your story really needs to come through.Even if you have this great story and you certainly deserve to be in medical school, it still has to come through to people that are evaluating you.Click To Tweet
Michael stresses the importance of having mock interviews and having people read your personal statement drafts. It’s a great way to get the feedback you need to make sure you’re hitting the emotional points and everything else you need to be effective.
[30:05] Choosing Which Schools to Apply To
Location was at the top of his list when it came to choosing which schools to apply to. He wanted to stay close to family and friends.
Michael ended up applying solely to osteopathic schools, primarily because of their grade replacement. He also thinks there are a lot of things that overlap between his interests in prevention and nutrition with the osteopathic philosophy. And he felt comfortable with this. The last factor was the cost. He got two acceptances, and the cost was the deciding factor in his decision.
Transitioning to Medical School
Michael describes medical school as a whole different animal than undergrad. But it’s not that the content is hard. Just the volume of material is overwhelming. You have to have discipline in how you approach things.I found a lot of undergrad classes to be harder in terms of the content. But the volume of material is just so much in medical school. They just keep throwing it at you.Click To Tweet
It’s been hard for Michael, but manageable. He’s still able to exercise, eat well, get sleep, and take care of himself. He credits this to all those years he took to get to this place. All his past challenges were invaluable in preparing him for where he is now. To him, it was all worth the steps that he took.
[32:40] Time Management Tips
To manage his time, he likes doing the Pomodoro technique for studying, where you do focused work for some period like 50 minutes and then take a break for 10 minutes. And you just keep repeating that. Some people study for four or five hours straight, but how much of that time is spent sending text messages or doing other things?
Michael explains that what’s important is that the time you’re actually studying has to be for studying. You also have to be ruthless in moving through the material.In medical school, there's so much material that you can't possibly know everything, so you just have to move on sometimes.Click To Tweet
Cut out the distractions while studying
I want to add to what Michael said about taking away distractions. Once you hear a buzz or a ding, it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get back to where you were pre-interruption.Once you hear a buzz or a ding, it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get back to where you were pre-interruption.Click To Tweet
Michael is in a problem-based learning curriculum, so he’s part of a group of students. In the group chat, they’d joke around because he’d be doing the 50/10 thing, studying for 50 minutes and then taking a 10-minute break. But it really helps him make the most of his study time.
[35:22] Advice for Premeds with Bad Grades
Michael’s advice to students who may be suffering from a poor GPA but really want to become a doctor: Rely on the support of other students around you. You’re feeling the same stresses and the same obstacles.
Be ruthless in analyzing what’s holding you back. You can’t be afraid to really analyze what’s holding you back academically, for instance. You have to be honest about where you are falling short. Whether you need someone else to analyze what you’re doing to help you, or whether you can do this yourself, you have to be objective about what’s working and not.You have to be honest about where you are falling short. You have to be objective about what's working and not.Click To Tweet
People can throw so many techniques at you, but at the end of the day, only use what is useful for you and then discard what doesn’t work.
Currently, Michael is happy with the people he is with and with the problem-based learning they have at their school. So he’s just looking forward to continuing to do well. He’s excited about everything, and he feels really good about things.
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Links and Other Resources
- Check out my premed advising services, including mock interviews, personal statement editing, and more!
- Related episode: From a 2.7 Undergrad GPA to First-Year Medical Student
- Related episode: ICU Nurse Turned Medical Student Shares Her Journey
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” for 10% off Next Step full-length practice tests or “MSHQTOC” for $50 off MCAT tutoring or the Next Step MCAT Course at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)!