From the Military to Medical School with an Upward Trend

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Session 266

Today, we have a great story of a student, Dillon, who overcame a lot of obstacles. From getting a 0.67 first-semester GPA and coming from a military career, he eventually learned how to be a premed.

Good thing, he figured it all out and is now being a successful premed. Listen to this interview and learn from his mistakes. Realize that you don’t have to be perfect to get into medical school.

Also, check out all our four other amazing podcasts on MedEd MediaThe OldPreMeds Podcast, The MCAT Podcast, Specialty Stories, and Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A.

[01:38] Interest in Becoming a Physician and Joining the Military

It was only four and a half years ago that Dillon realized he wanted to be a physician. He had thoughts about it growing up but it wasn’t anything serious. He did want to become a chiropractor when he was 18. But he always wanted to join military, so he went to college a couple of years but eventually pulled out to join the military. Dillon had 3 F’s and a C in his first semester, resulting in a 0.67 GPA. Second semester, he had 2 B’s and 2 A’s. So he got himself off the academic probation.

In hindsight, Dillon says he shouldn’t have been in college at that time. He didn’t have the drive to be there or any real sense of purpose. He was just floating through and thought it was just the next thing to high school. Eventually, he withdrew and did a self-assessment. He figured he was turning 20 and if he didn’t join the military now, he’s going to regret it. So he pulled out and enlisted to take the Summer and joined in August 2007.

[Tweet “”I shouldn’t have been in college at that time. I didn’t have the drive to be there or any real sense of purpose.””]

He enlisted as a Special Forces candidate. He went to assessment and broke his foot. At that point, it was right in the surge of Iraq and Afghanistan a couple years later. They couldn’t hold them around to rehab so he just went to the line, meaning he went to the infantry. This terrified him because he saw the way those guys worked being a private in the army. Then a recruiter came by and was looking to sign people up and fill their classes. Dillon was active duty for almost 8 years and still in the Guard right now.

By his first military appointment, Dillon got married and he was never going to stay in the military indefinitely. So there was that finite time in mind. Two years before the last contract was going to end, he was already working towards completing a business degree a couple of times. But he hated those. Between his third and fourth deployment, he knew he wanted to get out and go into the workforce.

[08:10] Tapping Into Resources

Getting ready for the next deployment, he had a lot of office time to research things. So he briefly thought about chiropractic for a week but decided not to do it having a different perspective on it now. His research then drew him towards osteopathic schools. He never really heard of them.

[Tweet “”I found about osteopathic schools. I never heard of them… it was nothing I had ever been exposed to. I think that’s the case for a lot of people.””]

Knowing now about osteopathic schools, he also learned about grade replacement, which was still honored at that time. Dillon knew his grades would always haunt him but thought maybe he’d have a shot at osteopathic schools. He then talked himself into it throughout the course of Fall 2013. It was also at this time that he found Ryan’s podcast. He found a good library there to get started with. And it gave him a confidence boost that he could really do it.

Then he did another four-month deployment. Before he left, he downloaded a bunch of episodes from this podcast so he could listen to them. He was also taking classes online. He refocused and made a plan to get out and get in by 2017. All fell into place and he’s now on pace.

[11:17] Dealing with Fear and Working on His Grades to Have an Upward Trend

What he says as he’s most scared of his habit of being a slacker as he was growing up. He remembers not having done any homework in high school or work that hard in college. Not even in the online classes he was taking at that time in the military. So he was nervous about not having the actual, honest study habits.

[Tweet “”Just actual, honest study habits were a thing that I was nervous about.””]

When he came back from deployment, for his last nine months in the military, he committed to 12 hours of face-to-face at a state school. So he went to school during the day and did night training. He just threw himself into 12 hours of Gen Chem 1, Bio 1, and Physics 1 with the labs. And he treated this as a test to himself that if can do this then he should be fine. He ultimately figured out how to develop good study habits.

In terms of talking about his grades on the application, Dillon doesn’t recall writing about it in his secondaries. But he did address it on his personal statement. It was never addressed in the interviews he attended. Dillon admits the grades have held him back from getting interviews at some schools.

For his AMCAS GPAs, his cumulative undergrad GPA was a 3.29 and his Science GPA was a 3.49. Good thing he hasn’t taken too many science classes during those first semesters so that helped. On the other hand, his AACOMAS GPAs were a bit higher. His Science GPA was 4.0. Since he made that decision to apply, he made one B. Nevertheless, he had this upward trend.

He recalls one of the interviewers that was supposed to address grades didn’t bring it up having seen only one B in recent history. So the interviewer said that he didn’t see the need to talk about grades. Not only did he figure out the study thing, it was also 70 hours of grades in between him deciding and graduating and matriculating medical school.

[Tweet “”The earlier you catch those mistakes, the better.””]

Dillon adds he did a lot of degree planning as to what paths he should take. And no matter which way he took it, he figured out he was two years from getting out of the military to matriculating in 2017. And with those two years, he thought the best course of action was to pivot straight to a STEM degree. This way, he had to take all those extra sciences to graduate. He could have done the business degrees but he didn’t like it.

[17:13] How He Told His Story on His Personal Statement

He walked them through his decision process as to why he wanted to go to medical school. This means talking about his transition from what he was doing in the military to how he thought that prepared him to go to medical school.

In getting feedback on his personal statement, he remembers one school telling him he wrote well and told a good story.

He describes his introduction as jumping in your face. His intention was to grab their attention to actually read it. Ryan actually used this as an example in his book for great openings.

[Tweet “”I really jumped into the first paragraph of the personal statement…it was in your face, attention grabbing, because I wanted them to actually read it.””]

Additionally, Dillon cites a systematic approach to getting those materials ready for the application. Aside from buying The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview, he had a bunch of people to look at the personal statement for different reasons. He had four to five people read it. His wife best friend who is a physician read it for the medical school content. Then he had his best buddy read everything including personal statement and emails. His friends works in state politics and writes policies. He’s a chief of staff right now for a senator. So he had someone who was very good with the written word. They in fact shared a Google drive just for this. He would move things into a draft folder while his friend would move it into a revised folder.

With a lot of things to say, Dillon did a mock interview with Ryan. He found this very helpful because there were a couple of red flags raised during that mock interview. He spent too much time trying to relate the military experience to being a medical school applicant, instead of saying why he wanted to attend. So he focused keenly on working with many men and women in a really vulnerable time. He stressed how that was important to him and it made the job special in a way. He also related the challenges of trying to challenge himself in the military to the academic rigors of medical school.

[21:44] Medical School Interviews: Challenges and Highlights

Dillons says he never really had a rough question during his interviews. He describes all his interviews as being really conversational, which is the goal. As the interviewee, he allowed it to be conversational.

Dillon adds you should get a vibe from the school as to how it would be. Many schools he interviewed at were upfront. And they told him ten more times during interview day.

The MMI interview he did was very tough though and he found it exceptionally challenging. He wasn’t offered an acceptance at that school. He felt like all the questions were ethical dilemmas. The questions were just above his level and that he needed more information than he was given. He just wasn’t prepared for it.

The most memorable interview he had was the two attending physicians that were formerly in the military. He thought it wasn’t by accident. The first was conversational and the interviewer related to what he did in the military. He was able to flush everything he wanted to have them hear and it lasted for over an hour. It was his number one priority for the schools he applied to and felt it was the place he wanted to attend.

Ryan adds that schools will try to look at your experiences and look at your past. They they’d see who on their admissions committee or on their roster of interviewers would match up with your talent or research, etc. They’d try to pair you together based on the availability of the interviewer. This way, it makes it a much more personal interview.

Dillon further says that interviewer was the most prepared among the others. He had his whole application on his laptop so he was scrolling through it. But he also read through it thoroughly. He took a full page of notes, front and back.

The second interviewer didn’t have time to read the application thoroughly being the department chair so he was probably busy. It was obvious that it was the first time he had laid eyes on it when he opened it. This is what Ryan tells students all the time that even though it’s an open interview doesn’t mean they’ve looked at your stuff. The interviewer also got late so he was open to saying that he didn’t get the chance to read it. The interview was basically over after five minutes and they talked for another 45 minutes about nothing medical school or application-related.

[Tweet “”Even though it’s an open interview doesn’t mean they’ve looked at your stuff.””]

[28:20] Studying for the MCAT and Applying to Many Schools

Dillon says he would have liked to have a higher MCAT then he would have a little bit less stress going into it. He thought once the MCAT was over and he would have the test back, it would be on a downhill. But he realized putting the application was very stressful.

Learning from this mistake, he recommends finding a partner in crime to share the suffering with studying for the MCAT since it can be lonely time. He didn’t anybody at his school that was taking the MCAT and applying at the same time as he was. So he went the road alone.

Check out and they will hook you up with people that are taking the MCAT at the same time you are. Dillon did a Kaplan course but he didn’t really find is as helpful as you’d probably would when you’d join the study groups.

[Tweet “”That’s one of the best things about medical school for me as a nontraditional student is the shared suffering.””]

Dillon’s original list was at 14 schools. This was a healthy number. But when he got the MCAT score back and was working that summer away from home, it was a combination of having time and having money to burn that the number got up to 29. He finished secondaries at 27. With the original 14 schools he applied to, he got interview invites at 10 of them. He thought he should just have applied to only those instead. In choosing the schools, location was his primary preference. He was specifically looking for those within four hours from Tennessee.

Dillon thought there’d be no way he’d get into WashU, but Ryan challenges him as well as many other students who think this. Sure, it may be another fee, but with a unique story, you don’t really know what the school is looking for to build their class. Their averages are ridiculously high but 50% of the class is below the average.

[34:30] Early and Late Interviews and Acceptances

Dillon says he was fortunate to have gotten very quick interviews and a few very fast acceptances. His first interview was at the very end of August, which was early. Then he had an acceptance a week later to that school.

Then he was doing six interviews in four weeks. Then no more interviews after that. He turned down some other interviews after he got into the ones he had ranked higher in his list. But after that, no news. The second highest school in his list, he didn’t hear from them until February, which was a long wait. During that interim, he sent them a letter and he found he got wait-listed. Then he sent another update letter after the Fall when his grades came out. He wrote the letter in a Word.doc and sent it as a PDF.

The last interview he got was the first week of April. He heard that if you do secondaries to the state school, you will get an interview invite. There’s no money involved, just more information and a headshot image. He was already having those acceptances but this school would have been better for several reasons for him. He also sent his Fall grades to them in March and called the school about it. Then he found out they were set to send him an invite the following week. Then he got the acceptance a month later.

Dillon admits he wasted a lot of stuff looking at apartments at the other schools he got acceptances in. But this particular school was just great for him. It wasn’t that hard for him moving to this place since he gets to live at the house of his wife’s best friend.

[41:05] His Medical School Experience and Being in the Guard

Dillon would experience at medical school as great and exciting. Obviously, he had to adjust. Now that he’s on first year, he wished he knew about the time he had to crunch all this stuff. The first exam, he was doing 16 hours a week of honest class and study time. But he figured it wasn’t enough. He’s right in the middle of the pack while his buddy is right there at the top. They study with the same amount of time but he’s just better at memorizing than he is, he guesses. Listen to last week’s episode PMY 265: Learn How to Better Retain Information with a Memory Master  for some memorization techniques.

[Tweet “”The first six weeks, I was not comfortable. Just with the combination of the workload and how I was performing in class, on the exams.””]

Handling both medical school and being in the Guard, he’s still able to make it work somehow. It’s tough. In fact, he could not believe he could still continue to be in the Guard and be a medical student. Having had ten years of service, he decided to stay in the Guard for health insurance reasons. Though he’s going to try on his fourth year to do a military elective through the Guard. But he has no plans of being an active duty doctor whatsoever.

Dillon talks about his GI benefits. He was in a state school that covered 100% tuition and he still gets the housing allowance. It’s for 36 months. He came to school with 32 months remaining. He uses tuition assistance from the Guard, so it’s 16 hours for one semester. This covers all except the fees. Then on the next semester, he pays out of pocket and work on it to make it happen so he could save for the medical school tuition.

[48:25] Final Words of Wisdom

Figure out why you’re messing up in the first place. For Dillon, he just didn’t have the drive to be in class. Looking back, college is not that difficult if you put in the honest amount of work it takes. If you can establish that to do well in school then it will work out for you. And if you’re also in the military, it’s not easy but he believes he got into the interview to the school he’s in now because he’s in the military.


MedEd MediaThe OldPreMeds Podcast, The MCAT Podcast, Specialty Stories, and Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

PMY 265: Learn How to Better Retain Information with a Memory Master