From the Oil Fields and Poor Grades to an SMP and Acceptance

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Session 270

Jonathan is a medical student who landed his dream school after struggling as a premed and working in the oil fields.

This episode shows you a journey of a student who needed to reboot and figure stuff out. He got to medical school and it took him longer than he wanted and even more money than he wanted, having to do a postbac.

But he’s now a medical student and will be a physician soon. This is to show you that you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be willing to figure out how to course correct, figure out what you’re doing wrong, and improve on the way.

This 2018, we will be releasing The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. Go to and sign up to be notified when it comes out.

Meanwhile, check out all our other podcasts on the MedEd Media Network.

[02:00] His Interest in Becoming a Physician

Jonathan’s interest in medicine started back when he was ten with his dad being his biggest influence since he was a physician. He’d bring him along in the clinic and he’d see procedures. He also had him help with the charts. As he got older, his father encouraged him to go into computers instead of medicine. He told him to try other fields like business and engineering, but not medicine. However, Jonathan always found himself drawn toward it.

[Tweet “”I always was drawn to it. There was nothing else in my heart that I felt I wanted to do with my life.””]

When asked what he wanted to do through school, he’s always say he’s getting into medical school. He did get to shadow since he wanted to see other aspects of medicine outside of family medicine. But his dad never made any phone call for him. So he had to call the doctors he wanted to shadow himself. Good thing they were always more than welcoming to have him shadow them.

[06:15] The Challenges in Undergrad and His Relationships

Jonathan shares his mistakes in life to the point that he thought he’d never be able to pursue his career in medicine. He fell in love with his high school sweetheart. Then they got married during his sophomore year of college. But not listening to the advice and wisdom of others and wanting to have that instant gratification, it was a mistake.

[Tweet “”Life has a way of taking you in different directions and different paths you never thought you’d go down.””]

Then once he got married, everything just got downhill. He admits being so young and being not ready for it were the reasons for the failure. His wife left him. And while trying to salvage the marriage, he wasn’t separating his issues with is personal life and school issues. So when he first started off with college, he was having A’s and then his grades just went downhill again. When the relationships was over, he was all getting Ds and Fs. So for him, the biggest mistake in terms of medical school was not the divorce but having failed to step back and withdraw. He didn’t actually realize how deep getting Fs was and when he did, it was already too late.

Additionally, a couple months after they decided to part ways, his dad gave him a call telling him his dad and his mom were getting a divorce after 25 years. So his whole support system was destroyed. Then a couple of months later, a close family member died in a horrific accident. All these personal issues were going on and he didn’t have the tool, the life experience, and maturity to handle. He failed to compartmentalize things, focus on studying, and then focus on personal issues.

But Jonathan owns up to his mistakes. And he says it was his fault for not withdrawing. He adds that if there are issues going on, either take care of the issues right away or withdraw. Do not take an F. If you had to withdraw from school, it’s okay.

[Tweet “”It’s better to take a break from school and deal with life and then come back than to keep taking Fs and digging yourself so deep in the hole.””]

So at that time he decided to take a break from school, he had a GPA at 2.2. He was placed on academic probation and they were going to kick him out. So he decided to withdraw.

[12:40] Working in the Oilfields and Creating a Game Plan

After he withdrew from school, he went working at the oilfields. He knew he needed that break to heal himself and come up with a game plan as to how to get himself out of the hole. He did think for a time that it was too late for him and he just had to move on from medicine.

At the time he did decide to go back to school in 2012, grade replacement for osteopathic medical schools was still an option. So he met with his premed advisor and she help him figure out his game plan. He pulled out his transcripts and from there, decided on retaking every single class that he earned below a B in.

He went back and re-enrolled and he got a part-time to almost full-time job as a phlebotomist. He began volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Then he retook all 20-26 of his classes.

While retaking and coming up with the game plan, he didn’t know about the AACOMAS policy change. And it was just pure luck that he was able to finish retaking the classes before they got rid of the grade replacement.

His game plan?

Re-enroll, save as much money as he could from working at the oilfields, reenroll, job in a hospital drawing blood on in-patients, take his classes, and volunteer when he could.

Once he got his GPA above 3.0 and at that time, he already had over 6,000 clinical hours and lots of volunteerism, he thought he had met the minimum cutoff of the schools. He knew he just had to try.

[16:10] Taking the Old and the New MCAT

Jonathan actually took both the old and the new MCAT. The first take he had was a 25 – not great.  He admits to preparing poorly for it. Then he took the next one and earned 504 – still not great. But it met the bare minimum to apply.

The first time he took it (old), he didn’t do enough practice questions. He just kept reading the books and doing practice questions at the end of the day. At that time, classes have ended and he was working on the weekends only. Plus, his boss at that time was very understanding. So although he had enough time, he just didn’t have enough practice questions.He felt he was all over the place too in terms of which resources or study materials to use.

[18:00] Failed Application and Getting Feedback from the School

He first applied in 2015. He received one interview at his instate school and he got an immediate rejection five days later. In total, he applied to 20 schools.

After going through an unsuccessful application cycle, he was set to have a plan B and work the problem. He figured what his problem was. He called his instate school to ask what he needed to do to improve his application to get accepted. The school advised him to have a stronger science GPA. They wanted him to prove to them that he could handle medical school. The last thing they want is for their students to drop out. So he just didn’t have enough proof that he could handle it.

[Tweet “”They want people with great stories, with life experience, but you’ve got to be able to prove to the medical school that you can handle that.””]

[19:50] Special Masters Program (SMP) and Course Correction

As Jonathan would put it, he needed to divorce himself from his undergraduate GPA. So he decided to do special master’s program at a medical school. And the admissions offer at that time said that if was able to do the master’s program and smash it, it was going to be a game changer for him.

[Tweet “”If you can’t handle a master’s program, how are you going to handle medical school?””]

Luckily, the medical school that had their SMP program accepted his AACOMAS application. He applied to about 10 programs and got accepted to a couple of good ones. Nevertheless, his goal was to take a master’s program that was at a medical school to be able to take, if not the same courses as medical students, at least take the ones as similar as possible. That way, he could give a good evidence to the admissions committee that he took the same classes as in medical school and he did well.

Once he was at the SMPs, Jonathan says that doing it would mean taking your game to a whole new level. At first, he still didn’t well. But after her advisor told him that he only had so many points left to do well, otherwise it’s game over. So this lit the fire in him to do much better.

Additionally, several of these master’s programs that connect with medical schools have learning specialists. He consulted with one of them and they talked bout his studying strategies. What was working, what was not, what the chunk was.

[Tweet “”I think that’s one of the biggest things – keeping the phone away.””]

Now, every time Jonathan sits down to study, he would go to his game plan and tell himself that he’s studying for his life and for his future career. So he had to get those A’s. This said, he was fighting for his life in each of the studying sessions. He left his phone in the apartment so there would be no distractions. He also turned off the notifications when studying.

He also uses the Pomodoro Method where you study as hard as you can for 30 minutes and take a five-minute break, walking around. As a result, Jonathan’s grades from Cs and Bs to straight As. For Jonathan, the SMP was the best decision she has ever made. It helped him get a wider grasp of the biomedical sciences.

Furthermore, the SMP helped him figure out how to study more efficiently. For him, the SMP was worth every penny. It was a game changer. In fact, he was offered eight interviews.

[24:45] The Second MCAT and the Interview

For Jonathan, (and most students probably), the MCAT was beast. There was no way around it. He actually took the MCAT before his SMP. Jonathan ultimately admits having taken a gamble for this. Also, he enrolled in the Princeton Review MCAT Course, along with all the books and all practice problems. Still at that time, he still wasn’t able to recognize his studying style. And for the MCAT having turned into an 8-hour experience was very tiring for him.

At that time, he knew it was his last chance so he had to do well. So he did tweak a few things and let his personality come out. And he sought my help with the interview prep. After having gone through an interview the first time at his in-state school and the second time around, Jonathan thinks the biggest thing between the two was his own confidence and the ability to relax. He did get an acceptance from that school. And when he went to interview at another school, they called him a couple days later with an acceptance. He was only able to get one spot for the mock interview, but it still paid off.

[21:40] His Thought Process in Picking the School

A big part of it is that he wanted to stay in his home state, being able to be nearest to his relatives and family. He also was able to already build the connection with his school since he kept bugging them so much. So he felt he was home and it was where his heart belongs. As soon as he got the phone call, he decline all the other interview offers remaining. Since he was living off loans for the master’s program, there was also that financial aspect of not being able to fly all over the country for the interviews. But in the grand of scheme of things, Jonathan says he’s where he’s supposed to be at.

[33:30] Transition to Medical School versus SMP

[Tweet “”The medical school is like an SMP on steroids.””]

As Jonathan would describe it, the medical school is like an SMP on steroids. To where he went to for his SMP, they didn’t have lab time so they went to class in the morning. Then he was off the rest of the day to study. But in medical school, you’ve got to be in the lab for at least eight hours a week. Then you still have to study and you’ve got clinical skill labs as well as other mandatory meetings you had to go to. So for him, the SMP helped him have a good foundation. But medical school still is so fast-paced. Not that it’s super complicated, but it’s just the sheer volume of it especially for anatomy.

[Tweet “”SMP did help, but medical school, you’ve got to be ready to take it to the next level.””]

He knew he did well on his SMP but he couldn’t be too complacent so he had to step up his game. Jonathan specifically stresses how critical time management is in medical school.

[35:30] Talking About His Past Challenges During Interview

Jonathan remembers the admissions committee wanting to know more about his SMP experience. They asked him how he went from doing poorly in the undergrad to SMP. And they didn’t actually ask him about the MCAT. This is just based on the two medical schools he did interviews at post-SMP. And they seem to have really loved his SMP grades and he was thankful for it.

He was weak in the MCAT and weak in undergrad, but great in clinical experiences, volunteering, and shadowing, and his SMP grades. He was just thankful he took it at the same medical school where they had the same medical professors and the same classes as medical students except for the labs.

It was indeed proof enough that he could handle it.

[37:00] What Prepared Him to Be a Medical Student

He says that being able to focus on medical school and put life when there’s distractions, to let that put that to the side. Try to figure out whether it’s something important that you need to take care of now, or if it’s something that can wait. If it can wait, then he’d deal with it after he’s done with his day.

[Tweet “”Nothing is going to get i the way of my studying for the day. That’s why I don’t take my cellphone with me. That’s why I turn off the notifications in my computer.””]

Once he’s done with his study goals for the day, then he’d take care of the other issues, even the smallest of things like laundry or paying bills. He also adds that self-discipline is key in medical school. He also had to take some communication time off his family and friends for him to be able to get things done.

[38:55] Jonathan’s Advice to Those with Poor Grades

Although he was lucky to have applied where grade replacement was still going on, Jonathan admits it’s hard to get out of the hole. But one thing he’s sure of is that it’s not impossible. It can be done. It may take longer now and it may be a harder climb but it can be done.

You have to ask yourself how much time, work, dedication, and sacrifice are you willing to take to make it work out. At the end of the day, the one thing we all have in common is we’d end up six feet under the ground. We have only have one life so you might as well do what you love and what you feel you’re called to do.

[Tweet “”If medical school is what you feel you’re called to do, then do everything you can to focus yourself on reaching that goal.””]

Lastly, if you have poor GPA, crush the MCAT. If it’s not good enough, take the master’s program or postbac. Separate yourself from the past with a fresh start. Use that fresh start and crush it. No excuses. It just all comes down to time, patience, and a ton of hard work.

Jonathan admits there were plenty of days that he thought it wasn’t going to happen and he’d have to go back to the oilfields. But he believes that if he can do it, than anyone else can, too!

[41:45] Carle Illinois College of Medicine

Back in episode 256, we did an interview with Dean King Li of Carle Illinois College of Medicine where he talked about the four Cs – compassion, competence, curiosity, and creativity. Being a new admissions committee, they’re looking for the 4Cs in applicants.

What they ask from each prospective students is to prepare a portfolio and they’re free to send anything that highlights how they exemplify the four Cs. So they’re free to demonstrate how they interpret those qualities and then use the portfolio to support it. For instance, they can be anything from an artwork (if you’re an artist) or if you do volunteering or you’re helping your next door neighbor because she has an Alzheimer’s disease and you’ve devoted hours to take care of them. These can be written or you can have people write support letters. Regardless of how you document it, just show that your activities exemplify those qualities.

They also ask their applicants to shoot a very short video. They’re not going to assess the technical quality of the video, but they only want to hear them talk about the four qualities for five minutes and how they interpret what each quality means and how they demonstrate each.

Carle Illinois College of Medicine is accepting their first class to start this year in 2018. All 32 students will receive a full scholarship to go to medical school. They’re still accepting applications through the AMCAS system. If you’re interested go back and listen to the episode. If you think you fit well with their philosophy and curriculum, go reach out to them and apply.


MedEd Media Network

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

PMY 256: Interview with Dr. King Li of Carle Illinois College of Medicine