In this episode, you will hear about another success story of a premed student who got into medical school on her first try after not doing very well in undergrad and more specifically, on the MCAT.
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Back to today’s episode, Holly initially didn’t think she could become a physician and let her fears dictate her path. She then conquered her fears and has been successful. Holly is a perfect example that you don’t have to be a perfect student to get into medical school.
She found a school that matched what she was interested in. She allowed her goals to overcome her fears. And if you find yourself in this situation where you fear something and you don’t think you can do this, this is a must-listen episode for you.
[02:20] Her Dream to Become a Physician
Growing up, Holly didn’t have any aspirations of being a doctor until she was working as a caregiver when she was in high school. This was the first introduction she got with patient care. A couple years of working, and she decided to go back to school, still around health care being a lover of the sciences.
Holly would describe living in a “low socioeconomic status” and not many people in their area ended up going to college or having those big career aspirations. So it just never occurred to her that being a premed was an option.
[05:20] A Slight Detour and Going Back to School: Pregnancy and Getting Family Support
A couple of months into working as a caregiver, she got pregnant with her son. So she felt this was holding her back from pursuing any sort of big career. She wanted to but she didn’t think she would have the time to go full board doctor while raising a son and all the things that went along with that.
Then she started working as a cashier at a local grocery store and one day, she just realized it was not she really wanted to do, nor would she want to do this for the rest of her life. So that week, she quit her job and took a risk. She registered for school and took classes in the Summer, which were accelerated classes. Instead of taking them in a ten-week quarter, they’re reduced to five weeks. Seeing she was doing pretty decent, it gave her the confidence that she could do this.Once she jumped in, she didn’t feel it was really hard as she thought and she could actually manage her time and do it.
Holly feels lucky for having a husband who’s 100% supportive of her career goals and she considers him as a huge rock in her journey.
[08:25] From Poor to Great Advising
So when she signed up to take classes at a community college where she was still pre-pharmacy, they were made to talk with an advisor. And one of the things the advisor told her was she needed to think of a different career path because there was no way she was going to be able to accomplish it since she has a family. Holly took this to heart and sadly, she didn’t really get any that much of a help from her advisor.
A year into community college, she decided to switch over to premed, thinking that being a pharmacist just didn’t feel right for her, also having shadowed a pharmacist and realized it wasn’t something she wanted to do.
Then Holly got into Portland State University three years later and she got a premed advisor who guided her and pointed her in all the right directions. The school worked really closely with the local medical school OHSU. And they were strict in terms of what classes you need to take. But what she like about her advisor was the fact she was very supportive and very aware of going for upward trends.
A year before she graduated with her bachelor’s was when she stumbled upon this podcast which she has found as very helpful.
[11:11] Juggling Family Life and Medical School
Holly says that while this may not be the path for everybody, what you really want to do is to make sure you’re taking classes with professors who have either worked there before or that you know their teaching style works with your learning style. Or make sure that her schedule worked where she gets to go to school full day but only two days a week. This would give her three days out of the week to study and make sure she was doing her homework.
Luckily, the community college she went to had a Head Start Program. Due to this, she’s able to bring her son with her to school and drop them off there. She’d also visit them on lunch breaks, on the days that she needed child care, while she was at school while her husband was working.
Moreover, the hardest thing for her was the transition from working to going to school. Holly explains that most of the schools have that delayed gratification where you have to put in the time. But sometimes you kind of lost sight of why you’re doing it. At the same time, Holly was feeling this guilt from being away from her son. So it was hard for her to keep the end game in mind. But once she had the clarity and constantly reminding herself that she was doing this for her family, then she was able to overcome some of that difficulty. In addition, time management was something she needed to relearn.
[15:55] Finding Time for the Extracurriculars
Holly admits having had very little direction on her first three years while at community college. And then it took her three years to start out there. She realized she was pretty behind in high school because of her full-time work so she had to relearn her techniques. That said, she had very little direction until she got into a university.
It was actually a year and a half when her advisor was asking her about when she’s going to do these extracurriculars. So she found some volunteer opportunities at the premed fair they had at the score.
After finding some volunteer opportunities at a premed fair they had the school, one of them being The American Red cross. And as someone who donates blood often, this just drove her to it. Another thing that drove her to this was how flexible they were. They on’y had a minimum requirement of 4 hours a month.
Then she got pregnant again, now with her second child about a year before she graduated from the university. Feeling unsupported, she was taking a gap year and it was the bulk of her extracurriculars done. So Holly decided to get work with direct patient care, and her degree, which she has been doing for the last two and a half years.
Holly did a year working as a psychiatric technician for a nonprofit, specifically in the mental health sector. She worked with youth just below hospital level and did patient care with kids which she did for a year. Then she landed a job at the company she’s still working at until now. It’s another nonprofit mental health company, but this time, she’s working directly with a child mentalist and psychiatrist as a psychiatric care coordinator. She has been doing this for the last year and a half. It still involved direct patient care as she would have to room patients in the same way you do at a primary care doctor’s office. She also does medical case management.
[19:40] Taking the MCAT Twice
Holly didn’t register for the MCAT until a year after graduation because she just gave birth around that time so she had to juggle several things, taking care of the baby which meant being sleep-deprived most of the time as well as some personal issues. So she made that decision to take a gap year. Six months into her job, she decided to register for the MCAT. At this time, she didn’t know that you have to register early. The soonest day available was, say, May 19 and she didn’t study that much. Apparently, she did the MCAT twice.
She knew she didn’t do well the first try since she tried to cram everything into a month before she took the test so she ended up getting a 492. Around this time, she discovered The MCAT Podcast after randomly searching for MCAT resources. She then learned all the things she should have learned before she took the MCAT the first time. Take it early and don’t procrastinate studying. Take the practice tests.
So the second time she took it, she registered for it again, taking a May test date to give her time plenty of time to study. And she crushed it this time. She also had to change jobs at this time which gave her a lot of flexibility. She was able to study during lunch breaks. She also developed a good working relationship with the doctor she was working for, who kept her motivation up. After over two months studying for the MCAT, there was construction happening in her apartment, so she and her family had to move out to a hotel. They spent a month there with her husband, two kids, and her MCAT books.
In the end, she reckons she didn’t study as much as the content that she would have wanted to. She debated pushing the test date but she couldn’t afford it financially. So she pushed through with it anyway, took it again. Not having reviewed any of the psychology stuff, putting it off at the last minute and confident that she was a Psychology major and worked at a mental health institution. But this was another mistake she’s now pointing out.
[26:25] What Went Wrong?
There a a few factors that she thought was wrong in her planning. First, living in a hotel set her off by about a month. So she really had a hard time finding quiet with what was going on. Though she knows this is just her excuse. She had a study plan and she was really doing well sticking with it until that point she had to move and she got behind it. Then she decided she was going to focus on the areas she struggled with the most – Physics and Chemistry. And she also focused a little bit more on Biology, being a bigger chunk on the MCAT since every section has a little bit of Biology in it, as well as the CARS section since she got a low score in that section the first time. She decided to do a “smart” study instead of a “bulk” study.
In the end, she didn’t get the scores she was looking for. She had gotten off track her study schedule. Then two weeks before the test, she noticed something about her mom’s health. And right before the test, she found out her mom had severe COPD. This bugged her when she went in there. It was what was running on her mind on the first section.
Although she got the score that she didn’t really want, she ended up applying to medical school still. She talked with her advisor and she was just very supportive of her. They can say yes, no, or maybe, but at least you’ve got to reply.
[29:27] The Application Process: Choosing Schools to Apply To
Holly says not limiting where she applied to just because of her MCAT scores otherwise she would have applied to many more places. She got a 499 her second time. Part of her thought process in picking places to apply to was choose those she was passionate about and where she thought her personal statement would resonate with. Basically, she picked places that she thought would fit her personality. Alongside, she applied to places where she knew she wasn’t going there but she applied anyway. She did take a couple of rejections but as they say, it only takes one acceptance.
In doing her research on schools to see her personality fit, she looked to MSAR that had all information about GPA and MCAT. Then she narrowed it down. The top tier ones were out as she describes it as a level of “self-described prestige” which she doesn’t think her personality fits with.
Some of the things she looked for in the programs were international medicine, the ability to go abroad. She also researched more into the school like volunteering opportunities. She’s passionate about working with underserved populations and homeless populations. So if she saw it was something they allowed or encouraged in their volunteer opportunities, then she included them into her list of schools she was interested in applying to.
[33:17] Writing Her Personal Statement
Holly finds herself talking about her kid in every job interview. But when it came to the personal statement, she listed all the things she has done. She presented this with her premed advisor and told her not to do it. And it was the same thing she heard on this podcast.
She then attended an event from an osteopathic school in Oregon, which was a personal statement workshop. They were reading out loud a couple of the personal statements from some of their students who got accepted. Although they had different styles, one thing she learned was that it’s about you and your personal style.
Holly wrote so many versions of her personal statement that she even struggles to remember what ended up making into the final cut and what didn’t. Especially that she applied to both MD and DO schools so she had to cut some of that personal statement for the AACOMAS.
Nevertheless, she started with a story about a patient she interacted with at the place she worked with. But her premed advisor gave her a feedback that it was all about the patient. And asked her it should be about her and why she wanted to be a doctor and why this is relevant to her.
So she started out with her story and what had held her back from starting her journey until what really pushed her towards becoming a doctor. She talked about that moment she wanted to be a doctor and blended it with the story of the patient about how this shaped the kind of doctor she wanted to be. She talked about how patient care was her passion.
[37:07] Talking About Her Family in the Application
It was a long process but when she talked about how she got to where she’s at from where she came from, she had to talk about it and she talked about her family as part of her story because it was who she was.
She got two interview invites and one was an MMI. Molly explains how there are specific questions that you kind of expect to pop up like why medicine and what got her to that point. So she had to talk about her journey.
As with MMI, although there are lot of different stations with questions on ethical debates, but a lot of them can be very standard interview questions as well. She was so nervous about her MMI. She had a bulk of her time practicing the ethical questions so getting a very basic one as her first question got her choked up a little bit. But more than anything else, it was just more of her nerves. But by the time she got to the 6th to 8th station, she was getting less and less nervous.
[40:10] Holly’s Advice to Students
Holly admits having questioned many of her steps. But in the end, her goal was more important than her fear. Though she knew that had she been more confident about herself and what she wanted to do with her life, she would have started the process a lot sooner.
She’s now 31 years old and was one of the oldest people in her interviewing group. She doubted herself along the way, in fact, so much, but she just kept pushing forward. At the end of the day, it’s not about the little moments or the quiz you failed or even the three Cs you got. But it’s about looking to that bigger picture. Shadowing and clinical experience are a huge piece for her to push forward because it just reminded her that it’s what she wanted. Her end goal was working with patients and being a doctor. Keep that end goal in mind and keep pushing forward. If this is what you want, it doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest person or not, it’s all about the hard work. Just keep working. Break it down into smaller, obtainable goals.
[42:40] Share Your Success Story with Us!
If you have a success story you want to share on this podcast or you know someone who has overcome some obstacles, let me know by emailing [email protected]. If you know any dreamers out there in medical school and working as physicians, let us know too!
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