Fernando immigrated from Brazil and has been on the long, slow road to medical center. After some experiences in the LGBT community, he needed to be a physician.
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Back to today’s episode, Fernando took a long time to finish his undergrad. But through this application cycle, he has had multiple acceptances to amazing medical schools. He will be going to an Ivy League medical school soon.
[03:35] An Interest in Becoming a Physician
Fernando never thought being a doctor was for him until he was 26 years old when had to move to New York City where he became part of the LGBT community. He considers it as a calling that brought many different aspects of his life together.
Basically in Brazil, they were able to pick their major and he got impressed after touring a school of medicine there. But he didn’t feel he had the discipline or that he was smart enough. At 18, he wanted to move from a small part of the city and wanted to see the world. And the thought of studying medicine in Brazil for six years in medicine wasn’t something he could see doing. He knew he loved sciences but he also knew that if he had to study something, it had to be related to life.
Fernando came out of the closet at 19 when he was still in Brazil then he moved to the States when he was 21. He wanted to become more independent and be able to live in a country that wasn’t homophobic. And moving to the US was eye-opening for him having been able to understand the problems his community was going through, particularly relating to HIV. Having friends coping with HIV and seeing the American healthcare system, he thought how fascinating it would be to learn the tools and bring that back to his community.
In Brazil, he went to a very good university with a GPA of 2.8. When he moved to the States, he found the system to be easier to navigate. He also became more mature and more aware of what he needed to achieve as a student. As a result, his grades started to get better and better. And so he thought he could really do it.
[12:20] Gathering the Resources to Begin the Process
Initially, Fernando didn’t know where to start especially looking for someone that has the same background as he does – being a gay Latino. There was no role model for him so he began figuring out some resources – one of them is The Premed Years Podcast.
He could hear stories of other nontraditional students that really motivated him. However, attending college in New York, he didn’t really find that tailored mentorship that he needed. But this has changed with time as he found great help from them.
Additionally, he waited a long time to tell people that he was a premed. But from the time he began sharing, it took him a year and a half in between looking for the resources and deciding where he was going to volunteer in and why there.
Fernando actually did three years of Biology in Brazil and then on his last year, he came to the states and so he quit college in Brazil. Then he had to start from scratch. He took two years off and resumed his studies at Missouri State University where he did two years there. Then he moved to New York City and decided to study something that was much more applied where he could impact society.
[17:00] Did Leaving School in Brazil Hurt His Application?
Fernando thought medical schools are going to laugh at his application for not always finishing what he stated. He thought they were never going to understand what he went through.
But Fernando was quick to realize the power of being able to craft your own story so you can well explain to the admissions committee what led you through the motions of your life and where you are right now. He adds that one thing he never compromised in this whole process despite the breaks in his education were his grades. They were consistently good so he could always say that his grades speak for themselves.
He even recalls one time where he was told to really make good on the MCAT to make up for his breaks in education. But he never let anyone or any advice get into his mind. He has heard so many negative comments and have slept on them, but he knew he wasn’t going to let those stop him from trying.
Because he went to undergrad in another grad, he didn’t have to report those grades on his application. But he reported pass/fail so he put the classes there. Missouri State University accepted some classes from Brazil while Hunter College accepted all his classes from Brazil. After reading the MSAR again and again, he realized that he actually had to pick the school in the United States that accept most transfer credits from Brazil and then report the classes on that transcript. This way, AAMC could verify that he had actually taken the classes. All this being said, Fernando thinks he has benefitted from this fact knowing that he only had a 2.8 GPA. But to be fair, he started from scratch when he went to the US.
[23:00] The Struggles of a Premed
Fernando articulates that his whole journey was what made him who he is. The hardest part was juggling multiple jobs and schooling while still having time for family and friends.
Another hard part for him was that question of how he was going to tell his story so people think he actually has something to bring to the table. Basically, I’ve worked with Fernando on his personal statement and he initially didn’t some of my advice. In fact, he applied a little late in the cycle and his personal statement was what’s keeping him from hitting submit. In his eyes, it was never good. But now thinking about it, he knew that was exactly what he had to say.
Now, he’s helping other students in writing their personal statements. He stresses on what the personal statement is all about and it’s to tell admissions about why you want to become a doctor. You can talk more about those other things in your extracurriculars, etc. And this is something I have helped him realize. Before Fernando was giving me this feedback of why I was’t telling him what to write. Because my job is to ask the pertinent questions to get the information out of people so they can write about them.
[27:10] Where to Apply to Medical Schools
In figuring out where to apply to medical schools, again, seeing the health disparities within his own community in New York City was very instrumental for him to decide that he wanted to become a doctor. And since day one, he has always wanted to stay in New York City. That said, geography was something very important to him.
And he also likes to live in a big city with a very diverse demographics. But he also opened his mind in other cities like Boston and Miami. Then as the application progressed, he was opening his mind to other great schools that are not necessarily in a huge urban center. Although he initially worried about MCAT and GPA grades, still he went on to pick schools he felt he would feel comfortable. Fernando’s MCAT was at 76th percentile and it was one of his biggest sacrifices. At that time, he was coming out of a divorce and he literally had to move out one month before MCAT test day.
[31:10] Dealing with Relationships During the Application Process
Fernando explains that in order for a relationship to work, the other person has to be willing to be with you 100%. They have to be by your side during those four years and the years to come. They have to be just as focused and as driven that they would understand what it means to sacrifice so much. And he felt his husband at that time was not there with him. Although it was hard then, he realizes that it actually a good thing that happened.
He adds that being a physician is more than just a profession and it’s really about who you are. So the other person needs to be okay with that. They have to cheer with you and understand what it means when someone calls in the middle of the night and you have to work. And he admits this is hard to find since medical students have a passion that can be hard to find in other people.
[34:20] What Led to Getting Multiple Acceptances and HIs Thoughts on Diversity
Fernando believes that what led to his success in getting a lot of acceptances is the fact that he was just himself. He was truthful. He had to show how genuine he was throughout the whole process and how that translates into him wanting to become a physician was key.
Fernando’s advice to premed students who think they’re not as diverse as he is being a gay Latino, is to understand that diversity is much more about the color of the skin or your sexual orientation. Diversity is what makes you different. Everybody has something that is unique about them.
By genuine, wear your uniqueness with pride. So you have to do the work to reflect on who you are and what makes you different than others. We all come from different places. We all have different experiences growing up. Those things are what’s going to set you apart.
The more the admissions committee can see that you are truthful to yourself and that you did things because you really cared for and not just because you wanted to check the box then the better your application is going to sound for them.
[41:30] How to Become More Self-Aware to Create Better Personal Statements
To help you write your story better, you need to be more self aware. Fernando says you can improve your self-awareness by writing more about yourself. Look at the prompts for secondary applications earlier so you have an idea of what they ask.
Additionally, you have to ask yourself everyday why you’re doing this. A lot of students can not actually answer this. They don’t know what their drive is behind that activity. Most people do it because they think they have to. But the admissions committees can see through this.
So when picking activities, try looking for those that resonate who you are, your passion, and an issue you care about. Then it’s going to be so much easier for you to talk about it and write about it. So when interview day comes, the admissions committee will really get impressed by how you know so much about this issue.
[44:40] Narrowing Down His Acceptances
Fernando actually ended up with seven acceptances including some great schools in New York City. But he decided not to stay in New York City as opposed to what he really wanted. So he chose Brown because he at Brown, he didn’t feel like he was a number. Out of 10,000 applications, they always interview around 360 people whereas other schools interview a thousand people. So Brown picks who they’re going to interview. And for him, this small number translates into a very tailored interview, application, and acceptance processes. He also thinks the school shares a lot of values that he wants in medicine – humanism, social justice, and other sensitive issues in medicine. Brown also offers some financial assistance. In short, he felt he’s going to be at home at Brown. All this being said, he finds this as a very powerful, yet humbling experience. At Brown, Fernando plans to do an MD and a Masters in Public Health.
Fernando advises students to really take your time to write your application because your application is really going to tell your story. It’s going to open that door for you to go. And if the schools like you and accept you, especially the schools of higher caliber, they’re willing to fight for you.
Fernando also had a great offer from Cornell. In fact, he also did his shadowing and volunteering there. But he knew he wanted to go to Brown. So he laid this out to Brown and told them he got a financial aid offer from Cornell but he really wanted to go to Brown so they were willing to beat it.
[51:30] Be True to Who You Are
Finally, his parting words of wisdom is to not let other people tell you that you can’t do it or that it’s not worth it or that it’s too expensive. He thought he wasn’t going to afford medical school. People would ask him how he was going to pay for it and he didn’t know the answer. But he knew that if he worked hard enough, he’s going to be able to do it.
A lot of people are going to tell you about how hard it is, but you have to stay true to who you are and to your passion. And if you do that, the world can see it and you’re going to get there.
Lastly, it’s not about what you look like or where you’re from to get an acceptance to medical schools. But it’s about showing them who you are!
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