From Military Special Operations to Med School Acceptances

Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts

Session 320

Justin is a former military special operations medic who grew a stronger fascination with taking care of patients. Now he has multiple acceptances to med school.

Please check out MedEd Media Network for more podcasts. I’m also doing great video courses about the personal statement as well as for the medical school interview where you get access to many hours of video content, including access to a secret Facebook group and some live office hours.

[02:10] Interest in Becoming a Physician

Justin realized he wanted to be a physician while he was training as a medic in the special operations. Fascinated by the sciences and found success in it, he also loves the hands-on portion of it and be able to affect change immediately with bare bone resources.

Prior to joining the military, he just finished a four-year degree back in the financial crisis. At that time, his degree didn’t bode well for job prospects. However, he has always planned on joining the military. His parents stopped him from doing it back in high school, even had a special friend sit down with him where it was explained to him the importance of having a backup plan. So out of his business degree, he went on to try out at the special operations unit and made it.

He went down the path through a series of tests and with his test scores, he was encouraged to work at the medic area. Initially, it didn’t come to his attention that he was going to be a doctor but he has always had that commitment to his service.

What really solidified in his mind to go to medical school was when he started seeing patients and treating people. Having gained experience and confidence in his abilities, it was crystallized that his path to becoming a doctor was what he was set to go on.

In the military, medics are left with several situations where there were no other doctors present but them. Justin points out that you should be constantly aware of your limitations. That being said, he considers this as a fantastic opportunity. But at the same time, you need to be aware of your limitations. Additionally, they always get in contact with the physician overseeing their medical situation. And it’s a good thing he had a good relationship with the physician that oversaw his scope.

'You're constantly aware of your limitations and what you can and cannot bring to the table to help the person in front of you.' Click To Tweet

[08:37] Serving as a Medic in Special Operations

For Justin, the coolest thing he had to do was to be able to help guys who got hurt during the mission. Just being there for them was very powerful enough. He adds that he was able to provide the medical capability for a unit he was conducting operations with.

Still, on active duty, Justin was still able to do things while active duty before he had the opportunity to completely separate to become a civilian. He made his intentions known to his Command near the end of his enlistment. Good thing they supported him and his endeavors. And he just made it happen, taking classes in the evening. He also had very supportive teachers who were aware of his scheduling and his priorities, especially to the mission.

'Everybody supported me and we just made it happen!'Click To Tweet

[11:40] Finding the Next Steps

He initially asked his friends and sought out people who have gone on the same journey. He came across this podcast and did some research – seeing the first steps like the prereqs he had to get and which exact classes he needed. He would also ask schools and asked them about some resources and guidance. Basically, he just went on and sought as many resources he could find.

Unfortunately, this is something a lot of students don’t do enough of considering we live in this day and age with so many resources, websites, podcasts, etc. Yet students are still coming in naive to the whole process because they’re not going out and finding information.

He was actually concerned about his grades having a GPA that was not as strong. And knowing that, he just prior military training into practice and set a goal. He set timelines. and sought out every resource that could help and he practically worked his butt off.

[14:35] Thanks to Military Training

'I had some training where I learned a lot about himself, about discipline, about personal responsibility, and the classic story of the military making into a disciplined person.'Click To Tweet

Justin points out the importance of having a specific, measurable, actionable goal that you can set your sights on. And just his time being in the military and doing all those hard stuff in life, allowed him to learn more about himself and become more responsible.

He also felt very fortunate being supported by people who push each other to become better, stronger, faster, and smarter. He has always been in an environment where he was being pushed to improve on a personal level.

[16:50] From Military to Taking a Postbac

Out of the military, Justin’s first priority was location as he wanted to be close to family. Other priorities included cost. He was a career changer so going into the AAMC site, he found out about the postbac and saw which postbac programs were the closest and compared cost, location, etc. and then he applied to all of them.

Not having any science background, he thought he was going to spend day and night studying knowing he was surrounded by people with science background. But he went down all his class list and got contact information of his professors. He got the syllabus and what resources they needed. And a month before the class started, he’d go through the textbooks and did some advanced studying.

'I pretty much started to learn as much as I could before the class even started.'Click To Tweet

[20:00] Figuring Out Your Studying Approach

Read the material beforehand even before it’s just ten minutes of glancing through the material. You’re going to be better off than a student that doesn’t do that at all. In the process of doing this as well, Justin found out what worked for him and what didn’t. He found out it didn’t work to read through the entire text and highlight or make outlines. He found out it worked best to skim through once, read over again, and ask questions. So he had gone through the process of figuring out what worked best for him in a certain subject since it was different for each subject.

'It was different for each subject. You wouldn't approach studying for physics in the same you would approach studying for Biology. It's different.'Click To Tweet

Taking the time to start figuring this out even before the class was really important to him since he wanted to do well in his classes, which he ended up doing so.

[21:50] The Medical School Application Process: Telling His Story

For Justin, telling his story was the hardest obstacle of this whole process – to just sit down and put into paper and writing about himself. What he did was come up with a brief outline of what he wanted to talk about and he jotted down a couple of sentences about stories he wanted to tell. And then he’d stop for the day and just let it simmer at the back of his mind. He’d then approach it the next day and try to write from a different perspective. Or he would write a different story the next day. In short, he doesn’t try to force anything and just let it come to him.

When you sit down and try to write a story, it’s hard, especially talking about yourself. But if you revisited it a couple of days later, by simmering in your subconscious, maybe things flush out in a couple of days. All that being said, Justin says that although it’s challenging, the rewards you gain out of it are more than worth it.

'It's such an introspective process. It forces you to think about your life and why you're doing things and motivations and your goals.' Click To Tweet

[25:37] Don’t Sell Yourself to the Admissions Committee

Initially, I gave Justin the feedback that he was trying to sell himself as a teacher, especially as a medic. He admits this was an easy mistake to admit. But you have to do your best to avoid and understand and have the self-awareness that you’re probably going to make that mistake. Also, be deliberate in your attempts to avoid making those mistakes.

As you go through the editing process, try to shift towards imagining an admissions committee member and you’re telling them from the bottom of your heart why you want to become a physician.

'If you were in a face-to-face conversation, you don't want to be having that salesman type pitch. That's not the natural thing that you do.'Click To Tweet

Justin says telling your story is really huge in your medical school application success. It helps to tell your story in the interview and have that seamless, connected story that puts together all these different facets of your life and winds them into one narrative that tells your story. This is easier for the admissions committee to look at instead of being scattered all over the place.

[28:25] The Interview Process

When asked about his red flags in one of his interviews, he talked about his undergrad grades. But the interviewer assured him that it happens and it’s common so it’s nothing to worry about. The majority of his interviewers wanted to talk about his experiences in the military and serving abroad.

Students might think being in the military might be a common story but it’s your story! So don’t be afraid of your stories no matter how common you think they are because they’re your story.

Justin added he’s not even the first person with that background to apply to medical school. There were others more who applied that had similar experiences but it’s just like any other form of art, books, movies, or poetry — we stand on the shoulders of giants.

'It's about the specific aspect of your story and the new interesting details that you can bring to the table.'Click To Tweet

[30:55] Playing the Waiting Game and Narrowing Down to His School of Choice

Waiting for the results is real and Justin emphasizes that you have to focus on something. For him, he had another job that he buried himself in. Since you can’t sit all day and wait for the email to come or you’re driving yourself crazy. Instead, invest in something constructive and you find joy in.

Having had multiple acceptances, his major factor in choosing his school was location to family or location in part of the country where he had a lot of friends and acquaintances. Another factor was cost — private vs public schools. And he was going to apply for the VA benefits as a military service member. And the VA doesn’t pay for 100% of private schools. So finances come into play as well.

Also, he looked at what the school emphasizes and how he felt about the school, people at the school, and specific curriculum, and ultimately, how the interview day went and how he felt with everybody he interacted with.

At the end of the interview day, he would make a pros and cons list — cost, weather, location, curriculum, facilities, opportunities for research and community service, and the general gestalt of the whole day. He also looked at the disposition of students and faculty.

[35:00] Justin’s Final Words of Wisdom

To those who may also be in the military who are thinking about transitioning towards becoming a physician, Justin encourages them to reach out to your friends and friends of friends. Seek out as many resources as you can find. Start taking some type of science class now whether it’s a physics class or just an intro to chemistry class. Prove to yourself that this is what you want to do and that you can do this! Prove that capability to yourself.

Going through this entire process, the hardest thing for Justin was the sacrifices he had to make like missing certain events with family or friends, long nights studying instead of having fun.

Ultimately, having that balance is a key, It’s hard and it’s a challenge to find balance between getting good grades, and balancing with work and time for self-care. You need to work out, eat right, get good sleep, spend time with friends and family. These are things you need to do as well. So Justin makes sure he gets to do all that as well.

'You can't just put all to the wayside and hard charge yourself towards 100% study-work, you can't do that. That's unsustainable.' Click To Tweet

[39:49] Check Out Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep) for Your MCAT Prep

Looking at MCAT prep? Check out Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). They have an online course, live office hours, the full-length exams which are second best to the AAMC exams (as they write the test). Use the promo code MSHQ to save some money on the tutoring, course, or on their full-length exams.


MedEd Media Network

Medical School HQ Services

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)!