Janet is a nurse who switched to the premed path a few years ago. Listen to how she overcame a 499 on the MCAT and advocated for herself during the application process!
Meanwhile, make sure to check out other podcasts on the MedEd Media Network to help you along your journey towards a becoming a great physician!
[01:40] Janet’s Nursing Path and Why Medicine
Having a family member diagnosed with cancer, Janet wanted to help take care of them so she ended up doing a CNA course. See how nurses did with their care she found as something high level and more of critical thinking. This led her to dive into the nursing path to be able to help people more.
One night, she had a patient who was very ill but on the monitor showed a perfect rhythm but when she went to his room, he was pulseless. So they had to call code blue and had to resuscitate him. As the nurse there, she had to tell the story and why the patient was there to get the doctors up to speed. She then saw that the role she had in nursing wasn’t enough. She was part of the plan but she wasn’t really the person inputting as much as she really desired to.
Janet’s mom is a doctor of medicine, specializing in Somatology. She has worked with her in rural Tanzania and moved around a couple of places. So she got to see different things like it’s a ward full of a hundred patients with not enough room. They’re trying to give everybody the care they can. And she has seen so much of this as a child. She’s very fortunate to also have everything explained to her. When it came to nursing, she was getting a picture but it wasn’t the overall picture. And this was what she found as the bloc between nursing and medicine.
[07:20] A Need to Work and Her Initial Steps
Janet initially thought that this was going to be a longer road for her, knowing too, that she had to work through school. She has been working since 15 and so she knew this had to be practical. She also thought she wasn’t going to be smart enough to do it, not having the time and the resources to be able to fully immerse herself in taking classes and being able to do her extracurriculars.
Ultimately, she signed up for Chem 101 which she thought was a horrible idea being in a class where you had to take it before to get in. But with her nursing prereqs, she had taken a similar class. They took the credit for the class, but once she got to the class, she had no idea what was going on. At that point again, she was telling herself she wasn’t ready yet. So she took the first exam and got a 25 out of 100. She just didn’t know what was going on. So she went to her instructor and explained that she had to take the class before it since her previous class didn’t teach her what she needed to learn. Good thing, her instructor was gracious enough to let her switch classes four weeks into school. She took a W for the first class. Then she got to take the class before that and ended up doing well and didn’t feel crazy. Janet decided and made a promise to herself to do things one step at a time.
[12:10] Juggling Things at the Same Time
Janet was working night shifts. But she strongly advises people to do otherwise. She worked at night and went to class during the day, which she did for a year. Then she did the extracurriculars as well. She did activities for living facilities from 4pm to 7pm. So she couldn’t work 12 hours and do that, therefore she had to do it on the day she had school. Eventually, she realized she couldn’t do this anymore so she started going to school on MWF and then do the things she needed to do on Tue/Thu/Sat and one day off to recuperate.
[14:05] Extracurricular Activities and Advocating for Herself
Janet basically did the things she was personally interested in. She used to work at a senior center but working as a nurse, she didn’t get to spend much time doing activities with them. So she wanted to do something she was genuinely interested in but never really got the time to do. Then she also did the Girl Scout and troop leader. She did student government while she was still in school. She also did research for her cell biology class which came as something unplanned when she ran into her instructor from the last semester. She asked if she needed any help in the lab and she made her send an email. Before she even walked away from her, Janet had already sent her the email. During research, she got to work with Master’s and PhD students who taught her so much. All this being said, it’s about being vulnerable enough to say that this is who you are, you can help, and what else do they need you to do.
Janet got her shadowing experience from a physician she knew working with the geriatric population and hematologist/ oncologist. She described it as a very different experience, giving her a bird’s eye view of what’s going on. She also appreciates how being a nurse has trained her to be very detailed-oriented.
[18:00] Deciding Not to Apply in 2017
Janet warns that if you get a score on your AAMC practice test that you don’t want, then don’t take the MCAT. You might want to overshoot than undershoot because nerves can get to you on the real test day.
I’ve helped Janet working with her application as her personal statement was “sterile” being too focused on trying to convince the admissions committee of how great a doctor she would be. And in doing so, she actually forgot who she was as a person. So the MCAT was a big thing for her in 2017 and she wasn’t as prepared as she should’ve been.
During those two months, she decided to retake it. But this time, she learned how to re-study and just take a second and heal. You really need some time to just heal, breathe, and gather yourself because doing this again will not be easy.
The first time you take the MCAT, it feels nice; but the second time. you have to pick up your feelings from “I’m not good enough, I can’t do this” to – you actually have a score that proves that you’re going to do it and then having the strength to do it again. You’ve got to fight all that. That’s a lot harder than the first time. It took her a lot longer to take the exam. That being said, she thinks it was the best decision she could have ever made because she wasn’t mentally ready to go through that again.
[23:25] Improving the Application During the Time Off
Janet found solace working with patients and doing the activities she was doing for. Then she started working with cardiac devices. She spent kids with Girl Scouts, drawing inspiration from them to keep going and doing.
So she retook the test and improved 8 points but 1-point shy of 500. Getting back that score the second time she took it, she only allowed herself 3 seconds of heartbreak. She decided that she was going to deal with it or move forward since she can’t live in MCAT land forever. She recalls she couldn’t spend any more time studying. She had to work. She had to survive as a person.
[27:03] Advocating for Yourself
Janet submitted her application relatively early and she submitted to both MD and DO in June. She didn’t hear of anything still by October. So I told her about the UC Davis Conference coming and if she can, she could attend to meet some people and advocate for herself.
Her GPA was great, her clinical experience was great, and the MCAT was the only thing holding back. But for Janet, those conferences are pivotal. She talked to different schools that she applied to and Janet says they actually take you seriously. They’d even ask for your MCAT ID number.
That conference wasn’t really as successful as she hoped for, but she went to another conference and get in front of more people. She also landed a couple of interviews. Janet points out the need to know what the aim of the conference was. The second was a minority conference. Although the first had a lot of diversity and inclusion, the medical school personnel at the AAMC Minority Conference were there as it was what they were there for. They were seeking out minorities so that became easier for Janet.
Interestingly, she skipped the school (she’s matriculating into now) five times walking around the table. She had some targetted schools in mind initially until realizing she just had to go over there and good thing she did.
Attending that conference, she got a lot of positive feedback and she got to really network with people. So she left for the conference on Saturday and the interview invite came Monday.
[37:00] What Got Her the Acceptances
Janet ultimately got two invites, went to both, and got two acceptances. She thinks what got her the acceptances was because of her entire journey. She thought she was going to be scared during interview, but she didn’t. She knew herself and she knew she needed to go and meet these people and get them along the way. It’s not just one-way.
Her final school choice came down to the programs they had and the time they allot to students for board prep time. Rural health was also important to her and the school she’s matriculating in has programs that would give her the opportunity to go to Tanzania and do work in global health. Finally, what drew her to the school was how they did it like not having lectures and more of case-based studies realizing that lectures are not the best learning form for her.
[41:00] Final Words of Wisdom
Janet’s advice to other students who are also on the same journey as hers is to just focus on your journey. There’s no one else like you! There are people out there who may be smarter, better, or brighter. But just take the time out to appreciate the things going on in your life and focus on those. Just keep working hard. It won’t be easy and you will have pitfalls but just remember your why. That is what’s going to keep you going. There is no such thing as balance. You will have to sacrifice time with family and friends.