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Three Applications Cycles, Two MCAT, One Success!

Session 361

Will shares his story of failing to get into med school two times before finally earning his acceptance. With three acceptances now, Will talks about his journey to medicine, why he thinks he wasn’t successful initially, and what ultimately made him a successful applicant this time.

Meanwhile, please check out all our other podcasts on the Meded Media as we hope to provide you will all the resources and information you need along this premed path and beyond.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:13] Interest in Medicine

Will knew he wanted to do something that has to do with Biology. In college, he started exploring different ways to make that happen. He looked into research and the Ph.D. route. He was also encouraged by his peers to do a bit of shadowing and consider medicine.

By the time he was finished with his first shadowing shift, he knew he wanted to become a doctor.

He shadowed an anesthesiologist in his hometown and he was amazed by how he interacted with patients. He was radiating with competence. He was also lucky to see amazing procedures that dazzled him.

Will’s undergrad degree was a double major in Biology and Music. He has always had an interest in the technical objective side of things as well as the arts and creative writing. And he found Biology to be the melding of those two.

[Related episode: 16 Golden Rules of Medicine for Premeds & Beyond]

[04:50] Failing the First Time

Will didn’t need to add classes until later in his college career when he made the decision to switch to premed. Additionally, he didn’t understand that his GPA wasn’t at pa until he applied and didn’t get in.

He had conversations with an undergrad premed advisor. It was an older, retired doctor who knew the medical field really well. But Will doesn’t think the advisor was quite familiar with the up-to-date requirements that the successful applicant needs.

At the end of the first application cycle where he didn’t get any interviews, his advisor told him to reapply and do the exact same thing again. And so he followed his advice and the same thing happened – no interviews.

Following his second application cycle, he started having those hard conversations. 

He reached out to the father of his childhood friend. He is a professor at another local university and has mentored many of the premed students at their university.

Fortunately, he was willing to take on his case as well. He was honest enough to tell Will that there were some gaps he needed to fill if he wanted to see any success.

'The weakest part of my application is my GPA... but that in and of itself isn't necessarily lethal.'Click To Tweet

With a science GPA of under a 3.4 and a cumulative GPA at under 3.6, Will admits that his GPA is the weakest part of his application. But his new advisor told him that GPA in and of itself isn’t necessarily lethal.

Will describes himself as that typical premed except that his GPA was a bit lower and that he lacked any wow factor or anything interesting.

[Related episode: Why Aren’t These Med School Applicants Getting Interviews?]

[09:50] Bumping Up His GPA and Standing Out

After graduating, he did a year in AmeriCorps where he got a small education stipend after finishing it. He used the education stipend to take only one class as it was the only class he could afford to take at a local state university.

'The main thing that was preventing me from taking a whole bunch of classes to improve my GPA was financials.'Click To Tweet

Will decided to take the class, not only to bump up his GPA, but also to make sure he still knew how to study and take tests and be in class.

After his year in AmeriCorps, he did two years and currently completing his third year in the Peace Corps. It’s not curing cancer, but still it’s unusual. Those experiences along with the ability to reflect on those experiences and talk about them gave him something that made him stand out.

[Related episode: From a 2.7 Undergrad GPA to First-Year Medical Student]

[12:40] How Peace Corps and AmeriCorps Helped in His Application

AmeriCorps and Peace Corps are two different organizations. In AmeriCorps, you’re working for a nonprofit organization but you’re being paid by the AmeriCorps. So you’re a free volunteer for your nonprofit but you’re paid through the U.S. government.

The Peace Corps, on the other hand, takes American individuals with either 5 years of professional experience or an undergrad degree. They’re trained for three months in language, culture, etc. in a specific country. Peace Corps operates in over 100 countries around the world.

You enter into a community and for two years, you live and work in that community similarly as the host country nationals. His neighbors were sustenance farmers and lived in concrete boxes. So he lived the same way they did.

Currently, Will is working with an NGO and living a little less like a local. But there’s still a lot of cultural understanding involved.

Neither of these things had nothing to do with clinical experience. So it had nothing to do with medicine on that level. But Will believes medicine is more than that. It’s the impact a care provider may have on their community. It’s your ability to connect with people and patients.

Will able to learn and sharpen his soft skills during those experiences, which he was able to translate over into the field of medicine. And he hopes to put those to good use once he’s practicing and interacting in communities.

'Medicine is a lot more than just being able to practice and knowing the science.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Gain Experience Through Premed Wilderness Medicine Programs]

[16:45] Clinical Experience and Taking the MCAT

Will had a gap between finishing AmeriCorps and starting Peace Corps. In that gap, he got his CNA license and worked in a skilled nursing facility as a CNA for about four months.

Between the first application and the third application, his MCAT expired so he had to take it again. He studied for the MCAT while in the Peace Corps in the village. He didn’t have electricity or running water so he wasn’t able to use as many online tests.

But he had a very flexible schedule. He used the Princeton study book and studied off it. He had to fly out to another country to be able to take it. It all worked out and ended up with a score close to his score he got the first time he took it.  His first MCAT was a 32 (great score, equivalent to a 513 now). And his second MCAT score was 510.

One important thing that was lacking from his first two applications was clinical experience.

For the first two application cycles, he was a health officer at a camp. He was under the impression and told by his premed advisor that it would count as clinical experience. Obviously, it didn’t count as clinical experience.

So aside from shadowing, he didn’t have anything going for him in terms of clinical experience. As a health officer, he worked at a summer camp for children from low-income families. He had to make sure the kids are getting their medications during meals. He was in charge of the basic first aid.

But he wasn’t under any actual healthcare professional. And he was not in a traditional clinical setting. It was a great experience, but not a clinical one.

Personally, I would have it listed as clinical experience. But the schools want to see a more traditional setting just to make sure you have that understanding and exposure as well. Definitely, having that CNA experience made his application stronger.

Will loved being a CNA. Working at a nursing home with residents having late-stage dementia and Alzheimer’s cases, he was able to form close relationships. Overall, he was happy with his work environment. He was surrounded by people who genuinely want the best possible for the people they’re caring for. Indeed, it was an eye-opening experience for him.

[Related episode: How Much Clinical Experience Do I Need for Med School Apps?]

[24:42] A Desire to Keep Going

After two failed application attempts, Will still chose to keep going because it’s what he knew he wanted to do. The third time he applied was during the tail end of his second application cycle where it was clear to him that he wasn’t going to see success.

'It was difficult and there were times that I wanted to give up. But I really honestly couldn't see myself doing anything else.'Click To Tweet

Will outlined different factors that helped him keep going. Finding really good advisors was the most important thing for him. They were able to look objectively at his application. It made him see where he went wrong and what needed to be fixed.

Find something in your day-to-day that you can look forward to doing in and of itself. For Will, this meant applying to the Peace Corps. He knew it would help his application process along. But more than anything, he did it because it was something he really wanted to do and enjoyed doing.

Clinical experiences and volunteering experiences should be fulfilling and something applicants can learn to enjoy. They should be formative and growing experiences.

[Related episode: Battling Self Doubt and Obstacles On Her Path To Med School]

[28:27] Getting the First Interview Invite

Will was driving when he got his acceptance and had to pull over. He was just barely able to make it to the end of the call before he burst into tears.

At this point, he has three acceptances. They were all very different. One was all MMI and one was all traditional interview and one was half and half. He was actually surprised that all the interview days weren’t stressful for him.

'Especially my traditional interviews have all just felt like conversations.'Click To Tweet

Even his conversations with fellow interviewees were friendly. He didn’t feel any cutthroat feeling or environment form anybody.

Looking back on his journey, Will felt frustrated during the first couple of years after he graduated. He wished he was already in. But failing to get into medical school has allowed him to live in different cities. It has allowed him to travel and learn new languages and get to know a new culture.

After the experience, he had found a new passion and realized that he really wanted to work in global health as well. And he wouldn’t know if he would have had the same passion had he gone to medical school right off the bat. Ultimately, he’s happy that everything ended up that way.

For Will, the time he spent between graduation and the start of medical school will continue to profoundly impact the path of his career after he graduates.

[Related episode: How to Prepare For Your Medical School Interview]

[33:18] Final Words of Wisdom

Being in that situation before, Will says it’s rough and tough. But if this is something you know and you’re meant to do and you’re certain you’re in it for all the right reasons, it’s just time to refocus yourself. And choose something you think you’re going to enjoy.

'Don't lose focus and make sure you choose a path forward which is going to let you both improve your application and grow as a person.'Click To Tweet

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