Today’s guest fought an uphill battle, from supporting herself at a young age, to challenges on the MCAT, and more. What shifted? And what was her plan?
Sotonye has struggled through her journey. She started working at 14 years old supporting herself as she was a student. This made her sacrifice her ability to do well in school that led to a cumulative undergrad science GPA of 2.59 and 3.09 cumulative total GPA.
She was being told over and over again that she couldn’t go to medical school. But she ultimately got into medical school because of a strong graduate GPA.
[03:30] Interest in Becoming a Physician
Sotonye has always wanted to be a doctor as a kid. At the same time, she also loves art. Eventually, she realized that arts and science were very connected. It was a marriage between arts and medicine.
In junior high school, she joined a STEM exploration program where they brought in organ models, which looked liked sculpture pieces to her.
Although she has always been interested in art, she also knew she didn’t want to do it professionally. She’s always drawn to anything arts – sculpting, drawing, photography, filmmaking, etc. Art has kept her sane and balanced. But in her heart of hearts, she knew she wanted to be a doctor.'If I had to go to the moon to become a doctor, I would go to the moon to become a doctor. I just wanted it that bad.'Click To Tweet
[06:44] Interest in Becoming a Physician
Sotonye is an African-American and I have talked with a lot of other African-American women who thought they could never be physicians as they never saw women physicians who looked like them.
But Sotonye worked at 14 years old. She was doing the closing shift at fastfood restaurants all through high school. She was paying for her college applications on such a small wage. But she fought through it all.
A big part of her personality is being community-centered. She has a huge passion for her community so she tries to always get involved in what’s going on around her.
She remembers talking to an African-American physician when she was 16 years old and she was just amazed. Something changed in her and she took this as a sign.'I know how it feels like to go and not be understood.'Click To Tweet
To be able to relate information to people and to get them to understand that this is to better your health and the health of the community, that spreads. And this is part of the reason Sotonye kept going.
[09:48] What She Could Have Changed to Better Her GPA
Through high school, Sotonye was working so she never got to develop efficient studying skills. When she got to undergrad, there was this new level of prerequisites for medical school. The classes required more time from her. But her time was just divided between her finances to survive and trying to exceed and do well to achieve her goal to become a physician.'This is just a part of everything you have to go through... life is going to be different on the other side.'Click To Tweet
That being said, she knew the financial struggles were temporary. She just had to keep moving. But if she didn’t have those financial issues, she knew she would have done way better in her undergrad career. She had to balance survival and school.
If she could change anything, it would be to change some of the burdens that were on her so she could have given more of herself to school.
[13:35] Seeking Out Resources
During her junior year of undergrad, she realized her grades were not good. She was fighting to raise her GPA while working and volunteering. She was also working as a medical scribe at one point. She also didn’t have any good support from premed advisors. So she sought information on her own.
Sotonye emailed different people who were successful and already got into medical school. She asked colleagues and went to different conferences. She talked to different admissions advisors and she began to get crowdsourcing advice.
She ended up listening to advice which she thought was not appropriate at that time. She decided to take the MCAT before they changed the exam. But it didn’t work out well either. Around the summer of junior year, she knew she had to do something about this as things weren’t aligning the way she wanted to.'It's interesting how people can have this power in our lives.'Click To Tweet
After the summer of undergrad, she failed and got an F on Chemistry 2. It was a mistake on her part since she decided she was going to take it over the summer hoping to offload some of the pressure from the upcoming semester. She was working full-time at that same time so everything was just terrible and she ended up failing that class.
[18:28] The Job of a Premed Advisor
When she went to her premed advisor, she was told not to pursue medicine. That advisor may think that she was just doing her job but a lot of people would have been discouraged by that and not continue on.'There's no way that I was going to let the words of one person stop me.'Click To Tweet
However, Sotonye left the room feeling the opposite. It made her even more determined to prove her wrong. She knew she was going to persevere.
That wasn’t the job of a premed advisor. A premed advisor’s job is to see where you’re at and figure out where you’re struggling. They help you figure out a different path to where you want to go, not where they think where you can or can’t go.
[21:31] Taking the MCAT the First Time
Sotonye took her MCAT on her second year during the Christmas break. She initially planned to get MCAT books and study for the MCAT simultaneously while studying for her classes that semester. Then she’d have a month before the exam to solidify the information, review, go in, and excel.
But there was too much going on in her life at that moment for her to give the exam her full attention. When she got the score back, her overall percentile rank was 19%. The physical sciences was 23, her CARS was 27 and the bio section was 25.'I definitely learned that I needed to fix any deficiencies that I had before I was going to be able to overcome that hurdle.'Click To Tweet
[25:05] Unfaltering Faith and Determination
Sotonye believes it’s her faith that helped her move forward. She knew everything was for a reason. All those questions and feedback from other people doubting her just didn’t matter to her. She was just so determined. And that determination has carried her now through medical school.
For her, everything she went through and everyone she met was for a reason. There were about 20-30 different people who helped her on her journey in getting into medical school and those contacts are still on her phone up to this day.'There was no physical or mental barrier that could stop me literally.'Click To Tweet
[28:30] The First Application Cycle and a Master’s Program
After Sotonye took the MCAT the first time and got the 19th percentile, she applied the cycle after that without an MCAT score. She had everything submitted while waiting for her score. When she got her score back, she decided to move forward, but she limited the schools she applied to.
She knew it wasn’t going to work out applying to all of the schools she wanted so she was very strategic with choosing and eliminating them. She went to apply to 10 out of the 15 schools. She got rejection after rejection after rejection.
When she got that last rejection, she knew she had to revise her plan. The same day she got that rejection, she started looking for different master’s programs and postbac programs. She started learning the differences between both programs so she would know what the next option was.
Sotonye had a friend from undergrad who was a first-year medical student at that time. She did a linkage Master’s program. She asked about it and found out the program had to select you. She started looking for programs that had a similar curriculum. She also looked at the location and cost. Regardless, it had to be a program that would rectify some of the deficiencies she had. She ultimately found a program that fit her.'It was very important to me that I found a program that was geared towards entrance into medical school.'Click To Tweet
Sotonye specifically looked for programs that would accept within the ranges of her second MCAT score and her overall GPA. It was great there were programs that worked with what she had. She then took a Master’s of Biomedical Science. Choosing between a postbac and a graduate program was an important factor for Sotonye in her decision.'Postbac grades apply to your undergraduate GPA and a graduate GPA is a separate line item on your AMCAS.'Click To Tweet
[35:35] Breaking the Systemic Barrier
Fortunately, she received enough aid to cover her living expenses. For the first time ever in her life, she could just focus on school. And the change was astronomical. She was receiving A’s. She understood the information she needed to understand on a higher level.
Getting that higher level of understanding resolved some of her deficiencies from undergrad. Consequently, she got to understand the MCAT better as well.
Hearing Sotonye’s story, she was successful because she was able to dedicate time to be successful. That being said, there’s this huge systemic racism where a lot of the thought process behind lower “standards” for minorities.
Like other people from disadvantaged programs, Sotonye has not been able to focus on what she needed to focus on to be successful. Having been afforded a loan, she was given that opportunity to finally focus on being a student, which reflected on her GPA.“There are systemic differences that take opportunities away from people and act as a barrier.“Click To Tweet
[40:10] The Second Application Cycle
Sotonye explains that her personal statement didn’t speak about those barriers as much as her secondary applications did. For instance, when the asked about perseverance, she would inject those anecdotes about her journey.
This allowed her personal statement to reflect her original passion for medicine, science, and art – what makes her unique.'My personal statement really just embodies what makes me unique.'Click To Tweet
[42:10] The First Interview and Getting the Acceptances
The day she got her first interview offer, she just lost it. She recalls calling her family members. Every interview offer after that just made her appreciate the process so much more. For the first time, it was finally working out.
Sotonye got accepted into two schools and waitlisted at the others. She was in Nigeria the day she got her acceptance letter. She was on her 17-hour flight way back to the U.S. She was about to go through the exit customs when she got an email notification.
She looked at the email and the first thing she read was Congratulations! She was just literally crying at the airport. It felt like a weight off of me. The feelings washed over her in waves. It was one of the best days of her life. The second acceptance was pretty sweet as well.'It was a feeling of you did it. You knew you could do it. You told everybody you could do it. And you did it! You made it happen.'Click To Tweet
[48:40] Getting Scholarship Offers
Sotonye also got scholarship offers. She got a diversity scholarship from the first school she got accepted to. She believes it was standard. She was given the need-based aid after that. Once they get the breakdown of the class, they can then offer money depending on your needs.'If your need is a bit higher than your other classmates, they can offer you more money in scholarship and vice versa.'Click To Tweet
She applied for a scholarship at that second school she got an acceptance. It was $40,000 over the course of two years. She was informed that it was one of the most competitive scholarships they had and won it.
For the need-based aid on top of it, they basically covered the majority of her tuition for her first two years.
[50:23] What’s Next?
Currently, Sotonye is getting ready for the end of the first semester. She’s constantly reminded everyday that she’s happy to be there. And this is what keeps her going. What seemed so impossible, she’s actually doing it now!
The short-term goal would be to finish this semester; while long-term, she feels this strong desire to help and give back in any way she can. This was something she was able to maintain throughout all the years of her life by helping out in the community. Specialty-wise, she’s not quite sure yet as she has varying interests.
As to what happened to that premed advisor who told her she would never get into medical school…
Sotonye is a member of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). It was created to drive a diverse culturally competent and socially conscious group of physicians. SNMA goes to great lengths to make sure that underrepresented minorities are able to get into medical school and to succeed.
They do this Annual Medical Education Conference. And at that conference she attended in April, there was a small reunion of people who went to her undergrad. They’re now all well underway in their 2nd year through the 4th year of medical school. They had a mix of students, who were all under this premed advisor, that made it into medical school.
There were only probably 1-2 out of those 10 of them there that her previous premed advisor supported.
Somehow, there were 8 of them that didn’t apparently take a hard no for an answer. They’re now excelling and doing amazing. For Sotonye, that moment was the feeling of gratification. That she didn’t even feel the need to reach out to her premed advisor.
Sotonye’s first MCAT was 19. If you converted it, the increase from her first MCAT to her last MCAT would be 17 points. Her final MCAT was 507. Her percentile rank was 55 in chem/phys, CARS was 82, biochem was 91, and psych/soc was 62. Her overall percentile rank went from 19% to 73%.
[57:20] Final Words of Wisdom
Find your supporters. Find your mentors. Find the people who will remind you when you even doubt yourself. You got this. You can do this.
Second, Sotonye’s story from the beginning until the end spelled out that she could not accomplish this goal. If she was able to accomplish her goal and overcome those obstacles, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it. Finally, stay committed. Stay determined. Persevere. You got this, literally!'If someone has done something before, there is nothing that makes that thing impossible because someone has done it.'Click To Tweet
Follow Sotonye on Instagram @simply_soso.
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