Eliza didn’t know until later in life, after having a kid and a career that she wanted to be a physician. She made the switch and made it happen. Our guest today is a very nontraditional student, a theater major turned yoga teacher turned premed with an acceptance to medical school. She’s a mom, a wife, and a future physician. If you are on this journey as a nontraditional student, today Eliza shares some wisdom about her journey so you can hopefully put forward on your journey as well.
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[02:14] Interest in Medicine
Being a theater major, she has been trying to hack it as an actor in Chicago until she had her son. She was also a yoga teacher by the day and still is a yoga teacher.
She began teaching yoga at a psychiatric treatment center in Chicago. Having this interaction with patients, she became more and more interested in their stories. She was performing in plays around Chicago but she was more excited to go to her day job than to the rehearsals.
She has felt the connection between her patients. Some of whom have more diagnosable disorders and some who have overlapping diagnoses in terms of chronic pain and depression and how this affects their life.
So it was her exposure that she got from teaching and being with patients that planted the seed. That being said, she felt limited so she wanted to do more and know more.
Eliza is an older premed at 37 years old. Being too old to be a doctor wasn’t just her way of thinking. They have this improv rule in the theater called “yes, and…” where you always say yes and yes and this applies very much to our life.
Additionally, she watched her mother getting very ill as she was growing up. And they had this motto in their family of “if you want to do it, do it.” And now being a theater major with no undergraduate sciences, her next step was just to figure out how to go about it.“If you want to do it, do it.”Click To Tweet
Eliza had to take a pause for a short moment due to financial constraints. She had a two-year-old when she started taking courses and she was working full-time. So she then tried to take two classes to see how it went.
Her husband is also a theater person and she’s just thankful to have his support. She was just bracing herself for her husband’s reaction when she told her about her plans. But her husband wasn’t actually surprised knowing how much she loved her work. There were people who probably felt she was a bit old to do it, but for the most part everyone in her family was just very supportive of her decision.
[10:14] The First Steps into Premed
One of the boundaries they had was location considering her husband would have to keep his job in the Chicago area. So she had to look at schools within driving distance from her house. Then she went over the school requirements and had to plan her course of study including the prereqs she had to take based on these six schools in the area.
This podcast was basically her only source of information. And because of the endorsement of community college on our podcasts, she thought of doing community college based on her situation because it was the realistic option. All of the schools except for one were pretty favorable or at least said on their website that they do community college credits.
She also planned out her courses based on when she would take the MCAT and what she needed for the MCAT. So she started in a summer semester with Bio 101.
[13:08] The Premed Challenges
Eliza describes herself as a kinesthetic, bodily, physical learner. She likes to be on her feet and doing things. While for these undergraduate science classes, you’d have to sit in your chair and listen to lectures. So she just had to make sure she was ready to learn in that way. So she’d physically jog down the hallways to get her wiggles out. Eliza thinks that what’s great about being an older student is that she knows herself a lot better.
In theater school, learning stuff would be very present moment-embodied. You have to be with a partner most of the time. Their class time was longer in theater school, from nine to five. But in the STEM format, the class is 90 minutes, and then you have to go home and study. It was a big shift for her to be learning to study alone.
Eliza found all the traditional-aged students really warm and friendly toward her, but she just couldn’t just have the time to do study groups with them given her situation. She’d have to do things faster, which she thinks is another advantage of being older as she’s able to get stuff done more efficiently.'If there's a moment to get it done, I will get it done because you never know what's going to happen in the next moment.'Click To Tweet
One of her major hiccups is Organic Chemistry. In fact, her husband said about halfway through the summer semester when she took it that her personality changed. She really didn’t know what that meant but she knew she was incredibly stressed out.
Her community college had very vigorous standards and their Organic Chem professor was just hardcore. She remembers getting up at four in the morning to study then going to work for two hours and then going to class for four hours. And then back to work for two hours.
Being a yoga teacher has helped her a lot. She used mindfulness to stay in the present moment to just be able to breathe in and breath out. She just had to use all the stress reduction techniques she had in her toolbox.'I can't do everything and letting myself off the hook on a couple of things helps me get through it. So forgiveness is huge in this process.'Click To Tweet
[19:41] Taking the MCAT
Again, Eliza credits Medical School Headquarters for being the source of all of her information. She was listening to this podcast back when she got started with the process and was looking into community college. And she had included it in her original two-year plan of community college courses and then take the MCAT. So she had it planned out.
Then COVID came, and her test got delayed, and then it got delayed again. It did mess up her whole timeline. aside from this podcast, she was also listening to The MCAT Podcast, and mining whatever resources are available.
Then she also bought the Next Step Online Course a year ago. When she got it, she started studying immediately when she was supposed to take it in March. So she has been studying consistently while working full-time and doing mommy duties. She spends anywhere from one to three hours studying every day.
When her March test got canceled, she rescheduled it for May. She did not study at all for a full month when COVID hit as things were really tough as she was still coming to work during the stay-at-home order. Her son’s daycare closed so he was now home and having no childcare was really rough for her. Her May test date also got canceled, so she didn’t study for another month.
Then she returned to studying in June for what ended up being a July MCAT. She studied in those last six weeks, probably four to six hours a day while working and having her son at home which she found so intense.
[23:23] Overcoming Self-Doubt
Eliza admits to having some self-doubt in her story. She felt it was unique and that it was honest and authentic but it didn’t sound like she loves science. Although she’s aware of what I always say here on the show that just because you love science isn’t reason enough for you to get into medical school. But that being said, she just felt nervous about telling her story.
When she decided to tell her story, she went back to talk about her mom who had breast cancer as she was growing up. And in retrospect, she has taken from that experience which made her want to be in medicine, although she wasn’t conscious about it initially.
Eliza wasn’t worried about having a unique story. She had a story of coming through theater, being nontraditional, and wanting to be a physician based on being with patients by “accident.” She never intended to teach yoga in a psychiatric treatment center. That was never part of her life plan. It just happened.
Her biggest challenge was on her personal statement. She had to figure out how to connect the dots between the story of her mom and being a theater person for so long. And then connecting how she ended up being inspired by the stories of patients.
She did 15 drafts of her personal statement and then she just tried to weave them all together. She actually loved doing the activities and she was passionate about all of them so she was able to write a story.
Her job title at work is not a yoga teacher but an integrative services specialist where she does some yoga and some mindfulness curriculum. She organizes events for the community and does drama therapy.
Ultimately, Eliza was able to break that down and she has a story with a patient for each one that has inspired her to want to be a physician. So what really gave her the validation was looking at all those stories of her patients that have impacted her.
[27:58] The Interview Experience
She submitted her secondaries by the end of August and she would find herself checking the website portals of the schools she applied to very obsessively. Then she got her first interview from one of the schools. And it’s actually the school she got accepted to.
Preparing for the interview, she bought a suit. Then she also read The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview. She read it from cover to cover, drilling into the questions, which she did for a couple of weeks.
Being an actor where she’s used to face-to-face interaction, she wasn’t really that nervous during interviews. However, she has never done virtual interviews. She didn’t want to look weird on the camera or whatever. That being said, she did what she could do to prepare and she was excited about it.'Because my first interview was at an osteopathic school, I wanted to be very clear about my interest in osteopathic medicine.'Click To Tweet
Because she looks younger than her age, she wasn’t really asked questions about being nontraditional. She talked about being a yoga teacher and working in psychiatric treatment and things like that. She was just ready to talk about her journey and how she had been with patients. And that’s what inspired her to want to keep going and do more. But it never came up.
[31:09] Preparing for the VITA
The hardest thing that she had to do was the VITA she had to do for the other school. And it had questions on cultural competence and working with people from different cultures. She was actually prepared for that because some of her volunteer work was with folks coming from different backgrounds. But she just felt she botched it on the VITA. And she partly blames the format. She thought the way she talked about it was really poor and she felt she wasn’t prepared for that particular question.“VITA is the new interview kind of online format that the AAMC has rolled out for premeds applying to medical school.”Click To Tweet
VITA has been a platform that was used previously for residents or medical students applying to emergency medicine residency. And it was canceled because the residency programs and the medical students both said it was useless.
Hopefully, the medical schools and premed students will say the same, but the AAMC will try to get their money in any way they can.
To prepare for it, Eliza recommends that students do the practice questions multiple times until you don’t feel so weird and awkward talking at the camera. It takes a surprising amount of time to set it up properly.
When you’re with a real human being and you’re getting feedback in an embodied way when you’re seeing their face and their body language. You feel warmed up to that person as you’re talking to them. But you don’t get that with a camera staring at you. So really practice.
[35:23] Getting the Acceptance
Eliza thought that they were going to release it in 14 days. But it had been 14 days, and she didn’t hear anything. And this made her nervous because she didn’t know what was going to happen.
So while at work, she found out she got accepted via an email about two minutes before her three-hour stretch of meetings that she had to sit through every Thursday. And she just cried at her desk and was so excited and happy. She had to sit on the feelings for three hours that she doesn’t even think she heard one word in those meetings because she was just so excited.
Then she had sent her husband a text, but she couldn’t even look at her phone to see any congratulatory message. She was excited, proud, relieved, and grateful that all the things she had done had come together and all the support she had, had made it all worth it. So she was just sitting in excitement and gratitude for three hours. And then they celebrated and had tacos.
[37:14] Final Words of Wisdom'Your wisdom, your experience, your endurance, and resilience, all of those things that come with time and that you have worked for are going to serve you as you go forward.'Click To Tweet
Look at being a nontraditional student as a strength, and that you have a lot of skills and life skills that are going to help you on this journey.
So just believe in yourself, believe that all the things that you’ve done have led you to this moment and that this is what you’re meant to do, and do it with your whole heart.
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