An Immigrant’s Story of Multiple Acceptances & Scholarships

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PMY 441: An Immigrant's Story of Multiple Acceptances & Scholarships

Session 441

I’m joined by Thanh, a student who immigrated to the U.S., acclimated to the culture, and found the strength to excel in her postbac and succeed during the application cycle. She had to overcome a ton to do well in school and to prove to medical schools that this is what she wants. As an ESL student, she also talks about some of the stress that comes with that. Her stats weren’t great, but they were good enough.

Obviously, work as hard as you can. But everybody’s individual situation is going to dictate a different end point. And so, our student today ended up with multiple acceptances and multiple scholarship offers.

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

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

[00:43] The MCAT Minute

Registration is open now for July, August and September dates. Don’t forget to go register for the MCAT as soon as you feel ready because we’re never going to feel ready. And especially right now with refunds being issued by the AAMC. It doesn’t hurt to go register for your seat so it’s just there when you want to take the test.

The MCAT Minute is sponsored by Blueprint MCAT. Go check them out for all of your MCAT needs.

[01:42] Application Academy

If you want to work with me for your application, check out the Application Academy for 2022 which is now open to register and save your spot. We filled up last year, which was our first year doing that.

[03:41] Her Interest in Becoming a Physician

Born and raised in Vietnam for the first 14 years of her life, Thanh knew she wanted to become a doctor while she was doing a lot of research on my mother’s condition. She came to the United States with one of her younger sisters. Aside from their uncle, they had no one else who was able to help them navigate the healthcare system in the states.

Seeing her mother suffering from chronic conditions and not being able to help her answer any questions about the conditions, Thanh started getting curious about things. 

Thanh graduated from UC Davis in 2016 and applied to medical school in 2020. And not once did she say anything negative about herself.

Part of her thought process into this is to consistently ask herself why she’s going into this field and why not just become a PA or a nurse. She believes that when she figures out the answer to that, it would become her source of motivation to figure out why she wants to go into medicine.

'When I truly know who I really am, and what my strengths and my weaknesses are, it is so easy for me to continuously be positive, be resilient, no matter how tough things can be.'Click To Tweet

[07:36] Mindfulness Practice

While in the process of applying, Thanh admits she had some self-doubt and concerns of not getting in. But prior to that, she knew it was the right time for her when she had all the elements ready.

Thanh takes an initiative in asking for help from mentors and from all the students who are in the same process. And knowing there are also other people with disadvantaged backgrounds, she knows she’s not alone. And then that is

'One thing that I see in a lot of minority students who are struggling so hard is that they think they're the only one who's suffering.'Click To Tweet

Thanh also stresses how having this mindfulness practice has helped her through this whole application process. What she was before is totally different than what she is now. She has become more calm and she’s now more open to showing her vulnerabilities.

'With this whole application process, mindfulness helps prevent me from adding another layer to my thoughts.'Click To Tweet

She no longer has to add those negative layers to who she really is. And so, mindfulness has helped her simplify her thoughts and see things as they are. It’s a constant daily practice which is difficult when times get tough.

[11:47] Overcoming Premed Challenges

Thanh got adopted and resettled in Sacramento County. It was an impoverished area and a lot of students and her friends went to their high school and were in gangs and using drugs. And a lot of them have dropped out. But she ranked first in high school.

So when she got into UC Davis, she thought she was the smart one. But it was harder than she expected. She also thought everyone had it all together. And hearing her organic chemistry professor tell them that if they didn’t do well in the class, they won’t be able to get into medical school and become a doctor .

She didn’t know how to study and she was afraid of raising her hands in class because she didn’t want to stand out. She didn’t want people to think she was not smart enough. She didn’t want to ask for help.

Add that with a layer of fact that she was an immigrant and she didn’t have parents in the United States. Eventually, this led to an identity crisis because she didn’t have the coping skills to deal with those kinds of problems more effectively. 

During her application process, she got to practice the mock MMI interview that they offered which she found extremely helpful.

But that being said, the hardest part of being a premed for her was her family circumstances. She had to become a mother figure to her younger sisters and there was a lack of financial resources that added to the demands of being a premed student. And all those factors made it too difficult for her to stay focused and really research on active studying skills that can help her with school.

'It's not about intelligence, it's really about how you can obtain and utilize resources effectively.' Click To Tweet

[20:22] Formal Postbac vs. DIY Postbac

Thanh thought the grades don’t matter so she should just focus on the MCAT. But she quickly realized she lacked the foundation to begin with.

'What could have actually shortened the time is to nail down the foundation and the concepts before tackling the MCAT.'Click To Tweet

Although Thanh studied for the MCAT a couple of times, she had to take a pause due to a lot of family emergencies. It wasn’t until she actually met me at the UC Davis Premed Conference that she asked for my feedback. And I suggested she take a DIY postbac.

Thanh was quite hesitant about doing an informal postbac mainly because she felt she won’t be getting the best of everything. So she found it scary. But upon self-reflection, she realized she just couldn’t compare herself to others. She doesn’t have the money but she still wanted to go to med school. So she knew she had to do the best she could.

There’s that fear of being judged against everyone else. The medical school application proces is competitive. It’s not a competition, but it’s competitive. And so, there’s this constant fear that we are not doing enough compared to our classmates. And it’s fear that just doesn’t need to be there at all.

“Do what works for you!”Click To Tweet

[24:46] Her Transition From Undergrad to Postbac

Back in undergrad, Than would describe herself as having so much energy. But she didn’t know how to overcome her anxiety because she was constantly in survival mode. She felt she needed to survive because her family relied on her.

'The immigrants and the refugees have a lot of this common mindset – we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.'Click To Tweet

Also, she admits she was too stubborn to ask for help. She thought nobody could understand the circumstances she was going through. And that even a therapist would not be able to help her because she will only be giving her generic advice. That was her mindset.

Lastly, she was only passively studying back in undergrad. She worked really hard but she was only repeating the same mistakes over and over again. She didn’t muster the courage to do a self-reflection because she was so afraid she would have to change all her studying habits. She just didn’t want to have to restart everything again because it would be too long of a process for her.

All this has changed when she got in postbac. She was no longer afraid to ask for help from her colleagues. She was no longer comparing herself with others. She was no longer adding another layer to herself.

She also employed active skills. Right after class, she would jot down the three important things she learned from her lectures. She was teaching herself and teaching others when they needed help.

Another thing that helped her tremendously was pre-reading the lectures. So instead of bridging the connections during lecture, she was now able to strengthen those connections. In other words, she learned how to study more efficiently. By pre-reading lectures, she recalls participating in class and doing a lot of problems to challenge different perspectives and the way she interpreted and viewed class materials.

'Don't be afraid of showing who you are to the world.'Click To Tweet

[31:14] Her Thought Process Behind Her Personal Statement

As what she alluded to previously, mindfulness meditation has taught her to be the best version of herself and to be her authentic self. She caught herself constantly wanting the best of everything.

When you’re feeling so conflicted, always look at the values and the objectives of why you’re doing certain things. And those will be pointers for you to know what would be your next step. Thanh realized there’s no need for her to stand out. She just had to be herself in answering the question of why medicine, not why you think you would be a good doctor.

'Answer the question why you want to become a doctor, not why you think you would be a great doctor.'Click To Tweet

[34:48] The Interview Trail

Thanh recalls her interviewers were interested in her mindfulness practice and everybody started sharing about their experiences.

'Allow the interviewers to know who you are.'Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, you just have to tell your story and show who you are. Don’t just sell yourself based on some checklist of traits you think are required to be a doctor. And it worked well for her because she got multiple interviews, multiple acceptances, and some scholarships to go with those acceptances.

[39:54] How You Can Get Started with Your Mindfulness Practice

Check out Insight Timer app or Headspace app. Those are very practical apps that have sections which cater to students with testing anxiety before going into exams.

“Take advantage of these resources. Once you start getting into that realm of meditation and mindfulness, you will know what would be your next step and you will know what to do.”Click To Tweet


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