Raised In Africa, Med School In America

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PMY 482: Raised In Africa, Med School In America

Session 482

This inspiring student came to America, knowing he wanted to be a doctor. Let’s chat about his journey as a premed, from being an immigrant to where he is now. He actually ended up getting 13 interviews and six MD acceptances!

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.

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[02:11] Interest in Becoming a Doctor

Frank grew up in Gabon, a neighboring country south of Cameroon with his uncle who raised him until 12 years old when he passed away. This was an eye-opener for him that made him realize he didn’t want the same situation to happen to anyone else. That’s when he decided he wanted to get into medicine.

This is a very common story of students who want to go into medicine because someone in their family was impacted in some way. And they want to be the ones to step in and give it to other people.

His interest in getting into medicine was back in 2009 when he was 12 years old. And at that time, there was an HIV epidemic in Central Africa so he was very interested in HIV research.

Frank didn’t see himself studying medicine in Africa because, for one, the healthcare system was not that great. So he already had the feeling he wouldn’t attend medical school in Africa. He wanted the best training and he wanted to give the best care to his patients.

That being said, there are excellent clinicians in Africa, but they’re not given the proper tools and the proper equipment to do their job effectively.

[07:55] Coming to America

After his uncle died, Frank went back to live with his mother for two years and attended a Nigerian school. His sister was already studying in the U.S. at that time. He eventually moved to Cameroon to finish four years of high school and then his sister helped him to get into the U.S. in 2016.

Resident Status

Frank was an international student when he first came and then his sister eventually got a resident status that was then passed to him so he also became a resident.

'There's a proverb that says whatever your heart desires and you desire it strongly, you get it.'Click To Tweet

Premed Struggles

Part of his struggles during his transition from Cameroon to the United States was the accent. Frank received a very good education in the sciences back in Africa so it wasn’t that much of a struggle for him. He took a lot of ESL English language courses.

At some point, he was considering pharmacy because he likes chemistry. But then he would still remember the events that led to why he wanted to go to medical school. And that was Frank’s primary motivation and what actually kept him going.

[15:35] Navigating the Premed Waters

Frank adds that the Cameroonian system of education follows the British system of education. For instance, a lot of AP classes are mandatory in the British system.

Frank did two years at a community college and then two years at a four-year university. For him, it was the best decision because he met wonderful people and professors who helped him in his journey and whom he is still in contact with.

During his first year, he just focused on adapting to the system before he started worrying about anything else.

By his second year, he started to look into how he could become a good applicant for medical school. He began reaching out to people trying to get opportunities. He also got his first research experience at the end of his second year in community college. He did research on HIV because he was passionate about HIV.

[23:42] Prepping for the MCAT

Frank took the MCAT twice. As an ESL student, he found the test difficult not because of the content, but because of how the test was framed. It was an eight-hour-long exam that tests your reading comprehension and reading speed. And as an ESL student, he knew he was weak because he was a slow reader. ​​Moreover, he explains that Africa doesn’t train you for this type of exam.

'When the MCAT gives you a passage to read, and you haven't had training reading, that's where things become rough.'Click To Tweet

And so, his first MCAT was terrible because he didn’t study and read as much as he needed to for CARS although his other sections were good.

The second time he took the MCAT, Frank did a lot of CARS passages. He made sure he read at least three passages every day. He also read scientific passages to help out with biology, chemistry, and physics sections.

Having prepared well for the MCAT the second time, his reading speed improved and his score improved at 507, which increased by five points.

[30:42] Strategies Going into the Application

The process of applying to medical schools is super overwhelming for everyone. As for Frank, he was getting his committee letters in advance and he got them online. Their committee letter required them to write their personal statement. He then sent everything to their premed office so they can review it and give them an interview.

At that time, he was already working at NIH, where they also have a premed health advisory department. So he was able to get access to people who review personal statements and give feedback. This has helped a lot in writing his personal statement draft and how to make his story coherent.

[33:21] Being Intentional in Everything You’re Doing

Frank also did a postbac as part of a college scholarship program that he received when he was at the NIH.

The moment Frank set foot in the U.S., he has been very intentional with everything he has been doing. He was intentional with networking and asking people for help and trying to build connections and relationships. 

And where a lot of students go wrong, whether they’re immigrants or not, is they go to school and just do it all themselves. But Frank has just been asking questions, building relationships, networking, and finding mentors to help him get to where he is today.

[38:28] The Interview Trail and Acceptances

When he got his first interview from Drexel College of Medicine, Frank was just so happy. He wasn’t really scared that his accent would get in the way, and he decided he was just going to make sure he shared his story. He shared his story with the best possible tone of voice. He also did some mock interviews with some people at the NIH and made sure he spoke louder and clearer.

Frank ended up receiving 13 interview invites and he stopped tracking until he got invites from Harvard and Brown. 

Frank got accepted in six MD programs because he ended up turning down a lot of the other interviews that came after. He had eight interviews and got one rejection.

Although he has always wanted to go to Harvard, he got rejected. Then he got interviewed at Brown and got an acceptance. Although he’s leaning into Brown, he still has to consider a lot of factors including the finances.

[48:26] Final Words of Wisdom

Remind yourself why you’re doing this and if you have very good reasons, and very strong reasons of why you want to be a physician, those reasons are going to carry you to the application process, to the interviews, and to acceptances.

'Everything you should do should have a purpose.' Click To Tweet


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