She Took Classes at Community College and No One Questioned It!

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PMY 507: She Took Classes at Community College and No One Questioned It!

Session 507

Amy is a first-year medical student who worked as a librarian for over a decade. Then she followed her non-traditional path to medical school which included community college courses. Today, she talks about her journey to medical school, taking at some times in her journey, one class a semester at a community college. And guess what? Her taking classes at community college, or taking one class a semester for a little while, never came up in her interviews.

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

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[03:24] Taking Courses at a Community College

Amy was a premed student for five years because she didn’t want to do postbac. And when COVID hit, her timeline accelerated when she got a scholarship through her community college. They paid for half of her tuition if she studied full-time after transferring to a four-year school. She did the upper-level prereqs like the O-Chem and biochem and she ended up taking some extra biology electives there as well.

Not only was she at a community college, but she was also only taking like one or so classes a semester. As a public librarian, she had to work sometimes on a weekend or in the evenings, so she couldn’t take evening classes.

For her, it was a great place to start and get those core sciences. And apart from the scholarship, another reason she did it was because of their small class size. Hence, she was able to make good relationships with her professors. In fact, one of her professors became a letter writer for the scholarship. And also one of her letter writers for her med school application. And she would not have had that relationship if it was in a giant auditorium class for Gen Bio.

[07:26] Her Interest in Becoming a Doctor

Amy has always wanted to be a doctor since she was a kid. But when she got into high school in a  little tiny rural town, they didn’t have a ton of course options. She had struggled a bit with math in middle school and had to retake algebra three times before she finally passed.

As a result, she was not going to get to take calculus in high school. And so, she thought there was no way she was going to get accepted into a school like biochemistry or something. She says she had this delusion that you had to major in biochemistry to be a premed major. Obviously, she knows better now. But at that time, she sort of gave up on that dream and majored in Theater instead.

Although she enjoyed being a librarian and loves working with kids and serving the community, Amy always had the longing to become a doctor. But it wasn’t until her dad passed away that she realized she was going to regret it if she didn’t pursue this.

Part of the reason she held back was because she thought she couldn’t do hard sciences. She also thought if she jumped straight into it first full-time, she wouldn’t have been as successful.

[14:18] The Hardest Challenges During the Transition

Amy reveals the hardest transition for her was how she had to make it a secret. She was always worried about the debt. That’s why she wanted to keep working to avoid that debt. She could not afford to totally quit school and quit work.

She was still working on the public service loan forgiveness for her library school loans. So she both wanted and needed to keep working to pay tuition, pay the bills, pay for health care, and all of that stuff.

An Unfounded Fear She Wasn’t Willing to Risk

Amy kept it a secret because she didn’t want her bosses to think that she was less than committed to her current job as a librarian just because she was reaching for something different. In hindsight, she thinks that the fear may have been completely unfounded, but she wasn’t willing to risk it.

[17:10] The Biggest Fear About Her Application

Amy’s fear was that she was a little weak in clinical experiences either volunteering or paid. Again, she wanted to keep working as a librarian, especially since they’re paid better than medical scribes or medical assistants. Hence, she really could not afford to quit her job and be a scribe full-time.

Making the Effort to Get Clinical Experiences

She did volunteer and did get some clinical volunteering experience. But she was also working full-time while taking classes. 

She did it on the weekends, or in the mornings when she would work an evening shift. She would go to the hospital in the morning and volunteer and then go work for eight hours. She found ways to squeeze it in, but it didn’t amount to a ton of time.

A Silver Lining

When COVID hit, all opportunities were off. In some ways, it was a bit of a silver lining for her because there was less expectation that she would have had because of that.

[18:42] How She Managed to Find Clinical Experiences

Amy volunteered at the local hospital system, where she was working at the time. She worked weekends and she would work a weekend shift at the library. She would usually get the Friday before off. So she would volunteer those Fridays as well as in the mornings when she was working in the evening.

When she was there, they opened up some more volunteering opportunities that allowed them to help with patient transport and being in clinical spaces, as opposed to just sitting at the desk out front. Since there was demand, the hospital was willing to open up those new opportunities.

[20:46] Receiving Her First Interview Invite

Amy thought she had a strong enough application to get interview invites. But she still had a lot of impostor syndrome about actually getting accepted anywhere. Her first interview was with a DO school. And overall, she thought it went really well. She considered it like a dry run, considering it was still pretty early in the cycle.

She knows that if they don’t accept her, then she will have other opportunities. But she did end up getting accepted there and that put a lot of pressure off her shoulders.

[22:01] How She Prepared for the MCAT

Amy didn’t have the energy to follow a study schedule so she ended up taking full-length tests every other weekend. She would sit down on a Saturday morning, then chug through a full-length test. And then she would review it, usually that same evening, but sometimes the Sunday after. She would go through what she got wrong and take notes on the main topic of those questions.

The following weekend, she would do a targeted content review based on what she was getting wrong and why.

Rest Days Are Important

She did it seven times before she finally took the MCAT. At one point, she was even so exhausted and was taking two weeks off. She didn’t do any sort of MCAT prep for a couple of weeks. But then she came back and did better.

'We always compare it to training for a marathon. You have to build in rest days, or else it just doesn't work.'Click To Tweet

[24:11] Her Biggest Regret

Amy says her only regret if she could truly rewind things would be to have asked more questions back in her junior year of college when she first thought she should have gone to med school. Now, she tells other people that they can major in anything and still go to med school.

'You can major in anything, literally anything. I'm not even the only theater major in my class. There are three of us. You can major in anything.'Click To Tweet

Questions She Should Have Asked

She adds that she should have asked these questions, specifically:

Question #1: Do I have to change my major to do premed?

Question #2: Can I do this with the major I already have? She thinks it probably would have taken a little more time. But she actually graduated a semester early so it really wasn’t an issue, to begin with.

Question #3: Can I do this with what I’ve already worked on and what do I need to do to make that happen?

Again, she initially thought you have to be a biology major or biochem major because you have to take all of those classes. And she didn’t even realize that it’s actually a much smaller subset of those classes that you actually have to take. A few electives are nice, but she genuinely thought you needed the whole major.

The Fallacy of Sunk Costs

Amy actually also fell prey to the very common fallacy of “sunk costs” where you’ve already put in so much time being a theater major, so you should just finish it and figure it all out later if you wanted to. This is a very common mindset humans get stuck in psychologically.

All that being said, Amy says time is going to pass anyway. You’re going to get to be 35 or 40, whatever age you’re worried about being when you’re in med school. And so, you’re going to be that old anyway.

“Would you rather be that old doing what you know in your heart you want to do, or regretting that you didn't?”Click To Tweet

[29:39] Her Motivation to Start a Podcast

As a librarian working in public libraries, in particular, one of the things that she learned about in library school and has been her passion is the topic of health literacy.

Even well-educated people don’t have the health literacy level needed to interact with the healthcare system. It’s complex, you have weird vocabulary from insurance to a deductible versus what’s a premium. These are not intuitive and we don’t really have a great system of education about those things.

Consequently, a lot of patients are left to search on their own to find information after diagnosis. And then you’re searching online, and you find some great information but some are also awful and just myths.

And so, she wants to be that resource to help people understand the vocabulary of the healthcare system. She wants to demystify it, explain it in plain language, and hopefully improve people’s access to care. And hopefully, she can achieve this through her podcast.

Tap Into Your Local Librarians

Amy adds that if you’ve got questions about career paths, librarians have so many resources and databases that you can access. You can get real information about what it takes to get from point A to point B. And if you’re trying to get in on some research, they have those contacts as well.

It’s funny, she says if she had gone to the librarian sooner when she was in college, she would have changed her major. Or at the very least, she could have gotten ahead and did the premed prereqs when she was in college the first time.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to get into medical school. There is no “you must do it this way” like a lot of people will tell you. There’s no one way to do this. So go enjoy your journey. Make it work for how you need to make it work. And we’ll see you on the other side as a physician!


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