A first-generation, nontraditional reapplicant student shines some light on representation in medicine. Berenice is a three-time applicant, a teenage mom, and a daughter of immigrants. She has multiple acceptances, and eleven interview invites this cycle – and she got a full-ride acceptance! She will be talking about her journey to medical school, the obstacles she has overcome, and the perseverance that she showed through this journey.
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[02:35] Journey to Premed
Wanting to be a doctor came from her own birthing story with her daughter. Berenice had her daughter when she was very young. She was 14 years old when she gave birth to her child. It was her first time being in a medical setting, being in a hospital, having the IVs and all the medical care around her. And she found great interest in all of those.
It was the first time she was introduced to the medical field and that planted the seed for her.
She remembers following up with her OB, becoming friends with him which she thinks might have stemmed from being such a young person and being their case. But she bonded with her OB and has always looked up to him. Coming into full circle, he, later on, played a role in her shadowing and getting clinical experience.
But it was not until later on in college that she decided to hop on the premed track. She was already done with her degree so she went for a postbac and carried it on from there.
[04:30] Finishing High School
When she was in high school, she recalls a meeting with the counselors regarding the image of the school and how she was pushed to go to a different continuation school. She was a 4.0 student and she was a great student.
Continuation school is basically a school for misfits. She was not a troubled student so she could not wrap her head around the idea of why she was getting pushed to go to a continuation school when she did nothing wrong. They had a vote in the council and they allowed her to stay. She ended up graduating in the top 10% of her high school class. She was able to do this with the support of her family and by not thinking twice about things. She just kept doing what she had to do.“To have this certain mindset where you just have to do things and not question why is this happening to me?... Why is this harder for me?” Click To Tweet
For her, it is about doing things, getting up the next day, and doing it again.
[06:37] Finding Her Way Through College
Berenice was still exploring when she went to college. She went in undeclared and wanted to check around different majors first.
She already had this mindset that if she was going to be a premed, she had to be a bio major. It was in her brain that she had to do biochem but she did not want to do it, thinking she might like something else, like anthropology.
She did end up loving anthropology and went on exploring different routes. She said she had taken her time with everything she did.“I've just taken my time because what’s meant to be, will be…it will happen on its time.”Click To Tweet
It was only in her senior year that she decided on becoming a premed. She was very late in the game at this point and she knew her option was either postbac or a do-it-yourself program. It was something she needed to do because she did not take any of the science prereqs during undergrad.
[08:18] Facing Challenges in Her First Year
Berenice shares how she went through her first year. She said it was really rough, to the point where she thought she might not be cut out for college anymore.
Being the smart kid in high school and what she did in high school will not work for college. Berenice failed almost every single class during the first two quarters. She was humbled very quickly.
She did not have a car so she was commuting to UCLA. She had to wake up at 4:30 AM to take a train to the Union Station and take two more buses to get to her 8 AM class. After that, she had to do the mothering things and do it all over again.
She admits that she did not respect her boundaries. She felt like being on a pedestal for her family, friends, and community. She was like this poster child going to college as a mom and she could not let them down.
Berenice is the first in her family to go to college. She is the first generation college student trying to make the family proud. But it was not just about focusing on school. She also has a kid and had to work to pay bills. And she was not asking for help.“I couldn't face my reality, which was that I was struggling and didn't know how to ask for help.”Click To Tweet
[10:30] Retroactive Withdrawal
During the spring of her freshman year, she sat down with her counselor where she was given two options.
She can approach her last quarter with an academic probation contract. She has to pass and then she can carry on as normal and continue to do well.
Or she can take a retroactive withdrawal. It is where you step away from the university, go figure out what’s going on, and then come back and reach out when you are ready.
Berenice took the latter. She knew that one quarter is not going to change because she cannot just fine-tune things in a quarter. She needed to really step back and assess who was as a student and see what was lacking, and what abilities and skills she still needed to refine.“I need to step away completely and...reinvent myself as a student.” Click To Tweet
Berenice said she did that and went to community college for a year. She cut down on her work hours, used her family support as much as she could, and just really focused on being a better student. Not the best, just a better student.
[14:25] Restarting at a Community College
Berenice restarted at a community college and built up that foundation of being a solid student again. It was after she took a couple of bio classes when she found herself going beyond the books.
She was studying because she was honestly curious. She was looking up things, looking up videos that made the concepts come together so she could have a better understanding.
That was when she realized that she wanted to do this because she enjoys doing this. She doesn’t feel forced to do something like when you’re doing something against your will. All her freshman year at the university, she thought she was just being forced to study all these classes that she did not want to know about.“At some point at community college, I wanted to know more… I was in office hours asking questions and raising my hand in class.”Click To Tweet
[15:25] Pushing It Further Up at Senior Year
The small perspective shift of “I have to do this, versus I get to do this,” was the kind of mentality that Berenice took on her third attempt and she thinks that helped a lot. She says she gave herself that permission to keep going.
She did not know how competitive it is going to be but she still had that desire of wanting this career very badly. She thinks she has a little bit of that willful ignorance, of being naive about the process and at the same time, not caring about how competitive it is to get into med school.
In her senior year, she was already volunteering in the hospital setting. She was getting familiar with how things work, who works with who, how the PAs, doctors and the staff all work together.“I see myself in this setting, so I'm not ready to let it go… I’m inspired to pushing up further with it.”Click To Tweet
[17:29] Balancing Through Prereqs
Berenice graduated in 2016 and submitted her first application in 2019. She was not able to apply right away because of her prereqs. She got through her undergrad as best as she could and later on focused on “the hard stuff.”
At first, she did not know what to do and had to figure out what classes to take. She started learning how to take science and Ochem which sounded really difficult.
There was a test you had to take and she said she was going to worry about tests later. She started researching postbac and do-it-yourself and what might be better.
She says she listened to one of Dr. Ryan Gray’s recordings on what best to do. For Berenice, it was the do-it-yourself because she still wanted to balance a little bit of work.
At this point, she was already living on her own with her daughter so she still had to pay the bills. Do-it-yourself postbac was perfect for her because she could take classes at night. She said it was great because she was able to make her own schedule.
She found what works for her but it was tough after having failed so much already.“Even though I didn't have skills in the hard sciences, I had skills as a student that I was able to use in these science courses.” Click To Tweet
Berenice says that really helped because a lot of people say you just have to be smart. For her, you don’t have to really be that smart, you just have to work really hard.
[19:44] The Postbac Journey
Berenice was starting off her postbac with mostly A’s and a few B’s. It was not too bad for the classes she was taking. She was surprised with herself and thought she could have done this in undergrad if she had put in the same effort.
She says she was the same person only she has gone through some things that have changed her a little bit.
[20:36] Doing Postbac as a Mother
Her child was about eight or nine years old during this time. Coming home with her daughter doing her homework while she was doing her own homework was something that was not strange for them.
Berenice shares that her daughter basically grew up in a classroom with her. Back in high school when she was president of some high school club, her daughter would come to the club meetings. She was always around her so it was something that was never strange for her.
If it was anything of benefit for the both of them, it would be having a place for them to sit down together and do their work together. By doing so, she could mother and study at the same time.
[21:22] The First Two Application Cycles
Her first application cycle did not go as planned. She applied to roughly 20 schools, the ones she got for free. She had zero interviews because of a poor MCAT score.
Berenice admits that her first time taking the MCAT, she did not fully understand what she needed to do. She did not have enough knowledge to back her up. She says it was just dumb confidence and looking back at it now would make her want to smack herself in the head.
She did a retake of the MCAT and did a little better with a 496. She had a GPA of 3.3 and a postbac of 3.5.
She applied again and got one interview. That one interview was a validation in the sense that she knew that MCAT helped. But there was also sustenance in the rest of the application to make them want to talk to her.
The first interview was very conversational. She doesn’t even remember bringing up stats at all. She was asked about the challenges she discussed. But it was never about the numbers. She was not accepted but she was on the ranked waitlist right in the middle, which also did not go through.
[24:36] Pushing Through After Two Cycles
After two application cycles, Berenice kept going and she kept trying because she knew she could be better. She says she can be a better applicant and she was not ready to let go of this career. At this point, she was still scribing and had a couple of clinical experiences.“I know I'm meant for this path...I just have to figure out how I can show them.” Click To Tweet
Academically, she was in the middle so she needed to show up and show out somehow. She was thinking about grad school and SMP. And decided she went with an SMP.
[25:25] Taking Special Master’s Program (SMP)
Berenice picked an SMP that is closer to home. She also focused on SMPs that provided a structure for research. That was one of the main things she considered because she also lacked a little bit of research.
She ended up going with an SMP near Arrowhead in Colton, California with the new MD school, California University of Science and Medicine.
The master’s setup was like mimics of the first year of med school classes with the rigors of M1 year. It was great for her and she says she killed it. But there was still the MCAT.
There was built-in prep and they were given great resources. Berenice knew she needed to retake the MCAT and she was not going to apply with anything less than a 500 again.
She took the MCAT the third time and got a 502.
[27:11] Cost of Doing SMP
SMPs are not cheap. Berenice said she did some math on that but she was lucky to have a scholarship in undergrad which she was able to maintain after she came back.
Since undergrad was not so bad, she was not really looking at the postbac, masters cost together. But coming from a disadvantaged background, regardless of that, she knew she was going to have to pull out loans later.
[28:15] Third Application Cycle
With an SMP, a postbac, and three MCATs under her belt, Berenice said she felt delusional. She entered it with a full delusion saying, “I am getting in.” For her, there was no other option. Not getting in was not an option.
The SMP brought on not only research but leadership roles for Berenice. She was a speaker at graduation. She took all that it could give and made all that she could from that SMP. She thinks that as a student, she did not leave a doubt in anyone’s mind that I could do it.
In the third cycle, she got 11 interviews and is still counting because, for her, it is not over. Berenice thinks that the MCAT definitely opened more doors for people to look at her application. But for her, it was the SMP, which she felt helped a lot.“More than anything, I think that was an application changer because I feel like it erased any doubt that might have arisen from looking at my undergrad career… my postbac career.”Click To Tweet
[30:26] Getting Her Acceptance
Berenice recalls her first acceptance which came in a phone call. She was in the car by herself driving home from work and she thought she almost crashed. The first person she told that night was her partner and then everybody got really excited after having worked so hard at this.
She told her daughter and she was also really excited because she had seen her go through hell and back trying to get here. Berenice says she is so happy that she could share that memory with her. Despite crushing her SMP, medical school was not her first acceptance because of an MCAT cut-off of 504.
Berenice says it was disheartening because she was an integral part of that school. She helped with putting a committee together. She was part of the committee that put on their first inaugural symposium. It reached out to different high schools, and all levels of education, and encouraged them to come onto campus, have a first look, and see what it’s like to have any career in medicine – physician assistant, pharmacy nursing. They organized this one-day event that was fantastic and had a great turnaround.
She gave a lot to that school. She says this without being salty because she is not, and she still loves them so much. But it’s just crazy that two points kept her out.
But she has three acceptances now that she is up to and still waiting on more. She says she is super excited with at least one of them. She also had just been interviewed by her top two schools where she is just waiting to receive feedback from.
[33:56] Changing the Course of Her Journey
Berenice’s journey was not a straight line. It was not perfect. It had lots of failures and it cost a lot of money. But for Berenice, she would not change it. She says she is going to be a better student because of it. She has proven that she is going to be a better student and be much more resilient.
This mentality came from all those failures. Now she doesn’t see things as, “How am I going to get through?” but more like “We’re gonna get through this.” She feels that this is the kind of mentality she needs to have in medical school, in residency, and even further.“You have to do the things you don't want to do, that you're too tired to do but you just have to do it.”Click To Tweet
[35:18] Final Words of Wisdom
If you want it, it’s going to happen.
If you keep working at it, it’s going to happen. It is never definitive until you decide to – and that’s your power!