From Self Doubt to Success: 9 Medical School Acceptances

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PMY 532: From Self Doubt to Success: 9 Medical School Acceptances

Session 532

When Nico started his premed journey, he doubted that he was as qualified as other premeds. He didn’t feel that he had the formative “ah ha” moment that other people have when they realize that they want to be a doctor. Despite this, Nico was able to rise above and gain 9 acceptances to medical school, and he is now going to his dream school – with less of a financial burden.

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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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[02:56] Journey to Becoming a Doctor

Nico did not know that becoming a doctor was something he wanted to do when he was younger. He did not have what a lot of people have experienced where they have those moments of epiphany to become a doctor and just went moving forward trying to complete that goal. He did not have much contact with physicians. He did not see a primary care doc. Becoming a doctor was not something that was on his mind until he was actually in college.

Childhood Moments

Nico was a rambunctious kid who liked to get in trouble. He got a lot of quick injuries from climbing trees and holding onto his brother’s car while riding a longboard. Because of that, he was a regular at urgent and fast care centers. Landing there frequently, Nico got to know the nurses and the doctors. He got very comfortable with them because they allowed him to get back on his bike or get back outside and enjoy the things he did.

At that moment, he did not think it was what he wanted to do, but subconsciously, it continued to build with him as he grew up.

“It was more of a reflection of my moments, or my childhood that led me to this path.” Click To Tweet

High School and Family

Going through high school, he was not sure what he wanted to do. He just loves to learn. Neither of his parents went to college. His Mom is from Colombia and his dad is from Illinois who had a rough childhood and is a blue-collar hard worker. They set Nico up for whatever they could but college was very intimidating to him. It was also expensive and there were so many options so Nico remained very open-minded.

Nico grew up looking at his older brother who didn’t know what he wanted to do. He ended up going to the Air Force and it turned out to work great for him. Early on, Nico realized that he should try harder to figure out what he wanted to do. So he played with law and played around with software engineering and all very different things.

Discovering Science in Community College

Nico did not have any exposure to sciences – the hard sciences, in high school. He went to community college and thought it was a good way for him to explore things without having to pay an insanely high stake. From there, he started to key in on ways that he could do science in different occupations.

“In one of my first years in college, I met this professor of chemistry, who opened my eyes to the world… and I fell in love with science, naturally, very stereotypical.”Click To Tweet

Self-Reflection and ADHD

Nico also started to learn more about himself. He started to contemplate his own experiences. He thought he had ADHD. It was not something that is well spoken about within his family because they tend to push those things to the side as a typical family does.

They also did not have much exposure with what to do for kids experiencing mental health issues. Nico thought he needed to see a professional. That was the first time that he, as an adult, spoke with a doctor one-on-one, sat down, and received treatment. 

He thought that this person is taking the chemistry and the psychology that he loves. He was interacting with someone, evaluating their circumstances, and providing a treatment that directly impacts them or improves their quality of life. That was something Nico thought he could do. It was some kind of soft validation but he didn’t know he wanted to be a doctor until mid-sophomore year.

“For me, it was like turning on a light switch.”Click To Tweet

[07:31] Guidance and Mentorship

With his family background, Nico was navigating through everything fresh and without mentorship. He did not have a lot of friends who are doing premed. There were about two or three of them who might have had mentorship but even they did not know what they were doing. He was not aware that schools have pre-health offices and even when he found out about it, he did not take full advantage of it.

The first thing he did was establish relationships with professors that could guide him or point him to someone who could. He is thankful for the internet because he saw a lot of information online. That’s when he stumbled upon Medical School HQ’s YouTube videos and learned his way through the process. It can be really overwhelming so he went to focus on the big picture and then go back and draw attention to the finer details on what he needed.

“None of the finer detail matters if you didn't complete major coursework prerequisites or spend time figuring out if this is what you wanted to do.”Click To Tweet

[09:13] Challenges as a Premed

As a premed, a lot of things are hard but the hardest part for Nico was navigating through conversations and setting clear boundaries with both his family and friends. With his family it can be frustrating because they don’t see what he sees and how busy he can be or the different things that he has to do to get where he is at. It is not because he does not want to, but he has to delegate his time otherwise or elsewhere.

“Sometimes it's hard for them, for that reason, to understand why I'm so focused or why I can’t make an event.”Click To Tweet

He thinks that sometimes that can cause some turbulence. Just like when his dad would need an extra hand around the house on a day that he has to study. He loves to help clean up the garage or to spend time doing these things that they enjoy but it is hard to prioritize.

Setting clear boundaries on what he wanted to do and what he needed to do to get there was really important, not only with his family but also with his friends. That was helpful in providing a sense of accountability because no one’s going to motivate you more than friends who want you to go out with them. They would tell you to make sure you got this done. That really helps to keep you in check.

[11:30] Family Dynamics and Disconnect

In the eyes of Nico’s parents, all of them are busy and that’s how life works. You have to figure out the time to get this other stuff done, which is difficult. From his mom’s perspective, she often felt bad because what she wanted is for her son to enjoy the normal kid things. She feels that when she looks at him, he could not enjoy these things and she feels guilty about it.

“That actually made it worse for me because I knew what I wanted to do and I didn't want her to worry about me.”Click To Tweet

Nico admits that it’s a strange dynamic and there is definitely some disconnect that goes on frequently. An example is when his mom asked him recently what his degree was even with the fact that he graduated two years ago.

[12:36] Best Things as a Premed

Very few things, as well as shared experiences, bring people together. The amount of hoops they have to jump through and the things they have to learn, the number of people they get to meet throughout their day to day, whether that’s through clinicals, tutoring, mentoring, and all these different activities that they get to partake in – all of these are usually done alongside one another.

“Premeds as a group, or people in medicine, or students that are within healthcare… really share a unique experience.”Click To Tweet

During those ups and downs, you are always with someone that you can lean on. Hopefully, you are able to nurture those relationships where you can lean on someone because if you can’t, you are going to have a lot of difficulties. Nico enjoyed the relationships he created with his friends. He says it is something he will cherish wherever he goes.

[14:01] Taking a Gap Year

Nico took a gap year in order to make sure he does not second guess his decision of going into med school. He worked a lot, probably 50 hours a week throughout his whole undergrad. He did not have much time to do volunteering, especially with the pandemic. While that was frustrating, he figured he could always do it retrospectively, rather than trying to split it up and spread himself too thin.

“I was not able to spend much time in a clinical environment that wasn’t was hard for me to justify the opportunity cost when I needed to eat and pay bills.” Click To Tweet

Dealing with Doubts

He wanted to prioritize and that led to a lot of doubt especially with the pandemic. He spent a lot of time at home thinking about how much debt he was about to go into without a surefire reason and evidence that he wanted to do this and was ready to do it.

“I think that that's natural for anyone that's going into medicine… that there will always be some sense of doubt.”Click To Tweet

If you’re willing to go into it without regret, double down and feel comfortable doing that, even if there’s still doubt, if you still feel that passionate, then he would encourage you to go into it. But do not pursue a career in medicine if that doubt is enough to render you dysfunctional.

[15:45] Path to Nine Acceptances in the First Cycle

As a premed, we don’t often reflect on our successes. We tend to just keep moving forward, keeping with the tests and going on with the next thing. For Nico, he tries to be humble and to him this is already a very humbling process.

One of the things he managed to do very well was planning. There are so many different things you have to consider and it becomes exponentially more difficult when you have less time. When it came to his application, integrating regular checkpoints was very helpful. 

Making the Most of the Gap Year

During a gap year, it’s easy to fall victim to thinking you have time because you got a year or two years off. Nico wanted to make sure that he was able to speak about his time off in the application because it’s weird for him to get an extra year. He had to set hard deadlines, especially because his MCAT was going to expire.

“Setting those hard deadlines and holding myself accountable was really important.” Click To Tweet

That is general advice to be successful in the application and as a premed. But even if you do those things, there are going to be other variables that you need to be able to provide.

Relationships and Luck

It might be cliche, but he makes sure he tries to be as genuine as possible. He knows he is not everybody’s cup of tea. He thinks that we all have these little idiosyncrasies that connect us to people and give us positive experiences with them that help develop relationships.

He says those tend to create your own luck and you never know when that will pay off. He had a lot of those little moments that paid off later down the line which he thinks were instrumental to his success. He believes that there is also that element of luck.

[18:46] Finding Mentorship

Most people try to seek one sole mentor and they expect that they have all the answers. For Nico, that is an incredibly unrealistic expectation to put on anybody. He considers his dad as a mentor but since his dad doesn’t know how medical school applications work, he would never seek that advice from him. He only does it if it was something general that anyone can listen to.

Professors are incredibly great mentors for him in terms of academics especially when he is navigating this field where it can be very difficult. There are moments when you are going to struggle and doubt yourself and not know how to learn a cycle. You can compare yourself to your peers who are doing way better than you.

He thinks peers which he gained throughout the years can be mentors as well. And also people that have been one step ahead of you. Those who were in their third year when he was in his second year. Or the ones who were in medical school while he was an undergrad.

Especially with the application itself, having people that have been through the process can help because they are going to look at everything through a different lens.

“Having really specific mentors that can be very helpful in their field is way better than having multiple people trying to do it all.”Click To Tweet

[20:49] Interview Invites

Nico has 17/18 interview invites. His first one was from one of his dream schools at Northwestern. He grew up really wanting to go to Northwestern. It was around August when that first invite came which to him was early. He remembers how he wished someone else would have interviewed him first so he could have some practice. He was really nervous but excited at the same time.

At one point, it almost became overwhelming for him. He realized how grateful he was for his past self for creating different to-do listings and the excel sheets that help keep things on track.

“It's a lot for one person to manage especially if you're working full time… setting those boundaries.”Click To Tweet

Thankfully, his employers are very helpful which did wonders for him. He had a lot of PTO, but even if he had those PTO, his position was not interchangeable. He is still the one who does it even when he is not there. He admits it was stressful. It also costs a lot of money to have those interviews. Thankfully, he was able to do a lot of them virtually and only had to do three or four in-person interviews. Having those interview invites was a bittersweet and exciting experience for him.

[23:37] The Interview Process

There were some long days and he had some fatigue. Even though in-person and online are two very different things, regardless, both can be long days. With online interviews, you always have to be on guard and on par. Over the camera, having that face where you’re always smiling through it, and if you have to sneeze, you have to hold it back.

That was probably one of the more difficult things for Nico. With ADHD, he was not meant to sit in front of a computer and stay still. He gets very fidgety and needs to be up and talking or interacting with people. He found ways to combat that because it can sometimes be interpreted through the other side of the camera in a different way than you meant it. And you don’t have time to explain everything.

“You have to manage those first impression skills and do what you can.” Click To Tweet

[25:03] First Acceptance

The first person he called and talked to when he got his first acceptance was his mom. He recalls at that time his brother had some good news about a promotion at work or a new job acceptance. They had a family FaceTime that same day and they were all excited.

It was a Friday night and he got himself Mediterranean food for dinner to celebrate. As he sat at the table, they asked him what was up. He just threw it in, saying he is just eating some food, got accepted to medical school, and would be going out to watch a movie tomorrow. It took a good five to seven minutes to get there and he was itching to do it. He screen-recorded that moment for himself later.

From First Acceptance to Multiple Acceptances

His first acceptance was with the school that he wanted to go to and what his gut feeling is telling him he should go to. A lot of this time throughout the process, you always feel like wanting to prove yourself. You want to be picked, it feels almost desperate. The moment you get your acceptance, a lot of that goes away. And if you’re very fortunate to get multiple acceptances, it almost flips.

It’s almost like the schools now are the ones asking you to please pick them. They are sending you emails, merchandise, visit dates, and offers for you to get recruited. Nico uses such a comparison to that of the athletes. He commends anyone that is willing to put up with all the hoops that show their dedication enough despite that unfortunately there are limited spots.

“I feel like we do have a lot in common with athletes.. mentality-wise and selectivity-wise, the competition is incredible.”Click To Tweet

[27:47] Ethnic and Cultural Background

Nico is Latin. He is Colombian, Puerto Rican and it’s a big part of who he is. That is something that can be seen in his application. He spent a lot of time working with people that look like him because it is something that was important to him even before he knew that he wanted to be a doctor. It is not something that he can fake because that’s just who he is. 

Story of a Friend

Nico shares a story of the struggles he had and the moments of guilt that came with it. He had a friend with incredibly good stats and did all the right things. She is white and comes from a very privileged background, but she was struggling for a long time. She was not getting interviewed and did not get any acceptances in the first cycle. He recalls getting into a heated argument with her because she said that because he was brown that’s probably why he got in and got more opportunities than she did.

For a moment, Nico had struggled with that guilty feeling. He sat down feeling diminished as if all the effort and all the work that he has put into this point didn’t mean anything. He battled that for a while. Then he started to think and looked at it like the common analogy of a race.

“We are all running a race and we have different finish lines, or we have the same finish line, but we have different starting points.”Click To Tweet

His friend started miles ahead of him and if he was in that position, he can just imagine how further he would have been, comparatively.

It’s all just hypotheticals and sometimes they can deter you and leave you unmotivated. So instead, just focus on yourself and on what you can do and what you can control. For Nico, you just have to be true to yourself. You cannot control who is reading your application and that is the reality.

[31:01] Finding the Best and Most Authentic School

Now that Nico has had all that success, it now comes to figuring out what schools are being authentic and those that truly want him for him and not for their stats. Nico says it is tough. You can read about a school on a website and look up the missions. You can look up their metrics, their matriculants’ data, who are going there, and what their averages are. It is an overwhelming amount of data and we tend to put so much emphasis on certain data points while ignoring others. 

“I'm trying to put myself in that position where I'm actually at the school and not on the website.”Click To Tweet

There are only a few ways you can do that and that’s by talking to students and people that go there who are not paid to talk to you.

Making the Most of In-person Interviews and Visit Days to Talk to Students

There is so much selection bias and while the interviewers and the people on the committees are great and provided a mountain of information, they chose to be there. So they will always have good things to say.

“The great thing about in-person interviews or doing visit days is you can navigate the campus and talk to people who are just bystanders.” Click To Tweet

That has been helpful for Nico. Hearing their takes on how they are treated at the school, why they were recruited, or why they chose to come to that school can help gauge in deciding whether or not you are comfortable going there. There are some schools that say diversity is important and we hear that a lot. The moment that we break character is a good indication of whether or not someone is being genuine. 

Nico says he is someone that does not like to hide behind a mask. He just wants to be himself even if there are uncomfortable situations in those conversations like what he had with his friend. At the end of it, they became closer and understood each other better. He hopes that he ends up in a school where he feels comfortable enough to do that and continue doing that.

[34:04] Choosing Which School to Pick

Having these 9 acceptances while still on the waitlist for other schools, Nico has to figure out where he wants to go. There are a lot of metrics but he realized that there are so many uncertainties that he can’t account for because they just break off into hypotheticals. He looks at the more obvious things to consider, those that are important to him. Being close to family is something that’s really important to him.

Ranking and Prioritizing

He ranked his list of priorities from being close to the family, the cost, the level of comfortability of the school, and how well their curriculum aligns with what he wants to do. Nico is a very specific type of learner. Something important to him is not to get stuck at a computer or in front of slideshows and presentations all day.

After prioritizing what’s important to him, he further goes into subcategories. He looks into what can be checked off versus what might not be checked off. He moves further into things that can be checked off. To him, it’s like a triangle where you can’t have all three points. But if he can get two out of his three points, he is more than happy.

As he gets closer, he thinks he might have found his favorite triangle. Only it’s tough because his wait list is the only thing that could throw a wrench in that. It’s also difficult because people can pull you in different directions, whether it’s teachers, professors, or his parents who are navigating different opinions.

[36:47] Changing Anything in His Journey

Nico will not change anything, not a shot with his journey. He knows that when he does something, he does it without regret because for him it is hindsight 20/20 every day, all day.

“There's no point in getting lost in the what ifs, in my opinion, because it's already done.”Click To Tweet

If there are some things that you feel you should or should not have done, you would not know that even existed at that time. There is no way you can tell yourself that information that you know now that could have made you do something differently.

The best thing to do is just keep moving forward, whether or not that’s in the right direction which you might find out later. It is better than being stagnant. A lot of people get that paralysis of having too many things to do so they end up doing nothing. But if you’re moving forward and you’re taking one step at a time, you will end up somewhere.

[38:28] Final Words of Wisdom

Take things step by step.

Enjoy the little victories and take things step by step. Eventually, you will end up where you need to be. You will feel a lot less burnt out because you have an appreciation for yourself.

Start journaling.

Start journaling earlier. As you grow older, you will realize the value of reflection. 

When you document your own growth, it is helpful in that sense of tracking your growth. It also helps you in understanding people and yourself and helps create a sense of gratitude.

Keep moving forward.

If you keep moving forward and thinking about where you’re going, you’re not just aimlessly wandering. You are taking calculated steps forward. Adjust, realign and recalculate from there and you will find it. It is never going to be straight and narrow but straight and narrow is boring


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