How an Underrepresented Student Got 18 Acceptances

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PMY 533: How an Underrepresented Student Got 18 Acceptances

Session 533

From getting C’s and D’s, Sam has overcome the challenges of college life and is now on the path of becoming a doctor. When Sam started his journey as a premed, he wasn’t quite sure where he would fit in or if he was cut out for medical school. After a fantastic experience shadowing, he changed his mindset and found new motivation to succeed. He had 20 interview invites and 18 acceptances. Today, we are going to hear how Sam did that.

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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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[01:51] The Dream of Becoming a Physician

Wanting to become a physician did not happen as a one-day epiphany for Sam. It happened gradually for him. Being a Nigerian-American, it came from some of his childhood experiences. 

“The ability to go to Nigeria exposed me to what it is like to witness a lot of injustice or disparities, or just seeing people facing some harsh conditions...that sent me on the path to help people.” Click To Tweet

Sam was in his sophomore year in college when he had the chance to shadow a PA. While he was on that shadowing experience, he also witnessed what some of the physicians were doing. He thought to himself that maybe he would actually want to be a physician. But he never saw a black male physician so he did not think it was something that someone like him could do.

[03:40] Nigeria Experience and the Connection to Healthcare

His parents migrated to the U.S. in the late 80s, and early 90s. But his dad has always been adamant about them going back to Nigeria. He and his siblings were all born in North Carolina but his dad would have them go to Nigeria every few years.

When he was around 10, turning 11, they went to Nigeria during Christmas break. His older brother who is three years older than him, struggled a lot with asthma when they were younger due to the pollution and a lot of dust and especially because they stay in the rural part of Nigeria in the southeast.

There was a particular moment while they were walking to his uncle’s compound when his brother’s asthma started to act up and it eventually triggered an asthma attack. His brother panicked and struggled to breathe.

At that moment, Sam realized that he wanted to help people in need. He tried to recall things he knew about asthma attacks like giving them water and trying to help coach them through breathing. There was no ambulance and they could not call anybody. They were on their own trying to turn around and walk back. Luckily, everything was okay. They got his inhaler and walked back about a mile and a half. He knew from then on that he wanted to help people in pain.

“That whole experience sparked an interest in intercepting and intervening when there is someone in pain.”Click To Tweet

Choosing His Career Path

Sam was always interested in sciences and he just kept looking into that. But when he was younger, he told his parents he did not want to be a doctor. He wanted to be an engineer. Eventually, while he was in school, he decided he really did not want to be an engineer.

He started to explore nursing and PA professions. He was shadowing PAs, nurses and a couple of physicians. He also kept volunteering. Eventually, he found an interest in long-term care and the knowledge that comes with being a physician. He also thinks that the leadership across the globe is what really sold him out. He took two gap years and did not just decide to go straight to med school. He got some exposure too during that time.

[06:44] Getting into College

His journey was never straightforward. He says he always seems to look for the hardest path and that’s maybe the way his brain is wired. Initially, he thought he was going to be an engineer because he liked calculus in high school. He thought by taking the engineering path, you just graduate, get an engineering job and make money.

He got into NC State which was the school he was certain he was going to go to. It was 50 minutes from his house. But then he got an acceptance at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2021. Some of his friends have already gone there. He didn’t want to go there because he already picked his school and it’s a great engineering school. But when he visited, he had such a good time so he went ahead and did a bioengineering major.

It was a great school and they have a hospital next door. He thought if he would be interested in healthcare in some way, it would be more like an ancillary position and not as a provider. But the change of plans led him to where he is now.

[08:31] Transitioning to Healthcare

Sam felt it was so hard for him to actually voice his thoughts because there were so many opinions and ideas. He tried to understand what he wanted and what his academic and professional goals were. 

Eventually, he thought he was just a freshman or a sophomore and it’s okay.

“The hardest part was accepting that I wanted to pursue this profession because it was just so competitive.”Click To Tweet

Dealing with Doubts

He felt there were kids in his biology class who seemed to know from the day they were born that they were destined to be a doctor. He thought that was not him so maybe he should not be pursuing medicine. His grades also said otherwise, and he started to think that maybe medicine is really not for him.

He saw students who seemed to breathe and live bio and that’s all they wanted to do all day. If that is what being a doctor is about, then he thought it wasn’t made for him. He did not feel like he really fit in. But something always told him to just keep the classes and keep exploring. He knew that it was something he could do.

Exploring and Networking

During that time, Sam did not want to be a doctor just yet. He did not know what he wanted to do. After his first calculus class, he knew he wanted to be an engineer. But now that he is at a school that is focused on health, he will just explore.

He started reaching out to people who are in different businesses. He met some doctors who are in their network, professors, and people he knew who were doing things like asking to take 50 minutes of your time to talk about what you do. He thinks that it’s a skill that he had to learn and he wished more students knew about it.

“You're in college and you have a huge network.. just reach out to people that are dying to talk to you.” Click To Tweet

Taking the chance to shadow or do interviews was something that Sam kept doing while figuring out what he wanted to do. He decided to do a shadowing program over the summer and that was what solidified it for him.

[10:58] Dealing with Doubts and Opinions

Sam says there is a lot of stigma surrounding medicine and the profession itself. It is understandable and it is something you will find everywhere, not just in medicine. Some of them are his own biases and negative ideas.

As a great institution, a lot of opinions are also coming from the competitive nature of the school that he went to. People want to become stellar students. It is that idea and the attitudes around that academic culture.

“A lot of students just feel the pressure to be perfectionists.”Click To Tweet

But he did not see it that way. He did not think much about it as a serious professional. He thought about it as something he can become, maybe one day.

There were a lot of people who thought the profession and the training process were too long. Some of those were his friends since none of them were doing medicine. His friends were all doing business or law and jumped ship early and ran into it.

[13:33] Facing Pushbacks and Having Faith

Sam knew that if he was going to take this seriously he would be facing a lot of pushback, both external and internal. That was his mentality. It was hard for him to convince himself to have faith and take those classes even after struggling.

For him and for most people, taking college-level science classes was not like taking them in high school, especially the intro classes like chem. He was getting C’s and his study habits were not good and he knew it was going to get harder.

Support System

Sam had a track record of not performing up to a standard that he had to meet. And yet, even with internal doubt, he still wants to be a doctor. He gives credit to his parents, especially his mom for encouraging him to pursue his ultimate goal. The conversations he had with his parents made complex ideas look simple. His dad told him what the worst-case scenario would look like. If he goes all out now and it does not work out, he turns 25, he can just come home and they figure out the next step.

Exploring and Pushing Forward

He realized his parents were right. He is 20 years old and he can pursue his main goals. That was when he decided to give himself the grace that if he is not ready to commit 100%, he can go ahead and just explore.

He was not doing well in chem and was terrified to take the rest of his classes like physics and organic chemistry. Everybody was telling him not to take it or not to go that way and it’s not worth it. Despite all of these, he went ahead and did it. Sam realized that there are people who are still doing it so there must be a reason for it. That was why he decided to go and find out for himself.

[16:08] Pivotal Moment

Sam did shadowing and volunteering. Eventually, this is what he is really pursuing and not simply bio and chem. He knew he needed the knowledge and he prepared himself mentally for it. Sam says it was the pivotal moment in his academic journey and the way he looked at medicine.

“The shadowing, volunteering, and conversations with real doctors, reminded me that the exams will pass, the classes won't last forever.”Click To Tweet

Summer Program

Sam did this program called the Institute for Responsible Citizenship in the summer of 2019. It was a program for African-American males with 20 of them across the country. They had an opportunity to do an internship in D.C. Sam shadowed at Howard University Hospital. From the security guards to the nurses, to the doctors – everybody was a person of color.

“For me, it’s so encouraging to think every day, I was seeing people that look like me, do knee arthroplasties and all these things.”Click To Tweet

Going back to campus after that summer, Sam could see 10 years into the future that someone like him can do this. He was ready to take on physics and organic chemistry. It was not as simple as getting straight A’s but he was more motivated and got better academically. He knew he still had to learn some of the tools and he needed to start making some changes.

[17:42] Recovering from D’s

He remembered the first exam he took after that summer was for physics. He went to his physics professor’s office to see his grade for the exam and he got a D. His professor told him it was not that bad but for Sam, he felt like what he did during summer was for nothing. He was still not doing well and realized he could not go on like this. It was not acceptable to him. He knew what he saw and he is grateful for that revelation that he was able to see what his future could be like. He decided to just keep going.

“Being able to see patients… physicians – was some type of tangible reminder that you just gotta get through this.” Click To Tweet

Doing Extracurriculars to Improve Effectiveness

What Sam did was completely the opposite of what most people would tend to do. Most students, when they are not doing well academically, think they need to cut off all their extracurricular activities. They focus full-time on their classes and they get completely burnt out.

It is always better to keep maintaining your “why” and to keep picturing why you’re going through these struggles. It is the same for MCAT prep. Students will completely clear their schedule for MCAT prep and they get completely burnt out.

You have to do shadowing and volunteering and put yourself around patients. Students don’t realize that their effectiveness in studying, whether it’s for the MCAT or for classes, goes down when they are just sitting there holding on as tight as they can and gritting their teeth.

“Go volunteer, go shadow, go have dinner with a friend... when you come back to studying, yes, technically, you will have less time that you have studied, but your effectiveness goes up.”Click To Tweet

[20:46] Perspective and Mindset

Sam says he has always been a hands-on person. While figuring out the academic portion, he never stopped being the inquisitive person he has always been. He is always asking questions and wants to see things for himself.

On top of his classes, he started taking an EMT course to train. For him, it is about the tangible reminders to himself why he wants to do it. He shadowed and connected to mentors. It was just like a huge switch for him that summer.

“When you can start to see what you could be, the classes don't seem that typical, the exam doesn't seem as bad.”Click To Tweet

Seeing the World from a Different Perspective

Some of the issues he sees with younger students are building their world only around bio and their dorm. For him, you have to go and get some experience – go out into the city, volunteer somewhere, have some fun with your friends, go shadowing, or work somewhere. Those experiences gave him the perspective to realize that the academic side is just step one and he has to get through it.

Building New Habits and a Different Mindset

He started going to his professor’s office to ask for help instead of always avoiding it. He stopped the habit of studying at the last minute. He avoided speaking and listening to other students who kept saying the exam was the hardest and thought they were getting a bad grade on it. He ran away from those small things that make up that kind of culture and mindset. When he got his second grade back on that exam, it was a 95.

“From then on, I knew it was a lot about your habits and then secondly, mindset...definitely, mindset.”Click To Tweet

[23:55] Changing the Mindset and Language around Medicine

Sam says there is a huge conversation now around language and mindset. Data is data, but data is also a tool, and like any device or tool, it can be manipulated. It can also be as a gift, it can also be a weapon. He thinks a huge part of medicine now is trying to change the language around what a doctor looks like.

During COVID, we started seeing doctors who are also DJs on the side while some are playing ball. Becoming a doctor also means you can have a life. Sam did not realize this until he was going into his junior year. He was making some mindset changes which was the biggest change for him. More than just the academic, it was the mindset and the way he looked at himself and the way he looked at this journey. Being a physician was not going to pigeonhole him into one idea.

“You have to be a person who practices medicine, not a doctor who tries to be a person.”Click To Tweet

Keeping Your Own Personalities and Developing Your Character

A lot of times as premeds, we abandon our personalities because we think only all we can offer is our academic achievements. In reality, you are treating patients who are people who want to talk to another person. The way we think, the stigma, and the stereotypes make us think about all the things that a doctor would be.

“In reality, this whole process, especially the MCAT, application process, interviews, they peel back to understand who you are as an individual.”Click To Tweet

Ideally, you didn’t spend five years just developing your resume but not developing your character. That is what’s going to carry you through medical school residency, and not the 4.0 you got in college.

[26:02] Understanding the Old Culture

Resident physicians back in the day basically lived at the hospital. These were the pre-internet days and pre-iPhone days. At some level, you live and breathe medicine to understand medicine. There were no resources available at our fingertips like we do today. In some respects, we can understand why the culture was what it was.

Hopefully, we will change that culture where physicians only live and breathe medicine. It is important that we know as much as possible so we can take care of our patients to the best of our ability. Physicians can be individuals, too, who have their own personalities, likes, and interests.

[27:35] Representation for People of Color

Sam had an internship at Howard, a house built for black people and people of color. He was surrounded by physicians and staff but not everyone is a person of color. He says he purposely tries to find physicians that represent a mix of both.

Before the Howard experience, he had a few black mentors. He has mentors who are physicians and he still connects with them. Even to this day, he still has several physicians and mentors he connects with.

“I seek mentors, not just in medicine but in life, just guidance – some in business, some, spiritual advisors.”Click To Tweet

Coming Back to School and Seeking Out Mentors

When Sam came back to school, he got more involved with the minority medicine organization. He became president because he was more focused now. Sam was more intentional with seeking out mentors that look like him. His experience was so pivotal for him that he wants to encourage anybody, not just race or ethnicity, but those with any interest and unique identity.

“You can be your true self in medicine.” Click To Tweet

He was seeking out mentors who have specialties or whose backgrounds are interesting to him, regardless if they are black, white, male, female, etc. He continues to seek mentorship everywhere he could.


There is so much advice, knowledge, and perspective out there. He thinks the biggest thing was perspective. As stressful as it will sometimes be as a premed, the perspective would always help him calm down. It helps him realize that C’s are not going to change your life or just go ahead and put that application in.

“A lot of times, perspective helped me focus again, relax, and then just go in for it.” Click To Tweet

When you’re young, you think everything you do is going to change your life. That is why you need counsel and people to help advise you.

[30:50] Hardest Part of the Application Process

Everyone has a unique journey. The hardest moment for Sam was in October 2021, before his application cycle. It was right before he started studying for the MCAT and preparing for his application. During this moment, he started having a lot of second thoughts.

Postbac after Graduating from College

He graduated from college in Spring of 2021 and did a summer premed program at UNC. In the fall, he knew he had to do a postbac and needed to get his grades up. It was also around the same time that he started a new clinical job to get experience. He was so stressed and overwhelmed because he did not take a break after college. He started having second thoughts and doubted if all of it was really worth it.

Time Management

The actual application was also hard for Sam. He admits it had to do with time management because he was crazy enough to do grad school while applying to med school. And he had to work to pay for his grad school and med school application.

Getting Mentally Ready for the MCAT

What was harder than the MCAT itself was getting mentally ready for it. MCAT is not easy, it is by far a difficult test. You have to be mentally prepared for it. He says some people, those stereotypes would say you have to lock yourself in your room for 10 hours a day.  Maybe some people do it. But for Sam, he found the healthiest way to do it and he actually felt his healthiest while studying for the MCAT.

[34:07] First Interview Invite and First Acceptance

Sam does not check his emails too often but in the application process, he was checking them every couple of hours. He remembered his first interview invite came three weeks after he submitted his application. It was to a Texas school and he was excited.

He was not too nervous. For him, if they are interested, there is so much information they can turn to. He is also a decent conversationalist and it was his time to tell his story. He thought of it as fun more than anything.

He also knew that if the school didn’t like his story and they didn’t want him as a student, he also would not want to be there either. He figured that he is only going to do the things he likes and it was a great feeling.

Getting the First Acceptance

The best feeling for Sam was getting his first acceptance. When you get that congratulatory email, you feel that you finally did it. You got into med school and all those hours were worth it. It also felt very surreal for him that he had been accepted knowing that a very small portion of people could get in and it was getting more competitive.

The first people he told were his parents. He tried to surprise them by having them sit down and pretending to be sad while telling them about the first response he got. They tried to comfort him saying that he did his best. And then he broke the news to them and told them about the letter he received telling him he got in. They were all so excited.

[36:51] Multiple Interviews and Acceptances

Sam applied to around 30 schools. His mindset was just to apply to everything because you never know. He also had a fee waiver so he was able to apply to 20 schools for free with the AMCAS fee waiver. With that mindset, he just went ahead and applied and had 20 interviews.

He wants to give a shout-out to his mentors and to some of the peers he reached out to who were MIT students. They helped him prepare for the writing portion on how to tell a good story and to really think about the life experiences that he wanted to share.

A lot of premeds just go on talking about having done the research and how they wanted to be a doctor. But it is really about who you are. To Sam, that’s what stands out and what helped him get those interviews. And from those interviews, he came out with 18 acceptances.

[38:50] Deciding Which School to Choose

Having 18 acceptances and narrowing that list can be stressful. The initial plan was to take all acceptances and cut off whoever offers him the least. Some schools have not offered a lot of grants/aid or scholarships. But then some schools have been very generous.

If you’re doing a special master’s or getting experience, all the postbac work, learning who you are, and all the things that premeds sometimes forget, those are valuable. MCAT is obviously important too. But it was all those other things that really put him in a position where he was fortunate enough to receive scholarships.

Sam took his time. If he tried to go straight into undergrad from undergrad, he would not be prepared. The gap year has helped him prepare to apply successfully, where scholarships made some of these schools competitive. He narrowed it down to his top five but has not made his number one choice yet. He has been fortunate enough that scholarships have also been offered.

[40:05] Stats and GPA

He was a Health Policy and Management major at Gillings School of Global Public Health. His overall GPA was 3.6. When he graduated, his science GPA was 3.8. It was not terrible, but it was not also competitive. After his postbac, he took around eight or seven courses. His science GPA was around 3 or 4 so it brought it up a bit. His postbac GPA was 3.9.

He graduated and started getting life experiences by working on a job and just living life. He realized that taking the postbac at the undergrad campus again just wasn’t as bad anymore. It was not easy, but it wasn’t as bad either.

[41:37] His MCAT Story

His highest practice score was 508. He got a test day and told his mom about moving the test. His mom told him to keep the test so he went ahead with it. It was a lot about mindset. He was trying to think about having taken all the practice exams where his scores came back with a 507 to 508. He was telling himself to have more confidence.

He knew he would get into school and wanted scholarships. He knew he wanted to be competitive and wanted to choose which med school to go to. He just didn’t understand the process.

Believing in yourself and being healthy, like working out and taking care of yourself are going to help you on test day. Take the test when you have a clear mind and have rested well.

He took the test and left thinking how high of an MCAT he needed to get into XYZ school. He felt he did worse on the section than he should have done well. Some of the sections came as a blur and he did not even remember what he said. His goal was to get a 510 but in the end, he got a 516.

[44:04] Final Words of Wisdom

Stop, pause, and talk to somebody you love.

Talk to friends and family. Get away from premed for a second. Give yourself just a day or two just to do something fun.

“Imagine your life just as a person, not just as a premed student.” Click To Tweet

Make a list of different mentors.

Make a list of different mentors or colleagues you can just reach out to who have been through what you’re going through. Also, make a short list of supporters in your corner – friends and family.

Go and explore.

If you have never worked in a clinical setting, go and do that or go shadow. Do something because you can’t effectively talk about something you never really experienced. In addition, go volunteer. Serve and get some life experience.

It’s okay to face some failures.

Go to a postbac if your GPA is not good enough. There are special programs and degrees – all those things matter if you have the resources and the time. Be patient because med school is not going anywhere. It’s a long journey. The ability to recognize what you need and be honest with yourself will change the whole experience.

“The most successful are the ones who've taken the time to realize their weaknesses and their strengths and then use them to their advantage.”Click To Tweet


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