Picking Up the Pieces

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PMY 558: Picking Up the Pieces

Session 558

Andrea discusses her journey to medical school, including facing academic challenges like being placed on probation and improving her MCAT scores multiple times before ultimately getting accepted to an osteopathic medical school.

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

Her Interest in Becoming a Physician

Andrea’s journey to becoming a doctor began with a strong sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference, despite not having any family members in the medical field. It was through personal experiences that she discovered her passion for medicine.

The Seed

Growing up as the middle child between two thrill-seeking brothers, Andrea often found herself in chaotic situations that sometimes led to visits to the ER. Witnessing the transformation of the ER from a place of uncertainty and chaos to a space where her brothers were healed and left with smiles on their faces had a profound impact on Andrea. She described it as a magical experience, fueling her interest in helping others and replicating that feeling of healing in their lives.

Watering Her Seed

As she continued to grow up, Andrea actively pursued opportunities to explore the medical field. She started volunteering and doing CNA work in high school, which solidified her decision to pursue a career in medicine. Through these experiences, Andrea realized that working in healthcare was the right path for her.

For Andrea, becoming a physician was not just a general interest, but something that deeply resonated with her. As she explored the field further, she realized that the autonomy that physicians possess in determining the best course of action for their patients’ healthcare needs stood out to her. This ability to develop a personalized plan of action based on the individual patient’s social, mental, and physical needs aligned with her values.

Interest in Osteopathic Medicine

During her journey, Andrea discovered osteopathic medicine and found that its philosophy strongly resonated with her. This philosophy of addressing the whole person, taking into account all aspects of their health, deeply appealed to Andrea. It was through this alignment with the principles of osteopathic medicine that she knew it was the path she wanted to pursue in her medical career.

Rising Above Challenges

Andrea’s journey began with a full ride scholarship, providing financial stability and a solid foundation for her academic success. With a sports scholarship to a state school, she felt confident about her future. However, everything changed when her family relocated to a different state. Suddenly, the funding that supported her education as an in-state student vanished, leaving Andrea facing unexpected obstacles.

Navigating the Turbulent Transfer

Undeterred by the setbacks, Andrea made the difficult decision to transfer schools in 2019. Little did she know that this would mark the beginning of a series of challenges that would test her resilience. While her parents had some means to support her financially, the chosen school proved to be expensive.

Adding to the strain, her father lost his job just before she started, casting a shadow over their financial stability. Determined to make ends meet, Andrea took on a demanding job as a patient care technician, working grueling 12-hour night shifts at a local hospital.

Battling Personal Adversities

As if the financial burdens weren’t enough, Andrea also had to confront a personal health issue. She was diagnosed with a degenerative retinal disease known as lattice degeneration, which had previously been dormant. Unfortunately, during the fall semester of 2018, the disease resurfaced with a vengeance, causing numerous holes in her retina and the constant fear of a potentially life-altering retinal detachment. In an effort to prevent further complications, Andrea underwent unpleasant preventative laser surgeries.

On top of these challenges, Andrea and her family faced yet another devastating blow when her mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Together, they navigated the emotional and physical toll of her mother’s illness, adding an extra layer of complexity to Andrea’s already tumultuous journey.

The Premed Route: Academic Probation & Triumphs

During her time at her previous university, Andrea achieved remarkable success academically. She maintained an impressive 3.8 cumulative GPA, excelling in all her pre-med classes, including challenging subjects like organic chemistry, biology, and more. Her dedication and hard work propelled her along the pre-med route with unwavering commitment.

However, when Andrea transferred to a new school, she encountered unforeseen difficulties that tested her resilience. Balancing rigorous studies with exhausting 12-hour night shifts took a toll on her mental and physical well-being. The constant state of sleep deprivation made it incredibly challenging for her to perform well during exams, leading to a decline in her academic performance.

By the fall of 2019, Andrea found herself grappling with a cumulative GPA of 1.98, which resulted in being placed on academic probation. This had significant consequences for her university experience. She had to give up her extracurricular activities, which had been a vital social outlet and a means of making friends at her new institution. The loss of these activities added to the emotional burden she was already carrying.

Furthermore, the impact of the academic probation extended to Andrea’s financial aid, creating additional stress and uncertainty. However, Andrea was proactive in seeking alternative scholarships to alleviate the financial strain. Recognizing the impending crash, she took steps to prepare herself for the challenges that lay ahead, determined to navigate this difficult phase.

“I knew the train was about to crash… I need to put stopgaps in place to help myself right now.”

Andrea understood the importance of implementing stopgap measures to support herself during this trying time. She refused to surrender to despair and remained committed to her personal growth and academic success.

Despite the obstacles she faced, Andrea embarked on a journey of redemption, striving to rebuild her academic standing and reclaim the extracurricular activities that had once brought her joy and a sense of belonging.

The Path of Redemption

Andrea found herself in a dire situation, realizing that her academic performance was spiraling downwards. Faced with failing grades and the impending possibility of failing a crucial genetics class, she knew she had to take immediate action.

Determined to turn things around, Andrea mustered the courage to seek help and access the resources she desperately needed. Recognizing that she couldn’t overcome these challenges alone, she sought the support of others on her journey. Despite the validation of her academic probation email, Andrea remained committed to her path of redemption, determined to continue her transformation and reclaim her academic success.

From Financial Struggles to Game-Changing Triumph: Andrea’s Dr. Pepper Story

Facing the overwhelming weight of her crumbling financial situation, Andrea knew she had to find a way to support herself academically. Inspired by the quote “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take,” she decided to explore opportunities that could alleviate her financial burden.

When she discovered the Dr. Pepper tuition giveaway, she saw it as a chance to secure the support she desperately needed. With determination, Andrea submitted a one-minute video explaining how the funds would make a significant difference in her life. To her surprise and delight, she was selected as a finalist and received a call from the CEO himself, informing her that she would be flown to Atlanta for the SEC championship game in December 2019.

Motivated by this opportunity, Andrea dedicated herself to perfecting her skills. When the time came, she excelled in the preliminaries, winning first place amongst a small group of finalists. Her victory granted her the chance to perform during the halftime show, a moment that would forever remain etched in her memory. The financial assistance she received not only relieved the burden of Parent Plus loans on her parents but also had a profound impact on their lives. It facilitated their transition from a cramped two-bedroom apartment, shared with grandparents and her brother, to owning their own home.

This game-changing triumph transformed the trajectory of Andrea’s family, providing them with newfound stability and hope for the future.

Unwavering Support and Heartfelt Passion

Throughout her challenging academic journey, Andrea found solace and strength in the unwavering support of her family. Their emotional encouragement became a critical pillar during a time of uncertainty. They reminded her that one difficult year should not define her entire future or derail the path she had always dreamed of pursuing.

With their backing, Andrea recognized that she couldn’t abandon her lifelong aspirations simply because of a setback. Deep down, she knew that she desired a different path, one that she had envisioned since childhood. The love and belief her family bestowed upon her fueled her determination to persist.

“Don’t let one bad year set you on this path that you weren’t meant to be on, because for your whole life, you’ve dreamed of another path.”

However, it was not solely the support of her family that propelled Andrea forward. Her internal drive and passion played a significant role as well. Having witnessed firsthand the profound impact of the medical field through her previous work experiences, Andrea developed a genuine love for it.

The thought of turning her back on this calling, just to pursue an alternative path without wholehearted dedication, was unthinkable to her. She understood that her heart would never be truly invested in anything else. Saying “no” to her dreams was simply not an option.

Steps Towards Success: Overcoming Academic Challenges

To course-correct, Andrea embarked on a multifaceted approach to improve her academic situation. Recognizing that it encompassed more than just finances, she prioritized her mental and physical well-being.

Seeking support from the counseling resources at her university, Andrea focused on nurturing her emotional state and maintaining a positive mindset. Concurrently, she diligently worked on enhancing her study skills by utilizing the Academic Career Center’s resources and seeking academic assistance. This concerted effort proved pivotal in turning her year around.

A year after facing academic probation, Andrea’s unwavering determination bore fruit as she graduated with a remarkable cumulative GPA above 3.0 in the demanding biochemistry undergraduate program at Baylor University.

Bolstered by this achievement, she resolved to finish her undergraduate journey with an upward trend. With the drive to overcome the challenges posed by her initial low GPA, Andrea discovered a potential solution: pursuing a master’s program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Fuelled by ambition and newfound hope, she took the leap and successfully secured admission into the program, paving the way for her continued personal and academic growth.

Andrea’s master’s program required her to take the MCAT. Although she didn’t have sufficient time to prepare due to her focus on finishing her undergraduate studies, she took the MCAT in January 2021 and received a score of 492, acknowledging it fell below her expectations

Balancing Work and Master’s Program

Settling into a New City: Upon starting her master’s program, Andrea faced the additional challenge of relocating to a new city with her husband. The increased cost of living prompted them to consider supplementing their income, leading Andrea to seek employment while pursuing her studies. Although she wished she didn’t have to work during this time, circumstances necessitated it.

Improved Time Management and Resilience: Despite the added responsibilities, Andrea discovered that her experience as an undergraduate provided a valuable foundation for managing her time effectively. Armed with refined study skills, she successfully applied them to her demanding master’s program schedule. This realization empowered her to navigate the rigorous coursework more efficiently.

“Even though you’re not doing as well as you wanted to in your master’s program, that it still doesn’t mean that you can lose hope.”

While Andrea wished for better academic performance, her journey serves as a reminder that setbacks in a master’s program should not be a cause for losing hope.

Going through Multiple Application Cycles

Andrea’s journey applying to medical school was marked by determination and persistence, despite facing challenges along the way. In her first attempt, she applied while still completing her master’s program, driven by a strong desire to achieve her long-held dream. However, juggling her master’s program, full-time work, and preparing for the MCAT proved to be a daunting task. This demanding schedule ultimately impacted her MCAT score, resulting in a modest improvement of only two points to 494.

Recognizing the need for a different approach, Andrea acknowledged that her shortcomings extended beyond scientific knowledge. She identified the crucial aspect of effectively applying her understanding to the unique format and demands of the MCAT. This realization prompted her to adopt a new strategy focused on mastering the application of science knowledge specifically for the MCAT.

Determination Amidst Financial Constraints and Limited Options

In Andrea’s first application cycle, she defied financial limitations by applying to four DO schools with limited funds. Despite the odds, she received an unexpected interview invitation, fueling her determination to pursue her dream of attending medical school.

The Quest for Improvement: Retaking the MCAT

Undeterred by a disappointing initial MCAT score of 494, Andrea took the bold step of retaking the exam in September to enhance her chances of acceptance. Armed with the belief that “diamonds are made under pressure,” she immersed herself in intensive study and practice tests while balancing a full-time job.

Andrea’s unwavering commitment paid off as she achieved an impressive eight-point improvement, earning a score of 502 on her MCAT retake. Her dedication and resilience shone through as she meticulously prepared for the challenge.

Late Application and Lessons Learned

Despite her improved MCAT score, Andrea faced disappointment when she did not secure an acceptance in that cycle. Reflecting on the outcome, she recognized the impact of submitting her application late in October and acknowledged the need for a more timely approach in the future.

Towards a Successful Application Cycle

After being rejected from the only school she applied to, Andrea had already formulated a thoughtful plan for the next application cycle. Recognizing that her weak spot was her GPA, she decided to take proactive steps to address it before pursuing medical school further.

Upon completing her application in October, Andrea made the decision to retake a class in her master’s program. Not only did she perform poorly in the course previously, earning a C, but she also believed that mastering the subject matter would strengthen her foundation before embarking on her medical studies.

In June of that year, she enrolled in the postbac program and dedicated herself to excelling in the class. Her determination paid off as she achieved an impressive A grade, effectively demonstrating her commitment to self-improvement.

This behind-the-scenes effort showcased Andrea’s proactive mindset and willingness to confront her weak points head-on. Rather than shying away from her GPA, she embraced the challenge and pursued opportunities to enhance her academic standing. This mindset of continuous growth and self-improvement laid the groundwork for her readiness to jump back into the next application cycle with renewed confidence and determination.

During the current application cycle, Andrea applied to 14 schools. Despite her initial concerns about her GPA, she persevered and submitted her applications. The results have been promising so far, with one acceptance already received and one waitlist position. This represents a significant improvement from the previous cycle, highlighting Andrea’s growth and dedication to her medical school aspirations.

Embracing Weaknesses: Confronting Challenges for Success

Andrea’s approach to facing weaknesses head-on is commendable. She believes in identifying her areas of weakness and mustering the courage to confront them. One significant challenge she anticipated was financial constraints.

“The first thing is knowing where your weaknesses, identifying them, and then having the courage to just tackle them.”

Recognizing the potential struggle, she and her husband proactively worked towards improving their financial situation. Her husband’s promotion in his career provided them with a stronger support system while she pursued her medical studies.

Andrea’s mindset of acknowledging and addressing weaknesses extends beyond academia. She draws a parallel with MCAT preparation, emphasizing the importance of practicing sections that are challenging rather than focusing solely on familiar subjects. This approach allows for growth and improvement where it is needed most.

By not shying away from weaknesses, Andrea and her husband have taken proactive steps to mitigate potential challenges. Their daily efforts and gradual progress help alleviate burdens that may arise in the future, ensuring they are better equipped to navigate the journey ahead.

Final Words of Wisdom

In the pursuit of success, Andrea emphasizes the importance of seeking out a mentor for valuable guidance. By connecting with someone experienced and knowledgeable, she gained fruitful advice that has undoubtedly contributed to her journey.

Additionally, Andrea encourages individuals to confront their weaknesses head-on, without fear or hesitation. Identifying areas for improvement and actively working towards overcoming them is crucial for personal growth and development.

“Identify your weaknesses and not be afraid to go after those weaknesses.”

A key aspect of Andrea’s mindset is finding joy in perseverance, even during challenging times. She acknowledges that there will be moments when it feels difficult to see a way forward, but she firmly believes that the only way out is up. By taking small steps, piece by piece, and tackling obstacles as they arise, she assures that progress can be made. Some hurdles may not be foreseeable, but by continually moving forward and upward, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.


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