Air Force Chemist to Med School: Morgan’s Journey of Resilience

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PMY 571: Air Force Chemist to Med School: Morgan's Journey of Resilience

Session 571

Morgan shares her unique path to medical school, from initially having no interest in medicine to pursuing it years later. She discusses her experiences in the Air Force, preparing for the MCAT while raising a child, and now teaching others as an instructor. Learn more about her motivational story!

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

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

Morgan’s Unexpected Realization: How a Chance Thought Led to a Career Change in Medicine

Morgan first realized she wanted to be a physician in her late 20s, after already completing graduate school in chemistry. While working as a chemist in the Air Force, she had a thought pop into her head one day: she should look into becoming a doctor, even though she had no previous attachment to medicine. This unexpected realization prompted her to pursue a career change and go through the medical school application process.

Her Early Exposure to the Field

Morgan mentions that her mom was a surgical technician who worked for a plastic surgeon. As a teenager, Morgan had the opportunity to shadow her mom at work but found the experience of scrubbing unappealing at that young age. This early exposure gave her a negative impression of medicine as a career path.

However, when Morgan decided to pursue medicine years later, her mom was extremely excited and proud. Morgan enjoyed taking her mom to tour the medical school she would be attending. She sensed her mom’s joy and realization of a dream coming true, as Morgan was pursuing a career in healthcare like her mom, just through a different role as a physician.

Joining the Air Force as a Chemist

Morgan joined the Air Force initially because she had been involved in JROTC in high school, which exposed her to ROTC in college. She thought she wanted to be a pilot and pursue that career path through the Air Force. While she ended up becoming a chemist instead of a pilot, her background in JROTC and ROTC is what led her to the Air Force as a career option after graduating from college. As a chemist in the Air Force, she was able to work on projects involving radiochemistry and teach chemistry at the Air Force Academy.

Morgan explains that the military, and specifically the Air Force, utilizes chemists in a few key ways:

  1. Teaching chemistry at the Air Force Academy, as producing knowledgeable officers is important.
  2. Working on projects involving radiochemistry, as the military places an emphasis on radiological and nuclear technology and defense.
  3. Performing duties like project management.
  4. Bridging the gap between science and government work, as a chemist officer can communicate between the two spheres.

Having chemists on staff allows the military to have knowledgeable personnel who understand both science and how the government functions for certain technical roles. Chemists are versatile and can take on a variety of responsibilities based on military needs.

The Jump to a Career in Medicine

Morgan had been feeling unfulfilled in her work as a chemist in the Air Force, even after obtaining her graduate degree. One day while driving home from work and contemplating her future, she suddenly had an unexpected thought pop into her head – that she should look into becoming a doctor. 

This was surprising to her, as she had never previously considered a career in medicine and had no family history or prior exposure connected to the medical field. However, the thought stuck with her and prompted her to start exploring the possibility of a career change to pursue medicine, despite having no previous inclination or ties to the profession.

Preparing for the MCAT

How Graduate Studies Prepared Her for the MCAT

Morgan felt confident in her academic abilities. She notes that chemistry was not an issue for her MCAT preparation, since she had recently obtained her master’s degree in chemistry and had to retake many undergraduate chemistry exams as part of that process. So she considered her chemistry knowledge up to date and sufficient for the MCAT due to her recent graduate studies.

Morgan’s First MCAT Attempt: Juggling Motherhood and Illness

Morgan scored a 508 on her first MCAT attempt, which she found disappointing despite it still being a good score. She provides context for this first attempt, noting that at the time her son was around 10 months old and in daycare. Being in daycare meant constant exposure to illnesses, and as a result Morgan found herself getting sick with one virus after another. Due to the perpetual sickness from her young child’s illnesses, Morgan had to take the MCAT while feeling unwell.

The distractions and challenges of juggling motherhood and her son’s illnesses at such a young age, with the constant stream of being sick, impacted her first MCAT performance according to Morgan. While 508 is still a solid score, the circumstances took their toll and likely held her back from scoring even higher.

Morgan’s Dedication Pays Off: Retaking the MCAT Nets Her a 10 Point Score Increase

Morgan felt immense pressure to improve upon her first MCAT score of 508 due to her circumstances. She decided to retake the exam, spending countless hours preparing. Her dedication paid off tremendously – she increased her score by an impressive 10 points, achieving a 518. 

Morgan acknowledges that while the MCAT preparation was grueling, looking back she does not recall the hours spent studying. All she remembers is the satisfaction of crushing the exam on her second try through perseverance and hard work.

“A lot of the MCAT is reasoning… You have to be able to understand how these different variables are linked together in order to answer the questions correctly.”

What Led to a Successful Second Attempt on the MCAT

Morgan attributes her significant 10 point score increase on the MCAT retake to two main factors:

  1. Gaining a true understanding of the concepts rather than a shallow memorization. She took the time to learn how topics related to real life and developed a deeper comprehension.
  2. Focusing heavily on practice, doing many practice problems and exams, rather than primarily reviewing content. She realized the MCAT tested reasoning over rote memorization, so practicing how to think through questions was key.

Morgan’s Strategic Class Planning as an Active Duty Member

Morgan took a strategic approach to fitting prerequisite classes into her schedule as an active duty service member. She researched universities within an hour’s drive of where she was stationed. She then applied to schools as a non-degree seeking or transient student, allowing her to enroll in individual classes without a formal degree program. This provided flexibility around her work commitments.

She was transparent with her employer about her goals and received support, like leaving work early occasionally to attend class. When possible, she took online courses to avoid travel. It required solving a puzzle, but finding ways to take classes near her duty station while maintaining employer support allowed her to pursue her medical dreams while serving.

Morgan’s Family Support: Enabling Her Medical School Dream as a Mother

Morgan notes her spouse has been incredibly supportive of her medical school pursuit. Open communication has been key, as she has had to rely on her partner for childcare assistance during studying and volunteering.

To prepare for the increased demands of medical school, Morgan prioritized choosing a program near her family for additional support. She recognized how much more difficult medical school would be with a child as a single parent. Ensuring strong support systems through her spouse and family’s proximity will help make medical school attainable as a working mother.

Location as a Major Factor in Choosing Her Medical School

Location was one of the most important factors for Morgan when choosing which medical school to attend. As a mother with family support hours away, she wanted to minimize the distance from her loved ones. Having her parents nearby would provide crucial assistance with childcare as she took on the demanding medical school workload.

Morgan realized how difficult the journey would be without this help, as both she and her spouse would be busy during this time.She didn’t want to underestimate the challenges and chose a program only 22 minutes from where her parents live.

This location decision was strategic, with Morgan prioritizing having her family close by for necessary support as a student parent.

The Application Process

Early Decision Streamlined Morgan’s Medical School Application

Morgan found the medical school application process less complicated because she applied early decision to only one school. This simplified things significantly compared to a regular application cycle where she would have had to apply to multiple programs.

As an early decision applicant, Morgan only needed to complete one application and prepare for just one interview. She was able to find out her acceptance last September, avoiding much of the stress of the traditional application rollercoaster. Applying early decision streamlined the process given Morgan’s specific fit with the program and her desire for an earlier decision due to family considerations.

Personal and Career Alignment Led Morgan to Apply Early Decision

Morgan had strong personal and location ties to the medical school she applied to early decision. Beyond being near her supportive parents, she was from the area and envisioned practicing medicine there long-term. Additionally, the program’s unique emphasis on lifestyle medicine directly aligned with Morgan’s goals as a future physician. These personal and academic fits reinforced that the school was the right choice for her early decision application.

The Value of Reaching Out to Medical Schools

Morgan advises reaching out to medical school programs, contrary to advice she often sees discouraging contact. She proactively explained her non-traditional situation to the school she was considering for early decision. This led to a helpful conversation where they were able to guide her on whether regular or early decision would be best.

Morgan found the school to be very supportive. She believes transparency and communication can provide needed support and insight, rather than trying to “hide” aspects of one’s application background or process.

Receiving Her Medical School Acceptance

Morgan described receiving her early decision acceptance call as an emotional experience, saying she was “a mess” and “shaking and crying.” It was the culmination of three years of hard work navigating her non-traditional path to medical school while raising a young child.

From deciding to pursue medicine to improving her MCAT score, every step had led to this moment of achieving her dream. Getting the acceptance confirmed all her efforts had paid off and reinforced her ability to overcome challenges on her journey.

Morgan’s Passion Led Her to Becoming an MCAT Instructor

Morgan decided to become an MCAT instructor at Blueprint MCAT after her own experience preparing for the exam. She realized during her studies that she had a unique perspective to offer as a non-traditional student. Morgan enjoyed teaching herself the material and wanted to help other students in a similar way.

She also felt Blueprint’s approach to the MCAT, focusing on reasoning over memorization, aligned well with how she improved her score. Morgan believed her experience and mindset could provide valuable insights for students, so she explored becoming an instructor to share her strategies and passion for helping others succeed on the exam.

“With what Blueprint teaches you and the strategies and just how they approach the MCAT, I truly honestly feel like I could have scored way more than a 518.”

Morgan’s Dual Role: Instructor and Tutor at Blueprint MCAT

As an instructor at Blueprint, Morgan teaches their live online MCAT courses. This involves delivering a 16-lecture series covering content review and test-taking strategies from beginning to end. She also works as a tutor, providing one-on-one guidance to students.

Morgan enjoys sharing the reasoning-based approach Blueprint teaches and believes her perspective as a non-traditional student offers a valuable viewpoint for those she instructs.

The MCAT’s Focus on Logic over Knowledge

One of the biggest “aha moments” Morgan sees in students is when they realize the MCAT tests reasoning over memorization. She helps them understand it is not necessary to know all the content, but rather focus on developing strategic thinking skills. 

This is a lightbulb moment, as many initially think memorizing facts is the key. Morgan enjoys seeing students shift their perspective when they grasp the MCAT’s emphasis on applying logic over pure recall.

“One of the biggest aha moments is when students realize that you don’t need to know all the content… Stop trying to learn everything. Let’s focus on how you approach this test.”

Learning Test Strategies from The MCAT Podcast

If you haven’t yet, check out The MCAT Podcast that we do in collaboration with fellow Blueprint instructors. We go through full-length MCAT practice exams with an instructor, discussing their thought process out loud.

Even though I was years moved from taking the exam, I still got the questions wrong and learned from talking through their reasoning. So listen to gain insight into the thought processes and learn it’s okay not to know every answer, as long as test-takers can apply logic to improve your chances.

Preparing Students Mentally for the MCAT

Morgan emphasizes the importance of preparing students mentally for test day by anticipating challenges they will face. She notes the first thing students can expect is nerves, which is normal. Rather than being caught off guard, Morgan has students acknowledge nerves will occur and develop a plan, such as deep breathing, to handle that anticipated anxiety.

“Do your best. Make an educated guess. But don’t let it throw you off for the rest of the test.”

Morgan also predicts students will encounter questions they don’t know and even entire passages of unfamiliar content. She roleplays these scenarios to help students devise coping strategies in advance, like educated guessing. By anticipating obstacles, students feel less stressed knowing they have rehearsed responses to common problems other test takers face.

Excitement for the Adventures Ahead in Medical School

Morgan expressed excitement for all aspects of starting medical school, including delving deeply into the material, her cadaver lab experience, meeting new people, and taking the next step in her career journey.

She specifically mentioned how intrigued she is by learning more about the human body. Morgan’s passion for medicine shines through as she looks forward to immersing herself in her education after overcoming many challenges to reach this point.


Meded Media

Blueprint MCAT

The MCAT Podcast