med student spotlight

Meet Jessica – A 1st Year Med Student at The Ohio State University

A first-generation high school graduate, college graduate, and now medical student, Jessica certainly has an inspiring story! Born to Mexican immigrants, she serves as a role model not only to her family members but to people in her community. She’s a good friend and classmate of mine who recently started Inspire Hope, a YouTube channel targeting high school and college students interested in the premed track. I’m very excited to share her story on my blog and hope you will be as inspired as I am!

A few key points from the interview:

  • It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that she decided to pursue medicine
  • She went through the medical school application cycle twice
  • The MCAT was a challenge for her, but after a couple of retakes, she beat it
  • She created her YouTube channel to inspire high school students

Free MCAT prep courses mentioned in the video:

Check out our video interview to learn more about her story!

Meet Ric – A 2nd Year Med Student at Drexel University

IMG_0579There are different paths to medical school, as seen through my blog. One path is through a program that offers conditional acceptance, such as Drexel’s Pathway to Medical School Program (DPMS). Note: Their application deadline this year is April 24, 2015. Although having a strong science background, Ric, a 2nd year at Drexel Med, still encountered his share of obstacles on his med school journey. Check out Ric’s story as he shares his experience in Drexel’s one year program, how that prepared him for his first two years of medical school, and his words of advice on choosing post-bacs.

What led you to pursue medicine?
When I was growing up, one of my aunts worked as a nurse at a small community health center. Whenever, I went to visit her at work, I just hung around the clinic and I admired how my aunt and the other healthcare workers cared for their patients. So from an early age, I knew I wanted to go into to medicine.

What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?
I have a B.A. in Honors Liberal Arts and Science with a concentration in Biochemistry from the Wilkes Honors College in Florida. My undergrad experience gave me a strong science background. The curriculum was also rigorous and robust so it gave me stamina and focus to tackle the courses during my post-baccalaureate year. However, I would say that only actual medical school courses, whether it is during a post-bac year or during the first few months of first year can truly prepare you for medical school. It’s a different beast from undergrad in terms of structure and what you are expected to learn and should master for the exams.

Did you ever consider giving up on your dream? What obstacles or hurdles did you have to overcome in your medical school journey?
I never did…. I moved to the United States from Jamaica for high school. So in essence, this was my best opportunity to make my dream a reality. My biggest  hurdle back in undergrad was my MCAT score. My MCAT struggle is like that of other applicants; that first score report was not what I wanted or “needed” to get into medical school. I was certainly disappointed in my first score report, and I decided at the end of my junior year to take some time off after undergrad to retake the MCAT. Around that time, I started looking into Master’s and post-baccalaureate programs.

You did Drexel’s Pathway to Medical School program, can you tell us more about that? What was the experience like for you? Any advice for students considering this option?
Yes, Drexel’s Pathway to Medical School (DPMS) is one of the post-baccalaureate programs offered by Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. I applied to this program because it is a linkage/bridge program geared towards under-represented minority (URM) medical school applicants. DPMS offers a conditional medical school acceptance to a certain amount of applicants who must complete a faculty interview before being accepted. I interviewed in May and was accepted in early June. I soon moved to Philly shortly after being accepted to start their summer prep course.

We are required to take several med school and grad school courses during DPMS. At first, getting accustomed to the course schedule and frequent study sessions at the library was an adjustment. I also had to retake the MCAT to retain my acceptance. So making the time to study for the MCAT was part of the post-bac struggle. One of the unspoken stressors of my post-bac year was the grading system: getting at least a B in certain courses required matching or doing better than the MS1 class average.

Overall, I enjoyed my post-bac year as it prepared me for the med school coursework. Nevertheless, my post-bac year was also a stressful and costly venture, and I dare to call it a gamble. Even though I did well in the courses, there was still the uncertainty of my MCAT score. I had my struggles with the MCAT for sure, but at the end of the day, I made it. Thank God!

Advice for prospective applicants: not all post-bacs are the same, so please do your research! Talk to program directors and most importantly, talk to current students in the programs and those who matriculated. Also if the program is a “bridge” program, research the host medical school and be able to see yourself as a good fit for that school and area because that is hopefully where you will spend the next four years after the post-bac. Rank the things that matter to you; for example, location/environment, cost of attendance (for the post-bac and the medical school), among others. Pursue the post-bac route with the end goal of matriculating (into the host medical school or otherwise) at the end of the program.

So after DPMS, how did the med school application process go for you?
As a DPMS applicant, I did not do a traditional application cycle. The general guideline is to apply to Drexel as an early assurance candidate. However, not all post-bac programs are like that, so like I said before, please do your research.

What was your first year of medical school like?
The best metaphor I can use to describe MS1 is that it was like a train traveling across the U.S.; there were scenic times and then there were other not-so-scenic times but the train kept moving. So in terms of the course load, we had several multi-disciplinary courses throughout the year. The most important factor seem to be keeping track of where I needed to be and what was due at a particular time. My post-bac year gave me a foundation for a few of the classes but others were unfamiliar. Thankfully, I did well by seeking out the resources that the school provides such as tutoring, talking to upperclassmen, and talking to course faculty.

What do you enjoy most about medical school?
At the end of a module/block, I’m really amazed by all the knowledge I amassed about that particular topic. Sure, the process of learning it all can be truly overwhelming at times, but when it all comes together and makes sense, it’s a great feeling. Additionally, being in medical school opens up more opportunities to shadow/intern in particular fields, conduct research and/or get published.

Please describe any activities you’re involved in during medical school
At school, I’m a Co-President for the Drexel chapter of Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and I help to facilitate an early childhood reading program at a local women’s shelter. I also work in the children’s ministry at my local church as a small group facilitator.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
Finding balance is definitely hard. It all comes down to making time for the stuff that truly matter. As a second year, I feel like I have less time to understand and master all the information about each organ system for school exams as well as studying for the Step 1 exam. So, I recently started scheduling “everything” into my web calendar. My personal goal is to keep in touch with family and friends as much as I can and whenever possible. I’m also in a relationship with an amazing woman, so I make time for that as well.

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
If medicine is truly your passion and you can’t see yourself doing anything else, keep working towards that dream. Your path to medical school doesn’t have to be the traditional way directly from college so do what works best for you. Please do your own research in choosing the best-fit post-bac program, if you are considering that route. Lastly, find one or more mentors to help you along the journey.

 Thank you for sharing your story Ric. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Ric? Leave a comment below and he’ll get back to you.

Do also check out the other Med Student Spotlights!

Meet Micky – A 1st Year Med Student at Icahn School of Med at Mt. Sinai

What happens when you don’t get in the first time? You DON’T give up. Instead, you reflect, change your approach, and attack it again. And that’s precisely what Micky did. Micky is a first year medical student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. After an unsuccessful medical school application cycle, he did not let that deter him. He applied a second cycle and discovered the rejections the previous year, turned out to be the best redirection! I’m very excited to share my friend and fellow Penn Alum’s story. Check out Micky’s story and his words of advice.

What led you to pursue medicine?
I was drawn to medicine because of the experiences I had with the Physician Scientist Training Program, which began in the 7th grade and continued until the summer after senior year of high school. This program is designed to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in science and medicine. In this continuous summer program, I found my passion in combining scientific knowledge with helping others.

What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?
I decided to major in health and societies, which is one of Penn’s interdisciplinary majors. This allowed me to study topics in health in a social, cultural, historical, and global context. I chose this major because of the emphasis on interdisciplinary studies relating to health in different populations.  Instead of being restricted to one area of study, I was able to approach the issues in health through a holistic lens.  I believe this approach is necessary in order to conquer the problems of access and health disparities that affect our communities.

While my major did not prepare me very well for medical school in terms of boning up my basic science knowledge (which I supplanted by taking advanced biology/chemistry courses), health & societies was essential in helping me begin to understand how many non-hard science based factors influence health, wellness, and medicine. I believe having an understanding of these factors is key to being a quality physician (as well as an initiator of positive change in general) and my major played a vital role in initiating these thought processes for me.

Did you ever consider giving up on your dream? What obstacles or hurdles did you have to overcome in your medical school journey?
My most challenging hurdle on my path to medical school was not getting into medical school on my first try! I applied to MD/PhD programs because of my love of research. By the end of the cycle, I had received interviews from four great schools, however, this resulted in only two waitlist placements, and eventually zero acceptances. My quest was undertaken with the right intentions but too much naivety. I did not properly cast my net wide enough, did not have a proper back-up plan, and did not seek out the proper support system that could cater to the needs of an MD/PhD candidate. Although I knew that this was a possibility from the beginning, I felt inadequate, due to my lack to success. “Did I not have what it takes to be a quality physician scientist or even a quality physician?” The doubts began to creep in.

To manage, I made a list of areas that I felt I had overlooked as weakness in my application and sought support from my close confidants as to the next steps to take. Primarily, I sought advice from my close friends, many of whom had already been accepted into medical school or were already in medical school, as well as some of the scientists I worked with that pursued MD/PhDs in their past.

After consolidating all off their advice and spending time in reflection, I came to realize that this episode was potentially a great learning experience. Clearly, some schools had seen my potential and that earned me an interview for their programs. It was now up to me to work to reach that potential. So I put their advice into practice and got to work on improving my portfolio and myself.

How was the application process for you the second time around?
The second time around, I ended up applying MD only and submitting my application on some of the first days of the application cycle (since I had become an AMCAS pro from the year before haha ). After doing the secondary and interview dance again, I was blessed and privileged enough to get into my top choice of medical school, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai during the winter of 2013. Once I received this acceptance, I withdrew my candidacy from other schools in order to open more spots for others.

How is your first year of medical school going?
My first year of med school at Sinai has been going well! As one can imagine, I spend a lot of my time studying but it is really a different kind of studying. For the first time in my life, I truly enjoy everything that I am learning (well, the majority haha) and feel like I am studying for myself in an effort to be the best physician I can be, instead of studying in order to beat the beat the curve. It is an extremely rewarding feeling. Mount Sinai also employs a pass-fail system, group anatomy practical exams, and online take-anywhere-you-want exams within a certain time window (all on the honor code, of course), which all contribute to a significantly decreased amount of stress.

Also, my classmates are incredible. We come from all walks of life and with tons of different experiences and it really adds to the quality of my individual and our collective experiences. Of course everyone has their closest friends but the class as a whole truly feels like one big family. It is truly incredible to be with a group of people that have the same desires and aspirations as you.

And of course living in NYC has been awesome!! There is ALWAYS something to do in New York, no matter the time, weather, temperature, or occasion. I’ve got groceries, laundry, cheap and healthy food options, CVS, a gym, basketball courts, and the subway, all within a 2-3-block radius of me! What more could I ask for?!

As would could imagine the transition to living in a big city has the potential to be hectic. Luckily, I was able to get a head start on the NYC adjustment through a summer research opportunity that I was afforded after expressing interest in doing research the summer before beginning medical school. Sinai is awesome because if you have a strong interest in something they do everything in their power to make sure it comes to fruition.

Please describe any activities you plan to get involved in or that you are already involved in at your school
Although I just started school about one month ago, I am already involved/will be soon involved in a variety of activities! I am part of First Generation Scholars, where I will be paired with a high school student who is the first person from their family to pursue college and is just about entering the process of applying to college. As a mentor, I will help them craft their personal statements. I also plan on getting involved in the Emergency Medicine Interest Group, among other things. Lastly, I am in the process of starting my own community service group that plays sports with children as a way to decrease the prevalence of obesity in East Harlem.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
To be completely forthright, balancing my personal time with medical school is not something  I can say I am an expert at yet. I think I will get better at this with time and experience.  The key for me has been to make time for the things that are important to me (i.e. Church, Family, Girlfriend,  working out) and block out the distractions when I am studying. In my opinion, achieving the perfect balance happens by being the most efficient when you are buckling down and doing work, so that you have more time when you are not. I am not there yet, but that is what I am striving towards.

In addition, the good thing about Sinai is that we have flex time every single Tuesday, meaning that classes end at noon every Tuesday! It is a great time to shadow, workout, run some errands, or just sleep!

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
My advice to all students considering a career in medicine would be three fold:

  1. Truly do some extensive introspection to make sure you are  pursuing a career in medicine for the right reasons.  Medical school is not the ideal path for someone who just wants the prestige or money. There are much easier (and cheaper) ways of making money and gaining prestige than medicine.
  2. If you determine that a career in medicine is for you, attack your dreams with a passion unknown to man! If you want it bad enough, you will put the work in to make it happen, and  hence it will happen! Speak it into existence!
  3. Seek advice from people who have done it! They know the route and are the models to follow!

Thank you for sharing your story Micky. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Micky? Leave a comment below and he’ll get back to you.

Do also check out the other Med Student Spotlights!


Meet Stephen – a 3rd year Med student at Tulane and Naval Officer

20140611_045634Stephen is a 3rd year medical student at Tulane University School of Medicine. We initially met in 2010 through the Summer Medical and Dental Education program (SMDEP) at Howard University College of Medicine. As a good friend of mine, I’m very excited to have him share his story about his journey to med school and the lessons learned along the way. 

So what led you to pursue medicine?

I participated in a 3-year health sciences academy program at my high school from 2005-08. I got a lot of shadowing experience in several hospitals, saw some cool procedures and learned how to question patients.

 What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?

My major in college was Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. I had always liked the brain and the nervous system since my teen days, so this major attracted me. I felt that the difficulty of my junior and senior neuro classes were similar to some of the neuroanatomy classes I took during my 1st year of med school.

Did you ever consider giving up on your dream? What obstacles or hurdles did you have to overcome in your medical school journey?
I wouldn’t say that I ever considered giving up my dream, but I had thought about what life would be like had I pursued some of my other passions like geography, history, or the electronic industry. Hurdles that I had? My freshman year in college was quite a crazy time, and my grades weren’t hot after my 1st year. I worked hard at improving myself both in and out of the classroom and brought my grades up by the end of sophomore year.

How was the application process for you?
The application process was expensive (I applied to 30+ schools), full of paperwork (submitting and resubmitting forms from october to december 2011) and a little tiring. I applied LATE – I didn’t start submitting my mcat scores and amcas materials until early October. (Don’t do what I did! Submit your stuff during the summer!) I didn’t take the mcat until August and by the time I applied, I already missed out on the deadlines to some schools in competitive areas like California and Texas.

What was your first year of medical school like?
My first year of medical school was actually pretty enjoyable. It started with 8:30 AM anatomy classes that lasted for about 2 months. I had so much fun in anatomy, it was an interesting time. Biochemistry and genetics came next and I had never taken them up to that point but they were pretty manageable and great to learn. Soon came 3 months of physiology and then came neuro and then the first year ended with immunology (which people said was tough but really wasn’t).

What do you enjoy most about medical school?
I enjoy how helpful the instructors are and how relaxed and friendly most of my medical school class is. There is no competitive/backstabbing atmosphere at Tulane Med. Everyone works hard and enjoys their time outside of class/clinic. It’s a good balance.

Activities you’ve been involved in during med school:

  • I was an after school tutor for elementary aged kids (during 1st year)
  • I worked on a nutrition paper for a group in a public health school (during summer after 1st year)
  • Volunteered at local men’s clinic (several times during 2nd year)
  • I was mental health co-ambassador of the Tulane Med School chapter of AMSA (from Jan 2013-Feb 2014)
  • I was the secretary for the Tulane Med School chapter of SNMA (from Feb 2013- Feb 2014)
  • I participate in Volunteers of America, New Orleans chapter as a “big brother” to a kid from New Orleans (since Oct 2013)

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
I make sure to enjoy my weekends. I understand that there’s a time and place for studying (during the week) and everything else (certain weeknights, Saturdays, part of Sundays). I’ve learned to settle into a routine. Life in med school is very manageable when you take a breath and realize that you’re expected to be a well-balanced individual. (It helps to have a group of people who you can go to dinner with or go see a movie with or go to a bar with, etc.)

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
Start talking your professors in college early. Don’t be afraid to get to know them and make a good impression on them. You will need letters of recommendation from them. Also, understand that being a well balanced individual is important. Don’t just live in the classroom or lab. Get out and join a sports team, or volunteer. Play music. Jog. Dance. Do what it is that you like to help you through stressful time and always strive to do the best you can. Also- use advice you get from websites like very cautiously!

Tell us about being in the Navy
Well, I’m in the US Navy and I’m on scholarship. That means that the US Navy is paying for my entire med school tuition (no debt!) but I will owe them 4-6 years after I graduate and finish my training. Understand that this is a program for people who are generally interested in serving our country. DON’T DO IT FOR MONEY. Unless you plan to do family med, going through the military will generally pay less than just being a civilian doctor. I have always been interested in the military way of doing things and that’s why I joined the Navy.

Thank you for sharing your story Stephen. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Stephen? Leave a comment below and he’ll get back to you.