Secondaries

Reflecting on 2014: A Year of Greater

It’s that time of the year when I sit and reflect on the year – the highlights, the lessons learned, the challenges, and the celebratory moments. To do this, I use my journal and scan through the many months of writing, laughing, “oOoo’ing” and “Awww’ing” all through the exercise. It is in this moment I realize how much I accomplished this year, the lessons learned along the way, and how much of an impact certain events had on my life. In the beginning of 2014, I sought to embody my church’s theme for the year: “2014: Year of Greater.” Below is an excerpt from my January 2nd, 2014 journal entry:

Words can’t begin to describe how excited I am for this year. Like forreal. This is my year of greater favor, greater blessings, greater miracles. I mean God is seriously about to work in my life.

And God did work. In a mighty way

Here are a just few highlights from the year:

January
I launched my fitness instagram: @fitandfine_withdee which promotes fitness, health, and nutrition.

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February
I created my Afrobeat cardio video which now has 6000+ views on YouTube. Never would have thought!

March
I felt extremely overwhelmed and exhausted working full-time and taking classes in the evening. Taking Immunobiology may not have been the smartest idea.

I also joined my church choir 😀

April
I felt exhausted for most of the month. A lot of late nights, not much sleep. I was working 40 hour weeks and taking two classes in the evenings (I also took Biochemistry during my gap year by the way). My plan was to take advantage of the tuition benefit at my job – taking up to 2 classes for free. Lesson learned for those thinking of working full-time and taking classes to boost your med school application: I should have stuck with one.

May
Traveled to Chicago for a friend’s wedding. Awesome time!

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June
Started blogging again! Turned in my med school application (AMCAS) early – oh yeaaa!!

Led a month long boot camp as an instructor for SweatU

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Also published my first med student spotlight. It was on Naya, a second year med student. The post received a lot of positive feedback and has become the second highest viewed post on my blog at 548 views (as of today).

My cousin visited me from South Africa – awesome time!

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July
Wrote a lot of secondaries for med schools

Got my braces installed – I am now team metal mouth 😛

Competed in my second Spartan Obstacle race

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August
Took my MCAT again – no more!

Taught my first college seminar (preceptorial): “Say NO to the Freshman 15!

September
Invited to be a campaign manager for Memunatu Magazine’s Indiegogo campaign

Accepted high school cross country coaching position!

Got my first med school interview invite!!!

Presented at a conference on research I’ve been working on at my job (I was a co-presenter)

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October
My birthday! Had a blast ALL week

Med school interview!

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November
Got into a relationship with the most awesome guy 🙂

I attended the RWJF Scholars Forum and SMDEP Alumni Summit – great time!

My first radio appearance!

December
I published my post: “#WhiteCoats4BlackLives: Acknowledging The Political Determinants of Health” which became the most viewed post on my site. In just less than a month, it has 1,122 views!

My post on the national white coat die-in gets published on “The health Care Blog.” This was a major accomplishment for me!! You can check it out here.

I get a promotion at my job!


All this to say, this year has certainly been a year of greater. I challenged myself more than I had done in the past and definitely pushed through several obstacles. I am thankful for an AMAZING year and very thankful to you, my readers, for reading each post, sharing them, and accompanying me on this journey. I am extremely excited for what 2015 has in store.

Cheers and Happy New Year Folks!

Secondaries: Lessons Learned

Let’s talk secondaries. Earlier in the summer, when I initially wrote about my plan to tackle secondaries, I was determined to utilize all the Do’s and Don’ts I had gathered.

My goal: To make sure it was as stress-free as possible.

I’ve been done with them for quite some time now, so this post is definitely overdue. Here are five lessons I learned from writing secondaries:

1. Each school is unique in its approach to fulfilling its mission

I repeat, each school is unique. Don’t believe otherwise. Sure when you read the mission, it may appear to be very similar to the previous school you just read up on, HOWEVER, once you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover the unique programs the school has to offer. And yes, I’ll argue that each school has something unique and when you discover what it is, it’s like Aha! Definitely mention it in your secondary. You find this out by doing your research – their website, their Facebook page, their twitter and other outlets.

2. It’s a tango between showing what you have to offer and what they have to offer

Finding the balance is key. When I wrote my first secondary and had a friend read it, she gave me this key piece of advice:

 “When describing your interests in a school – try to strike a balance between talking about yourself/ interests/ attributes i.e what you can bring to the table with what the school can bring to you. It’s a 2 way relationship if that makes sense.

I thought I did that but she noted that I was falling into the trap of regurgitating information about the school as I researched them.  This is no bueno, it’s important to talk about how you will enhance those features you like about the school. This key piece of advice early on in my process was immensely beneficial.

3. You shouldn’t rush a masterpiece. Slowly get it done

rushingThis one seems like common sense, but depending on your schedule, there may be some pressure to get those secondaries done ASAP. That’s fine BUT don’t sacrifice quality in that process. Personally, I never wrote and submitted on the same day. I usually waited at least a day to look it over again and make sure I caught all mistakes and was pleased with the final product. I definitely caught some mistakes utilizing that approach.

4. Deadlines make it all feasible

deadlineRemember my two week turn around plan for secondaries? I stuck to it! Because I had my two week deadlines written in my excel sheet, I was well aware of when I wanted to submit my secondaries; I could slowly work on each of them versus rushing to get it all done in one day. Again, everyone has a different schedule. I work full-time and I am involved in a host of other things, so the deadlines I established as I received the secondaries were immensely helpful. If I hadn’t set this game plan in the beginning, I’m sure I would have felt a lot more overwhelmed.

5. Have someone read it. Seriously. 

Shout out to my mom for this. She read a lot of my secondaries, provided constructive feedback, and helped me catch the silly mistakes. She’s not a doctor and really doesn’t know anything about the application process except from what I tell her, but her input on my secondaries was incredibly helpful. A second pair of eyes is VERY helpful. This could be a friend of yours in med school, a friend who’s an English major, or like me, a parent. My application process has been a family experience – essentially they’re all applying with me (and I feel blessed to have that family support!), so naturally, they were my second pair of eyes.

Did you learn some lessons as well? Leave a comment and share them below!
Ciao!

7 Fun Ways To Get Physically Active

Folks, it’s time to get down and dirty with FITNESS! As mentioned in a previous post, working out is one of the strategies I use to manage stress. The benefits are simply POW, out of this world. Not just physically, but mentally. When you exercise you release chemicals called endorphins aka “the feel good” hormones. According to WebMD, studies have shown that “people who exercise regularly benefit with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression.” Yes, exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of clinical depression, reduce stress, boost self-esteem, and even improve sleep.

Now I know for some, working out is comparable to doing dishes. It’s that chore you just hate to do and if you can avoid it, you would.

However, you shouldn’t. For your own health.

Working out, believe or not, CAN be fun. You just need to find that activity that makes you feel like “Yes! I can’t wait to do this again!” Having tried several fitness classes and exercise programs in the past, I figured I’d speak from my personal experience. Here are 7 fun ways to get physically active (my pictures included):

1. Dancing

Dancing with my old troupe: African Rhythms

This is one of my favorite ways to get physically active. Friends and family can attest to this – I LOVE to dance. The great thing about dancing is that you can do this in the comfort of your room. Simply turn up the music and get to grooving. No one is watching and in as little as 15 minutes, you should start feeling pretty good (endorphins kicking in!). You can also take dance classes – Salsa, Batchata, Hip Hop, West African – the options are endless. Personally, I take West African dance classes when I can and I leave each session extremely sweaty but very excited for the next class.

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Interesting story here. I initially got into running because at times, I would get so angry that the only thing I felt I could do was run. Just escape it all. It was my way of coping with feelings of anger. It was about the same time I joined cross-country (middle school) and well, the rest is history. It’s an activity I actually like to do. Running is not only a great workout but an awesome way to relieve stress.

                                3. Gym time

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If running isn’t your thing. Try hitting up some weights. There are several phone apps that guide beginners into strength training. I personally like Jefit. The benefit? You not only get a good workout but you also improve your muscle tone. Feeling good and looking good – double win!

               4. Home workouts

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If you aren’t into the gym culture or maybe these application fees has you eating ramen for lunch and dinner and well, gym memberships are simply not in the budget, then home workouts are a really great way to get physically active. Just get a resistance band, a jump rope, maybe an Ab rollout wheel or any other equipment you desire, and you’ve got a home gym. I bought these pictured equipments from Marshall’s and the cool thing is being able to use it when I’m bored, don’t feel like going to the gym, or when I feel like trying a workout DVD or a workout on YouTube. The best part? It’s very cheap!

5. Doing fun races

10411100_10154361093935521_7326526804804366260_nI’ll be honest, this isn’t the cheapest way to get physically active but it can definitely motivate you to get moving! By registering for a race – a 5k, mud race, obstacle race, or if you’re feeling daring, a half-marathon or marathon – you set a goal for yourself. Registering in advance means that you’ve already coughed up a certain amount of money that you know you can’t get back. Now since you registered for it, you are well aware that if you don’t train or get in some sort of shape – you’ll end up regretting that. No one likes to be injured. So this is a cool way to get motivated into being physically active. When you do it with friends, it’s even better. Plus you get bragging rights – hollaaaa!

6. Yoga

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All body strength and still a workout. This can be done through yoga classes or in the comforts of your home. For classes, I highly recommend Power Yoga – a form of hot yoga that focuses on strength and flexibility. I tried this a while back and absolutely loved it. I always left feeling like I got a workout! Unfortunately, these classes can get expensive but the cool thing about yoga is that you can do it the comforts of your home. Get to practicing, build up your strength, and in that process de-stress and reduce any anxiety you might have – perfect!

7. Other fitness classes

There are so many interesting fitness classes and often times you can get good deals on them through Groupon or Living Social. There are boxing classes, cross fit, pole fitness, and zumba classes to name a few. I was feeling adventurous once and tried a pole fitness/ dance class. I saw the deal on Groupon and thought “Hey, this would be really cool!” I tried one class and quickly realized this activity required a lot of upper body strength – Ha! Although I didn’t end up using the remaining 4 classes, the two classes I did experience were quite interesting. So again, check out some interesting classes. You never know, you might end up liking it and coming back for more.

Workout. Manage your stress. Release your emotions.

Ciao!

Strategies For Managing The Stress of The Application Process

The medical school application process can be very stressful. In addition to the overwhelming amount of writing – whether it be the personal statement or the flood of secondaries, there are also the “what ifs”, feelings of inadequacy, and the loneliness of the process. There is no doubt that the application cycle can be a mental battle of its own. Despite these factors, it IS possible to keep the stress level down and have a relatively anxiety free process. Personally, I have been using the following 10 strategies to overcome the mental challenges of my application process. I have found these strategies to be extremely beneficial and I hope they can help those of you also on this journey.

Here are my 10 strategies for managing the stress of the medical school application process:

1. Write in a journal

The back of my current journal

This is without a doubt one of my top methods for dealing with stress. I have been writing in a private journal since I immigrated to the United States in 2001 – Yes, that long! Research has shown that journaling is an effective way to relieve stress. It allows you to sort out your feelings and emotions and reflect on them. It also allows you to release your negative thoughts, emotions and concerns. It’s worked for me for the past 13 years and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon! Over the years, I’ve switched from fancy journals to simple composition books. If it’s your first time journaling, remember it’s only you reading it – no need to worry about punctuation, legibility and correct grammar. Just write your thoughts away 🙂

2. Get physically active

Hey look, it’s me!

This is also another one of my favorite ways to de-stress. I find that when I stop working out, I begin to feel overwhelmed and unfocused. It’s common knowledge that exercise reduces stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins – the “feel good” hormone. During this application cycle, I have been taking a West African dance class on Mondays and exercising other times during the weeks. To challenge myself, I did my second obstacle course race two weeks ago (To be fair, I signed up for this race back in Nov 2013). I find that the emotional benefits of exercising are unmatched. If you don’t feel like running, simply turn up the music in your room and have a dance party; your endorphins are guaranteed to go up!

3. Surround yourself with positive people; envision your goal

Positive energy is very important during this process. Don’t let your insecurities get the best of you! It’s important to surround yourself with positive people that encourage and believe in you and your goals. I have also found it beneficial to envision my goal – med school. This sometimes mean creeping through the #Medstudent, #Medschool or #FutureMD hashtag on Instagram to encourage myself (yes, I’ll confess – guilty as charged!) or reading blogs of other med students or current applicants. The goal is to stay as encouraged and motivated as possible. This is also another reason I post the med student spotlight; It’s encouraging to read about other students’ paths to med school. We all have our challenges, but if you persevere, the reward is well worth it.

4. Remove negative people and thoughts

As you begin to surround yourself with positive people who encourage and motivate you, it’s also important to remove the negative factors as well. This could mean spending less time with that friend who seems to always have a discouraging statement on their lips, or possibly deactivating your Facebook. If you find that being on Facebook affects your mood i.e. making you feel less than awesome because you find yourself comparing your current situation to your friends’ seemingly amazing lives, then stay off the social site – at least, for the time being.

5. Stay organized

This is a key to staying sane – seriously. Instead of trying to juggle all the secondary due dates in your head and all the tasks that need to get accomplished, simply write them down. Use your calender or planner. As I mentioned in a previous post, I use excel to track my secondary due dates, completion dates, and my overall application process. I feel a little less stressed knowing that everything is one place and I know exactly what I need to do and when it needs to get done.

6. Pray

Praying is one of my top strategies during this process. I find comfort in knowing that God is in control and that His plan for me is perfect. I know that he is looking out for me which is a huge burden off my shoulders. I especially rely on this verse:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

7. Talk to people

If writing isn’t your thing, then talking to people is one alternative. Although your friends may not be on this path with you, they are most likely willing to listen to you vent on the challenges of this process. A good friend, sibling, or parent is more often than not, willing to lend a listening ear. It’ll make you feel better and they may have some encouraging words for you. First, of course, you have to open your mouth. Don’t hold all that stress inside.

8. Be social

Just because you’re applying doesn’t mean your social life is over – how miserable would that be! It’s okay to take a break from secondaries or studying for MCAT, and hang out with friends. You can chill out with some Netflix or if you live in a city like I do, check out some of the events going on. This past weekend, for example, I spent some time studying, then treated myself to a local jazz festival – I regret nothing!

9. Manage your time wisely

You know what you need to do, your friends and family may not, so it’s important to manage your priorities wisely. Time management is key here! Sometimes that means saying no to friends – “Sorry, but I can’t go out tonight,” or perhaps taking a day off work to get some writing done. Your time is especially valuable during this application process.  However, when it’s all over, there will be lots of time to spare on any and everything, along with the joy of an acceptance.

10. Relax and hope for the best

Lastly, relax and hope for the best. You’ve worked hard and sacrificed quite a bit to get to this point. By now, you are certain you want an acceptance more than anything you’ve ever wanted in your life (meaning you can’t see yourself being anything BUT a doctor). That said, remember that even if the cycle doesn’t go as well as you planned, you can STILL become a doctor. That might mean applying a second or third time like some current med students and residents that I know. One thing I have learned is that this whole journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like any marathon, there are highs and lows, moments where you might fall or feel at your worst, but the key thing is to keep pushing towards your goal. If you have that drive, determination and perseverance, you WILL succeed. At least, I am certain that I WILL succeed, no matter how long it takes 🙂

I hope these strategies are as helpful to you as they are to me.
Do you utilize other strategies not mentioned here? Do drop a comment below.
Ciao!

Staying organized throughout the application process

As the secondaries continue to roll in, I have been utilizing excel to stay organized. I use a spreadsheet I created on my google drive (so I can access it anywhere) and it’s been a great help in keeping me on track and ensuring I’m submitting my secondary apps within 2 weeks as I planned. Here is how I structured mine:

***School names changed for anonymity***

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I also have separate documents for each of the schools, that include their mission, my research on the schools, and their secondary prompts. These documents and my spreadsheet are all kept inside my “AMCAS 2014” folder – again on my google drive.

I find that staying organized is so key in this stressful process. The goal is to keep my cortisol level as low as possible 😛

Any tips to share? Do drop a comment below.

Ciao!

Brace yourself, secondaries are coming!

I received a few secondary applications this past week and like any med school applicant, I was bursting with excitement and immediately logged into the schools’ application system. I read the first prompt, then the second, then the third and then the realization of what lay ahead hit me. The excitement diminished once it dawned on me that: one, I have quite a bit of research to do on these schools; two, a lot of writing and lastly, some editing to close it all up. I plan on having a short turn around with these secondaries and will be submitting them no longer than 2 weeks. Why so short? Well, for one thing, it shows your interest in the school and two, as with anything, the earlier the better (Procrastination is the devil I tell ya!).

I don’t want to sacrifice quality for timeliness (this is my future we’re talking about!), so of course, it was time to get down to business – STAT. First as mentioned is research. This means looking at each school’s website, their mission, the latest news, and finding out what makes the school unique. In other words, tangible reasons why I would want to go to that particular med school. After this comes the writing. Now, putting things into words can be challenging – well specifically forming cohesive and sophisticated sentences. So alas I had to go perusing for tips. Thanks to Google I found some Do’s and Don’ts of writing secondaries. My favorite bloggers at the moment, doctorORbust and 5 year journey: medical school edition also have some great tips on tackling these essays – Do check them out.

Now although these secondaries were automatically generated, I want to stress that this is NOT the case for all schools. Some medical schools do pre-screen for GPA and MCAT which streamlines their admission process. Now this can be an advantage or disadvantage for applicants such as myself.

Advantage: If you don’t make their stringent screening process then at least you’re not spending extra money on secondaries for a school that isn’t interested in you (Hey, look at the bright side). On the opposite end, if you meet their screening requirement(s), that means your application would at least warrant a look – Yayyy!

Disadvantage: If you don’t meet the stringent screening requirement(s), the school isn’t going to look at your app – point blank. Sad news, I know.

This leads to my biggest advice when choosing schools to apply to:

Buy MSAR

No, seriously, BUY IT. This booklet and online database saves you time and money, and might I add, this whole process IS costly. With the MSAR, you’ll know the most up-to-date stats of the accepted students – GPA, MCAT, what the school values in an applicant (i.e. how many of the matriculates had community service experience), demographics of the student body, as well as the school’s screening process, if any. This information allows you to apply strategically and write some well-thought out secondaries. Personally, I’ve found it very beneficial.

On that note, it’s time for me to get back to my secondaries. Time waits for no one!

Are you currently writing secondaries? Any tips to share? Do drop a comment below 🙂

Ciao!