Age cannot define a boundary for what you can and cannot do in life: that concept has been challenged by many, including myself. I am entirely certain that it is never too late to embark on the journey towards your dreams. As a 31 year-old, I have recently been accepted to five medical schools, and will be matriculating in Fall 2012. This introduction makes my medical school admission sound like plain sailing, yet anyone who has gone through med school applications knows that it is quite the contrary. I’ve been married for eight years now, I have two daughters, Layelle and Amelie who are 4 and 1 years old respectively, and I worked for six years in the healthcare IT industry, as a Project Manager at many hospitals in Southern California. I’ve been fortunately employed at places such as VA Hospital in West Los Angeles, Kaiser Permanente, and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. It struck me one day, as I looked over at my 50 year old co-worker and told myself, I never want to be someone who sits behind a desk all day at the age of 50. I am not cut out for this type of work. In a prodigiously fateful coincidence that day, in the midst of the downfall of our economy, I was laid off. I was so simply and unexpectedly dismissed that I took some time off to think about what my next move was going to be. So rather than getting back up on my feet and sending resumes out daily, I began unearthing my buried hopes and dreams that had long been stamped UNATTAINABLE . I decided to make the bold move of pursuing medicine. I knew I had to begin from the bottom, so I enrolled in courses at Fullerton College, amidst a throng of students mostly aged 19 to 23. Afterwards, I completed the rest of my classes at CSUF.
While at CSUF, I took the time to really get to know my professors. I had lunch, coffee and even hung out with them off campus. I think this was because I was an older student. In fact, one of my professors was younger than me. My impetus behind this was that I wanted to really embrace this whole experience as something that was newly a part of me. Professors are a big part of student life in college: many of them help shape your future. A bad professor could cause a student to change their major, just as much as a good professor. Nonetheless, the professors at CSUF were extremely supportive of my endeavor. At times when I couldn’t go to class because one of my daughters was sick and I attended her, they would kindly provide me with lecture notes and some even offered to give me my own personal lecture during office hours (Personal shout-outs to Dr. Philip Janowicz, Dr. Cathie Overstreet, Dr. Scott Hewitt and Dr. Gita Sathianathan). In exchange for this awesome opportunity of being able to take my courses at CSUF, I felt obliged to help other students in my classes in areas I felt I excelled in. At the start of my journey to medicine, I told myself that I would never become a selfishly competitive, nasty pre-medical student who only cared about themselves and wanted everyone else to fail. After all, your training as a physician starts now, not in medical school. You have to learn to help and support others now. Thus, I would always volunteer my time to help other students understand difficult concepts presented in class. I created study guides that I would email to all the students in the class, in hopes that the class as a whole would do better. I think this concept of “collective success” helped me become an even better student and pushed me to perform at an even higher level of excellence.
In addition, while at CSUF, community service and community involvement helped me stay grounded to my mission. I had always been immersed into the community, even as a young high school student, so rather than starting anything new, I continue what I had previously been doing. I volunteered with a local relief organization to help raise funds for Malaria. As a professional photographer, I travelled to different countries, photographing some of the most devastating situations: malnourished orphaned children, makeshift clinics, and children with physical disabilities that I have never even heard of. I travelled to Mali, Iraq and volunteered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as an Emergency Medical Technician. These relief trips helped me become a more well-rounded person: someone who is aware of that fact that other people outside our own bubble in the US exist. And as a privileged American who has a voice, I felt a personal obligation to do something to aid those that do not have a voice. While I am committed to community service, I did not choose medicine because I wanted to “help people,” as many premed students commonly say, and honestly, during interviews, that response will not cut it for you. You can help people in almost any profession and even if you don’t, you can always help people in a non-professional environment like getting involved in community based organizations. My passion for medicine stemmed from my experience working with physicians in the hospital, my deep love for science and the human body, and my innate desire to work with different people on a daily basis. Truly, I think these are what are going to get you through medical school, residency, and eventually make a great physician.
At this point, I would advise those that are considering medicine as a career to really ask themselves if they are willing to commit themselves to another four years of intense schooling and a minimum of three years of a gruesome residency. If that answer is “HELL YEAH!” then I say go for it, and work as hard as you can to achieve your dream. If you are a bit shaky, then I would say get into a hospital and volunteer your time working with physicians, nurses and other allied health professionals to find your niche. If, in the end, medicine is your calling, then re-energize yourself and I say destroy your classes! Your hard work will pay off. Once you’ve figured this out, follow these steps and you will get into medical school.
- Do not settle for lower than an A in any of your prerequisite classes. Aim to get the highest grade in the class, because even if you don’t, you will still get an A.
- Study to take the MCATs with the intention that you will never take that test again. If you keep that goal in mind while studying for the MCATs, you will do well.
- When you apply to medical school, submit your application on June 1, the first day they start being accepted. Do not wait until after this to submit your applications. This means you have to start asking for letters of recommendation 6-8 months in advance and request all of your transcripts 2-3 weeks before you apply. This will ensure a timely submission and you will be amongst the first to get reviewed.
- When you receive secondary applications, your turnaround time should be no longer than 24-48 hours. Writing secondaries was worse than studying for the MCATs (in my opinion), but you have to push through them.
- During interviews, it is important to prepare for the interviews, but the best advice I can give anyone is: Be yourself. There is a big misconception that interviews are meant to break you down and interviewers are there to intimidate. During one of my interviews, my interviewer gave me a high-five, another wanted to talk about my immigration experience, and another wanted to simply just find out about why I was Muslim. Just show off your awesome personality and you’ll be fine!
- Last but not least: please make an effort to stay informed of what is going on in the world. I made it a point to read some news almost every day simply so I don’t fall into the hole of being ignorant and someone who knows nothing about the world outside the US. You’d be surprised how much you can learn by reading the experiences and struggles of the international community: it might even help raise your MCAT Verbal score J
Best of luck! My thoughts go out to all of you.