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Adapting to Changing Circumstances: Laura’s Journey

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“If you believe you can do it and you are worth it, don't doubt yourself, because if you doubt yourself it will come through. Stay true to who you are. It's OK if you're not an applicant with straight A's or a perfect MCAT score. That's what makes us human.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Laura F, Core Competencies
Laura Florez

Medical School: MD, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University, 2017
Undergrad: BS, Florida International University, 2010

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Background

  • Moved from Colombia to United States at age 10.
  • Spent time at geriatric center as part of high school curriculum where she developed a love of science.
  • Extended geriatric elective for a consecutive year to further clinical experience and decides to pursue career in medicine.
  • Founded FIU’s UNICEF Campus Initiative chapter. Elected to be President of Council of Student Organizations in Student Government Association (SGA).
  • Selected as an  NIH-MARC Scholar at Florida International University to do scientific research and continued to participate in extensive research focused on cystic fibrosis even after graduating from college.
  • Graduated cum laude from FIU with a BS degree in Biological Sciences
  • Held leadership positions while in medical school and was inducted into Gold Humanism Society
  • Matched to Obstetrics and Gynecology at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida in March 2017Watch Laura as she opens her Match letter.

Academics

During her first year of college, Laura found herself struggling. “I had 2 Cs in my first semester of undergrad. It was taboo at the time. It made me resilient, and I improved over time. I think I placed a lot of value in proving my point that I was able to balance academics, extracurricular, and family responsibilities.”

Academically, she improved from freshman to senior year. She took classes over the summer to help strengthen her academics, which also gave her an opportunity to balance her course load and schedule harder classes during the longer spring terms. “I tried to take my science classes in the spring,” she explained. “Sometimes students struggle when things get so condensed, so I tried to avoid it if I could.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Laura F, Core Competencies
Laura captured in her first laboratory research experience

Her biggest worry was the MCAT exam, which she took twice, and this was also an area of Laura’s application where the medical school had some concerns.

“Her application was pretty unbalanced when it came to MCAT,” shared Andria Williams, the Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.

Laura took the (pre-2015) MCAT exam twice. Although her total score improved by 5 points, the weakest section for her was Verbal Reasoning.

Her scores demonstrated that she had competence in science, however, the low Verbal Reasoning scores were a concern. Laura was repeatedly told by peers that with her scores, her application might not even be read. 

However, her pre-health advisor, John Landrum, PhD, counseled her to not "…run away just because of a score—you need to make sure you've giving it your all so that later on you don't regret not applying."

Experiences

In college, Laura made time to volunteer with UNICEF and to educate the local community about this organization and its goals worldwide.

During the summer between sophomore and junior year, she was selected to participate in the  Ronald E. McNair Research Program at UNTHSC, where she conducted research on a chemotherapy drug delivery model. Upon returning to her undergraduate institution, she applied and was selected to participate in the NIH-MARC U*USTAR Program as she began to consider an MD/PhD route. Through her time in the lab researching a bacteria that kills cystic fibrosis patients, Laura further appreciated how research is conducted, “how you go from ideas and basic science questions, to hypotheses and then, how to follow it to a conclusion... and how to avoid bad outcomes in a patient one day.”

Her research and her community service work both centered around the same main themes: children and education. Laura didn’t purposely set out to focus in these areas. In fact, she didn't really notice it until putting together her medical school application although it helped her to see that “if you do things innately, not just to check off boxes, it all comes together and presents a picture of who you are.” Ms. Williams agrees, saying that Laura’s experiences were what advanced her application to the next stage. “On the secondary application and during the interview process, the main highlight was Laura’s experiences and how they reflected who she was and the type of physician she wanted to be.” These experiences, Ms. Williams explained, “were pivotal to presenting a well-rounded picture of Laura, her passion and motivation for medicine, and that she understood how she could positively impact those around her."

Personal Statement

The Personal Statement essay in the AMCAS application was Laura’s way to communicate on a more personal level with the admissions office. "If you're honest and you’ve put together an application where the experiences you list reflect who you are as a person, they’re going to want to meet you,” Laura shared.

Anatomy of an Applicant, Laura F, Core Competencies
Laura with her mother and her mentor Kalai Mathee, PhD, to whom she credits as the 'pillars' of her success, on residency Match Day

Although Laura had her Research PI (principal investigator) and pre-health advisor review her personal statement for grammar and clarity, her main goal was to have her own voice come through. “I chose to include a very personal story of how I even got to this country. It was important for me to show that because it made me who I am. Part of me was scared it’d be too personal to be sharing or that people would pity me,” she says, “but at the end of the day, I got over it. That is who I am… and my journey and I’m proud of it.”

Using her personal statement, Laura was able to convey her strengths and competencies, “these are the components of your application people use to put together who you are as a person. I may not have had numbers that were excellent.”

Letters of Evaluation

Laura included two science letters (one from her research PI), two non-science faculty letters, and two letters from physicians she shadowed. Some letter writers asked her about her MCAT scores or why she wanted to pursue a career in medicine, while others asked to read her personal statement.

Pre-health advising offices offer many services to applicants. "The support system was there because I asked for it," said Laura. The interview with the pre-health committee was probably the toughest one Laura had. It was lengthy and the only one that was a panel interview. But she felt more prepared when she actually interviewed with the medical school. “It helped me feel less intimidated, like I deserved to be there and reassured that I was worth it. Once I felt that, I was ready to go.”

Interview

Laura met with her pre-health advisor to help her reflect on and prepare for key questions, particularly focusing on weaker parts of her application she knew she'd have to address. “My first practice run came when I had a mock interview with the pre-health advising office. My advisors had experience working with thousands of pre-meds. They really helped me to think about how to talk about myself, and how to anticipate, prepare for, and answer interview questions.”

For example, she was asked about her research at each medical school interview. She felt that the interviewers tried to probe about whether her research was just something done to check off a box. “I had to talk about it a lot during my interviews--problem solving, troubleshooting, inquiry, and balancing multiple priorities both in and outside of my research. Being able to organize/prioritize is critical, and I had to show that in interviews.”

Ms. Williams observed, “What also came through during these interviews was her ability to improve herself. The competencies came through.” Ms. Williams said that she specifically looks for “how you explain your leadership, your research, how these elements helped you to become a better person. We look to see how they're skills that you'll take with you. Do you see how these experiences you've gone through will translate into you being a doctor, a better doctor? If you can't, you're not really doing anything other than checking off a box. As an undergrad, it’s going to be important to be able to reflect on what you're doing and how it will translate into you being a better doctor. It's important for you to be able to connect the dots for yourself and for others.”

Why Laura Chose FIU

“I decided to stay at my home institution because of its mission of service, specifically to this community.  Because for me that’s what medicine is about. Medical school is not just to educate but to connect us to the real world, which was important to me from day one.” 

Anatomy of an Applicant, Laura F, Core Competencies
Laura with her 'very proud' parents at her medical school graduation. About the experience, she said, 'The journey is so worth it!'

“All of these competencies travel with you forever, not just as a student but also in the professional world. You can't teach these skills; you don’t just get them in the classroom. They're things you have to experience through volunteering, through leadership, and through community service. You have to be a part of it. All of the other things will come along.”

Why FIU Chose Laura

“When I think about it, everything Laura took part in or was involved in fit together as a well-designed puzzle, even though she didn't plan it that way. Everything merged so nicely together based on her core mission of being there for the community. All components of her application connected to that core value--being a member of that community, whether through research, community service, etc. It wasn't just filling boxes for a medical school application. In all the interviews she went to, that was what everyone mentioned and spoke to her about--that it all came together so nicely. Her experiences and her personal journey before getting into medicine showed how resilient she'd been throughout her whole life.”

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Competencies Demonstrated

Note: This section helps to illustrate how multiple competencies can be demonstrated across many experiences, activities, and parts of your application.

Service Orientation Service Orientation Service Orientation

Demonstrates a desire to help others and sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings; demonstrates a desire to alleviate others’ distress; recognizes and acts on his/her responsibilities to society; locally, nationally, and globally.

Founded UNICEF Campus Initiative Group at FIU, Geriatric rotations in high school, community service with children

Cultural Competence Cultural Competence Cultural Competence

Demonstrates knowledge of socio-cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors; shows an appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity; recognizes and acts on the obligation to inform one’s own judgment; engages diverse and competing perspectives as a resource for learning, citizenship, and work; recognizes and appropriately addresses bias in themselves and others; interacts effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.

UNICEF campus initiative group, childhood experience with poverty, experience with immigrating to United States

Teamwork Teamwork Teamwork

Works collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals; shares information and knowledge with others and provides feedback; puts team goals ahead of individual goals.

Work in lab, founded UNICEF Campus Initiative Group at FIU, letters from Principal Research Investigator and physicians shadowed

Social Skills Social Skills Social Skills

Demonstrates an awareness of others’ needs, goals, feelings, and the ways that social and behavioral cues affect peoples’ interactions and behaviors; adjusts behaviors appropriately in response to these cues; treats others with respect.

Founded and volunteered with UNICEF Campus Initiative Group, helped care for her four younger siblings, volunteered with geriatric patients and children in the community

Resilience and Adaptability Resilience and Adaptability Resilience and Adaptability

Demonstrates tolerance of stressful or changing environments or situations and adapts effectively to them; is persistent, even under difficult situations; recovers from setbacks.

Experiences as an immigrant, child of single parent, academic record improvement and progression, MCAT exam improvement

Capacity for Improvement Capacity for Improvement Capacity for Improvement

Sets goals for continuous improvement and for learning new concepts and skills; engages in reflective practice for improvement; solicits and responds appropriately to feedback.

Academic record improvement and progression, improvement on second MCAT exam

Critical Thinking Critical Thinking Critical Thinking

Uses logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.

Cystic fibrosis research, selected for Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, letters from Principal Research Investigator and physicians shadowed

Written Communication Written Communication Written Communication

Effectively conveys information to others using written words and sentences.

Published research findings, personal essay resonated with admissions staff

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Strongest Competencies

The student self-identified the following competencies as the strongest:

  • Capacity for Improvement
  • Resilience and Adaptability
  • Service Orientation
Laura's Tips
  • "Not all doctors were perfect students, but they went into medicine for the right reasons and that stood out."
  • "Project the essence of why you want to go into this career and how you will make it possible one way or another."
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