Dedication to Making a Difference: Richard Piszczatowski's Journey to Medical School

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"Never get discouraged. Each person’s path is very different, and the strongest candidates are those that show how they have found their own path headed towards a career in medicine."

headshot of medical student Richard P.
Richard Piszczatowski

Med School: Albert Einstein School of Medicine 
Expected Graduation Year: 2022
College & Major: John Jay College of Criminal Justice, B.S., Forensic Science: Molecular Biology, Anthropology

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  • Richard grew up in New Jersey, where his parents settled after emigrating from Poland.
  • He was a first-generation college student who decided to pursue a career as a physician after volunteering at a hospital.
  • Throughout his undergraduate studies, Richard shadowed physicians at his local hospital, conducted scientific research, and co-founded the Premedical Society at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. His research experience led him to pursue a career as a physician-scientist and apply to MD-PhD programs.
  • Richard applied to 31 medical schools and received one interview but was ultimately rejected.

  • During his gap year, he worked on strengthening his application. He continued his undergraduate research and volunteer work, studied for the MCAT® exam to improve his score, worked as an adjunct Biology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and worked part-time as a research lab technician at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

MCAT® Exam/GPA/Coursework

Richard Piszczatowski was a sophomore at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY when he decided to apply to medical school. Initially, he set his sights on becoming a medical examiner by majoring in forensic science. But after he began interacting with patients while volunteering at a local hospital, he started to consider a career as a physician. In addition, his subsequent experiences conducting scientific research at his undergraduate institution solidified his interest in a career as a physician-scientist. 

Richard began to prepare for his initial application cycle during his junior year when he studied and sat for the MCAT exam. After applying to 31 medical schools, he was invited to interview at one school but ultimately, Richard was unsuccessful in earning an acceptance.

Richard Piszczatowski's speaking during Career Day.

During his senior year, he retook the MCAT exam, determined to improve his score for the next application cycle but scored one point lower than his first attempt. Richard was concerned about how his average MCAT score would affect his opportunities for admission, so after graduation, he decided to step back, re-evaluate his application strategy and take a gap year.

 Richard said, “[While] I didn’t achieve as high of an MCAT score as I’d hoped, the year between applications was extremely productive and transformative, and solidified my decision to pursue an MD-PhD degree.”


While in his undergraduate program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY, Richard spent two summers volunteering at a local hospital, allowing him the opportunity to gain experience in the operating room, cancer ward, and other practice areas while shadowing multiple physicians. “Seeing physicians helping patients and tackling disease really inspired me to pursue medicine,” he said.

Early on in his freshman year, Richard knew he wanted to contribute to research, so he approached his biology professor, Dr. Nathan H. Lents, who became his mentor midway through Richard’s freshman year. Dr. Lents said, “Richard performed at the top of the class, so I already knew he was intelligent and hardworking. He joined my research laboratory while he was still a freshman. I was a brand-new faculty member myself, and he was my first research student.”

Richard advises other medical students to search for mentors who [are] invested in their long-term growth as a student and future physician, “because they will be the people who acknowledge your dedication and passion and are happy to take the time to provide you with help in all shapes and forms.”

Dr. Lents, professor of Biology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY, said of Richard’s determination in applying to medical school, “Richard was, and is, the most driven and self-motivated student I’ve ever worked with. What I remember most about him is that it was always abundantly clear that nothing was going to stand in his way. He would work as hard as it took to accomplish his goals.”

Richard not only participated in service-related activities, but he also co-founded one as well. Throughout his undergraduate career, Richard was involved with the John Jay Premedical Society, which provides community outreach services, including organizing toy drives for children admitted to local hospitals and providing event planning support for local churches.

During his gap year, Richard gained a significant amount of experience working as an adjunct biology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and as a part-time biomedical research technician at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. His research focused on cancer, a topic he became further interested in when his mother was diagnosed with leukemia at the beginning of his senior year. His experience with his mother’s illness and treatment gave him a new perspective and further drive to pursue a career in medicine. He shared, “It was not the single reason why I pursued medicine, but it was the biggest, most emotional, and most real gasoline that fueled the fire. It also played a big part in deciding to pursue an MD-PhD. I wanted to not only help people with cancer, but I wanted to help find a solution.”

During his gap year, Richard also took an MCAT prep course which helped him improve his score and presented his biomedical research findings at various conferences.

Personal Statement

When Richard began the process of reapplying, he started fresh on his personal statement, focusing on how his extracurriculars, education, and personal life connected to paint the picture of his pathway to a career as a physician-scientist. He asked his mentor, Dr. Lents, to review and provide constructive feedback.

“I did my best to make sure it wasn’t flashy or included a specific theme, but was instead a genuine and honest reflection,” said Richard. “After starting medical school, I went back to read and compare my two personal statements. I felt the personal statement from my first application cycle was too overdone and trying too hard to stand out. However, every single sentence in my second (successful) cycle’s personal statement still strongly resonated with me and remained 100 percent accurate and genuine. There was purpose and authenticity in highlighting specific extracurricular activities, life events, and future aspirations.”

Letters of Evaluation

When it came time to request letters of evaluation, Richard approached people who knew him well from long-standing relationships. Richard focused on letter writers who would highlight his passion for medicine and research, and most importantly, speak to his character. Before asking for letters, he asked himself, “Would this person write me a strong letter? Do they know me well enough, and have I proven myself to them as a driven, passionate, premedical student?”

He provided each writer with his CV and personal statement, and specifically asked if they could speak about his work ethic, personality, and passion for the medical profession. He asked for letters from mentors who knew him closely and could speak to his personality and academics, but also asked specifically for letter writers to discuss key components he wanted to highlight in his application, such as scientific acumen and curiosity (this he requested of Dr. Lents and the head of the radiation oncology lab at Albert Einstein College of Medicine), his clinical interests and compassionate service to helping others (this he requested of a doctor he shadowed for two summers at his local hospital), and zeal for learning (this was requested of the professor of his favorite anthropology class during college).


Richard Piszczatowski during a lab at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

During his second application cycle, Richard applied to 25 MD-PhD programs and received 14 interview invitations and seven acceptances. To prepare for interviews, Richard practiced with his friends and mentors. When going over common interview questions, he made sure his answers were honest, confident, and well thought-out. “I promised myself I would stay comfortable during the interviews by being who I am – that it was okay for me to make a tasteful joke or talk about my ‘unorthodox’ hobby of playing music in a heavy metal band.”

Richard’s advice for other premedical students is to remember that “the delivery of your answers is just as important as your content. Don’t say things that you think the admissions committee ‘wants to hear.’ The strongest applicants are those that speak with conviction and confidence.”

Richard noted that his MCAT score only came up during two of the interviews. He said, “I was very honest with my answer and conveyed that I tried my best in learning the material and doing well academically. I provided detail on my dedication to overcoming a setback and took the focus off the actual scores and explanations as to why I earned the scores I earned.”

Richard on Why He Chose Albert Einstein College of Medicine

After an extensive interview at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Richard knew it was the perfect fit. “I met potential research mentors that aligned with my interests, incredibly friendly students and faculty, and I felt Einstein would be the place where I could be the best version of myself. Along with the location and being close to family, it was an easy choice for me."

Richard decided to pursue a dual MD-PhD degree at Albert Einstein COM because of its biomedical research and integrating lab discoveries to help treat and care for patients within the community. "There is a diverse and broad patient population where I could see and learn much about medicine," Richard adds.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine on Why They Chose Richard

Dr. Myles Akabas, Director of the Medical Scientist Training Program and Professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said that Richard was a natural fit for the program. “With about 450 applications for 90 interview slots, it is often difficult to select among the candidates who apply to the Einstein MD-PhD program.” He further shared, “Richard had worked as a laboratory technician with the Vice Chair for Research in Radiation Oncology, who wrote an extremely strong letter of recommendation for him. On top of that, [he] had a strong undergraduate academic record, a positive letter from his undergraduate research mentor, and was a first-generation American.”

Speaking about Richard’s academic record, Dr. Akabas said, “Richard’s GPA was strong, and although his MCAT [scores] were below our average, …from an analysis of performance in the Einstein MSTP, we know that GPA and MCAT scores do not predict who will be outstanding and who will be just fine. So, we do not put much weight on either metric. The non-quantifiable aspects of an applicant are far more important, including curiosity, inquisitiveness, passion for science and research, creativity, perseverance, resilience, communication skills, overall outlook, compassion, caring, and work ethic.”

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Highlighted Competencies

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

Icon of a person with arm around another person Empathy and Compassion Empathy and Compassion Recognizes, understands, and acknowledges others’ experiences, feelings, perspectives, and reactions to situations; is sensitive to others’ needs and feelings; and demonstrates a desire to help others and alleviate others’ distress.

Recognized that family member’s illness led to his interest in pursuing an MD-PhD program.

Icon of person standing in front of arrows Commitment to Learning and Growth Commitment to Learning and Growth

Practices continuous personal and professional growth for improvement, including setting and communicating goals for learning and development; reflects on successes, challenges, and mistakes; pursues opportunities to improve knowledge and understanding; and asks for and incorporates feedback to learn and grow.

Identified and worked on weaknesses to further improve his application; worked with mentor to develop skills and application materials; pushed himself to achieve higher scores on the MCAT exam and enhanced his extracurricular milestones; volunteered to gain experience in variety of practice areas and shadow multiple physicians.

Icon of a person with a laptop under checkboxes Reliability and Dependability Reliability and Dependability

Demonstrates accountability for performance and responsibilities to self and others; prioritizes and fulfills obligations in a timely and satisfactory manner; and understands consequences of not fulfilling one’s responsibilities to self and others.

Successfully balanced multiple responsibilities and showed he was a reliable applicant whose hardships did not waiver his desire to pursue medicine.

Icon of a person climbing stairs Resilience and Adaptability Resilience and Adaptability Perseveres in challenging, stressful, or ambiguous environments or situations by adjusting behavior or approach in response to new information, changing conditions, or unexpected obstacles, and recognizes and seeks help and support when needed; recovers from and reflects on setbacks; and balances personal well-being with responsibilities.

Effectively juggled coursework and a part-time job while volunteering and studying for the MCAT exam during a difficult time in his life; persisted after receiving lower than expected MCAT score and initially being rejected by medical schools; took gap year to improve MCAT score and gain more relevant experiences to strengthen his application.

Icon of three people talking Oral Communication Oral Communication

Effectively conveys information to others using spoken words and sentences; actively listens to understand the meaning and intent behind what others say; and recognizes potential communication barriers and adjusts approach or clarifies information as needed.

Presented at research conferences; honestly discussed MCAT score and how he overcame the setback during interviews.

Icon of two hands holding a globe Service Orientation Service Orientation

Shows a commitment to something larger than oneself; demonstrates dedication to service and a commitment to making meaningful contributions that meet the needs of communities.

Volunteered personal time for community services by co-founding the John Jay Premedical Society to provide community outreach services.

Icon of a calculator Quantitative Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning

Applies quantitative reasoning and appropriate mathematics to describe or explain phenomena in the natural world.

Coursework; research experience.

Icon of beakers Scientific Inquiry Scientific Inquiry

Applies knowledge of the scientific process to integrate and synthesize information, solve problems, and formulate research questions and hypotheses; is facile in the language of the sciences and uses it to participate in the discourse of science and explain how scientific knowledge is discovered and validated.

His application emphasized his passion for science through his personal statement, research experience, and community service. He spent a great amount of time and effort developing his scientific research. When re-applying, Richard had multiple research experiences, as well as peer-reviewed publications, and had presented at national and international conferences.

Icon of a notebook and pencil Written Communication Written Communication

Effectively conveys information to others by using written words and sentences.

Re-wrote his personal statement with more authenticity.  

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Strongest Competencies

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

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  • Icon of a person with a laptop under checkboxes
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Richard's Tips
  • See nothing as a failure, only a setback. If something doesn’t work out and you can try again, do [so] with a new perspective and determination. Learn from your mistakes and show it. Persistence and creativity speak volumes.
  • Don’t use extracurriculars to impress admissions committees by quantity or even quality. Use them to paint a picture of yourself as an applicant who has thought through what they would potentially pursue as a medical career, and as examples of how you would contribute to the medical school you would be training at. Show your continuing passions through your extracurriculars, whether that be research, global health, social justice and health equity, etc.
  • Be confident in choosing your letter writers – make sure they are your biggest advocates, not just strong letter writers.
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