Dismantling the Idea of "Traditional" — Rose Desvaristes’ Pathway

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“Not being perfect is okay. Focus on the strengths you have and take time to appreciate the steps that you take to continue improving yourself.”

Headshot of Rose D.
Rose Desvaristes

Medical School: MD, Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University, 2017
Nursing School: BS in nursing, University of South Alabama, 2011
Graduate: MS in biology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2010
Undergrad: BS in biology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2005

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  • Introduced to medicine as a career at the age of 8 when hospitalized for a health issue.
  • Orphaned in early childhood.
  • Tutored high school classmates and volunteered during health fairs at her church.
  • Moved from Haiti to United States in 2001.
  • Inducted into Robert Wood Johnson Scholar & Sigma Theta Tau International, Nursing Honors Society.
  • Worked as a nurse; decided to become a physician.
  • Held leadership position for Minorities in medicine and emergency medicine interest groups, and member of the Diversity Council while in medical school.
  • Matched to Emergency Medicine at University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville; Watch ETSU’s Match Day ceremony.


As a non-traditional student, Rose’s application reflected a great deal about her experience and the different skills she gained through her studies and past employment.

Rose did not do a postbaccalaureate program but completed a second undergraduate degree in nursing prior to enrolling in medical school. The program was 1 year in duration where she took 30 or more credits each semester.

Anatomy of an Applicant, Rose D, Core Competencies
Rose at her White Coat ceremony with Grandma Lucy, family, and friends in July 2013

Like many applicants, Rose worried about not having a perfect grade point average and high MCAT® score, but she stated: “During my interviews, no one asked me about my unbalanced MCAT score or the C grades in my transcript. They were more interested in learning about my strengths and the strategies that I used for overcoming challenges and achieving consistent personal development.”

Rose’s path to medicine as a non-traditional student took longer than the typical applicant. As her mentor, Aruna Kilaru, PhD, associate professor of biology at ETSU, shared, “Rose was admittedly concerned and wary of the long path to accomplish her dreams. She had already earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology and a BS in Nursing. She was also getting close to celebrating her 30th birthday. Rose was eager to ‘feel’ settled and have a family of her own and was concerned that she could be giving up too much for medicine.” Dr. Kilaru went on to further share that since Rose was academically successful in her previous studies, neither of them were concerned about her ability to handle the medical school curriculum. “I only told her to make the best of what is at hand and not let opportunities pass.”


Growing up, Rose was very inquisitive — a quality that paid off. Along the way, she nourished her passion for helping people through tutoring high school classmates and volunteering during health fairs at her church. Even though these experiences occurred a significant number of years before she applied to medical schools, including this information still helped to show Rose’s journey and inform admissions committees about her “distance traveled.” (“Distance traveled” is a term often used by admissions officers to refer to any obstacles or hardships you’ve overcome to get to this point in your education, or any life challenges you’ve faced and conquered. For more information, see page 75 of The Official Guide to Medical School Admissions, 2017 edition.)

Being a nurse, completing a graduate degree, participating in research, engaging in teaching, along with proficiency in foreign languages showed how diverse and rich Rose’s background was and helped distinguish her from other applicants.

Rose added, “I am from a disadvantaged background, but despite the odds, I was determined to accomplish my goals. Previous studies helped me discover suitable learning styles and time management skills that really prepared me for medical school,” she shared.

Personal Statement

The challenge for Rose in her personal statement was to find a way to weave her experiences in early childhood, advocacy and service in high school, her academic experience across several degrees, and her professional experiences as a registered nurse. Stephanie Cole, admissions counselor at ETSU Quillen College of Medicine, shared, “Her maturity and passion was shown through her personal statement.”

Rose touches on all of these experiences and has the narrative culminate in answering a question she knew she’d be asked by any medical school she applied to: what would becoming a physician enable her to do that she wasn’t already able to accomplish as a nurse. She writes:

Anatomy of an Applicant, Rose D, Core Competencies
Rose opening her match letter.
Copyright 2017 WJHL/wjhl.com

“…I know that [being a physician] is more than diagnosing diseases and prescribing treatments. It involves major responsibilities that require excellent clinical preparation, a sincere love for people and their wellbeing, and a true sense of self. … Physicians have asked … when made aware of my aspirations, ‘Do you want that responsibility and are you willing to make the sacrifice?’… My affirmative answers don’t originate from youthful dreams, but from a strong commitment to healthcare borne out of solid exposure to patient care, needs for health care, and a strong desire to help. … With the combination of my life experience, academic preparation, clinical experience, passion, and determination, I feel prepared for this emotional, physical, and cognitively demanding profession.”

Letters of Evaluation

When selecting my letter writers, I chose individuals that I felt were familiar with my performance, personality, and long-term goals,” Rose says. Her letter writers included her undergraduate advisor, graduate school advisor, one of her former biology professors, and Dr. Aruna Kilaru, PhD, who served as an unofficial mentor for her over the years. To aid her undergraduate advisor and professor as they were writing the letters, she provided them with her current curriculum vitae.

Dr. Kilaru shared that “She not only came with more than necessary academic experience and training (three degrees under her belt, research and nursing experience), but she also came with life experiences that drove her to be motivated and passionate. They gave her reasons and strength to become a doctor. Rose, because of her experiences, has the ability to relate to pain and suffering. And now, she also has the power to address and alleviate them for others.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Rose D, Core Competencies
Rose receiving her diploma at her medical school graduation ceremony

In reading Rose’s essay as well as the letters provided on her behalf, the admissions committee at ETSU “could tell that Rose was aware of our medical school’s mission. Her essay, along with her experiences, answers to secondary application questions, and letters of recommendation really influenced our decision to accept her.”


Interview invitations are often crucially important in giving confidence to applicants. This was true for Rose as well. “Once I was offered interviews, I felt more confident. To prepare, I reviewed my application in its entirety and prepared myself to discuss any aspect of it. I read books and online tips on interviewing for medical school. I also did mock interviews with friends and my mentor.”

The interview is an opportunity for admissions officers to confirm what they’ve learned about candidates through all other components of their application. As her admissions officer Ms. Cole confirmed, “Her interview solidified her exceptional personal qualities, and she demonstrated many of the competencies we look for.”

Why Rose Chose ETSU

For Rose, mission was critical to her decision on where to attend medical school. “My medical school’s mission is to prepare the next generation of well-rounded physicians that will provide care to the underserved, especially rural populations. A humanistic approach to the practice of medicine is highly valued. I think that much of the information in my application aligned with the mission of my school.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Rose D, Core Competencies
Rose celebrates her graduation with family and friends

Why ETSU Chose Rose

Commitment to the ETSU mission was also central to the admissions committee’s decision to select Rose, shared Ms. Cole. But other factors weighed in as well. “Our mission is to educate primary care physicians to serve in rural and/or underserved areas, and rural and/or underserved areas need specialists as well. Her application was full of these indicators.

Rose’s primary application demonstrated her ability to succeed both academically and with the MCAT [exam], and her secondary application and personal statement provided additional insight to her level of maturity and passion.

Her interview solidified her exceptional personal qualities. Rose stood out as a compassionate, knowledgeable registered nurse. I would gladly choose her as my own physician.”

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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 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.

Volunteer experience, tutoring experience, experience as a registered nurse, demonstrated passion for medicine and helping others, letter from mentor, clear alignment of personal goals with ETSU mission.

Icon of two hands shaking in front of a heart Interpersonal Skills Interpersonal Skills Demonstrates an awareness of how social and behavioral cues affect people’s interactions and behaviors; adjusts behaviors appropriately in response to these cues; recognizes and manages one’s emotions and understands how emotions impact others or a situation; and treats others with dignity, courtesy, and respect.

Assisted clients as a telephone service representative, volunteer translator experience, attended global health conference, volunteered as an RN at free clinic serving uninsured populations, teacher.


Icon of people in front of a globe Cultural Humility Cultural Humility

Seeks out and engages diverse and divergent perspectives with a desire to understand and willingness to adjust one’s mindset; understands a situation or idea from alternative viewpoints; reflects on one’s values, beliefs, and identities and how they may affect others; reflects on and addresses bias in oneself and others; and fosters a supportive environment that values inclusivity.

Multilingual, admissions staff assessment of her application.

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.

Distance traveled, experience as an orphan and an immigrant, career change, letter from mentor.

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.

Academic record, accelerated nursing program, successful career change, interview preparation.

Icon of an atom Living Systems Living Systems

Applies knowledge and skill in the natural sciences to solve problems related to molecular and macro systems, including biomolecules, molecules, cells, and organs.

Research experience, accelerated nursing program, and experience as a registered nurse.

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Strongest Competencies

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

  • Icon of person standing in front of arrows
  • Icon of a person climbing stairs
  • Icon of two hands shaking in front of a heart
Rose's Tips
  • "To prepare for interviews, review your application in its entirety and be prepared to discuss any aspect of it."
  • "Submit your application as early as possible."
  • "Focus on applying strategically. Choose schools with missions that clearly align with your own. For instance, Quillen’s mission is focused on rural/underserved/health disparities, and that is something that resonated for me."
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