Focusing on the Positive: Sara Kennedy's Path to Medical School

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"Always keep in mind what the goal of this journey is: to be a physician who serves others. When you're feeling down in the weeds about studying, take time to volunteer or shadow. Connect with patients and bring yourself back to what brought you to this path in the first place."

Headshot of Sara K.
Sara Kennedy

Medical School: University of Florida College of Medicine
Expected Graduation Year: 2022
College & Major: University of Florida, B.S. in Advertising, M.S. in Business Management

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  • Career changer (previous career in jewelry marketing and advertising).
  • Health scare led to her reevaluating her career aspirations.
  • Returned to University of Florida College of Medicine, her alma mater, to complete the Pre-Health Post-Baccalaureate Program.

MCAT® Score/GPA/Coursework

While Sara did exceptionally well in her undergraduate coursework and the postbaccalaureate program, she still had concerns that her background in marketing would not hold up against other applicants with science backgrounds. “I was definitely concerned that I wasn't coming into medical school with multiple published papers, posters, extensive research, or some kind of magnificent science award. I had to tell myself that I was bringing different experiences from my life in business and marketing, and I made sure that I highlighted these experiences and lessons in my application.”

Sara’s instinct to highlight these experiences was spot on. University of Florida College of Medicine (UFCOM) Admissions Director Juliet Hill stated, “Sara's background and how she expressed her desire to pursue medicine suggested an extremely mature, focused, and life-tested individual who would bring significant leadership, relational, and organizational skills to our program. The combination of her humble, down-to-earth personality with an already-developed sense of professionalism would contribute enormously to a positive student culture.”

Hill indicated that Sara’s GPA was well above average, but her MCAT® scores were in an average range. Her success in the postbaccalaureate program was a key factor that set her apart from other applicants. “We are familiar with the quality of UF College of Liberal Arts & Sciences' Pre-Health Post-Baccalaureate, which offers scientific rigor within a multi-disciplinary, patient-centered approach. Students who perform well in that program, as Sara did, are well-prepared for our program and usually well-suited for our mission.” Sara echoed this and emphasized how much the program prepared her for medical school. “I took anywhere from 15 to 17 credits per semester alongside research, volunteering, tutoring, and a TA position. I had to juggle rigorous science courses alongside my outside activities, and I learned very quickly that organization and time management were absolutely necessary for success. These skills have been invaluable to me in medical school.”                                                            


Sara devoted an extensive amount of time working as a teaching assistant, peer tutor, and mentor. University of Florida’s Director of Pre-Health Post-Baccalaureate (PHPB) Program Roberta Knickerbocker said that Sara’s commitment to ensuring she was always well versed in the program content led to her being offered a job. “Sara met with me frequently during PHPB to review what she was doing and any questions she had. PHPB includes application preparation information and Sara was always well prepared. I ultimately hired Sara as a PHPB Assistant. Sara tutored students in two cohorts broadly in chemistry, biology, physics, math, and biochemistry. She developed MCAT Prep Guides and facilitated student study groups.” The admissions team indicated that her involvement in these areas provided her with transferrable skills that would allow her to support her peers and advance an actively collaborative culture.

Personal Statement

An important piece of Sara’s journey was her identity as a non-traditional student.

She was intentional about clearly explaining why she decided to make such a sudden change in her life by highlighting the exact steps and experiences that led her to that point. “I had my own personal health scares and experiences that brought me back to medicine, and then I had incredibly moving experiences shadowing an oncologist who confirmed that I was making the right choice.”

Ms. Knickerbocker read her personal statement to ensure she was conveying her experiences in a way that clearly illustrated her genuine interest and desire to pursue medicine. Multiple sets of eyes proved beneficial for her during the writing process. She asked a grammar-conscious friend to also review her statement.

Letters of Evaluation

As a non-traditional student, Sara said that she wanted to submit a well-rounded snapshot of who she was to the admissions committee. To accomplish this, when selecting her letter writers, she included a previous manager and mentor from her time in marketing, professors who she interacted with closely and who truly got a chance to know her as both a student and a person, a physician who she shadowed for a great deal of time, and the director of PHPB who had spent two years getting to know her and her career desires. Sara said, “There is so much to be said for letters of recommendation. It is someone else’s' chance to describe who you are and how they perceive you and your ability to be a physician.”

According to her admissions team, while Sara's writing and experiences indicated her competencies, it was Sara's recommendation letters that were extremely reinforcing and revealing of how she excelled. Hill said, “Her range of letters came from diverse areas of her life: academic, medical and professional, and all were from individuals who knew her well so right away her interpersonal and teamwork attributes were evident. All the letters were consistent in noting her drive for self-improvement, commitment to medicine and service, respect for whatever task needed to be done, and work ethic.”


Prior to submitting her application, Sara researched UFCOM and said that the patient-centered education was a huge draw for her. She stated, “I didn't do too much to prepare for my interview outside of noting a few questions I had about the program. My goal was to go into the interview without too much stress and worry about questions I had to ask or things I had to say. I wanted to be myself and see what UFCOM was all about.”

Sara said that she fell in love with UFCOM during her interview day. “I had grand ideas of exploring education outside of UF for medical school since I had done undergrad, graduate school, and my post baccalaureate program at UF, but I could not deny the feeling I had on my interview day. Everyone – faculty, fellow interviewees, my interviewers, and the students I met – were so wonderful and exactly the type of people I wanted to be surrounded by for my medical education.”

Interviewers got a strong sense of how well Sara would communicate with patients during her interview. They noted her calm, reassuring manner, ease at communication, and warm and inviting personality. Ms. Hill said, “The value Sara places on forming and nurturing relationships also emerged strongly during both of her interviews, and she showed immediate and genuine empathy with a patient she met on interview day.”

Sara on Why She Chose University of Florida College of Medicine

Sara shared that she researched UFCOM prior to submitting her application, and the patient-centered education was very appealing. She learned that UFCOM strives to train physicians who have a humanistic focus and provide patient-centered care. “The science of medicine is something I absolutely love, but I also love interacting with people. My experiences as a patient have shown me the value of humanistic care, and I strive to be a physician who does the same.”

University of Florida College of Medicine Admissions Team on Why They Chose Sara

The admissions team agreed that the combination of her humble, down-to-earth personality with an already-developed sense of professionalism would contribute enormously to a positive student culture. Further, Sara's background and the way she expressed her desire to pursue medicine suggested an extremely mature, focused and life-tested individual who would bring significant leadership, relational and organizational skills to our program. Finally, it was clear that Sara chose medicine for the right reasons. Sara had already achieved a high level of academic and professional success but hungered to use her gifts and time for the well-being of others, knowing fully the additional sacrifices such a drastic career change would require. Hill said, “We also knew Sara would be a fantastic role model for her medical school classmates and simply make our program and community — and the medical profession — better by being part of it.”

Hill said Sara demonstrated all the competencies throughout her application process to some extent. “Primarily, she demonstrated service orientation and resilience and adaptation. Additionally, Sara showed the admissions team her capacity for self-improvement, critical thinking, ethical responsibility, and reliability and dependability.”

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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.

Tutored students in sciences and facilitated study sessions.

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.

Communicated well with patients.

Icon of lightbulb and gear Critical Thinking Critical Thinking

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

Established critical thinking about her application process and pathway to medical school.

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 academic responsibilities with research, volunteering, and work.

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.

Took a postbaccalaureate program to improve her application and give her a better chance at success.

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.

Demonstrated endurance and commitment to her process in honing critical skills to change careers.

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.

Demonstrated a strong capacity for open communication with patients during her interview.

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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 with a laptop under checkboxes
  • Icon of two hands shaking in front of a heart
Sara's Tips
  • "Keep your hobbies that make you who you are and bring you peace. Never underestimate what mental recharging can do for you!"
  • "Do not fall victim to 'box-checking!' I knew I never wanted to do bench lab work, but I love talking to people, so I sought out research where I could interact with the study participants."
  • "Do what you love."
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