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Resolve, Resilience & Reapplying: Idris Kosoko’s Journey to Medical School

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"Learn to take time off. The process of applying to medical school is just the beginning of a long marathon. Do not burn yourself [out] at the start."

Anatomy of An Applicant, Idris K, Core Competencies
Idris Kosoko

Med School: Meharry Medical College
Expected Graduation Year: 2023
College & Major: Tennessee State University (TSU), Biology - Premed Track, 2018

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Background

  • Idris' motivation to attend medical school was inspired by his mother's long-time battle with cancer. 
  • An unsuccessful first application cycle led Idris to apply to Meharry Medical College's Master of Health Science (MHS) program, which enhanced his preparation to reapply with advanced training in basic medical sciences.
  • Idris participated in the TSU-NERVE and USC-NEURAL programs to gain research and mentorship experience while in his undergraduate program at TSU. 
  • Idris credits his close professional relationships with his mentors, which include a former advisor, program co-directors, and other current medical students, as a large part of his support system.

MCAT/GPA/Coursework

Idris Kosoko’s journey to medicine began as a freshman at Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville, TN in 2014. Initially excited to major in Finance and eventually pursue a career in business operations, Idris switched to Health Sciences to explore a career as an athletic trainer. He then switched to Biology on the Premed track, as his interest in practicing medicine deepened. He was inspired by his mother finishing her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing in 2015 during her ongoing battle with pancreatic cancer.

At the end of Idris’ junior year, he took the MCAT exam, earning lower scores than he’d hoped. Later that same year, he took the exam a second time without scoring higher. Although he applied to medical school in 2018, he was unsuccessful. Idris reflected, “I honestly didn’t prepare efficiently the first time around. I submitted my applications in November, which is late in the cycle. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to take my coursework, process and study habits more seriously. I would have also counseled myself to switch my major to Biology sooner.”

Idris K, Anatomy of An Applicant
Idris K.'s parents at a family celebration prior to his mother's passing.

This setback pushed Idris to consider additional options to strengthen his academic record prior to retaking the MCAT exam and reapplying. After thorough consideration, Idris applied and was accepted to the Master of Health Science (MHS) program at Meharry Medical College. The MHS program is a 10-month program designed to enhance aspiring medical or dental school applicants’ applications with advanced training in basic medical sciences. While enrolled in the MHS program, he completed courses in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Genetics, Anatomy, Neuroscience, Pathology, Pharmacology and Physiology. For more information about post-baccalaureate programs, please visit the AAMC’s Post-Baccaleaureate Premedical Programs database.

 Completing the program improved Idris’ grades and demonstrated his ability to handle a rigorous curriculum. He credits the MHS program and his classmates with helping him to achieve a 12-point increase to his MCAT score and a 0.46 increase to his GPA. The MHS program and classmates helped him learn new study methods, increase his discipline in studying and maintain focus on his coursework. Without the MHS program, Idris said, “I would not have changed my study habits and wouldn’t have realized the importance of grasping and retaining concepts. In undergrad, I focused on just getting A’s, not actually retaining the information, which made my first two attempts at the MCAT exam extremely difficult.”

Idris also made sure to submit his application early when he reapplied. He credits his family’s encouragement helping to reinforce his resilience as he worked towards reapplying. April Curry, M.Ed., Director of Admissions & Recruitment at Meharry Medical College remarked, “Idris is one of the most diligent and dedicated students I have encountered. [By] participating in the MHS program, Idris was well-prepared by his focus on academic achievement and diligence in completing his undergraduate and graduate coursework.”

Idris advises future applicants to, “not become demoralized if the journey [to medical school] does not go as planned. The process can be stressful and lengthy, but don’t let it stop you from achieving your dream of becoming a physician.”

Experiences

When he was a rising sophomore, Idris was accepted to the TSU-Neuroscience Education and Research Vanderbilt Experience, also known as TSU-NERVE. He learned about TSU-NERVE from Kelly Kiesa, the principal investigator and program co-director, who invited him to a luncheon to learn more about the program. This program is funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Blueprint Program for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity through Undergraduate Research Education Experiences. As part of program requirements, Idris completed Neuroscience coursework, participated in three semesters of paid research in Neuroscience labs with Dr. Ronald Cowan, and completed a paid summer research experience.

Through the TSU-NERVE Program and his paid summer research experience, Idris was able to participate in the University of Southern California - Neuroscience Experience Undergraduate Research and Learning Program (USC-NEURAL), which he learned about from his involvement in the TSU-NERVE experience (USC-NEURAL was partially funded by the TSU-NERVE Program the year Idris attended; it has since developed into its own program). USC-NEURAL provides research experiences and professional development opportunities for underrepresented minority undergraduates with a strong interest in neuroscience. As part of this program, Idris lived on-campus at the University of Southern California for 10 weeks and worked with Dr. Kathleen Page on neuroscience experiments and learned analytical strategies.

Around this time, Idris met and developed a strong relationship with Dr. Lisa de la Mothe, his TSU-NERVE advisor and program co-director. Dr. de la Mothe spoke of his dedication, saying “Idris is an exceptional student and individual. Rarely have I encountered a student as committed and driven. I remember meeting Idris initially as a second-year student; he was uncertain about what direction he wanted to follow. He was a strong student and interested in gaining research experience but was also interested in medicine. While he has been trained in a variety of research areas and techniques, and would have made an exceptional research scientist, it became clear through these [professional] experiences, and his own personal experiences, that his pathway led to the pursuit of a career in medicine.”

During the last two years of undergrad, he met weekly with his advisor to discuss coursework, plans and preparation for the MCAT exam. Dr. de la Mothe became one of a few influential mentors who encouraged Idris along his pathway to medical school.

Idris also formed close professional relationships with Dr. Hugh Fentress and Dr. Kiesa Kelly, the TSU-NERVE co-director and primary investigator, respectively. He worked with Dr. Coreen Jackson, dean of the Honors College at TSU, and Dr. Lois Harlston, Meharry Medical College’s former BS/MD Coordinator.  Idris met Dr. Jackson through his undergraduate involvement in the Honors Council, and Dr. Harlston through two of his TSU classmates. He credits his mentors as offering key insights and feedback. Idris advises future applicants to, “find a mentor. Receiving advice and help from someone else who has already been through the process goes a long way.”

Personal Statement

In structuring his reapplication to medical school, Idris connected with Portia Thomas, a MD/PhD student at Meharry Medical College through the TSU-NERVE program. She helped him craft his personal statement, highlighting his motivations for pursuing a medical degree and credited his mother’s multiple cancer remissions throughout his young adult years as inspiration.

Looking back, Idris feels strongly that drafting his personal statement early was important, knowing it would take several drafts before he could finalize it. He had multiple mentors, faculty, and fellow students review his drafts to incorporate multiple perspectives prior to submitting his application.

Letters of Evaluation

Idris chose writers based on his close relationships with them. His letter writers were faculty he studied with while in the TSU-NERVE and USC-NEURAL programs. Idris felt that they would best highlight his strengths and reflect his investment in his academic success because they knew him well from his time in their programs.

According to Ms. Curry, Director of Admissions & Recruitment at Meharry, Idris did an excellent job of demonstrating some of the Core Competencies in his personal statement, including Culture Competence, Resilience and Adaptability, Critical Thinking, and Human Behavior, among others. She noted, “these competencies were featured throughout his application in his description of his upward grade and score trajectory, experience with the TSU-NERVE program and advanced level of scholarship.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Idris K, Core Competencies
From L-R: Idris' two brother, father, nephew, and himself at his White Coat Ceremony.

Interview

Because of his enrollment in the MHS program, which included a linkage agreement with Meharry Medical College, this was Idris’ only interview. To prepare for his interview at Meharry Medical College, Idris credits the MHS program, saying “During the year I spent at Meharry for MHS, I was able to meet faculty, learn about Meharry’s mission statement, purpose, and medical school curriculum. This completely prepared me for the interview.”

Ms. Curry spoke about what the admissions committee was able to learn about Idris during the interview, saying he, “demonstrated well-founded Social Skills & Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others when asked critical questions about academic integrity, abiding by policies and procedures and interfacing with faculty, staff, peers and patients during his interview.”

During the interview, Idris asked in-depth questions about the curriculum and student life. He came away feeling confident, well-informed and, if offered admission, was prepared to matriculate.

Idris on Why He Chose Meharry Medical College

Having met all requirements of Meharry Medical College’s MHS program, Idris felt confident that he would be a good fit for the medical school. “The added challenge of completing the MHS program prepared me well for the ultimate challenge of medical school. MHS was, essentially, a medical school with training wheels. Without it, I would’ve struggled immensely to ride the bike.”

Idris was also impressed with the mission and culture at Meharry Medical College, which “focuses on serving the underserved. I always knew whatever my profession was, I would enjoy helping those in need. In terms of culture, the people at Meharry made me choose Meharry. The friendly and welcoming environment played a big part in my decision to continue studying there.”

Meharry Medical College on Why They Chose Idris

Ms. Curry was impressed by Idris, sharing that he “has a true commitment to the Meharry Mission and discussed extensively his passion for medicine, patient care, and eliminating health disparities.”

Discussing the admissions’ committee’s acceptance process, Mrs. Curry noted, “the School of Medicine admitted Student Doctor Kosoko because he exemplified service and civic engagement, knowledge and passion for the Meharry mission, and academic excellence, in addition to many of the AAMC’s Core Competencies that are used in our holistic review process. Idris’ combination of experience and education made him an ideal candidate for matriculation.”

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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.

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.

Built relationships with administrators and faculty in multiple programs who he later approached to become his letter writers and mentors

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.

Was part of lab research teams for three semesters as well as participating in a summer research experience

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.

Worked through a stressful period to overcome rejection during his first application cycle and reapply to medical school successfully

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.

Pursued a post-bacc program to strengthen his academic foundation and increase his MCAT scores; worked together with his peers and mentors learn new study habits and improve his academic record

Critical Thinking Critical Thinking Critical Thinking

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

Actively participated in multiple research experiences

Scientific Inquiry 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.

Conducted research in multiple programs to share new information with respective communities

Living Systems 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.

 Developed and applied knowledge and skills through participation in multiple neuroscience and biomedical research programs

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Strongest Competencies

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

  • Capacity for Improvement
  • Critical Thinking
  • Resilience and Adaptability
Idris' Tips
  • Focus on the weaknesses in your application and try to improve them. Being well-rounded is important. 
  • Do not compare yourself to other applicants. Iron sharpens iron, but comparison can be the thief of joy.
  • The key to life as a medical school applicant is balance.