Passion for Psychology and Service: Micayla Jones’ Path to Medical School

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"Longterm goals, including becoming a physician, cannot be achieved without having short-term goals. Prepare for the future, but do not miss out on the joys of life today. Know that if you come from a background with decreased representation in medicine or a low-income family, with perseverance, you can meet your goal to become a medical student!"

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Micayla Jones

Medical School: University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Expected Graduation Year: Expected Graduation — 2023
College & Major: University of North Carolina Greensboro, BS, Psychology 

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MCAT® Score/GPA/Coursework

To begin preparing for her eventual journey to medical school, Micayla enrolled in summer classes and completed dual-credit courses in high school where she received both high school and college credit. These choices allowed her flexibility as an undergrad and ensured she graduated on time. She was able to take electives sooner in college and more easily balance taking both psychology and premedical courses. Micayla said the time saved allowed her “to participate as a research assistant and complete [my] research honors thesis.”

Micayla was concerned about how her average MCAT®score and one W (withdrawal) on her transcript would affect her opportunities for admission to medical school. She tackled the withdrawal on her transcript head on by addressing it in one of her secondary application essays. In her response she wrote, “After receiving what I thought to be a low first exam grade, I withdrew from a course my freshman year. After learning that I would have scored well due to a typical curve in this class, I learned to persevere through future temporary setbacks, both academically and in everyday life.” She brought this same spirit to her MCAT average. Micayla said her “participation and success in academic premedical summer programs assured my application reviewers that my score was not ‘the ceiling’ for me. It was reassuring to know that committees review applicants in a holistic manner. No applicant is defined by one measure.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Micayla J, Core Competencies
Micayla at UNC SOM

George Michel, Micayla’s prehealth advisor and Professor of Psychology (now Professor Emeritus) at University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNC-Greensboro), acknowledged Micayla’s academic strengths and how she “distinguished herself by performing in the top 3% of students” in his advanced biopsychology class. Throughout her undergrad coursework and lab research, she met with him two to three times per semester to examine her progress. Regarding her application he indicates, “We were concerned about some minor difficulties with her early grades but were able to compensate for them with her excellent performance in more advanced courses. We knew that more experiences would improve the interpretation of her average MCAT scores, so we put emphasis on those experiences in her application essays and later, medical school interviews.”

Micayla participated in two summer education programs during her glide year that allowed her to preview what medical school might be like: the Medical Education Development Program and the Summer Program for Future Doctors (SPFD). She’d heard firsthand about the MED Program from program alumni who matriculated to medical school and wanted to take advantage of the same experience. While in the program, she took a shortened equivalent to what first-year medical students complete in Gross Anatomy, Physiology, Microbiology, Histology, and Biochemistry.  Some of the same professors she has now as a medical student at UNC SOM were her instructors in the program. Micayla learned “invaluable lessons” about study tactics and how to prepare for the rigorous medical school curriculum.

Following college graduation in May 2017, Micayla took a gap year before applying to medical school. Of this decision, Dr. Michel remarked, “I remember her intention to take a gap year to improve her skills and training, not so much so that her application would look better but so that she would become a better physician. Her attitude was always very positive. She knew how to use her training in psychology to improve her actions as a caring physician.”

Micayla used her glide year to complete courses in Cell Biology and Physiology, of which she said the “basic science foundation served as a great background for [my] medical school courses, especially as a nontraditional science (psychology) major.” She also shadowed multiple physicians and worked both as a Clinical Lab manager and medical scribe during this time.

Dr. Michel encouraged Micayla to apply to the SPFD program at the Brody School of Medicine. There she received additional insight into the academic demands of first-year medical students while abbreviated versions of Medical Biochemistry and Neuroanatomy. The program also helped her build relationships with faculty members and participate in a clinical opportunity with Dr. Edward Treadwell, a rheumatologist she’d shadowed as part of the program. She mentions that she “used this opportunity to strengthen my study skills, learn from the clinical opportunities, and meet other students who also have career goals to become medical professionals.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Micayla J, Core Competencies
Micayla receives her white coat at UNC SOM


Even as a child, Micayla knew she wanted a career in medicine. “As a child, the birth of my nephew and the chronic illnesses of my mother piqued my interest in the human body.” While in middle school, on a mission trip to Panama, Micayla had a moving experience where she “helped to clean and bandage a scar on a little girl’s knee.” She cited this experience as the catalyst that led her to participation in multiple, long-term community service activities both domestically and abroad.

Micayla began preparing for application to medical school by taking the advice of her advisor freshman year to “keep a notebook with all [of her] experiences in it. This was very helpful when creating [her] application.”  During sophomore year, she downloaded the AMCAS® Applicant Guide to familiarize herself with the components of the application and to prepare for what she’d need to do to complete it.

Micayla not only participated in service-related activities, she also created some as well. In high school, she visited Chetumal, Mexico, to assist in renovating school buildings. Later, over the course of two years while a student at UNC-Greensboro, she developed extensive leadership skills as a service trip leader through the OSLS Service Trip Program. She learned about this program at an organizational fair at her university. Through these experiences, Micayla “sought to create service experiences that would encourage others to participate as active citizens in their own communities, as well as in other places around the world where the most vulnerable need support.” She created and co-led a service trip of 15 students on a week-long trip to Georgia to volunteer at multiple service sites. Micayla recognized that, “planning these trips helped to develop my leadership skills and has motivated me to create service opportunities for myself and others.”

Micayla gained a significant amount of experience through her university, learning about volunteer and research opportunities through the premed listserv. She worked as a research assistant with the Social Psychology and Physical Activity Laboratory and also at the Gene, Environment, and Emotions (GEnE) clinical psychology research Lab during her sophomore year. There, she was responsible for leading human participant experiments, administering interviews, and providing feedback to the principal investigator.

Eventually, Micayla became the lab manager for the GEnE Lab, and was tasked with organizing new experiments, training research assistants, and ensuring ethical human research. During her senior year, she took a deeper dive into clinical research, joining the Honors College and completing an honors thesis on “Interpersonal Aggression & Cortisol: The Effect of the Confederate Role in a Laboratory Stress Test on Cortisol Reactivity.” Completing this thesis project provided Micayla with a better understating of the scientific method as well as grant and proposal writing. Micayla shared, “Through writing this thesis and presenting a poster at two conferences, I strengthened my academic writing and presentation skills.” She continued in her position as lab manager through her glide year.

Micayla also participated in the Excellence in Cardiovascular Sciences (EICS) program at Wake Forest University. The EICS program provides underrepresented students research experience during the summer and includes research training in the cardiovascular sciences with mentoring by medical school faculty. Micayla connected with a physician-mentor and a MD-PhD student who later provided letters of evaluation for her application.

After graduating, Micayla worked full time in the Kernodle neurology clinic as a medical scribe. She took patient vitals, histories, and prepared them for discharge. She said this job taught her “common symptoms and treatments for a number of neurological diseases” and helped her gain valuable insights into connecting with patients. She learned how to “empathize and comfort patients [and saw] firsthand how a medical team communicates and works together for patient well-being.”

Lastly, she also shadowed a variety of health professionals prior to applying, including osteopathic physicians, physician assistants, midwives, and a nurse practitioner in OB-GYN settings. To learn about these opportunities, she emailed various doctors’ offices to ask about their available shadowing opportunities.

Personal Statement

Ms. Randee Reid, Director of Admissions at University of North Carolina School of Medicine (UNC SOM), remarked that, “Micayla’s personal statement revealed the passion she has for the marginalized, language barriers, and the poverty that affects this community of people. She clearly demonstrated that she had a strong passion for public service through medicine.” Throughout the process, Micayla was assisted by a group of advisors, mentors, and peers who provided insights and edits to her personal statement.

For Micayla, the most essential resource was a former admissions committee member whom she met through one of her undergraduate mentors. This mentor noted, “Writing a personal statement can be difficult for many students because most students are not used to ‘selling themselves’ in this manner. Having multiple sets of eyes on a personal statement is very helpful.”

Prior to the application cycle, Micayla applied for the AAMC Fee Assistance Program, mentioning that “It would have been really difficult to apply for medical school without use of the benefits of the program,” which include discounted fees, complimentary access to the MSAR® online database, free MCAT Official Prep products, and more.

Letters of Evaluation

When it came to requesting letters, Micayla included the maximum number of letters allowed by the AMCAS program. She “strategically select letter writers that could address the multiple requirements for different schools.” The people selected “knew me well in multiple capacities: academic, employment, and volunteer and service.”  She leveraged relationships formed during her experiences, requesting letters from the program directors of the MED and SPFD programs and the principal investigators of the GEnE lab and EICS program. Other letter writers included her service trip program leader, premed advisor, and college professors.

Anatomy of an Applicant, Micayla J, Core Competencies
Micayla and her classmates after UNC SOM's White Coat Ceremony


Micayla prepared for her interviews by re-reading each medical school’s website and MSAR profile. She also participated in mock interviews, which were “helpful to identify questions I had difficulty answering.” Micayla suggests “writing down questions for interviewers and medical students so you don’t forget what to ask in the moment.” Although she looked through Reddit and Student Doctor Network posts, she felt that those “usually led to unnecessary anxiety.”

One interview weakness Micayla identified was asking questions that were too specific about a certain organization or activities at the medical school as sometimes her interviewers weren’t knowledgeable. She realized that “most interviewers were not current students and didn’t know about these things.” She also advised that applicants should be familiar with what’s in their application, rereading it prior to the interview and “learn about all the school has to offer before your interview. Do not ask questions already clearly stated on the website.”

Micayla on Why She Chose University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Micayla knew that UNC SOM’s mission incorporated helping to “shape future doctors into compassionate and open-minded people.” She shared that she “was interested in starting my medical education journey at a school that could allow me to not only academically thrive but continue my service work with vulnerable populations and encourage my classmates to do the same.”

Once a practicing physician, Micayla endeavors to work with underserved medical communities. She said, “serving in an area where I can be a part of collaborative efforts for patient well-being is important to me.” Additionally, she hopes to address the social determinants of health by holistically caring for her patients. “I wish to help individuals that have limited access to resources such as housing, nutrition, and education,” she said. Building on her reasons for choosing UNC SOM, Micayla is currently co-leading a student clinic and working on developing a project to aid people experiencing homelessness in Raleigh, NC. She is also an NC Albert Schweitzer Fellow. As a part of this fellowship, Micayla partners with a UNC dental student to provide hypertension education in a multi-disciplinary setting.

Anatomy of an Applicant, Micayla J, Core Competencies
Micayla and her classmates after UNC SOM's White Coat Ceremony

Why the University of North Carolina School of Medicine Chose Micayla

Ms. Reid and her colleagues determined that Micayla had “demonstrated that she was a well-rounded applicant who did all that she needed to prepare herself for medical school.” After Micayla was referred to Ms. Reid, she “realized after reviewing her application that she was and is a remarkable young woman. She has a drive and determination to seek knowledge about the field of medicine, and a heart for service.” Ms. Reid was especially impressed by Micayla’s service orientation and cultural competence. She said, “Micayla had participated in mission trips from grade school through high school, which led to exposure and involvement in other social issues from empowering women and children, to educating immigrants and refugees in English and math, to volunteering in shelters with domestic sex trafficking survivors.” Ms. Reid summed up Micayla’s character and personality stating, “She is a young woman of strength and courage who does not quit!”

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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 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.

Used glide year to strengthen academic readiness, study skills, and understanding of clinical care; sought out multiple shadowing and research experiences; participated in multiple education programs (e.g., MED Program, SPFD EICS program).

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, coursework.

Icon of a brain Human Behavior Human Behavior

Applies knowledge of the self, others, and social systems to solve problems related to the psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors that influence health and well-being.

Coursework, research experience.

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.

Participated in multiple, longterm community service activities in the U.S. and abroad.

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.

Built relationships with mentors, faculty, and peers.

Icon of a globe Cultural Awareness Cultural Awareness

Appreciates how historical, sociocultural, political, and economic factors affect others’ interactions, behaviors, and well-being; values diversity; and demonstrates a desire to learn about different cultures, beliefs, and values.

Showed passion for understanding factors that affect different communities.

Icon showing four hands meeting in the middle Teamwork and Collaboration Teamwork and Collaboration Collaborates with others to achieve shared goals and prioritizes shared goals; adjusts role between team member and leader based on one’s own and others’ expertise and experience; shares information with team members and encourages this behavior in others; and gives and accepts feedback to improve team performance.

Lab experience; created and co-led volunteer service trip.

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.

Participated in mission trip to help take care of children; learned from medical teams at a clinic how to with empathize and comfort patients, work together for patient well-being.

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.

Learned to persevere though academic setbacks.

Icon of a scale Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others Behaves with honesty and integrity; considers multiple and/or conflicting principles and values to inform decisions; adheres to ethical principles when carrying out professional obligations; resists pressure to engage in unethical behavior; and encourages others to behave honestly and ethically.

Ensured ethical human research as a lab manager.

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.

Led service project teams.

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.

Research experiences, honors thesis, professional experience, coursework.

Icon of a calculator Quantitative Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning

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


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Strongest Competencies

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

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Micayla's Tips
  • "Reach out to current medical students for advice, we are always willing to help."
  • "To save money and time, only apply to schools whose mission, curriculum and location fit your goals!"
  • "Take time to develop your personal and academic support system as a pre-medical student; you will need these people during your medical education journey."
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