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

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"Long-term 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!"

Anatomy of an Applicant, Micayla J, Core Competencies
Micayla J

Medical School: University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Expected Graduation Year: Expected Graduation - 2023
College & Major: University of North Carolina Greensboro, B.S., Psychology 

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MCAT/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 pre-medical 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 pre-medical 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 pre-health 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 that allowed her to preview what medical school might be like during her gap year: 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 non-traditional 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 learned 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, “I 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

Experiences

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 lead 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 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] first-hand 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 searched 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 AMCAS. 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

Interview

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 she 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 the homelessness in Raleigh, NC. She is also a 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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Competencies Demonstrated

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

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.

Used glide year to strengthen academic readiness, study skills, and understanding of clinical care; sought out multiple shadowing and research experiences

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.

Research experience, coursework

Human Behavior Human Behavior Human Behavior

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

Coursework, research experience

Service Orientation Service Orientation Service Orientation

Demonstrates a desire to help others and sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings; demonstrates a desire to alleviate others’ distress; recognizes and acts on his/her responsibilities to society; locally, nationally, and globally.

Diversity of volunteer experiences throughout high school and college

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 mentors, faculty, and peers; led service project teams

Cultural Competence Cultural Competence Cultural Competence

Demonstrates knowledge of socio-cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors; shows an appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity; recognizes and acts on the obligation to inform one’s own judgment; engages diverse and competing perspectives as a resource for learning, citizenship, and work; recognizes and appropriately addresses bias in themselves and others; interacts effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.

Volunteer work in multiple domestic and international communities

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.

Lab experience, organized and led student service projects teams

Oral Communication Oral Communication Oral Communication

Effectively conveys information to others using spoken words and sentences; listens effectively; recognizes potential communication barriers and adjusts approach or clarifies information as needed.

Led service project teams, interview

Critical Thinking 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

Quantitative Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning

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

Coursework

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.

Research experience, lab manager, honors thesis, coursework

Written Communication Written Communication Written Communication

Effectively conveys information to others using written words and sentences.

Honors thesis, essays, medical scribe

Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others

Behaves in an honest and ethical manner; cultivates personal and academic integrity; adheres to ethical principles and follows rules and procedures; resists peer pressure to engage in unethical behavior and encourages others to behave in honest and ethical ways; develops and demonstrates ethical and moral reasoning.

Experience working with vulnerable populations through volunteer experiences; lab manager

Reliability and Dependability Reliability and Dependability Reliability and Dependability

Consistently fulfills obligations in a timely and satisfactory manner; takes responsibility for personal actions and performance.

Progressed from research assistant to lab manager

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.

Persistence through temporary setbacks in school

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Strongest Competencies

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

  • Cultural Competence
  • Human Behavior
  • Service Orientation
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."
Engage with your Peers
Anatomy of an Applicant, Core Competencies, Self-Assessment Guide, Work book
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Anatomy of an Applicant, Micayla J, Core Competencies
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