"I wasn't a slam-dunk perfect applicant who was published with a triple major. That person doesn't actually exist, but sometimes it seems like they do. I am a regular person who made choices and took risks. Sometimes I did well, and sometimes I didn't, but ultimately I succeeded in becoming a medical student."
Medical School: MD/MBA, University of Virginia School of Medicine, 2018
Undergrad: BA in history & minor in mathematics, Bates College, 2007
- Aspiring to improve communication infrastructure within medicine, based on her personal experiences.
- Studied history (major) and math (minor) as an undergrad and graduated with honors
- Worked in management consulting for 6 years in Washington, DC
- Attained an average MCAT score, but looked for schools that didn’t place most value in test scores
- Became heavily involved in medical education as a student and actively participated in curriculum redesign efforts and helped create a Leadership Curriculum at the University of Virginia School of Medicine
- Provided guidance to students at other medical schools regarding the student-driven components of the LCME accreditation process
- Served on the UVA School of Medicine Admissions Committee as an MS4
As an undergrad at Bates College, Deirdre studied history and math. Though she left school with an interest in healthcare, she was also excited to go out and work. Considering her options, Deirdre said, “I just think that if you could ever see yourself doing something different you should explore that. Eventually I was called back into the medical space and decided to pursue it.”
When applying to medical school, Deirdre viewed the MCAT and standardized tests portion of the application as the requirement that she needed to meet a minimum threshold for, but she identified this as “the least interesting part of my application”. Deirdre specifically chose not to dwell on a data point, and instead made sure to focus on the other elements of her application where she could provide context and introduce the person behind the number. Deirdre decided to focus on letting her passion shine through. “I can offer many things to a med school but I’m not going to be the one who breaks the curve on the test; if they prioritize test scores, then we may have a fundamental mismatch— maybe I wouldn’t even be happy there.”
According to her admissions officer, Dr. Gabrielle Marzani, Deirdre made it through the first round of review because, “She had strong academics, a double major in History and Mathematics which reflected ability to think critically and philosophically, a non-traditional path, she was service focused, and she embodied an ethnically underrepresented in our School of Medicine.” In the secondary application Dr. Marzani recalls that “[Deirdre] chose to highlight rather than repeat new facets of her personality that had not been highlighted before.”
Deirdre told us that she understood our curriculum and would thrive in it – a learner centered, team based, patient focused one.
In college, Deirdre did a fair amount of volunteer work including volunteering at a soup kitchen and working to strengthen the relationship between Bates college and local community. Deirdre worked in management consulting in military health where she saw the value of understanding patient care as more than just clinical care, but also as part of a larger system. Four years into working, she began preparing to apply to medical school. She took classes after work and prepared to take the MCAT. During this time she also worked at the food pantry while she was working as a consultant so that she could give back more directly to the local community.
Her passion for medicine began earlier, though. One personal experience that had a big impact on Deirdre is when her sister broke her elbow while living in rural Alaska. “Because she lived in a remote area and the doctor was out of town, the only person available to treat her was the town veterinarian. It occurred to me that in the age of smart phones and high speed internet, there was no practical reason for patients like my sister to suffer due to lack of direct access.”
“Those of us who started med school in late twenties and early thirties can experience a steep learning curve,” Deirdre recalls, “We all kind of gravitated to each other. None of us were science majors, either.” But having time away from the classroom and bringing non-science experiences has its benefits, too. For example, “Non-traditional students tend to excel by the 3rd year - outside of the classroom. You can see a stark difference between someone who went directly from college to med school when they are interacting with a patient compared to someone who worked for a while who comes in and talks to a stranger.” Deirdre says that it’s these social skills that are developed from having interacted with fellow adults in professional environments that benefited her as a non-traditional student. “My work as a knowledge manager shaped my professional outlook because it illuminated the tangible benefits of teamwork and collaboration.”
Deirdre communicated her desire for this culture of safety in her personal statement. Dr. Marzani recalls, “Her personal statement reflected an understanding of the culture that surrounds error and the wisdom of using non-judgmental and pragmatic approaches to promote a culture of safety. She talked to us about how this could be applied in medicine and as a medical student. We could tell that Deirdre was honest and honorable and was able to maturely deal with complex interpersonal issues. Her experiences told us that she was compassionate and knew what medicine was about.”
“The numbers are what they are and there is little you can do to change them,” Deirdre concedes, but felt her personal statement was where she was able to present herself to medical schools in her own words. “It shows your ability to communicate and to tell a story about yourself beyond the rest of your application. Reflecting on who you are and what you're bringing to them.”
Deirdre’s personal statement centered on an anecdote from her work experience. She stressed the problem solving approach used in consulting and how it would affect her as a future physician; she had her wife (then girlfriend), mother and sister review and edit her statement to ensure her drive came through. “Especially on the work experience side, it can be difficult to explain in a written format. You're trying to tell a story, but you don't get to say "I" ever except for in your personal statement. I liked being able to say, ‘Let me tell you about a story when...’ In other places in the application, you just list them.”
Letters of Evaluation
“The letters of evaluation are important because the letters are how others perceive you,” Deirdre wanted letters that would show her different strengths, both in her career and her academic experience at Bates. She chose her thesis advisor from her senior year of undergrad; “He knew me really well and could speak to my independent learning, research, critical thinking.” She also chose a math professor to speak to her STEM abilities. I would often talk to her outside of class (and I still talk to all these people 10 years later).
Deirdre was initially apprehensive about asking her supervisors at work; she was making a career jump and felt it was a risk to include them. Ultimately she asked two of her bosses who could speak to her dedication. “They knew how serious I was and how much work I had put in,” she said. Deirdre also notes, “They were also incredibly supportive. They were sad to see me leave consulting, but knew that medicine was the right choice for me. That was also a really valuable lesson – my bosses, mentors, and sponsors really just wanted to help me achieve success, even if that meant leaving to do something completely different.”
Deirdre was excited for her interview— some things are hard to communicate in the written format. On interview day she went in with an open mind, she liked being able to expand on portions of her application. It was fun to say, “Oh, you thought that was interesting? Let me tell you a story about it..."
Considering her whole application experience, Deirdre said that in hindsight, she “would have talked about my hobbies a little bit more. I love to read, travel and talk to strangers, go to the movies. There's no place in the application to really talk about that. As an interviewer, I love to ask, what’s the last book you read? What about you as a human being? What makes you, you? Where do you derive joy from? Self-care and mindfulness comes up. As the demands for your attention increase, how does this person cope under stress? People who want to become doctors are typically type A personalities who are excellent at setting goals and achieving success, but what do they do to fill up when they feel depleted?”
Deirdre also stated that while Bates was interviewing her, she was interviewing them, too. She says it’s important to keep in mind that, “…whenever you’re interviewing whether it is for medical school, a job, or residency, it’s easy to become preoccupied with making the interviewer like you, but in reality interviewing is a two-way street. They are sizing you up, but more importantly, you are sizing THEM up. Interviewing is a great opportunity to see if the school/program/job is a good fit for your future goals.”
Deirdre on Why She Chose UVA
Deirdre liked UVA because she identified with their service component and admired how volunteerism is really important to their mission. She said, “People forget that fit is really important. You have to go where you will be happy because medical school is hard and you have to find somewhere where you won't be miserable. At UVA, the dean said ‘all of you are really dedicated, accomplished, and smart. But that is not the only reason you are sitting here. There's something else that you all have in common: you all have this underlying nice-ness and that's why we chose you.’ It's such a simple statement, but that moment totally spoke to me. No other medical school said that.”
Ultimately she decided to pursue both an MD and an MBA. “As a medical student, you learn the face-to-face part. I decided that getting the MBA would help me in the future as a physician leader hoping to shape healthcare through other venues. I knew an MBA would help me develop leadership in addition to clinical responsibilities.” Deirdre felt that too often, “…medicine can be bogged down with the logical fallacy of ‘it’s always been done this way.’ I think approaching difficult problems using techniques perfected in entirely different industries can trigger some real innovation in a space that desperately needs it.” Deirdre had the experience in the business realm, and is able to use techniques and strategies that businesses figured out a long time ago to address the issues faced with growing healthcare costs and limitations of access to care. “I also think there is something that the business sectors can learn from healthcare with regard to patient advocacy and generating value outside of profits. As an MD/MBA I look forward to working in that space of drawing expertise and experience in both settings.”
UVA on Why They Chose Deirdre
“Deirdre had a beautiful application, reflecting a broad range of interests and a maturity which we thought would be wonderful for classmates, faculty and patients. Although all competencies are important and considered, we highly value interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies and hers were clearly outstanding.”
“She conceptually understood the concept of holistic, which we appreciated. [It was clear] that she was honest and honorable and was able to maturely deal with complex interpersonal issues. Experiences [section] told us that she was compassionate and knew what medicine was about. Most of all, Deirdre stood out as an applicant who was wise and humble, passionate, brilliant, and compassionate.
Note: This section helps to illustrate how multiple competencies can be demonstrated across many experiences, activities, and parts of your application
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.
Volunteering at a soup kitchen; working to strengthen the relationship between Bates College and local community; worked at a food pantry
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.
Personal statement; understanding of and commitment to fostering a culture of safety
Demonstrates tolerance of stressful or changing environments or situations and adapts effectively to them; is persistent, even under difficult situations; recovers from setbacks.
Career change; focus on self-reflection; work as a management consultant
Uses logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.
Work as management consultant; coursework; letters of evaluation