From Rejection to Acceptance: Patrick Molina’s Journey

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"It can feel as if only those with seemingly perfect applications get accepted and matriculate into medical school – however, once you begin medical school you will meet many individuals with diverse experiences and will realize that your own non-traditional pathway to medicine may be more traditional than you thought. With regards to my own pathway, I consider the adversity I faced a privilege because it has shaped me into the person I am and the person I am growing to be, within and outside of medicine."

Headshot of Patrick M.
Patrick Molina

Medical School: MD/PhD, The University of Alabama School of Medicine, 2021
Graduate: Biomedical Master of Science, Eastern Virginia Medical School, 2015
Undergrad: BS in Chemistry, Georgia Southern University, 2010

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Background

  • Born in Los Angeles shortly after his mother emigrated from Mexico; his family was often homeless during first decade.
  • Family was fearful to access regular medical care; emergency tonsillectomy as a child lead to his fascination with medicine.
  • Completed undergraduate degree with multiple semesters as a lab assistant.
  • Applied to medical school, but was not accepted.
  • After undergrad, significant volunteer experience as translator; paid employment as research specialist/fellow in renal physiology and nurse assistant.
  • Mentored high school students and took PhD-level coursework in cancer biology through an employee benefits scholarship.
  • Enrolled in a special master’s program in order to further demonstrate his aptitude for medicine and the academic rigor involved.

Academics

According to Patrick, his undergraduate GPA “was less than stellar”, but he focused on completing his degree in chemistry to demonstrate an aptitude for science. Patrick explains, “Even though my undergraduate GPA was below average, my MCAT was competitive, and I demonstrated academic strength through completion of a special master’s program with PhD-level coursework and medical school-level classes.”

Deborah H. Damon, PhD, Professor in the Department of Physiological Sciences and Director of the Medical Master’s Program at Eastern Virginia Medical School, was concerned about his GPA when reviewing the application for her program. “I was slightly concerned that his undergraduate science GPA was a little low; Patrick had multiple C’s and D’s on his undergraduate transcript. My staff and I made sure that Patrick made use of all the resources available to help him be successful in our medical school-level courses. His transcripts, GPA, and MCAT demonstrate Patrick’s resilience and motivation. His application to our medical master’s program demonstrated his ability to recognize his limitations and his willingness to take appropriate steps to address these deficits.”

Dr. Damon went on to say, “His medical master’s application generated a significant amount of discussion, as his quantitative numbers (GPA and MCAT) are not at the level normally expected for a MD-PhD applicant. We needed to have discussions with his undergraduate advisors to determine if they thought his low scores reflected his quantitative reasoning skills or if it was just a reflection of his access to appropriate learning environments as he was growing up.

When reviewing Patrick’s application for medical school, the Admissions Committee at The University of Alabama School of Medicine looked for factors to indicate that in spite of a low undergraduate GPA, Patrick had the drive to succeed. As Robin G. Lorenz, MD, PhD, Associate Dean for Physician Scientist Development, explained, “What pushed him forward was that he worked very hard to overcome this [GPA] deficiency, that he had extensive and excellent research experience, that his letters were extremely strong, and that we had personally met him. We saw reliability and resilience in Patrick because although he realized that he had an extremely low undergraduate GPA, he did not let that stop him from achieving his goal. He was aware that this was a concern to our admissions committee. He had been told this by his undergraduate advisors, which was why he enrolled in the medical MS program at Eastern Virginia. With his MS he earned a much higher GPA. He also re-took his MCAT in an effort to show improvement on his science competencies.”

Experiences

Patrick focused on research as a way to improve his application. I believe my application demonstrated an aptitude for medicine and research, in addition to perseverance and diligence, qualities that are vital to success as demonstrated and communicated by my mentors.” While conducting research, Patrick had the privilege to have his work published in the 2013 American Society of Nephrology Conference Abstracts, received an NIH supplement grant to an RO1 (Research Project Grant), and continued to work with students facing similar barriers to medicine and research that he did. Patrick shares, “I believe a strength of my application involves my career goals of becoming a physician-scientist.”

Dr. Damon reflected on his experiences in this way, “I did not personally review Patrick’s AMCAS application, but I do know that his application to our medical master’s program reflected his creativity, resilience, motivation, and dedication to serving others. Patrick is distinguished by his ability to face challenging life experiences, his overwhelming dedication to helping others, and his very positive outlook on life despite the challenges he has faced.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Patrick M, Core Competencies
Patrick with his wife, Lauren, at a friend's wedding.

As a student, every networking or professional event is an opportunity to make a positive impression that will be remembered later. Dr. Lorenz shares, “I had met Patrick at our regional Southeastern Medical Scientist Symposium. This is a meeting for both MD-PhD students and undergraduates interested in becoming physician-scientists. Patrick presented a poster at that symposium before he had even applied to our program, and I was very impressed with his poster presentation and his demeanor during the meeting.”

One of the significant differentiators of Patrick’s application was his substantial amount of volunteer and paid medically-related research and work experiences. Applicants often ask if a volunteer experience is viewed more favorably than a paid experience. However, what matters most to admissions committees is what the student learned and how it informed their preparation and knowledge about medicine.

Personal Statement

Patrick felt he needed to highlight the aspects of his path to medicine/research in order to stand out from other applicants. “I shared the experiences I had growing up. They ranged from homelessness to interacting and working with leaders in medicine and research. I had several individuals review and edit my medical school application, including my mentors, professors while at Emory, and close friends and family. I believe my essay illustrated many of the qualities UAB looked for, like dedication to scientific inquiry, ethical conduct, and unity of purpose.”

Dr. Damon recalled, “In his personal statement, Patrick shared some of the difficulties in his personal life, including how he was raised by a single mother on the streets of Los Angeles and that his brother has a congenital heart defect. I did not review his application, but our admission committee was impressed with his research experience and the depth and breadth of his medical and service experiences.“

Anatomy of an Applicant,  Patrick M, Core Competencies
From left to right: Patricks' wife, Lauren; Patrick; youngest brother, Gabriel; brother, Alvin; sister, Diana.

Dr. Lorenz further went on to say, “It was clear from his essay that Patrick had a passion for biomedical research. He wanted to help patients through clinical care and also develop new approaches to diagnosis and the understanding of disease.”

Letters of Evaluation

For Patrick, it was important to have letter writers that could speak not only to the professional relationships he had forged, but also to show how those relationships impacted his path to medicine. Patrick explains, “I started by writing to the individuals I selected, articulating the impact they had on me and how a letter of evaluation from them would strengthen my application. I felt letters from these individuals would be incredibly helpful in providing objective perspectives on my traits.”

Patrick’s research essay and his letters of evaluation were critical in helping to illustrate his passion for science and his expertise in research. His letter writers also reinforced Patrick’s humility and how much they admired him. After getting to know Patrick better, said Dr. Lorenz, “I learned that although his recommenders had found out about his challenging upbringing, Patrick never used this as a crutch or even talked about it. Patrick wants to make it on his own and just wants to be given a fair chance. I learned that he enjoys a scientific challenge and he loves to talk about science. He was always trying to give back to others and would help train other undergraduates in the laboratory. He was also involved in volunteer and leadership roles, including the Emory Kidney Mentoring and Assessment Program for Students – where he helped organize health fairs to bring kidney disease awareness to medically-underserved communities.”

Interview

Patrick realized he needed to prepare for the interviews with the same intensity he approached preparing his application. He remembers, “While in my master’s program, I utilized multiple resources, including ethics passages, videos designed to improve interviewing skills, in-person mock interviews, and reflection.” 

The admissions staff was impressed by his personal presentation. “I found that he was a very mature young man who had extensively thought about his goals and how he needed to prepare himself to be successful in those goals. He used all of his interactions to help learn not only about our program, but also asking for advice to make him a better future physician-scientist,” reflected Dr. Lorenz.

Why Patrick Chose UAB

My goals of pursuing a career as a physician-scientist aligned well with the mission of the MD-PhD program, along with pursuing service to underserved individuals, which is also highly valued at University of Alabama at Birmingham. The importance of personal relationships, mentorship and successful pathways stressed by UAB resonated with my values and goals. UAB’s record of students matching to competitive residencies contributed to my decision to attend.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Patrick M, Core Competencies
Patrick with family and friends at UAB's White Coat ceremony

Why UAB Chose Patrick

Our program is known for its student involvement in both medical school organizations as well as community outreach. Patrick’s clear leadership abilities and his demonstrated commitment to community outreach was a good fit for our program. In addition, we look for students who have the experiences to show that they are committed to a career as a physician-scientist. Patrick clearly had numerous experiences and was one of those students.”

Through his secondary application, it was clear that he realized his low GPA in college would hurt his MD-PhD application. He found a way to show us that he could do graduate level coursework by completing his MS at Eastern Virginia.” Dr. Lorenz went on to share, “he has significant financial responsible for his family. He has traveled a very long distance from his disadvantaged childhood to being an MD-PhD student. We were impressed by his persistence towards achieving that goal. Patrick’s ability to seek out advice and then actually follow through with it, are attributes that we value in our students,

“I am continuously amazed by how calm he is in the face of continued adversity,” she says, “I wish all of my students faced life with his optimism.”

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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.

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.

Organized kidney health fairs for medially-underserved communities through the Emory Kidney Mentoring and Assessment Program for Students (MAPS); volunteered for various organizations over the years.

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.

Presented at the Southeastern Medical Scientist Symposium, served as a translator at Good Samaritan Clinic.

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.

Trained undergraduates in the lab; mentored high school students.

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.

Served as a graduate senior curriculum instructor and mentor; made connections at networking and professional events.

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.

Background as first-generation immigrant and financial difficulties; completed a biomedical Master of Science to address academic deficits.

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.

Retook the MCAT to show increased science competency.    

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.

Coursework in this area; renal medicine research specialist.

Icon of a notebook and pencil Written Communication Written Communication

Effectively conveys information to others by using written words and sentences.

Published conference abstracts; received an NIH supplement grant.

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Strongest Competencies

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

  • Icon of a person climbing stairs
  • Icon of two hands holding a globe
  • Icon showing four hands meeting in the middle
Patrick's Tips
  • "Address weaknesses in your application. Despite my lackluster performance in college, I was able to show that I would be successful in medicine by excelling in research."
  • "Develop relationships with leaders and have conversations about their pathway in medicine and research."
  • "Don’t give up! After not being accepted to med school the first time, I completed a master’s program that exposed me to medical school level coursework. This demonstrated my ability to succeed and prepared me for the rigor of med school."
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