Abdul Hassan

Abdul is inspired by his mother's nearly fatal medical complications and his late mentor's battle with cancer.

Adul Hassan
Undergraduate: University of California, Santa Cruz, 2011
Major: Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology
Medical school: University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, 2018

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Growing up, I was always inspired and amazed by the ocean. I wanted more than anything to be an underwater explorer—a la Jacques Cousteau. One of my childhood fantasies was to be the first person ever to film a giant squid in the wild! I was lucky enough to have grown up along the coast and always had my love for the ocean supported and bolstered by my family. I still remember walking up and down the pier, and gazing into ocean, wondering what amazing creatures lurked beneath.

Fortunately, my love for the sea is still active with SCUBA diving and surfing being two of my favorite hobbies.

What led to your interest in medicine?

In my culture, family is an open and malleable term; it’s not limited to only blood relations. This gave me an unparalleled sense of inclusion as well as an ever-growing and evolving family. And as varied as all of the individuals in my family are, there is a common thread that runs through us all, the human connection, which I have become deeply enamored with.

No matter one’s race or gender, we are all people. We are all connected in that sense, and medicine was a career that would not only allow me to help heal, but to help connect and expand my ever-growing family. Physicians have always touched my life and I became interested in the idea that I may one day be able to not only heal and better another’s life, but also extend a piece of myself to my own colleagues and patients. 

Who or what inspired you?

When my mother was studying to be a nurse, she would occasionally let me help by testing her with flashcards. Simple as it was for her to run through definitions, I was mesmerized by the plethora of knowledge devoted to the human body’s inner workings. Even more so, I was amazed that my mother and other medical professionals were able to memorize, understand and use this information to help diagnose and heal people.

As the years went on, I became more interested and attracted to the world of medical science. Hearing stories about her patients, and how blessed she felt to be a positive force in so many people’s lives, helped underscore my drive for creating an ever-evolving and thriving family, as well as expanding the human connection, all within the realm of medicine.

What made you decide to go to medical school?

The decision to finally pursue medical school came in 2004 when my mother became very ill and nearly lost her life due to medical complications. Even though I had been raised under the impression that the hospital was a place of healing, I was beginning to see and understand how that is not always the case.

Being a part of my mother’s near-death experience showed me the courage and compassion physicians have, especially in the face of mortality. Having been exposed to that level of commitment in patient care, as well as to the reality of medicine, changed me in profound ways. I was certain that I wanted to become a part of this cadre that dedicated itself to the service of others, and even in the darkest of situations, and maintained a steadfast commitment to their patients. 

Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?

I feel very fortunate in that everyone in my life has been incredibly supportive, from my high school teachers who helped cultivate and nurture my motivation for medicine, to my college professors who were intimately involved in my application. Additionally, my friends and family were nothing but adamant in their support and encouragement in my decision to practice medicine.

Even with all the stresses of the pre-medical life and the application process, I was never without a shoulder to lean on.

Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?

I find that most recently, my inspiration for medicine has shifted towards a late mentor of mine. He was my best friend’s father and an incredibly compassionate and earnest physician’s assistant. Amidst his battle with bladder cancer, he remained fervent in his belief that medicine was the single best career in existence.

It was not only his passion for medicine that inspired me, but also what he has left behind. During the decade I was blessed to have him in my life and in the months after his passing, there have been nothing but praises upon praises from his friends, family and not surprisingly, his patients. He owned his commitment to medicine and wore it proudly. His love and dedication to his patients played a large part in confirming that I wanted to attend medical school, and it is the legacy he has left behind that all but solidifies my future goals in medicine and the physician I want to one day become.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

The most critical part of my medical school application process was beginning my application as early as possible. My personal statement and letters of recommendation were started and requested, respectively, about 7 months before my primary application submission in July 2013. Focusing on my personal statement over many months and having my letters requested and received in a timely manner made the whole process easier.

Also, I looked at my overall GPA and MCAT score and used the Medical School Admissions Requirements website, nearly religiously, to effectively choose the schools that I would apply to. By applying to schools that fit my statistics and my personal interests, I narrowed down the number of schools I applied to, which was both a time and money saving approach. Having an idea of what each school had to offer me, as well as to how competitive of an applicant I was, aided tremendously when it came time to decide which secondary essays and interview invites to prioritize.

Lastly, I was never afraid to ask for help. I called the AAMC when necessary for clarification on the application process. I even reached out to friends already in medical school for advice.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

My biggest concern with the MCAT exam was not scoring well enough, a worry I am sure that every single pre-medical student faces at one point or another. But more than that, I was worried the MCAT would not speak to the admissions committees about me as a person and about my intellectual skills outside of an exam.

While I was proud of my other accomplishments leading up to my MCAT, I wanted to make sure my MCAT score would highlight my work ethic and be a core component of my whole application, but not be the only aspect that made me a competitive applicant.

Did you need financial aid to pay for medical school?

Yes, I do. In fact, I am in the process of accepting my school-based and federal-based loans. While the whole process is overwhelming, my school is incredibly friendly and understands the pressures of the loan process.

For those of you worried about loans, it is a part of this whole journey and the best way to prepare is to build good monetary habits and learn to be fiscally responsible as soon as possible.

What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?

For anyone interested in medicine, I would recommend beyond all else to get as much shadowing time in as possible. Not only time within the hospitals, but also time spent interacting with medical professionals. They are your best source of information on the medical lifestyle and are invaluable assets when finalizing the decision to pursue medicine. They have been through all the trials and tribulations of the medical sojourn, so their advice is second to none.

Also, one should always be ready and accepting of the fact that the path from deciding to enter medicine to actually practicing is not a linear one. There will be ups and downs, backtracking and even complete deviations from your original trail. What matters above all else, is that you are able to remain steady amongst all the challenges that will come. Do not forget what or who it was that originally inspired you to practice medicine. Keep that idea at the center of all that you do and don’t forget to step back and take it all in, because before you know it, you will be wearing that white coat.  
Finally, when deciding upon which school to attend, be scrupulous in your search for a school that fits you. Do not ignore what makes you whole as a person. Finding a school that can highlight and support all the critical aspects of you will make the difference between thriving and simply surviving.

I believe what is important is not just that the school will help you become a doctor, but instead, guide you to becoming the doctor that you have dreamt of becoming. For me, what was most important was that I felt as if I had the support of not only the faculty, but also my fellow classmates. I have no doubts that I made the right choice in my school, and I urge all future applicants to seriously consider what a school can do for your upbringing and training as a future physician.

Do you have additional information or thoughts to share that would be helpful to prospective students?

I want to wish anyone who is making their way through the pre-medical landscape the best of luck in their endeavors! You will make a multitude of sacrifices, but they will all get you one step closer to a noble and as rewarding career in medicine.

If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?

Always make time for yourself! You will be spending most of your time in and out of classrooms and hospitals, but if you want to avoid burnout, you need to plan and dedicate time that is meant for you and anything that that will recharge and refocus you.

Also, have fun! You’re going to be learning and doing some amazing things, so remember how lucky you are to be here and enjoy every second of it!

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