Allison Lyle

Allison got accepted on her fourth application to medical school. She shares mistakes from her first three applications and how she stayed motivated.

Allison Lyle

Undergraduate: Indiana University, 2009
Major: Biochemistry
Graduate School: University of Louisville, 2011
Major: Bioethics and Medical Humanities
Medical school: University of Louisville School of Medicine, 2017

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

I shadowed my pediatrician, Dr. Lynn Gulley, for a high school project and immediately fell in love with the profession. Of all the adults that I knew at the time, he seemed to find absolute joy in his work, and it was infectious. I loved kids, medicine was fascinating to me, and the amount of good I saw being done in his practice made an impression on me that was unparalleled in every other profession I considered. Thirteen years later, I matriculated at his alma mater, and my newborn daughter is now one of his patients. It’s funny how things come full circle if you wait long enough.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

After my third attempt at applying, I was at the point of giving up all hope. With my husband’s encouragement, I prepared for my fourth and final application, no matter the outcome. This meant preparing for the MCAT again; my previous scores were too old to be admissible for this application cycle.

Being several years out of school and science classes, I was apprehensive about taking the exam again, hoping that somehow I could gain a higher score to boost my application. I was so embarrassed to be taking this exam one more time, which increased my feelings of inadequacy. Thankfully, this exam went well, and was probably the best thing I did to improve my application.

Did you need financial aid to pay for medical school?

Yes I did. I was fortunate enough to earn a full scholarship for my bachelor’s degree, and my institution paid my graduate tuition while I worked full-time, so I was able to enter medical school without debt. However, being an out-of-state student at a public school, I still needed loans to cover my tuition.

What was your first year of medical school like?

The week before orientation, my father began having concerning, unexplained health issues. This made my first few months of medical school especially stressful, since I was racked with worry and tried to spend as much time as possible with my family during his illness.

After my father obtained a diagnosis and began to improve, my husband and I decided to try to begin our own family. In October, we learned that we were expecting and would become parents over my last summer break. Being a successful medical student was made more difficult by four months of horrendous morning sickness. There were days where simply getting out of bed was a victory. Thankfully, I was able to get enough of a reprieve to still perform well on exams and successfully complete my first year, accomplishing most of the goals I set for myself.

What makes your story unique?

My first medical school application was not successful. Neither was my second, or third. There were several mistakes that I made that cost me a lot of time and heartache. Reapplying came with its own obstacles: Even though I was familiar with the application process, I felt inadequate and inept. My confidence was shaken. I was embarrassed and questioned every step of the process, from my personal statement to my interview answers to which schools I considered. During my last application cycle, the only people who knew I had applied were my husband and parents. The self-doubt was the most grueling part of the process, even after I was offered multiple acceptances in my final cycle.

Looking back now, I could have benefited from having more than one premedical advisor to gain different perspectives on the application process. My mistakes were overestimating the competitiveness of my application, applying to too few schools, having an average MCAT score, and applying too late. In the meantime, I was able to pursue a graduate degree in an area that interested me and shaped my future career path, get married, travel, and work as a research technician for several years.

During my time as a graduate student, I was able to sit in on bioethics committees at several local hospitals, round with preceptors in several specialties, and found that my desire to become a pediatrician and possibly a neonatologist was stronger than ever, so I decided that an unsuccessful application would not be the end of my story.

Taking one or more “gap years” may not be the right choice for everyone, but I am glad I had that time to grow professionally and personally before beginning my medical training. During grad school, I found a passion for pediatric ethics that has given me a slightly different direction for my long-term career plans, and interests which are very different from what I thought I wanted the first time I applied to medical school.

How did you balance the demands of medical school with additional obligations and challenges?

I do not know how I could have survived my first year without the love and support of my husband, family, and friends. I feared that being pregnant, in addition to being a bit older than my classmates, would make me seem as though I was not serious about my education. Luckily for me, my professors, classmates, and school administration were extremely supportive, which calmed my fears and allowed me to stay focused on the work at hand. My success is directly attributable to my family, friends, classmates, and ULSOM.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

I try to treat school like a job—leaving it at the door when I come home—so I can spend time winding down and recharging while I reconnect with my husband and daughter. This doesn’t always work, especially on weekends before big exams, but I am forever a work in progress.

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

The process of applying to medical school is long, hard, and expensive, and there is no guarantee of being accepted. If being a doctor is truly your dream, don’t give up after an unsuccessful application cycle. Learn what you can do to improve, work hard, and keep pushing forward.

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