Dipika Gaur

As someone who retook the MCAT exam and took several gap years before medical school, Dipika reminds pre-meds that their path to medical school may not be a straight line.

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Undergraduate: New York University, 2014
Major: Individualized Major, Concentration: Global Health Equity
Graduate school: Boston University, 2017
Medical school: Rush Medical College, 2021

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

In elementary school, I wanted to be a professional basketball player. Being the tallest in my class helped that dream along for a while. In middle school, I wanted to be a journalist, drawing inspiration from Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. As I began pulling at what truly inspired me about these men, I realized that it was their drive to impact the lives of others and share narratives.

What led to your interest in medicine?

A combination of my dad’s commitment to helping others by volunteering with multiple non-profit organizations,  and watching countless TV shows with Dr. Sanjay Gupta motivated me to regularly question whether I could see myself as a clinician.

What experiences did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you?

In college, I traveled to Rwanda, South Africa, and India, learning about the challenges that many communities face accessing quality care and maintaining good health. I had two very impactful realizations during my college travels: (1) I love learning from people who are unlike me (2) I fiercely believe that everyone should be able to access and utilize quality health care services. These convictions are my constant confirmation that medicine is right for me.

Who or what inspired you?

I am inspired by the moments where I find myself out of my comfort zone and in unfamiliar territory. It is nerve-wracking, but it is also where I have experienced the most personal growth. Whether it be talking to patients I volunteer with, learning a new research skill, or traveling to a country I’ve never visited before, I am constantly inspired by how a few moments of discomfort can have a lasting impact on my perspectives and personality.

What did you do during your gap years?

A few days after graduating in December 2013, I flew to Rwanda and traveled around the country for three weeks. Then, I started working as a Community Outreach Assistant at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In this role, I engaged directly with immigrant communities across New York City to mitigate barriers to quality health care. This experience strengthened my desire to help socioeconomically and culturally diverse populations benefit from affordable, dignified medical care.

In September 2015, I moved to Boston to matriculate into an MS in Medical Sciences/MPH in Global Health dual degree program at Boston University, which I am currently enrolled in. Through the MS degree coursework, I have strengthened my academic preparedness for medical school. Through the MPH degree, I am developing the skills needed to design, implement, and evaluate health programs in resource-limited settings.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

I began preparing for the process in January of the application year. I used Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) site to conduct thorough research on medical schools. Mission statements, average GPA/MCAT scores, course requirements, and location were the factors I looked at first. This process was very useful for identifying which schools I would apply to and noting what values each school looked for in their applicants. In mid-January, I spent a few hours free-writing ideas for my personal statement. I didn’t write with the intention that every word I wrote would end up in the final draft. Instead, I wanted to revisit and reflect on my most impactful experiences. A few weeks later, I went back to the free-write, and turned it into a complete first draft. It took many rounds of edits to turn my first draft into my final personal statement.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

I took the MCAT twice, and my biggest concern while preparing for the first one was testing anxiety. I was so nervous to take a practice test, because I was terrified of getting a bad score. I wish I had approached my fears with the perspective that, “yes, you might not score well on this one test, but that is why it’s called a practice test.” The more you practice and learn from your mistakes, the better you get. 

When preparing for my second attempt, I made a few strict rules: 1) no cell phones, no Facebook, (insert preferred mode of procrastination here) while studying 2) every hour of studying, take a 10-minute fresh air break 3) incorporate practice questions into every single study day 4) simulate the testing day environment for every practice test. Creating these rules meant acknowledging my own bad habits (i.e. cell phones, not taking enough breaks) and fears (i.e. not wanting to do questions, testing anxiety), and actively working over a 3-month period to tackle them. These strategies were tremendously helpful and my second MCAT score improved significantly. 

What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam?

Practice tests! Take your first practice test before you begin your study schedule. I know it’s terrifying, but it is vital to understanding the amount of endurance required to think critically for hours at a time. As you design a study schedule, remember to include practice tests at regular intervals. This will allow you to continue developing the ability to sit, think, and apply information for a long period of time. I always scheduled one day for the practice test, and the next day to review every question (right or wrong!).

What are you planning to do before staring medical school now that you’ve been accepted?

After finishing graduate school in May, I will be traveling across southern India (a part of the country I’ve yet to explore!) for a few weeks. I also have an unspeakably long list of books to read, and getting through most of the list is a goal for this summer before medical school. Other than that, I’ll be spending as much time as I can with my family and friends before moving to Chicago!

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

Make room for the unexpected. You may plan for the path to medical school to be a straight line, and it might not be. Be willing to reflect on, reassess, and mold your plan. Adaptability and persistence are character traits that will help you at every step of the process to medical school and a career in medicine.

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