Justin Mauser

Justin's two unsuccessful application cycles allowed him to have gap year experiences that confirmed medicine was right for him, including becoming an EMT, scribing, and doing a cross-country bike tour for charity.

Justin-Mauser-headshot.jpg
Undergraduate: University of Arizona, 2011
Major: Biochemistry
Medical school: Virginia Commonwealth University, 2018
Residency Training Program: Currently applying to Family Medicine residency

 

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

During elementary school I was set on becoming a weather forecaster on a local news station. In fact, I insisted that my parents buy me a suit so I could wear it to class pictures and look the part. I would enthusiastically shriek with joy when weather alerts scrolled across the TV screen and proceeded to annoy my parents by naming the clouds of the late summer Phoenix monsoon storms. As I grew older, the thought of standing in front of a camera daily started to seem desirable, but a career in science remained at heart.

What led to your interest in medicine?

My path to becoming a physician was inspired by several shadowing experiences late in high school and early in college. One such experience was with a pediatrician I worked with in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Shapiro was an advocate for patient health in many facets of healthcare, acting passionately in the clinic and staunchly defending patient rights in health policy. This experience enlightened me on healthcare disparities, the impact of compassionate healthcare, and the art of medicine. It was then that I realized I too could become a part of this scientific, humanistic endeavor.

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

As counterintuitive as it might sound, my two sequential application cycle rejections confirmed medicine was the right career path. My plan ‘A’ was to forego a gap year and directly enter medical school after undergraduate graduation in unison with many of my friends and classmates, but after being rejected, I decided it was time to open my eyes to a world outside of the classroom. I set out on a solo, self-supported cross-country bicycle tour from Bar Harbor, Maine to Tucson, Arizona. Inspired by Dr. Shapiro’s pediatric clinic, I realized the impact of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and decided to donate any proceeds from the tour to their cause. In the end, more than $8,000 went towards granting a wish to a deserving child. Like the ride, I wanted my work to be dedicated to bringing hope and joy to people even when their circumstances might feel hopeless and insurmountable.

What did you do in your gap years between college and medical school?

Once I completed my bicycle tour I chose to move to Colorado Springs for the active lifestyle and outdoor adventure. During this time, I soul searched and soon found the desire to pursue EMT training and Wilderness First Response. I worked as a hospital scribe after completing this training and, in addition, volunteered for a hospice service in Tucson. Though sometimes these gap years felt like a stressful purgatory, they are now regarded as some of the best years of my life.

What are your MCAT tips for applicants preparing to take the exam?

I made the decision to take the MCAT in the midst of my junior year of college, prior to completing all of the prerequisite courses. In hindsight, I believe my immaturity at this point negatively affected my score. My advice, after improving on my second MCAT attempt, is to (a) give yourself adequate study time each day with a reasonable and specific plan (b) complete prerequisite courses prior to the test to increase knowledge-base and (c) maintain a good work-life balance while studying. When I gave myself time to exercise, maintain contact with friends and family, and daily ‘mental sanity’ breaks from my studying, I was far more effective and efficient.

Did you have any fears going into medical school?

A common sensation after admission to medical school is Impostor Syndrome, which is the feeling that one is inadequate and cannot possibly be good enough to be a medical student. There were times when I felt like the resident or attending was going to walk up to me in my white coat and notice my “inadequacy.” This of course never happened and, the more that time went on, the more I realized nearly every classmate I spoke with was dealing with similar feelings to some extent.

How did you prepare for medical school before your first day?

I would highly recommend taking time to relax, vacation, socialize, and bask in the transient, liberating feeling of freedom before the core studies of medical school begin. On a side note, my school’s orientation period was priceless in forming precious friendships with my classmates. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable the social events are during the defined orientation week(s), since you will have less time once classes are in full swing.

What makes your story unique?

As a current 4th year student, I designed a project that placed me back on the bicycle saddle for another bicycle tour. The goals of my project included a review of the scientific literature on the clinical effectiveness of mindfulness meditation, hands-on practical applications of meditation, and a fundraising effort for the Association for Suicide Prevention (ASFP). In the end, my close friend and I were able to raise more than $2,000 for the ASFP after riding 900 miles over the course of 2 weeks between Dillon, Montana and Steamboat Springs, Colorado through the Rocky Mountains. (If you are curious, we have a website where you can read about the project.)

What did you enjoy most about medical school?

Medical school is a time for personal discovery, friendship, and meeting new people. As a medical student, I was intimately involved in patient care and felt like an explicit member of the care team. Whether I was delivering news to a patient or their family, retracting for the surgeon in the OR, or riding my bike in the Rocky Mountains for meditation research and suicide prevention, I felt like I was in the right place. I was thankful to be fulfilling my goal to improve the health of those in my community while making strides to becoming the competent physician I envisioned myself becoming.

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

Once you are admitted to medical school, it is for a reason. I can assure you that the admissions committee has legitimate faith, after years of selecting students, that you have the capacity to succeed in becoming a doctor. My recommendation is to avoid comparing yourself to your peers and instead focus on your personal betterment and becoming the best healer you can be. “Keep your hopes up high, and your head down low!”

 

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