Sotonye Douglas

Sotonye’s journey to medical school was one of resilience, determination, and perseverance. Her advice to applicants is to do your research, find mentors aligned with your goal, and use your support system when you feel defeated.
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Undergraduate university and year of graduation: SUNY University at Albany, 2015
Major: (Double) Human Biology / Art 
Graduate: Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, 2018 – Master’s of Biomedical Sciences 
Medical school and expected year of graduation: Quinnipiac University, Frank H Netter School of Medicine, 2023 

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

I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. When we would visit the pediatrician, I would inquire about the other patients. I would ask the pediatrician if I could follow her around.

What led to your interest in medicine?

I always had a creative mind and a love for art. For me, art drew me to science, and medicine tied it all together. In junior high school, I was in the New York City Department of Education’s Gifted and Talented Program. This program gave students exposure to opportunities such as a human anatomy crash course. The students in the gifted and talented program were recommended to participate and my love for science made me a perfect fit. This interaction with the structures inside the human body was incredible. The organ models were art sculptures to me. The colors were vibrant and like a well-composed painting. I was captivated, and this combination of art and anatomy developed into a curiosity for medicine.

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

I entered high school with the mindset of becoming a future doctor. Although at that time I had never met an African American physician, I proudly told my teachers that I would be a doctor. Coincidentally, a few months into high school I met my first African American female pediatrician and I was in complete awe. I needed to see a doctor and I ended up at her office due to scheduling constraints with my regular pediatrician. I admired her connection with her patients; it was an experience I wanted everyone in my community to have. Increasing the underrepresented physician workforce is very important to me. I am proud to be a part of organizations like The Student National Medical Association (SNMA) that strive to achieve this.

Who or what inspired you?

Dr. Rhonda Cambridge was the first African American female pediatrician I met, and the way she connected with her patients and understood their needs truly resonated with me. She constantly reminded her patients that optimizing their health was paramount to leading productive lives. Beyond being a physician, she was an invaluable mentor. She possessed several qualities that stood out to me. First of all, she was compassionate; I felt she truly cared about me and my future decisions. She was also trustworthy; I could share information with her that I didn’t have the strength to tell anyone else. And lastly, she was dedicated, I could tell her heart was in medicine and the education she shared with me. 

I want to embody Dr. Cambridge by reciprocating these qualities with my future patients. By treating patients with compassion and dedication, as well as her mentorship of premedical students such as myself, she was able to transform our community at the individual, family, and societal level.

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

My first year of college I struggled financially and academically. This led me to fail General Chemistry II during the summer between freshman and sophomore year. I was disappointed, but I was determined to improve. I met with my premedical advisor and after a quick glance at my grades, she advised me to look into alternative professions. She believed that two semesters of grades and a summer term were enough to determine my future. This unfortunately removed the advice and support component from my undergraduate institution. I would spend the next few years researching and seeking mentors out on my own, independent of my home institution. I never returned to her office and years later I realized that I was one of many who she attempted to deter from medical school. 

I have always been quite stubborn about my dreams, and I refused to take “No” for an answer. I used her words as fuel for my commitment to medicine. I envisioned myself in my white coat and I would not stop until that moment became reality. I focused, retook General Chemistry II, balanced my other classes, extracurricular activities, and a job. By the end of the year I was able to draw strength and motivation from myself. I received an A- in General Chemistry II and made Dean’s List.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

I applied to medical school twice. The first time was the year following my undergraduate graduation. In the first application cycle, I did not plan effectively. I compiled my extracurricular activities but that was the only major planning. I did not choose schools efficiently - I believe you have to match yourself to prospective schools. For example, if research is important to you it should also be important to your prospective medical school.
 
After receiving my 15th rejection letter, a google search led me to explore Master of Science degree programs, and I ultimately enrolled in an MS degree in Biomedical Sciences offered at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. This program was geared towards medical school matriculation. The program description on their website read, “Whether you are seeking to position yourself for further graduate study, attend professional school (such as medical, dental or optometry), gain entry into a health-related field, or advance within your organization.” 

I applied for the second time after earning a master's degree. This time I was completely prepared for every single section on the application. The master's program had a class dedicated to professional development and we had class sessions dedicated to each section of the application. My personal statement, extracurricular section, and essays were graded and evaluated. This gave me a lot of time to reflect and edit each section appropriately. I planned to apply early and I submitted my application on June 10th, a few weeks after it opened. I chose schools that were a good fit for me, based on their average GPA, MCAT score, and their commitment to community service. Community service was a large theme throughout my life and it was important I matriculated to a school that also valued their surrounding community.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

I took the MCAT exam three times. My first attempt was the exam prior to the 2015 exam. I thought I could effectively study for it during the senior year of my undergraduate career. This did not go as planned and it was largely due to failure to prepare. I was not ready to take the exam.
 
My second attempt was with the current version of the MCAT and once again I was not prepared for the exam. Although I scheduled more study time, the illusion of extra time in combination with other responsibilities could not compensate for the deficiencies in my knowledge. The end result was two MCAT scores that were uncompetitive despite hours of studying and a preparatory course.

My academic profile required enhancement within the sciences and my MCAT score needed improvement. During graduate school, I improved my time management skills and revised my studying strategies. After graduation, I took another preparatory course and saw significant improvement in my content knowledge with a final score increase of 17 points from my first MCAT exam.

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

Fix your deficiencies in content knowledge. Sharpen your strengths with practice. Practice the exam under test-taking conditions and review correct and incorrect questions.

Did you have any fears going into medical school?

My fears entering medical school stemmed from Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is a feeling of not belonging even though you have earned your place. There were times I believed my dreams would never come true. It took a few months to fully realize that I had actually accomplished getting accepted to medical school. I experienced moments when I believed someone would wake me up from this dream. It is a complex feeling to be proud of your accomplishments yet still doubt yourself.

What kind of financial aid did you need to pay for medical school?

My school has scholarships in place that you can apply for prior to matriculation. I applied and I was awarded the Leadership Scholarship which covers a substantial portion of the first and second year. I also received a need-based scholarship based on family income.

Did you have to change any of your study habits?

One thing I have learned is everyone studies differently and there is no one correct way to study. Also, different material requires you to study differently. My study habits are constantly evolving. Some of the changes I have made since graduate school include the elimination of typing my notes - with the volume of material this is very time-consuming. I utilize OneNote because it allows me to add directly to the slide. Certain pathways or topics are best learned through repetitive drawing or sketching. This is always a unique opportunity to sharpen my art skills. If I can draw out a structure I can visualize it better when needed. I have increased the number of practice problems I complete. This includes reviewing the correct and incorrect answers thoroughly. I also increased the study resources that I use. There is a wealth of videos, text resources, applications, and other resources to solidify information. The goal is to understand what the teaching source is trying to convey, not just memorize.

Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.

I am currently involved in a few different extracurricular activities. I am the treasurer of the Frank H Netter School of Medicine SNMA Chapter. I am the Program Manager for SNMA’s National Future Leadership Project. The National Future Leadership Project is an initiative that mentors the future leaders of SNMA. It was immensely important to maintain involvement with the SNMA because their pipeline program – The Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, as well as other networking opportunities played a huge role in my journey.  

Through their Annual Medical Education Conference (AMEC) I gained one-on-one advising from medical school admissions officers at the exhibitors hall. AMEC sessions also included resume building, personal statement review, MCAT study strategies, and much more. The Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS) gave me a support network through activities with other pre-medical students across the country. A few of these events were volunteering activities that were included on my application to medical school. MAPS also gave me a few invaluable mentors; all MAPS chapters are partnered with SNMA chapters to ensure mentorship. 

I also volunteer for the Office of Admissions to lead tours and interview lunches. I am a volunteer for Cheshire Wellness Friday’s. The Cheshire Transitional Program helps students with an autism spectrum disorder develop the social, academic and professional skills needed to excel. I also lead a class of elementary students once a month for the Netter Jr Health Career Pathways Club. This pipeline program is so similar to the program that inspired me in junior high school.

What makes your story unique?

My story is one of resilience, determination, and perseverance. Statistically speaking I should not currently be a medical student. One hardship after the next, the odds were stacked against me from the start. Growing up in Brooklyn, New York had its challenges. I navigated through communities plagued with violence. You have to grow up a little faster when you live in New York City. I was 12 years-old when one of my classmates was shot in the head over a pair of sneakers and a few dollars. At the end of every school year, you would hope everyone survived the summer break. There was always a funeral and the scary stories were not just on the news, I lived them. I have witnessed the suffering that happens in disadvantaged communities. Violence, inadequate health care, poverty and a high incidence of preventable diseases. This is where my passion for improving communities was born. I strongly believe you can improve a community by improving the health of its members.

Being a first-generation American - born to parents who immigrated from Nigeria and Jamaica -  while trying to navigate entry into medical school was difficult. My parents worked very hard to ensure that we would have a better life. New York City is a very expensive place to live. At the age of 14, I got my first job to reduce the financial burden. Throughout high school and my undergraduate career, I juggled school, work, and extra-curricular activities. I struggled academically during my undergraduate career and this impacted my pre-requisite grades and my competitiveness for medical school.

To improve as an applicant, I decided to pursue a Master's of Biomedical Sciences geared towards medical school entry. Graduate school was challenging but with enough financial aid to cover living expenses I resolved my deficiencies in the core sciences. I improved my time management skills, revised my studying strategies, and maintained two student leadership positions. I developed myself as an applicant and became a better student, which is paramount to becoming a life-long learner. I successfully graduated with a Magna Cum Laude GPA. I challenged myself to improve as a student and I rose to the occasion.
 
My faith in God gave me the strength to keep going when I felt like giving up, Philippians 4:13. There is a purpose in the obstacles I overcame, and I hope that others can benefit from my story. Statistically speaking I would not become a physician, but my determination tells a different story.

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

My advice to applicants is to keep going - you got this. Focus on your goals and don’t let anything interfere with your vision. Do your research and find mentors aligned with your goal. Use your support system when you feel defeated.

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