Ilana Zago

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I knew early on that paying for medical school applications was going to be a tremendous barrier for me. I chose to set that worry aside to focus on studying for the MCAT and refining my personal statement. When the time came, it became very clear I lacked the funds necessary to register for the MCAT and submit my applications as a financially independent student. These benefits opened the door for me to apply to medical school and fulfill my dream of being accepted. I cannot express enough gratitude for this program and the opportunities it provided.

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Ilana Zago

Medical School: Texas Christian University and University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine
Expected Graduation Year: 2024
Undergraduate Institution: University of California, Santa Barbara 
Major: Biological Sciences

Why I’m becoming a doctor

My decision to pursue medicine stemmed from my passion for creative writing. I discovered at a young age that my gift was the written word. Whenever a loved one was sick or needed uplifting, I would write a poem. I was inspired by the way their eyes would light up when I began reading; the way smiles appeared on faces with furrowed brows. However, I discovered that while my words could bring a smile to their faces, they could do little to heal their pain. Sensing my words had reached their limit, an unsettling feeling lingered within me. 

As time progressed, I found myself in my first biology class at my arts-based high school among the few students sitting attentively in the front row, passionately soaking up every golden word my teacher was saying. The intricacies of the organ systems ignited my curiosity, so I took the lead in our class dissections, feeling a newfound sense of belonging in that classroom. The unsettling feeling withered away as my desire to pursue medicine took hold. 

I looked forward to my beloved visits with our family pediatrician, yearning to gain a deeper understanding of physiology. Each encounter left me in awe of his expertise and tremendous compassion. As a high school student, I wanted to become a doctor for naïve reasons. At that time, I knew that I deeply resonated with biology and wanted to help people in a more tangible way than my writing could. The white coat symbolized someone compassionate, respected, and knowledgeable. Now, as a medical student, I want to become a doctor because of a deep understanding of the empathy, self-sacrifice, and dedication required to give someone a chance for a healthy and long life. The feeling of wanting to do more than just portray hope with a poem is what continues to drive me forward, as I dedicate my life to the complete healing of others.

My experience with the AAMC Fee Assistance Program

I used the following benefits during my premed journey: 

I became familiar with the Fee Assistance Program, while conducting some research on the AAMC Website. Fortunately, I came across the program prior to registering for the MCAT exam which was a big help as it allowed me to benefit from the reduced registration cost. Access to the MSAR was critical in establishing which medical schools I would apply to. Without knowing the school’s statistics, such as mean GPA, acceptance information, required coursework, and MCAT data, I would have been lost in navigating through all the different schools. The MSAR assisted me in crafting a list of schools that aligned with my values, matched my own statistics, and offered the opportunities I was seeking.  

Although, I found several of the program’s benefits to be incredibly useful, the waiver for all AMCAS fees, including the subsequent waiver of secondary application fees, was by far the most beneficial part of the Fee Assistance Program. These fees present a significant barrier on the path to becoming a physician, especially if one seeks to apply to a variety of schools. While at first, I chose to set aside this worry to focus on my application, I eventually had to face the reality that I did not have the funds necessary to submit my application. This program gave me a foundation and opened up the doors for me to pursue my dream of becoming a physician by applying to 20 medical schools as a first-time applicant. 

Advice to future applicants

My biggest piece of advice for future applicants is to plan ahead! Be sure to apply to the Fee Assistance Program before you begin studying for the MCAT exam, so you can take advantage of the official preparation products and discounted registration fee. Also, be mindful of the timeframe for using program benefits, as they expire on December 31st of the calendar year following the year you were awarded (i.e. if you were awarded in February 2020, benefits expire on December 31, 2021). Additionally, If you do not understand a part of the application, reach out to the AAMC Fee Assistance Program team! They were so helpful at explaining the requirements and guiding me through the process.   

These students’ testimonials were selected because they represent diverse stories. The views expressed herein are those of the students and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the AAMC.


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