Analise McGreal

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Analise, the first in her family to attend college, changed career paths from psychiatric research to medicine because she was inspired to work with patients.

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Undergraduate: University of Central Florida, 2015
Major: Psychology

Medical school: Mercer University School of Medicine, 2021

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

As a child, I wanted to be many things! The earliest I can remember is my desire to be a car designer in elementary school. I would draw different cars with bright colors and interesting patterns and show them to my mom all the time. After that phase passed, I was interested in being a teacher and used to create assignments and grade pretend papers for my “class”.

What led to your interest in medicine?

I actually didn’t decide to pursue medicine until after graduation from the University of Central Florida. When I graduated in 2015, I intended to pursue a career as a clinical psychologist and conduct psychiatric research. However, as I completed a post-baccalaureate year of research, I realized that I missed the clinical patient encounters I had experienced in undergrad. At this point, I decided to pursue medicine, which would allow me to treat patients in a broad capacity, while still conducting research on issues of interest.

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

During my post-baccalaureate research year, I sought out shadowing experiences in several medical specialties, including psychiatry, family medicine, and pediatrics to better understand the field and the daily demands of a physician. I loved being able to participate directly in patient care, and these experiences cemented my desire to switch from a fully research driven to a balanced clinical career. Since I was a psychology major in undergrad, I hadn’t yet fulfilled the pre-requisites for medical school, so it was at this time that I decided to enroll in a post-baccalaureate premedical program for career changers at Agnes Scott College, which offered a potential linkage to Mercer University School of Medicine.

Who or what inspired you?

In a broad sense, the patients inspired me. Once I started shadowing physicians to determine if medicine was the career for me, the patients I observed inspired me to change career paths. I realized I missed the clinical interaction I was afforded in undergrad and I knew I wanted to make a direct impact on patients’ lives. To me, the opportunity to continue treating patients and improving their quality of life was the biggest inspiration to change careers and attend medical school.

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

A few people discouraged me from attending medical school, particularly because, for me, the decision to attend medical school meant giving up a research assistant position at a prestigious university and returning to a post-baccalaureate program to complete the medical prerequisites. Although the postbac program at Agnes Scott offered a potential linkage to MUSM, it wasn’t guaranteed, and I still had to complete a normal AMCAS application. The uncertainty in the process and the potential to delay my graduate education by several years certainly motivated dissent from some. However, in general my family and close friends were very supportive of my decision. As you can see, it all worked out!

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

For me, the medical school application process was unique, since I applied through the linkage program between the Agnes Scott College post-baccalaureate program and Mercer University School of Medicine. Basically, interested students applied in October of our post-baccalaureate year, without completing the pre-requisites or taking the MCAT exam. If invited to an interview, Mercer considered us academically qualified and focused on our extracurricular activities and fit with their mission to meet the health care needs of rural and medically underserved Georgia. As such, I focused on explaining my interest in working with underserved populations, beginning during my psychology days at UCF, as well as ensuring that my post-baccalaureate grades would meet the criteria outlined in the conditional acceptance.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

Yes! As part of the conditional acceptance for the linkage agreement, I had to earn a certain score on the MCAT exam (505) to matriculate to Mercer in the fall. I took the MCAT on June 1, 2017, received my score on July 6, 2017, and started medical school about a month later. In the months leading up to the exam, I cannot count the amount of times I said the phrase “if I get the score” when discussing my plans for the next year. Quite literally, my future depended on my score and the study period was extremely stressful as a result (worst acne of my life!). In the end, I earned a 516, so the stress paid off, and the work ethic I developed during MCAT studying has definitely helped in medical school as well!

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

Practice tests, practice tests, and more practice tests! Especially the official AAMC ones. As I went through my set of review books, I highlighted important information from each chapter, then went back and reviewed the highlights each day before starting a new topic. Although I think this content review is important, the only way I really felt confident that I knew the material was through seeing my scores on practice exams. The exams help you get used to the test format, understand the level of comprehension and critical thinking expected of you, and provide a nice confidence boost when you see scores go up through the course of your studying!

Did you have any fears going into medical school?

Of course! Medical school, while exciting, is an overwhelming experience. In undergrad, I really enjoyed being involved with various activities outside of my major and I felt that extracurricular involvement allowed me to be a better-rounded student. I was worried I wouldn’t have time to do anything besides study in medical school, since I knew the workload would be double, if not triple, that in undergrad. However, I’ve found that, although it is a lot at first, you quickly adjust to the schedule and being busy all the time. I enjoy always being on the go and feeling productive – I am definitely studying MOST of the time, but I do feel that I have time for research, interest groups, and fun things as well!

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

To be honest – I relaxed! So much of my undergraduate and post-baccalaureate years were spent studying and preparing my CV that I knew a break was needed before diving head first into the medical school curriculum. Once medical school started, I knew I’d be consistently busy for the next 4 – 8 years, so I knew I should relax while I had the chance!

What made your medical school the right fit for you?

I love attending Mercer because of the supportive nature of our faculty and cohesiveness of our class – at Mercer, most everyone seems to genuinely like each other and care about each other’s well being. Faculty is receptive to student feedback and actually implement changes we suggest and students are willing to share study tips and resources, or spend time explaining a confusing concept. This non-competitive nature is extremely important and relieves a lot of pressure in the high stress environment of medical school.

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

I am paying for medical school and living expenses entirely from federal loans for graduate students. It was important to me to take on the responsibilty of paying for medical school myself. My mom has been amazing in supporting me through college and my post-baccalaureate years (and she and her husband still help me with my car payment, cell phone, and insurance), but I wanted to make an investment in my future when I decided to attend medical school.

Did you have to change any of your study habits?

Yes – Mercer has a problem based learning curriculum, meaning that each day in our small group sessions we are presented with a patient case and are expected to apply our knowledge from the reading and provided resources to explain the patient’s condition to ourselves and our classmates. This is a much more self-directed style of learning than I was used to in undergrad, and it holds students much more accountable for completing their work. As such, I have become more self-disciplined and follow a stricter study schedule to ensure I am prepared for group. At the same time, the learning style is motivating, since I leave every day feeling that I accomplished something, and that I have been able to help my classmates understand complex ideas as well.

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

A few of my friends and I founded a Medical and Bioethics Interest Group, where we discuss “hot topic” medical issues and work to develop sound ethical reasoning in future physicians. I also work on a patient-centered research project with the Department of Surgery at Mercer and will be completing a population health research internship at Emory this summer!

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to dedicate more time to self-care, especially after making it through the stress of first semester. Now, I dedicate one night a week (normally Sunday) to completely take off from studying and I’ll do a facemask, watch TV, or read a (non-medical) book. Scheduling in this time for self-care has reduced my stress and keeps my motivation high for the week ahead.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

I try to make time to spend with friends or family one night out of the weekend. Normally, for a few hours on Friday, I’ll go to dinner with friends, see a movie, or explore downtown Savannah. Knowing that I’ll have a day for fun activities gives me something to look forward to during the week and motivates me to finish my work so I am able to go.

What makes your story unique?

I was the first in my family to become a college graduate! Growing up, I was raised by a single mother, and my father was never involved in my life, so my mother worked consistently to provide for us.  She emphasized the value of determination - this ethic of working hard motivated me to attend college, and still motivates me to make her proud by becoming a physician. Although my mother wasn’t familiar with the college or medical school application process, her steady support provided the verification I needed to focus on school, get involved in extracurricular activities, and navigate the requirements of medical school admissions.  I never viewed growing up with a single mother as a detriment or obstacle to overcome – and I still don’t. Having such a strong female role model has always reminded me that women can achieve anything with a little hard work and this mindset prompted me to take the risk of changing careers from research to balanced clinical practice – I am so glad I did!

What have you enjoyed most about medical school?

So far, anatomy lab/dissection has been my favorite portion of the curriculum!

What surprised you the most about medical school?

I am most surprised by how quickly medical students are able to adjust to the rigorous demands of a medical school curriculum. A year ago, I was overwhelmed with a few post-baccalaureate classes and shadowing during the week, and now I do at least double that amount of work on a weekly basis. When I look back on my undergrad/post-bac programs I am grateful for the experience, but also proud of how my classmates and I have grown in such a short amount of time. The workload is intense in medical school, but there is an important sense of maturity and accomplishment that comes with completing it.

Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.

I believe my upbringing as an only child with a single mother allows me to employ a unique perspective throughout my life and work. Although my mom and I did not struggle growing up, I am able to understand the hardships many non-traditional families face, and can empathize with similar patients and classmates. I hope to use my background to inspire others to see the positive aspects of a “negative” situation, enabling them to achieve their aspirations despite hardships they may seemingly face.

What specialties are your current top choices?

I know that I want to work in a hospital, so I am currently most interested in general surgery and internal medicine as a specialty.

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

I would encourage applicants to make sure medicine is the only career they can see themselves pursuing. As a career changer, I wish I had explored more career paths earlier in my undergraduate studies, so that I could have discovered and committed to medicine a little earlier. Medical school is a huge commitment, and something that any applicant should be sure about before entering the field!

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

I would let them know not to give up, and that’s never too late to pursue medicine if it is their passion. My path to medicine was unique, so I have met many people along the way, including older applicants, career changers, and students who had applied and not been accepted the first cycle. Eventually, with hard work and dedication, an acceptance will come, so maintaining the motivation that drove you to medicine in the first place is important.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?

In regards to specific advice for applicants seeking a post-baccalaureate program for career changers, I would encourage them to look for programs that offer a linkage agreement with a medical school – these agreements allow student to bypass the gap year and make up some time they may have lost in changing careers. I would also encourage future medical students to get used to maintaining a schedule now – time management is key in medical school and being accustomed to maintaining a routine will relieve a lot of stress in the long run!

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