Medical school: The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, 2018
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I never had very strong convictions of what I wanted to be when I grew up – and I didn’t start worrying about it until they asked me to write essay after essay on the topic in high school. My dad was in the Air Force and my mother stayed home with me and my four younger brothers and sisters, so sometimes after coming home from air shows that my father would drag us to, I thought I might be a pilot someday. My dad shared with me later on that he knew I would be a doctor one day.
What led to your interest in medicine?
When I began going on my mandatory job shadows in high school I became excited about medicine. One of my teachers suggested that I shadow a friend of his who was a pharmaceutical rep (mostly due to the great pay and work hours). After following her around for the day in a nuclear medicine clinic, I asked the doctors in the cath lab if I could come back and shadow them. I knew I liked science and math in high school, and the more I learned about medicine being the marriage of the sciences and working in service to others, I became hooked.
How did you prepare for the medical school application process?
My first step was choosing a school that had a good pre-med program. Neither of my parents had been to college, so I didn’t have a lot of guidance in the process. The first school I visited was Carroll College in Helena, MT, and I decided that weekend that Carroll was it for me. Carroll was just far enough away from home (about 4 hours driving) and I loved the community.
My pre-med advisor gave us great information from the beginning and stressed the importance of service, leadership and clinical experiences. I had a number of experiences within the community, in the hospital and abroad that broadened my understanding of the human experience and what it may be like to be a physician one day. From being a leader of our Circle K Club, a service organization, and building relationships with the community leaders of the Kiwanis Club, to traveling with my professor who was in the Peace Corps in West Africa on a cultural immersion trip, doing research in a lab in Muenster, Germany for the summer, to working as a phlebotomist for the hospital in the mornings before classes, all of these experiences prepared me for the medical school application process.
My plans to take one year off after college turned into two, as I applied for the second time. During this time I gained experience in health policy in Washington, DC, and learned the importance of mentorship and networking. Talking to doctors and current medical students gave me greater insight to what it meant to go to medical school and train to be a physician. That greatly helped my application and my confidence when going on medical school interviews.
Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?
I always felt like I was not a strong standardized test taker, and the MCAT provoked a lot of anxiety in me. I did well in college and thrived in my small, 10-12 person upper-level biology classes in which much of our exams were essay based, but long exams full of purely multiple choice questions are not my strong suit.
What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam?
Give yourself an adequate amount of time to study (whatever that means for you), and schedule your exam to allow a little flexibility in the date. I took my exam in the summer between my junior and senior year of college, right before leaving for the fall semester to study abroad. When it came down to it, I didn’t finish my prep course and didn’t utilize all of the full-length practice exams (which are the most important study tool in my opinion), and wasn’t ready to take the exam. But since I had a non-flexible flight a few days later, there was no other option for me.
Did you have any fears going into medical school?
Absolutely! I think everyone does! Mine were mostly around the fear of not being smart enough or not being able to compete with my many brilliant classmates who were also at the top of their class at a number of “more-prestigious-than-mine” institutions. But quickly you learn that everyone else has the same fears and you are all in this new experience together.
How did you prepare for medical school before your first day?
During the summer before medical school I worked up until the last month and then took vacation. I recommend taking some time for yourself before medical school. If I could have, I would have taken the whole summer off to relax, enjoy time with friends and family, and read the books that never came off of my to-read list. Medical school is a lot of learning, forgetting, and relearning and unless you have a lot of anxiety around being out of school for a long time and getting back into the hard sciences, I don’t think that the pre-matriculation summer programs put you ahead or are necessary.
What made your medical school the right fit for you?
After college, I took two years off and did an internship with the U.S. Senate working on health policy. I fell in love with Washington and federal policy and came to see it as one of the most important ways physicians should be involved to assure the best care possible is provided to our patients. Then I worked for a non-profit that did health policy and advocacy work for American Indians and Alaska Natives for another year before matriculating to GW.
I wanted a program where I could continue to build on my interest in public health and health policy, and GW was a perfect fit. With a unique health policy track program, outstanding student placement and relationships throughout governmental and private sector organizations, and premier location in our nation’s capital, GW was my number one choice.
I became a part of the first class to go through our new curriculum, in which we have a number of integrated health policy classes as well as a practical, intensive intersession experiences at the end of each semester. For our first intersession, after listening to world renowned HIV researchers such as Dr. Tony Fauci from the NIH, we were asked to come up with unique policy proposals to implement the HIV/AIDS care continuum and present them to the Office of National AIDS Policy at the White House. But it wasn’t just these awesome opportunities in health policy and public health that drew me to GW. I was also looking for a program that would give me a variety of experiences and where students were collaborative and encouraging of one another. GW definitely fit that, and I am proud to say that I have never been in a more collaborative, welcoming environment that’s diversity and opportunities challenge me every day.
What was your first year of medical school like?
It came and went very fast - kind of like a huge wave hitting you. At first I felt overwhelmed and confused, but quickly I learned how to stay afloat and even ride the wave, and before I knew it, it was all over!
Did you have to change any of your study habits?
I was pretty proactive about changing my study habits. I learned quickly that I couldn’t do things like I had done in undergrad, like re-writing all the lecture material, because of the larger quantities of information we need to learn in a shorter amount of time. I also learned how to be a better group studier and found value in bouncing information off my classmates. I had been a student who locked myself in a dark place for days and didn’t speak to anyone, but I have really valued my classmates as resources. I also learned how important it was to become a marathon studier, rather than a sprint studier. It was important to me to treat medical school like a job, and show up every day to work and not leave everything for the week leading up to the test.
Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
While there is a lot of schoolwork to be done, there is definitely still time to have a life and get involved in extra-curricular activities. With my interests in health policy, I got involved in our AMA chapter early on. I took on a leadership role as the MS-1 Liaison, attended two national meetings and a regional meeting, and joined other medical students from across the country to meet with law makers to share my experience as a medical student and talk about issues that are important to me as a future physician.
I have also volunteered at our student-run free clinic, helped to organize an event for students’ family and friends to visit GW and experience medical school for the day, traveled with a group of students and physicians to Haiti on a medical service trip, and helped our orientation committee match incoming students with second year mentors. This summer, I not only got to do an internship with the Diversity Policy Programs department at the AAMC to work on projects that support medical schools’ initiatives to integrate public health into medical education, but also worked closely with the Dean’s office at my own institution to review our newly revised curriculum and give feedback and brainstorm ways to enhance our public health and health policy experience.
What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?
It is very important for me to try to stay on a regular schedule, get enough sleep, eat healthy and go for a run at least a few times a week. At times it seems like I will never fit it all in, but I know that I have to make time for these things to stay healthy. I also can give a lot of credit to my boyfriend for his support – making sure I put down the books at a decent hour. Spending quality time with him is also very important to me.
What did you enjoy most about medical school?
I have really enjoyed learning about medicine! Up until now, I have spent much of my student career in the sciences, and have really enjoyed learning more clinical concepts. I have also loved learning about patient stories and feel honored that that many of them have been shared with me.
What surprised you the most about medical school?
I think I was surprised most by how quickly you are “thrown” into things. It seems like we hit the ground running from the beginning and I can’t believe that I will already start studying for Step 1 in January and go off to the clinics in March! I am also a little surprised (but not that much) to come to terms with the fact that I will forever be a life-long student. While I am looking forward to this, I think I have come to understand the statement of “the more you learn the less you know” (or the less you perceive that you do!).
Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.
I am a first generation college graduate from a rural community, and among my peers in medical school (especially in Washington, DC) I am very much in the minority! While I may not have the same insight and direction as many of my classmates who come from families of doctors, I think that my background has helped me to be more open to different opportunities and paths. I have no idea what specialty I would like to go into and I like (almost) everything! I don’t feel pressure swaying me in any direction that I don’t want to go.
What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?
Reflecting on your reasons for pursuing a career in medicine and really understanding yourself and your passions is important. This is key when applying to medical school but it also helps to ground you and point you in the direction meant for you when grappling with countless options you will face—not only specialties but also projects, research, interests, etc. Everyone’s reasons and passions are different and it’s important to be honest with yourself and not to be afraid to reach big and challenge yourself!
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?
I think as a student interested in public health and health policy, it is important to not be afraid to reach out to people and ask questions. One skill hard to master is learning how to network and communicate with very accomplished professionals, especially those in the policy world. But my advice is to give it a shot and you will often surprise yourself. Remember that we all start somewhere!