Clay Downey

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Clay had a business degree, no science prerequisites, and no experience in a health care setting, but he decided to pursue a career in medicine anyway.

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Undergraduate: James Madison University, 2010
Major: Business Marketing
Postbacc: Virginia Commonwealth University
Medical school: Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, 2017

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

I never really had one career in mind. I knew I wanted something that was fun, interesting, and was never boring.

What led to your interest in medicine?

I think the fact that each patient has a different story makes medicine both challenging and interesting. It involves talking and listening to people, as well as problem-solving.

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

I think I discouraged myself more than anyone in particular. I felt like I had put in a tremendous amount of work towards getting a business degree, and I didn’t want to waste it. I had doubts that I could do it, that it would be worth it, thoughts that this was just a whim and would pass.

For me, it was a big decision to make a change and start taking prerequisites for medical school, and I think that was a bit daunting.

Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?

Not necessarily a person, but a job. I worked as an emergency department scribe for two years before medical school. This was the perfect job for me because it gave me incredible exposure to the day-to-day life of a physician and really reaffirmed my decision to go to medical school.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

My school had a prehealth committee that would interview students after looking at all of your recommendations, your application and personal statement, and your grades. It was a great opportunity to do a dry run through the process, and practice interviewing skills.

Once the time came to fill out my application, much of the work was already done. Whatever services your school provides, take advantage of them. They allow you to make mistakes and work out the kinks before the real application or interview.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT® exam?

Of course! I tried to balance the nerves with some more positive thoughts. I needed the stress and concerns to motivate me to study hard, but I didn’t want them to make my studies inefficient. I studied hard but made time for things that were important to me.

Did you need financial aid to pay for medical school?

Yes, student loans.

Do you remember your first day of medical school? What memory stands out the most?

I remember being in roll call on the first day of orientation and them saying my name. I also remember walking out of roll call into a crowd of M2s and M3s in the courtyard welcoming my class to the school. That was a great experience that made me proud to be starting here.

What was your first year of medical school like?

It was tough. Much of the first year was learning how to be a medical student, and trying to teach myself how to study effectively. What worked for me in undergrad did not work in medical school. There was simply too much material, and I needed to find a way to be more efficient. I thought the material was much more interesting because it was more clinically relevant, and I really enjoyed it.

What makes your story unique?

I was a business major in college and had an internship as a coffee trader in Costa Rica after that. I was a completely nontraditional applicant with a non-science degree. I had no science classes that would count toward my application and no experience in a health care setting.

Making the decision to pursue a different career path was a difficult one since I was essentially coming in with nothing from four years of undergrad. I wasn’t sure that it was worth it. I thought about waiting it out and I wasn’t sure how others would react.

I tried to make the decision easier by making what was a huge decision and breaking it into smaller ones. My mottoes were, “Put one foot in front of the other,” and “Take it one step at a time.”  I decided to take out a few student loans and go back to school, and then I found a job in a local emergency room. For me, a career in medicine wasn’t something that found me, but rather something that intrigued me. The more I was exposed to medicine the more I loved it.

What did you enjoy most about medical school?

For me, putting all of the pieces together and seeing how basic science concepts apply to disease makes the process worth it. I really enjoy interacting with people. I like the problem-solving aspect of it, and especially how rewarding it is to put the parts together.

What surprised you the most about medical school?

I thought medical school would be similar to undergrad in terms of lecture style, but I assumed it would be much more difficult. It turned out to be much different, with only a small portion of the material covered in a traditional lecture-based format. The rest is presented in a team-based or simulation-based format.

Are you a member of a unique demographic?

I think being a nontraditional premed applicant and waiting to take classes later turned out to be a huge advantage. I already had a degree in business administration, so I was able to schedule only the classes that interested me. I tried to put together classes that fed into each other (i.e., physiology and anatomy), and I think it gave me a much stronger foundation coming into medical school than if I needed to work other classes into my schedule.

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

Do it. If they are like me and have a mountain of things ahead of them before applying, take it one step at a time. Make sure you really love what you are doing, and then do more of it. In the end, you will find yourself in one of the most rewarding career fields out there, and you will meet some pretty amazing people along the way. Don’t make it one huge decision but enjoy the process.

Do you have additional information or thoughts to share that would be helpful to prospective students?

Don’t worry if you think you are too nontraditional, and don’t be afraid to give it a try. On a similar note, make sure you really love what you are doing because it is a challenging path. If you think you want to do it and are willing to put in the work, it is a truly exceptional career choice.

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

Find out what you really want to do, and what you are really passionate about. Do your research, dream big, and work really hard.

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