Ricci Regina Rivera Sylla

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Ricci was rejected the first time she applied to medical school. Luckily, a program at her state's medical school helped her figure out why she didn't get in.

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Medical School: University of Toledo College of Medicine, 2010

What led to your interest in a career in medicine? Who or what inspired you? Why medicine?

I first became interested in medicine while growing up and going to my pediatrician. I thought she had a great job working with people. As I grew older, I realized I enjoyed science and found that medicine provides me with a career working with people of all backgrounds while also participating in the leadership aspect.


How did you prepare for the application process?

I actually applied twice, having been rejected my first time. I first applied four years out of college when I was working as a tech in a research lab. Luckily, the medical school in my state at the time, Colorado, ran "unsuccessful applicant sessions" where students can go and get some feedback on how to improve their application. The session helped me a lot in figuring out why I didn't get in. I made a lot of mistakes during my first application try such as applying to only a few big-name schools and ignoring the deficits in my application, such as a GPA in the B-range.

I did have a strong MCAT® score. So to strengthen my application, I took some graduate-level classes in my weak areas such as biochemistry and chemistry, as well as an ethics course, and I did well. During my second try two years after I got rejected, I enlarged the pool of schools I applied to and heavily used the MSAR® tool in order to see what schools took in a large number of out-of-state students (since Colorado only has one medical school), and also saw where I would be competitive with my GPA and MCAT scores.

Please describe related volunteer work or military experience that relates to your career.

During my time working in research between college and medical school, I volunteered at the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, a human rights organization that ran a shelter for domestic abuse survivors. It wasn't medically related, but it was a powerful experience for me in learning about social inequities. Later on, it also became a benefit during my interviews because I was able to talk about my experiences there and lessons I learned. I also realized during my time there that I wanted to work with women and children in my future career, hence my pursuit of a residency in obstetrics & gynecology.

What obstacles or hurdles did you overcome in your medical school journey?

I had a low GPA and was told by my premed advisor that I would never get into medical school and that I should give up. However, I knew this was the only career I wanted, so I worked hard to compensate for my deficits and show the schools that I would be a great student.

Are you a member of a unique demographic? Please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.

I immigrated from the Philippines when I was 10 years old, and I was only able to get into college due to the mentorship of my older sister. I think the lack of a mentor once I got into college was part of the reason I was not as savvy in knowing what I needed to do to get into medical school. If I had to do it over again, I would try to seek out upperclassmen to get their advice in getting into medical school and making sure that my premed advisor supported me.

I was also married when I entered medical school. It has been wonderful having a partner who is working and who helps take care of everyday stuff. However, medical school definitely puts stress on any relationship you have, and you just have to make sure that you devote as much time to your relationships as you do to school. It's very important not to take your partner for granted.

As an immigrant, a married student, and someone who was told to quit before even starting, I think I serve as an example that you can make your dream of being a physician come true.

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

I would say do not worry too much about financial aid in that you will be able to get student loans to cover your tuition. However, you should take into consideration the amount of average debt that you may graduate with, so you can use this information to help you pick the right medical school for you. Also, be aggressive in seeking out scholarships. Surprisingly, I found a generous scholarship targeted for immigrants or children of immigrant parents.

Be smart about your school choices — never blow off your state schools. They are likely to be your best chance of acceptance as well as getting a quality education for a great price. Be truthful and ask yourself if this is a school where I can thrive and be supported. Use the MSAR tool and pore over school data to help you find the best school for you. Last, remember that any U.S.-accredited medical school will give you the tools you need to become a capable and accomplished physician. Attending one of the AAMC member schools automatically gives you an advantage over students from osteopathic or Caribbean schools.

If you find yourself with rejections from all the schools you applied for, I suggest calling one of the admissions officers of some of the schools you applied to and asking them for specific advice on how to strengthen your application. Or, before you even start your application, see if you can meet with one of them to talk about your application and get advice. I suggest doing this in the summer when admissions officers aren't so busy.

Remember, the journey doesn't end when you get into med school or graduate from med school. Rather, it's the beginning of your career.

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