Sabrina Clerssaint

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When Sabrina wasn't successful the first time she applied to medical school, she used the setback as an opportunity to recharge and become a medical scribe.

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Undergraduate: Villanova University, 2013
Major: Biology
Medical school: Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, 2019
ResidencyAnesthesiology, University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston

What led to your interest in medicine?

I’ve always been a naturally curious person. As a young girl, I fed my insatiable curiosity about the functioning of life by collecting and observing bugs during my frequent trips to the playground. In high school, I took an anatomy and physiology course and fell in love with figuring out all the intricate complexities of how we as human beings function. Years later, my interest in the sciences remained, leading me to pursue an undergraduate major in biology.

My commitment to pursuing a career as a physician developed as I came to understand medicine as a dynamic fusion of my two greatest passions: science and service. Through science I am able to systematically investigate the delicate yet resilient nature of the human body and mind. Science requires an intellectual discipline that uses experimentation and observation to achieve a definite conclusion. Through service I am able to explore the human body and mind beyond the lens of a microscope. Service provides me with a deeper sense of connection to others, a sense of fulfillment and a profound insight into human connections. Science can be somewhat limited in its ability to heal or cure ailments; I believe that what distinguishes a good doctor from a great one is their ability to transcend these limitations with innovation and compassion.

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

Throughout my journey, I have had several memorable experiences that helped to push me along through some of the more trying times.  However, I did not confirm medicine as my career choice until my gap year.  After graduating college, I spent two years working as a medical scribe in an emergency room and outpatient pediatric clinic. As a scribe, I had the opportunity to work very closely with physicians on a daily basis. I gained a lot of knowledge and experience during that time and it also gave me a chance to see both the good and not so good aspects of medicine. Simply knowing that even on the bad days I was always able to find enough good to keep me inspired and eager to come back the next day confirmed that medicine was the right career path for me.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

Given that I applied to medical school twice, I knew that going into the application process a second time I really wanted to portray to the admissions committee why I deserved a seat in their next incoming class. I made sure to address the faults of my initial application by retaking my MCAT® exam and continuing to strengthen my portfolio by working relentlessly on my personal statement and engaging in extracurricular activities that I was passionate about.

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

I think it is incredibly important to figure out what type of learner you are before committing to any type of MCAT exam prep plan. Once you figure out how you learn best, then you can tailor your study regimen to your specific needs. Create a study schedule that you will realistically be able to follow. Be sure to allot enough time within your study schedule to take multiple practice tests. It is imperative to incorporate active learning exercises (i.e., quizzes, flashcards, active note-taking, etc.) into your study rather than passive learning techniques (i.e., reading a textbook). It will help you process, understand and retain information for longer periods of time. Lastly, do not be afraid to reschedule your exam if you are not ready when the time comes to take it. You would only be doing yourself a disservice if you go into your exam ill-prepared and highly anxious.

Did you have any fears going into medical school?

I was initially concerned about getting back into the swing of things academically. I took 2 years off in between my undergraduate education and medical school so I was not sure how to prepare myself for long hours of lecture and studying. There was certainly an adjustment period once school started, but I think I adapted quickly and found myself in a comfortable groove after the first few weeks of school.

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

Prior to enrolling, I was told by many medical students that the best way to prepare for medical school was to RELAX and ENJOY the summer, so I did just that. I spent a lot of time with family and friends, traveled, and did things I truly enjoyed.

Many medical schools also offer a summer or pre-matriculation program (a 4-6 week program) where you can take a few of the first-year courses to get a preview as to what you will be learning in the fall. I participated in RWJMS’ pre-matriculation summer program, and I felt that it was a great way to help transition me back into “school mode.” It was a great refresher of the basic sciences and gave me a preview into some of the more difficult topics and concepts that we would tackle during the year. During the school year, when we revisited the same topics, I felt confident in knowing that I already knew the material which reduced some of my stress and anxiety while studying. If you have already been accepted to medical school, I would inquire if your school offers a similar program and request to be a part of it.

What made your medical school the right fit for you?

I chose RWJMS because I really felt connected to the people I met all throughout my medical school application process. The students and faculty were incredibly genuine and seemed happy to be at RWJMS. I also knew that I wanted to be fairly close to home because I knew that I would need the support of my family and friends during this strenuous time.

What was your first year of medical school like?

My first year of medical school was like a rollercoaster. There were lots of ups and downs and moments where I was simply trying to figure out which way was up. The beginning of the year was certainly an adjustment period, but once I was able to manage the workload, I really did enjoy it. I loved learning about different organ systems and mentioning fun, random facts in conversation to family members and friends. I loved meeting so many new people and having an opportunity to practice my clinical skills on real patients. There is a lot of information to wade through, but if you take the time to understand rather than memorize, pieces really do start to fall into place and you will be shocked at how much knowledge you have acquired at the end of the year.

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

I am currently the Community Service Liaison for the SNMA chapter at my school. I am also a student leader for AMSA REACH which stands for American Medical Student Association – Race, Ethnicity and Culture in Health. I also participate in my school’s work study program where I work in the Office of Admissions and Multicultural Affairs. In the summer between my first and second year of medical school, I participated in a 4-week medical Spanish immersion program called CACHAMSI which is located in Riobamba, Ecuador.

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

I find that taking time out of your day to do things for yourself is incredibly helpful in reducing stress and staying motivated. I really enjoy exercising and cooking, so I always make sure to set aside time to do just that. I think finding small pockets of time throughout your day to give yourself some TLC and do the things that you enjoy is the best way to have a happy school/life balance.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

Organization and prioritization is key! I like to make a loose schedule for myself daily and jot down all the things that I need to accomplish before the day is over. I make sure to also schedule in my personal time so that I can be realistic about the things I can get done within a certain time frame. I also find that using down time as a reward for keeping on top of my studies is a good motivating factor to help keep me going while studying.

What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?

I was initially rejected when I first applied. Having my dreams crushed during that first application cycle really opened my eyes and forced me to critically evaluate myself and what I had to offer to the field of medicine. I took that setback as an opportunity to recharge and strengthen myself as an applicant. I worked as a medical scribe and later became promoted as the Chief Medical Scribe of an outpatient clinic. It was a great experience because I got to work side by side with physicians and experience medicine in a completely new way. It gave me a newfound appreciation for the field itself. I gained leadership and management skills as well as improved my medical knowledge. I also gained a few mentors during that time who encouraged me to continue along in my journey.

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

I would encourage interested applicants to get as much exposure to the field as possible whether, it be shadowing, volunteering, or even obtaining a job in the medical field. In addition, it is imperative that you find a mentor or someone who will inspire and encourage you along your journey as you figure out if medicine is the right choice for you.

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