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222: Working Full-time and Taking Many Years to Finish Premed

By Ryan Gray, MD of Meded Media

Session 222 Today's guest is Zane, a professional athlete turned premed and is now up to 6 acceptances to medical school. This episode is similar to Episode 168, where we had Jessica, an actress turned premed student who received 10 acceptances to medical school. Their stories are proof that you can actually leverage your nontraditional path to help make your application stand out. Listen in as Zane shares her unique path that led to her application success even though it has taken her a little bit longer to finish her prereqs and bachelor's degree, working full-time, being a professional athlete, and being premed along with the struggles that came along with that but also how this helped her on her interview trail. [02:55] A Crazy Dream to Become a Flying Trapeze Artist When Zane was eleven years old, she went to a summer camp that had a circus arts program. She tried the flying trapeze which she absolutely loved and from that point on, she knew she it was something she needed to pursue seriously being enthralled by the whole apparatus. She then kept going back to the summer camp every year and growing up in New York City, that happens to have a flying trapeze school, she began to try it out even more. It was a feeling interesting to her and it even became more interesting as she learned more about performing. Towards the end of high school was when it became a real idea that she started planning for, realizing it was something she could pursue at that point. After much practice and getting enough encouragement from trapeze artists after seeing her potential, she pursued the flying trapeze as well as static aerial apparatuses. Not knowing which apparatus to perform on, she was most attracted to the idea of performing and just thought she'd figure out the details later. [06:22] Prioritizing Circus over School Zane was a dedicated student all through elementary and high school so she liked learning and school. She reassured her parents that she would go back to school and also have some school in her life at some point. She didn't just finish high school and move on because she always knew she would go back and study. So in her senior year of high school, she applied to a university and got in. Then she deferred for a year, thinking about taking a gap year so she had that on paper option for the following year. Although she had it set up, it didn't end up going that way. It wasn't until later that she realized that she can actually "make it" as a trapeze artist that she cancelled her admission to that school she deferred from and just did it a whole other way later. Her parents basically had an idea she would go back to school and "on paper" at least, she had a school she could go to the next year if everything fell apart. Had she not found her passion for being a flying trapeze artist, she would have not studied premed. At that time, she was interested in international relations and she might have done something along the social sciences or international relations. In fact, she didn't have great experiences in the major sciences in high school. So Zane eventually ended up with a great job in a well known show. [08:58] Taking the Premed Path Before landing her job, she spent around two years in and out of New York City training and performing on and off as well as taking a few classes. She basically had an entire gap year after high school where she just trained and a little bit of performing. Then starting the next full, she enrolled in two classes at a university in New York where she could do Adult Continuing Education, again, not related to premed. It was like a creative writing class and a food politics class. At that point, she already started missing school. The following year, she took statistics and another politics class. By the time she moved to Florida for her job, she already had a couple credits under her belt. As she kind of became a professional athlete more and more, she developed an interest in nutrition and in the human body in general. She was using her body in a new way and nutrition was a direct, accessible way to look at the cause and effect with working with your body, her body being the test subject. She didn't have any resources while performing and traveling so it's something she thought about and read articles about nutrition. So when she got to Florida, she thought about studying nutrition but the University of Central Florida didn't have a nutrition major so she did Preclinical Health Sciences, with the thought of doing a Master's in Nutrition. It wasn't until a couple of years later that she had a time off from work due to injury so she had more time to think about her interests. She always says that she didn't decide medicine, but she realized she had been leading up to medicine for years. Her aha! moment being in a professional development class for health professionals where they talked about autonomous healthcare professions and discussed about scope of practice and the order of the team in the healthcare workplace. And when they talked about the physician's role in the team, it was something she was interested in. She didn't admit it to herself at that point knowing what a daunting path it was. But the more prehealth science courses she took, her interest just kept expanding and she wanted a larger scope of knowledge. So when they had that discussion, she realized her one hang up was how much she knew went into changing her path to premed but she finally allowed herself to admit it's what she wanted and that she had to start thinking about all that work she had to do for it. [13:05] Seeking Out Premed Resources There was not part-time option at Zane's job and quitting was not an option for her either, both financially and because she loved it so she wasn't ready to stop. She knew it would be difficult to do both but she wanted to be closer to knowing she could do med school before she had to let go of the other day job. So she knew she had to make it work within her current schedule. In terms of resources, Zane's best friend is in her fourth year of medical school and she spoke to her. She also spoke with another good friend who was a resident at that time as well as another friend who was a year ahead of her. Basically, she spoke to all the people she knew who were somewhere along this path. One of her biggest first steps after deciding she would apply to med school was outing herself to her close family and friends to hold herself accountable and to get some support which helped a lot. From there, she went to the prehealth advising office at her school which she described as a "rude awakening." Thinking her major was not the traditional premed major but there was no "premed track" at her school so she didn't realize how far off she was going to be. They sat down and looked at the prereqs she had and didn't have and that was daunting in itself considering she was still missing a lot. When they talked about volunteering, research, and shadowing, it just became a big list and a lot of work. Now having a huge list of things she had to work on, there was something encouraging about unlocking the secret of what it took that helped her deal with how daunting it was at the same time. The prereqs she had at that point she realized were all from community college and in that first meeting, they mentioned that not all medical schools necessarily accept those courses and if they do, they don't always love that. She knew then that she really needed to get the rest of her prereqs at the university. In terms of making it work with her work schedule, nobody actually did sit down with her about it. Having a very complicated schedule, she just took it on by herself and was able to manage. There were moments she was worried about her success in becoming a med student but she never considered not doing it at all and that her current career was good enough considering it was very physical and a limited career. So she always knew she would have to switch gears at some point. [18:43] Working Full-Time While Doing Premed Working full-time while doing the whole premed track was something she would have avoided if she could but she stresses that it's not impossible. The year and a half she was doing both full-time was all about keeping her head down and doing what she needed to do in the moment. Once she realized she didn't a five-hour chunk to study but just had to study whenever possible, it helped her a lot so she would find an hour before the show would start or another hour in between shows. She realized that whenever you have a minute, you should be studying, considering she didn't have that dedicated study day or hour so she just had to make it work. Although she did tell some friends at work for social support and accountability, she didn't tell anyone high up at work. It was coming up on interview season that she finally spoke to them because she knew she would be needing time off with very short notice. Yet surprised, they have always been very supportive in general. All in all, she took six years to finish her undergrad. At the back of her mind, she could almost picture medical schools seeing flying trapeze artist on her application and just laughing. She knew from the very beginning that there were areas in her application that she thought she needed to balance out. [23:00] MCAT and Application to Medical Schools Zane actually pushed the time limit. Graduating in May 2016, she took the MCAT early July. She planned to start studying during her last semester but it didn't happen. She ended up preparing for her application and finishing up her personal statement and doing the rest of the application and studying for the MCAT in the beginning of July. She obviously didn't get her score until early August. So her application was already submitted and everything was already in. She applied to 22 schools, really wide range in terms of average stats and even location, emphasis on research, etc. She mostly used geography as her guide and then she threw in a couple of dream schools. Then once she got her MCAT score, she thought she could have changed her list of schools but it was already mid-August and everything was in besides the MCAT score. Although she was a little scared some schools might think she wasn't taking it seriously, this did not directly affect her decision on which schools to apply to. Rather, it affected how she addressed the remaining parts of her application. She couldn't change the fact that it took her six years to get her bachelor's degree nor change what she did for a living nor having taken courses at a community college. But once she spoke to an advisor, she realized she needed to take the rest of her prereqs at a university, she needed to get A's, and she knew she needed to crush the MCAT in order to balance out the very arty, unconventional parts of her application with a little proof of her scientific rigor. [25:52] Framing Personal Statements Zane believes that one of the million good reasons to start early is that she must have 15 personal statement drafts that are like four pages and she still hasn't gotten to the point yet. So it obviously took her a long time to figure out how to frame her story considering a lot of different places you could start and a lot of different areas you could focus on. Especially that her decision to get into medicine was slow since it started with just deciding on health care, she had no aha moment, and then she had this crazy career, so it practically took her a long time to figure out how she could get to the point and talk about she's prepared for it and talking about her experiences before she got her current job, which at time, she spent much time on the road traveling throughout the U.S. in a trailer with her performance troupe. In hindsight, Zane thought a lot of things she saw during that time helped shaped her interest in public health, health disparity, and all those things that affected her desire to go into medicine. And during that time, she got to interact with different people all over the world and with different levels of education, with preexisting health conditions, and seeing a lot of accidents. So she focused on a lot of interesting moments during that time. In terms of her current job, she talked about the opportunities she has had within her job and about balancing a full time job and her premed track. Then she also ended up hitting basic themes and found a way to round it all out. It was definitely not easy connecting a totally different career that made to sense to her and trying to show other people why the transition makes sense was the hardest thing she did in the application process. [28:45] Medical School Interviews Out of the ten invites she got, Zane has done eight and she has two scheduled. At the point, she has got six acceptances and one wait list, which was the one that was her only MMI so she's wondering if there is any connection there. Every single interview she had asked about her job and it ended up being a filter point for her. Some of the schools mentioned it as a weird thing she did and then moved on while some schools really wanted to know about it. She ended up really feeling more comfortable with those schools that asked a lot more about her career. For her, it was telling about the level to which they understood what she's about. The people understood the connection between working in a team as a trapeze artist and teamwork in a risky environment and working in a very diverse workforce. And the people who saw those connections were those she was more drawn to. Zane thinks those were the schools that invited her because of who she was whereas a couple of the schools invited her because of her stats or her age or her work experience in general. It goes to show that having this unique background even though it's non medical, makes you stand out so much. And when somebody looks at that application, they would want to talk to you. And it showed in Zane's interviews where they just wanted to talk to her and find out more about who she was. Moreover, despite the fact she had something really different, she knew medicine was her next path and she had to find a way to articulate it to convince the admissions people that medicine is right for her. If you know it's definitely what you want to go into next, despite what you've done so far, you have to do everything it takes. Zane's takeaway from this story is that no matter who you are, if you know for sure, there's nothing about you that precludes you from going into that path. Find a way to convince them, but you knowing is enough no matter what else you have going on. [34:00] Choosing Her Medical School Zane is originally from New York but has lived in Florida now for over six years. She loves it in Florida but she's also willing to go back home to New York. She applied to all MD schools in Florida, a bunch in New York, and a few in between. Either a decision will be made for her and she will be happy no matter what or if she had to make a choice, it will be clear. It's a great situation to be in but it's proven to be a difficult decision to make since she does have choices now. This is why she's still taking interviews for schools she's very interested in because they're top choices and they're in different places and different schools. So it ended up to be a wider range to choose from than she expected. In terms of narrowing down her choices, she had many people telling her that there's definitely a gut feeling on interview day. She has at least liked every single school she's interviewed at and she loves a lot of them but there are a few that stood out where she already felt like they were her friends, a very important factor to consider since she needs that support group. Additionally, this tells her there's shared values and shared goals. So she's most focused on two schools. For those schools where she has interviews coming, she's going to see what gut feeling comes from those interview days. [37:35] Final Words of Wisdom The way Zane would describe her whole premed experience is DIY. She had help but she looked at the list of things she needed - prereqs at a university, clinical experience, etc. She saw them as experiences that would help her along the way and she found her way of doing them. Zane leaves us with this thought that there are no strict guidelines in terms of timeline, where you do your classes, your age, what you do in your spare time. Variety is valued and we're starting to see that more and more. And there is a lot more wiggle room than you think so don't get caught up in checking things off or how your advisor might tell you or in the order you're told to do them in. Don't get caught up trying to do everything the way your peers are doing it. Just do it in your way in the timeline that makes sense to you. Prioritize being yourself throughout the process because that comes through. One thing that helped her was to keep an eye on the long term goal but at the same time, keep your head down on what you're doing right now. It's such a long process that keeping in touch with where you are in the moment was the only way for her to get everything done to her best ability. So stay focused on the phase you're in right now because there are a lot of phases ahead of you. You will get there when you get there and the only thing you can do right now about everything coming down the line is ace what you're doing right now. [40:15] My Final Thoughts Getting six acceptances is phenomenal but it just goes to show you that having this nontraditional path, regardless of what you've done in your past, it's going to stand out as something different as a nontraditional student. It's a matter of figuring out how to tell your story through your personal statement and through your interviews. Figure out how to do that and do it well to be successful. Links: The Premed Years Podcast Session 168:10 Acceptances to Medical School! This Nontrad Did It! University of Central Florida -  College of Medicine MedEd Media Network The OldPreMeds Podcast The MCAT Podcast Specialty Stories

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