241: Third Application Cycle was a Charm for this Premed!
By Ryan Gray, MD of Meded Media
Session 241 Many students would have given up, but Natalie didn't. She had to apply to medical school three times. The first time around, she ignored her premed advisor who told her not to apply yet. Her second time around, she applied and did very well. She got tons of interviews but didn't get in. Then on her third time, she took each obstacle and learned from it, ultimately gaining acceptance to six medical schools. Hear her journey, how she became successful, what she learned along the way, and her advice to you so you don't make the same mistakes. [01:25] Interest in Medicine and Growing Up in a Stressful Environment Natalie recalls wanting to be a doctor back when she was five years old in kindergarten. Obviously, she always had that interest since she was a child. Part of it too was having an aunt who is a doctor and that she likes people and the idea of helping people. Fast-forward to college when she was shadowing physicians, she started volunteering in the emergency rooms near her home and the idea appealed to her even more having been able to actually connect with people and having to learn more about the pathology, she got more involved. So the combination of science and service appealed to her. "I had an interest since I was a child but then I realized why I want to become a physician because of my experiences during college and after college." Natalie describes her family as having done their best to provide a great environment for her and her two siblings who were very different. One didn't graduate from high school while one is currently in community college. She didn't have much academic guidance from her parents in terms of asking them questions about school since her mother didn't graduate high school and her father being in a different area of expertise. So whenever she had issues on something, she would just do her research and she sought out mentors and asked questions. Additionally, Natalie had to learn to work in a very stressful environment. When Natalie was in high school, her cousin who lived with her was also in high and he got into trouble that led to some people threatening them. Despite everything that was happening, Natalie knew she had to do well in school and just learn to work under stress. "With persistence and then with my faith, knowing how to handle difficult times with a positive attitude, that really helped me." [05:40] Her Source of Motivation What made her stay down the path is the certainty that this was what she wanted to do and that she was willing to work really hard to get to it, not to mention that didn't see herself doing anything else. In her case, she had to try three times and her motivation came from the idea that it's going to take a lot of work but she eventually be a physician if she did her absolute best and if she sought the resources she needs. She needed to do this so she sought the mentors she needed. "I would always ask myself, what was missing here, what didn't you do right the first time?" For her, it was about being willing to put in the work and knowing she was picking the appropriate steps, not just guessing. Moreover, being a person of faith she believes that knowing this was something she was meant to do, she felt confident that it was just a matter of time. So she thought not getting into medical school was not just her time and she was going to learn something very important in the two years she wasn't in medical school. True enough, she learned a lot about her as a person and she was able to support other people going through other issues she gone through before and this gave her motivation too in knowing that her time out of medical school had some purpose to it as well and she thought she'd become a better doctor because of it. The second time she didn't get in and she was waitlisted at six schools, she thought about what she could learn in the interim. So she worked as a college instructor for adults with learning disabilities. Had she not had that experience, she would not know how to communicate well with patients that had disabilities. As a result, she knows how to speak with them better or why not to look at individuals with autism in the eye. She basically became more aware of different things. Natalie considers this as a success and being one of her best experiences especially having learned so much from it. "Knowing who I was, knowing that this was what I wanted to do, and looking at each time I didn't get in as something that had purpose to it, something I could do in the interim time that I could take to learn, that motivated me." [10:05] On Finding Mentors Natalie kept in touch with her pre-health advisor when she was an undergrad at Johns Hopkins so she had someone to go to every time she had a question and her advisor gave her any contact she needed to assist her. She basically did the same thing during her postbac, developing great relationships with the people that wrote her letters and any time she had questions, they would also give her advice. Moreover, she applied to different internships and different jobs from where she also got to find mentors. So she tried every possible outlet. She tried whenever she saw interesting research at a nearby hospital or urban institution and she also looked online for reasons that students get into medical school. She would look at who wrote the article, where they come from, and whether this person could answer possible questions. She basically tried the obvious routes and in other cases, she would take the risk and try to get in touch with the person. [11:55] Choosing a Postbac Taking a close look at her first application, Natalie thought it wasn't realistically the most competitive GPA with about 3.14 in her sciences. The rest was good but there were a couple of dents on her GPA because she took on too much. Being a Type A personality, Natalie admits of making the mistakes of trying to take too many credits at once, trying to balance really difficult classes with extracurriculars, and trying to study for the MCAT when she was taking a very difficult class. "Do not put too much on your plate... Know thyself and know how much you're able to balance." Seeing the mistakes she made and the dent she had made, she had to show to medical schools that she'd be able to handle a large academic course load of challenging classes that's why she did the postbac which was also upon the advice of her other mentor. Taking the postbac did help her where she got seven interviews. In doing research on which postbacs to go to, she searched online as well as checking the AAMC List of Postbaccalaureate Programs which were categorized according to career changers and academic enhancers where she had to do the latter. She had to show schools that she was able to get A's and some upper level Biology courses relevant for medical school. Natalie found UPenn on the AAMC website and applied to several but thinking it was the one that fit her best, she went to UPenn once she got accepted. "Rather than reinvent the wheel and apply with no changes, I thought the postbac was the best option." In the first semester, Natalie was taking three classes and dropped one when she felt she didn't do well on the first midterm and she knew she had to focus on the other two where she got A's on both which were very tough classes, Immunobiology and Neurodegenerative Diseases. By the second semester, she took four classes and did very well in all of them. What basically helped her was not putting too much on her plate. Knowing those four classes were very dense in information and required a lot of work, she knew she shouldn't get involved in too many extracurriculars. So assessing very early on which classes were going to be a problem for her and what she should be doing outside of school, and balancing them helped her. [16:35] Knowing Your Learning Modalities Another thing that helped her that she learned her learning modalities. Knowing she was heavily visual, she was very tactile and she had to ask a lot of questions. So knowing she wasn't going to pick up very much during lecture but instead pick up more from images, it helped her study a lot better. In figuring out the best way for her to study, she was just observing herself. She realized what calls her attention a lot are pictures. The way she remembers things are through pictures and once she made that connection and realized she would be more efficient with her time if she applied it to the way she studies and focus less on reading too much text. She also noticed what people said about her. For example, what drives Natalie's mother crazy is that if she repeats the same thing five times, it won't stick. but if she writes it on a note, she will remember it because she sees the note. She can be attentive when listening to a story but when it comes to instruction, it was different and she had to connect what one was saying to a picture. [19:15] Overcoming Self-Doubt The third time Natalie applied and after she interviewed, she prayed and said she was a little scared because she didn't get in the first two times and it was really difficult for her to see the white coat. So took a lot of comfort in praying and meditating. She wrote things down in journals and she had a ton of spiritual experiences. She felt more certainty whenever she addressed her doubts that way. Lastly, knowing herself and not seeing any sign or having any feeling that she was meant to do something else brought her a lot of comfort and more certainty. Nevertheless, there were times that she had to ask herself if it was really a closed door. But there were other situations that made her feel certain that this was what she was meant to do which were more spiritual in nature rather than academic. There were little things along way that were positive reinforcements or signs saying that this is her thing and it's just going to happen in the time you need it to. [21:35] MCAT Mistakes When Natalie took the MCAT the first time, she was taking Biochemistry while studying for the MCAT and she was taking time to commute by bus. She was trying to balance a summer condensed biochem course with a condensed MCAT course. That said, she was putting too much on her plate and she was very exhausted to the point she didn't realize her exam was moved to a day earlier. The information was sent to a different email so she only found out about it through word-of-mouth the night before the exam. Then she still had commute. "Had I not been putting too much on my plate, I think I could have avoided that problem. I could have done much better." Not only on the MCAT, doing too much at the same time also put a dent on her GPA because she was getting A's on her midterms but she didn't do well on the exam for biochem and she ended up with a C- in the course when she could have gotten an A had she not had to study for the MCAT and commute. She realized she should have done one thing at a time. That was her first mistake of doing too much all at once and not giving herself enough time to rest. [23:33] Taking a Gap Year and Dealing with Family Pressure Moreover, her pre-health advisor had advised her not to apply to medical school right away and to wait another year to study for the MCAT and then apply. Succumbing to family pressure who wanted her to apply right away, she did and it backfired. She also met others who were hesitant to take a year off for certain concerns like pressure from family or fear of not recalling what they learned in school. These are reasons that prevent students from taking the time off they need and they cram as well as some financial reasons. Natalie worked during the time off she had and saved for her applications as well as for mock interviews and for the first months she started school. She points out that although she's starting later, she's starting more comfortably because of it. Plus the fact that she is more prepared and she has more experience relating to patients and more knowledge about herself to help her study better. "It's tough but try not to worry about it. Look at it this way, it's going to be harder if you don't get in and you don't prepare the best because you're going to have to do it all over again." Natalie adds that you have to be aware and try to look at full possibilities, what is best for you and what is more likely to happen. To add to that, don't necessarily listen to what other people are telling you especially if they have never been on this path. Natalie's father actually discouraged her from the major she was pursuing when to her it was the one of the best things she ever did. But her father didn't understand that. She was a Writing Seminars major which involved writing screenplays, poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She actually figured learning other skills that she can have that's going to help her in the long run and that would make her stand out and so she thought of becoming a writer. Her father told her it wasn't going to get her much out of college and she told him her ultimate goal was medical school anyway so she can major in anything. Her father told her she had to get straight A's and be a science major and she disagreed with this. Natalie would describe her school as a premed factory being surrounded by physicians all the time as well as science professors and premed students so she knew what she was talking about. "It doesn't mean you love your parents any less. It just means that they don't always have the answer so do what's best for you." [29:20] The Second Application: What Went Wrong? Natalie got in touch with three admissions committees that interviewed her. One reasons it was easy for her to connect with them is because she sent them thank you notes (some emails, some handwritten). As a result, they were grateful and welcomed her to ask more questions. So she asked for some feedback from them and a couple of them told her that bringing her MCAT score of 29 up to a few more points, she had a much better shot at getting in. They told her she had a strong application but that was the weak spot. After consulting her mentor, she was advised to do mock interviews. She also noticed some postbac programs provided mock interviews while others didn't. "I saw that the students that had mock interviews had a much higher success rate." Natalie says she had the idea what to say during the interview but not having anyone to practice with, she didn't have anyone giving her feedback. This was what she actually noticed was missing. She had the numbers, The MCAT was borderline and she knew people who got in who had 29 and below so she figured the mock interview was the major difference. She worked with adults with learning disabilities so she had that additional experience under her belt and she was volunteering at a hospital so she knew the mock interview was the thing that was missing. For Natalie, the most difficult part in the interview was getting started and the infamous "Tell me about yourself" question where she had a rough start with it. So she did know walking out of the interview that the first part of it was horrible. She adds that some interviewers have a way of making you feel more comfortable but it doesn't guarantee that they're going to write you a positive review. "The first minute, even the first fifteen seconds, really determines how the rest of the interview will go." [33:20] The Benefits of Mock Interviews I actually worked with Natalie in doing the mock interviews and she says that knowing that a professional helped her who is someone who's a doctor and who had gone to medical school and had experience interviewing, she thought that if she can go through interviews with me, she can go through interviews with anyone else who's going to interview her. So she knew she was going to be more prepared and she had thought of every possible question she could think of and she had rehearsed it with an experienced professional so that gave her a lot of comfort. Additionally, Natalie was practicing four different types of interviews so this made her comfortable too. She had gone through multiple interviews before. At one point, she interviewed at one school that did two one-to-one interviews and an MMI. She thought she has done this before so she took each question as a challenge if she needed to pause and thought about it and she told the interviewer she needed to think about it. These are things she learned from the mock interview, which are little things that prepared her and made her more calm and composed. Natalie didn't feel as stressed though because she already felt much more articulate because she practiced and having carried with her amazing tips. Walking into her first interview, she was nervous yet calm. Prior to mock interviews, she was nervous at every interview. "There is that little bit of anxiety because it's your first interview and you want to get into medical school but you're also confident." Natalie actually received some very difficult questions particularly during some of the MMI's. She explains that what really helped her was this one piece of advice I gave on my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview, which was to read a lot of healthcare magazines. One of the questions asked was about euthanasia and she read an article about that so she was able to give them a very good answer. It was because she followed this advice and she was reading such topics that she was able to get a very-informed answer and give the interviewer her stance on it and sticking to her beliefs about it. There were also other parts where she had trouble answering but she asked for a moment to think instead of just staring blankly. This gave her time to collect her thoughts. Lastly, whenever she didn't know something, she would tell the interviewer she's not sure but she would tell them what she thinks. Knowing that you're not always going to have the answers helped a lot too. [39:00] Tally of Acceptances on Her Third Application Cycle Out of fifteen interview officers, she only went to ten. She had six acceptances and the rest were waitlists. Natalie says that aside from her postbac and her work experience, what made the difference this time was the fact that she had done four mock interviews. She reviewed them each time and she was also staying very well-informed and this helped her give some very articulate and applicable answers to relevant issues. During her third application, she went into the interview more prepared, more articulate, and more knowledgeable. In narrowing down six acceptances to ultimately decide where to go, Natalie wrote down a very detailed description of what she really liked about each school and what she disliked. She ranked the schools and gave it a score. She was down to three schools which scored 9.1 out of 10. She also looked into financial aid which helped her a lot. She basically kept note of everything. When it came down to her final decision, financial aid played a role but also, she tried to put herself in a hypothetical position. "If I had gone to this school, will I be thinking what if I had gone to the other one?" Ultimately, she looked for what's going to make her happy, where she wants to match for residency geography-wise, match lists, and her own ranking of the schools with details of what she liked and disliked. Natalie is going to the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. [43:05] Future Aspirations and Final Words of Wisdom Natalie hopes to work with underserved populations and she's considering getting a Master's in Public Health but she's keeping an open mind knowing she's going to find other things she would like. As to what specialty to get into, she's a curious person so she might make her decision on the third year. She likes working with her hands and she scrubbed into surgeries. She remembers coming out of each one elated. She's also starting school early since Michigan has a program for students interested in health equity so she's doing that and getting a jumpstart in Anatomy and Histology and get connected with mentors. Finally, Natalie's advice to those battling with self-doubt and had to reapply, is to take the time to prepare the way you need to even if you have to wait a year or two to get your finances in check or academics in check. A year or two years will not put a big dent at all when you look at the grand scheme of things. Look at the available resources out there. Look at AAMC and look at postbacs. They can be expensive but you can take loans and scholarships. Try to see it as an investment. Natalie adds that there is always room for improvement so don't feel so hopeless. Be real with yourself and ask yourself, what could happen better. Be honest with yourself and be humble as well. In her case, she had to pay a little more for mock interviews but she believes it's a very great investment. "It's very easy to assume that you did your absolute best and you made no mistakes. Chances are, you made a mistake. Humble yourself, be honest, and address that issue." Be curious. Seek help from your premed advisors. Don't ignore them. Listen to them. IN some instances, take it with a grain of salt but don't make the mistake she made of ignoring her advisor the first time that she didn't even get any interviews. Don't be discouraged. Take things one step at a time knowing you can get to your final destination. It may take longer but it's possible. Don't let any negativity consume you. Do your absolute best and keep on pushing. [48:15] Final Thoughts If you have any questions for Natalie, go ahead and ask her at The Hangout Group on Facebook. As you've heard, Natalie talked about having mock interviews with me. As we're releasing this in early July 2017, I'm starting to get filled up with mock interview requests. If you're interested, sign up for a mock interview with me. I did four interviews with Natalie, an open interview, a closed interview, an MMI, and a mix of anything else she needed. Also check out our brand new Mock Interview Platform and sign up to be notified when this will be launched and when you can sign up to be part of that platform. If you have any questions, shoot me an email at email@example.com. Links: The Hangout Group on Facebook The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview Mock Interview Platform MedEd Media Network AAMC List of Postbaccalaureate Programs