Processing the Pre-Med Years

Junior year of college me would be questioning my insanity with this article but most people at twenty years of age have no idea how to own who they actually are, let alone owning their vulnerability on the internet of all places.

So me at twenty four? I say hell, let’s go for it.

I always thought of being “Pre-Med’ as sheepish and miniscule, like it wasn’t much and I still had so much more to go, like the first movie in a series- setting the foundation. 

Academics:

My story starts: I went to an undergrad that was known for making Doctors. It was known as a “hard” school- yes, little eighteen year old Jessica did what everyone else did, already trying to fit into the mold of making the “right” decisions to become a Doctor. This school had Organic Chemistry, Cell Bio and Physics with a double decker lecture hall and 600 kids in it. However, I thought college was supposed to be like the movies- so so far so good, right? This is around the time where I should say, that no one in my family had graduated from college besides my brother (who was not a science major) so I was really on my own for this and truly making this up as I went along. 

I took my classes in the first semester and did alright! I unfortunately ran into some personal/family issues winter of Freshman year that carried over into that Spring and ended up with a 2.4 GPA. Yes, friends you read that right: a 2.4. If you’re like me you know for medical school admissions: that means there is blood in the water and boy are we in trouble. Now, if you’re in admissions you’re thinking: you’re thinking okay she has a narrative, she’ll be fine as long as she can prove herself later on. 

Well, I was not thinking that way at the time. I wanted to run and hide. I was thinking: that’s it. My potential is basically straight Cs. I didn’t even have enough self awareness to realize my academics were a product of my environment and NOT indicative of my capabilities as a student. I had to retake Physiology that summer and brought my “pass” to a B and that is where my upward trend starts. I spent the rest of college working on an upward trend in my science classes and did- my first A in a science class was in a Zoology dissection class and I felt like a million bucks. I was also a Theater minor in college and the mix of classes really made me feel like I was doing something FOR ME. Which I could have afforded to do a lot more of in college.

Standardized Tests:

So if you’ve never read anything written by me before, you don’t know this but allow me to say: Hi I’m Jess and I used to suffer from standardized test anxiety. (I say used too because let me tell you I have improved SO much!) See: My relationship with Standardized Test Anxiety.  My first MCAT take: came (from a very uninformed place) of not taking all the prereqs before I had taken the test- this led me to not knowing the amino acids on the exam (no Biochem knowledge) and having no clue about basically anything in the Psych section. I also had no idea what scores schools were looking for. Seriously, I was thinking a 490 was decent. I was way too embarrassed to see my Pre-Health advisor because I thought he would tell me to quit so I decided to do this on my own aka I was flying blind.

LETS PAUSE FOR A SEC: DO NOT EVER BE TOO EMBARRASSED TO ASK FOR HELP BECAUSE YOU ARE MAKING YOUR LIFE SO MUCH HARDER.

Anyway, the first time resulted in a 488. The second time I took a Kaplan class (which is great for strategy but I lacked content review): got a 492. These numbers set the stage for some terrible thinking that yet again, this is my potential. Throw in some stellar peers that are rocking 511s and my self confidence was in the negatives on a scale of 1-10.

Here I am wondering what I’m doing wrong? Why aren’t I like everyone else being a really great pre-med and if I’m not I’ll never get into medical school and never become a doctor! Right around this time was when I took Graduate level science classes in my Masters program- I self studied for the MCAT afterwards and retook it and got a 498. I applied with that score and didn’t get into any Medical Schools. I reapplied with the same score and towards the end of the cycle retook the MCAT just incase (I highly recommend UWorld, Altius exams and meditating because I’m convinced that is what got me over the 500 hump). I received a 502 and believe it or not, was accepted into Medical School with my 498 so I never even submitted the 502! I say that last time was just for me.

Extracurriculars

Oh my gosh, if there was one thing I’m good at it’s doing a ton of outside things at once. I live for being busy and making plans- I’ve been like this my whole life. I knew my strength was my outside hobbies and interests outside of school as I’m a people person and love to talk. One thing I knew was that Pre-Meds had to Shadow. My first summer (coming off the cusp of my 2.4) I shadowed a General Surgeon that was a family friend. I also had the biggest Imposter Syndrome of my entire life (so far) because nothing says: wow you have no idea what the heck you’re doing and couldn’t be further from Meredith Grey like straight Cs on your transcript. I carried on basically making my own rotations out of shadowing picking specialties I thought I would like (pulmonology, Cardiothoracic surgery, more about that here: Shadowing a CT surgeon, OBGYN). The game changed my sophomore year of college when I shadowed Pediatrics abroad in Thailand and I immediately fell in love with Global Health. It was definitely an empowering trip (more about that here: Shadowing Global Health in Thailand)  that gave me the confidence to pick myself back up again. I started to do Breast Cancer Research my junior year of college and joined my Pre-Med Society at my University where I became Vice President. I was never a scribe or an EMT through out my Pre-med years and that was totally okay with me. A lot of people think you have to be, but honestly: you should do what you want. What I wanted was research, volunteering and shadowing.

So, What next?

I absolutely hated when anyone asked me that because I knew I wasn’t a good enough applicant to apply to medical school from undergrad and trust me, it’s awkward because most people expect you to have a “solid, flawless” plan at 22. I think I even put that expectation on myself. Here’s what I knew: I knew I had to take a gap year and yet here I was feeling like I wanted to run and hide- again. I knew I had an end goal and I knew I would get there and not quit, but I still felt not enough- because I wasn’t like everyone else I felt out of place. I knew I didn’t want a post bacc because I hated the non Biology side of classes I had to take so applying to Masters programs made sense. I got my letters of recommendations together marched into my Pre-Health advisor’s office for a Committee Letter Interview. 

I remember being so nervous but honestly he was so welcoming and questioned why I didn’t come meet him sooner. I just kept saying how I knew I wasn’t good enough to apply now that’s why I’m settling for Masters programs and after the third time of me saying that he looked right at me and said: Jessica, you’ve got something here. You’ve recognized that you need more time and that’s okay, because at the end of this it’s about you and what you want, not anyone else.

 Oh, the irony. 

Here I was avoiding this because I didn’t want to face the negativity meanwhile he was the most supportive person I’ve met on this journey so far (who wasn’t related to me.)….

The minute I stopped trying to be like everyone else was when I started feeling so much happier personally and that showed professionally.

I continued through Graduate school and took upper level science classes, my grades SOARED because I actually made school my top priority and learned what study methods work for ME. (I’m receiving my Masters of Science in Biology in a couple of weeks!) Took a research position and am finishing my thesis, volunteered teaching Parkinson’s patients boxing classes took a Graduate Teaching Assistant position. Along the way I was able to make new mentors, new friends, travel with old ones, start a blog/Instagram account, traveled abroad and shadowed Global Health in the Dominican Republic, more on that here: Healthcare in DR . I originally started thinking I would only take one Gap Year, well I took three. They were amazing and I’m committed to breaking the stigma against them because it’s one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made.

As I’m all for happy endings: I’ll be attending an Osteopathic Medical School come July (the name of which I’ll be keeping to myself for privacy reasons.) Let me tell you, the stability and confidence from that statement is something I could only dream of these last 6.5 years. It was a ton of hard work and persistence and that’s half the battle of being a “pre-med” is some grit and consistency. 

I’m truly proud and respect myself for the years that lead up to who I currently am. Without them I don’t know if I would have this platform, the opportunities, the AMAZING (seriously, amazing) friends and self awareness that I have. I look back and think- if I could do it all over again differently? Honestly, probably not. I got what I wanted and took a different way to get there- I’ve always been different from everyone else so this was the perfect path for me.

I realize now that my drive to overcompensate for lack of perfection fed by a comparison culture led to me missing signs about who I was and wanted to be. My gap years saved that. They woke me up and prepared me- it’s why I can walk into Medical School having a decent handle on the kind of person I am, proud of that and the work I’ve done and be open, optimistic and excited about what opportunities and change it will bring me. 

That’s my “Pre-Med” story for all of the that messaged me and asked what it was- stay tuned for my Med story which (hopefully, thanks to COVID) will start sometime around July!

-Jess

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