I have a lengthy blog post for you all today. It is my premed journey throughout the years. I will be discussing everything I did as a premed student, as well as my thoughts and reflections along the way. I hope you all enjoy it!
I was in the eighth grade when I first decided that I wanted to be a doctor. It was the early fall and my teacher decided that it was important for us students to think about what we wanted to do in the future. We all hopped onto the classroom computers and took a career test that matched our personalities and skill sets to certain careers. After taking my test, I looked at the results and saw “doctor.” That was the very first time I ever considered the career. My curiosity surged, and I began to look at what it entailed to become a doctor. That’s when I first learned about undergrad, the MCAT, medical school, and residency. I have always been a lover of school, so all of the years of continuous learning did not scare me at all. Instead, it excited me. I read deeper into the characteristics and roles of a physician, and I fell in love. I thought that knowing all about the body and interacting with patients was so interesting and, from that moment on, I wanted to be a doctor.
I would classify myself as someone who is definitely type A. In fact, I would consider myself to be the definition of type A. So, that day in the eighth grade, I had researched everything on how to become a doctor and made myself a timeline of goals to complete throughout the next six years. I had my high school courses picked out, I knew what kind of undergraduate degree I wanted to pursue, I knew when I wanted to write the MCAT, and I knew that I’d need extensive extracirriculars too. I had a plan.
I have always been very studious and academically inclined, but I told myself that I needed to be the best I possibly could throughout high school. I knew that getting into medical school was very competitive and your grades needed to be top-notch, so I told myself that if I couldn’t handle high school, I’d be experiencing a rude awakening in university. With the goal of medical school ingrained in my mind, I worked my butt off throughout high school. Each year I maintained at 95%+ average and also won several academic awards for highest proficiency in the subjects of sciences and French.
However, strong academics are not the only thing that will get you into medical school. From my constant researching, I also knew that a part of the application process to Ontario medical schools is the autobiographical sketch, which is a list of 48 things you’ve done since the age of 16. These “things” can include: education, work experience, research experience, extracirriculars, awards, volunteering, clinical experience, and hobbies. I wanted to be able to fill this list to its maximum, so I started really getting involved as soon as I turned 16. I worked part-time during school, I was involved in almost every club, I was president of student council, and I began to volunteer at my local hospital. As soon as I was old enough to start something new, I did it. I was always so eager to meet every single checkpoint on my timeline of goals.
I also think that one of the best decisions I made during high school was to start volunteering at my local hospital. This introduced me to the clinical setting and allowed me to see what the role of the physician was, even if it was just through observation. I also began to experience what it was like to interact with patients. My very first role in the hospital was being a “friendly visitor,” where I would spend time with elderly patients on an in-patient floor. My job was to talk to the patients and keep them company. I could not believe the connections I made on that floor and how much I learned about their lives and families. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was so amazing. I felt as though my presence was really uplifting their spirits and that the patients didn’t feel so alone anymore. It was very sad for me to find out that a lot of these patients were not being visited by anyone, since they either didn’t have much family close by or left at all. At that point, I really fell in love with the kind of relationships you can have with patients and the amount of trust they have in you. Those days I was nothing more than a volunteer student, so I could hardly imagine what kind of strong relationship physicians have with their patients. Throughout the years I wanted to experience all that the hospital had to offer, so I jumped from department to department.
My high school years just flew right by, and before I knew it, I was in grade twelve deciding on where to go for university. I knew that medical schools had requirements and I knew that the MCAT exam was comprised mainly of science topics. I also knew that if I wanted to keep my grades up throughout university, I should pick a degree that I would love and be interested in. So, with all of that being said, I chose to take a science degree. I applied to various universities and always picked some sort of life science/biomedical science/biochemistry program. I personally ended up staying home for my undergrad and I decided to take a life science program. The reason I stayed home was because I won the major scholarship from the university in my hometown, and how could you turn down free tuition?
Oh, first year. Why does it feel like so long ago now? First year of university is a big point in a premed’s journey to a career in medicine. It’s when high school students from all around the country (and world) come together and get put on the same playing field. This is the moment you praise your strict, tough high school teachers, and you are just so relieved that they kicked your butt into shape for university. It’s really a moment of truth. Can you keep up your grades like you did in high school? Can you continue to be involved, so that you can fill that list of 48 things? Will crash or will you soar? It’s a huge year for everyone.
For me, it meant everything. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it all and do it well. I wanted a 4.0 GPA, I wanted to be a part of the university’s leadership programs, and I wanted to continue to gain clinical experience. Academics were my number one priority because I knew they were a “non-negotiable.”
To me, “non-negotiables” are the things that you cannot slack off on because the medical schools will not compromise on those certain things. For example, GPA and MCAT score cut-offs are both non-negotiables because if you don’t meet the requirement – you’re out.
To keep up my grades, I always stayed on top of my studying and assignments. I tried to not leave things until the last minute or wait until the day before a test to figure out what I didn’t understand. Throughout the semesters, I would ask for help if I needed it and always practice what I was learning so that it was fresh in my mind. I also used study groups to study for midterms and exams. I found that talking things out with other students would really help me solidify my understanding.
In my first year of university, I also started my very first club on campus. Since volunteering on the geriatric in-patient floor, I really wanted to give back to the elderly community and ensure that they all had warm, caring visitors. That’s when I created “Students Recognizing the Retired,” a club aimed to integrate the young community with the local elderly population by organizing themed events at local retirement homes. As the president and founder, I would organize meetings for the group members and, together, we would plan for the events. This was something that I was very passionate about and it was also a great way for me to be more involved on campus. Other things I would participate in were the university leadership programs, such as student ambassadors and orientation leaders.
I also gained a lot of clinical experience in my first year of undergrad. I continued to volunteer once a week at the hospital, this time in the cancer center. However, I wanted to more than just to volunteer. I wanted to shadow physicians and see what their day-to-day lives were like. Through networking around the hospital, I was connected with a hospital staff member who was able to connect students with physicians for shadowing. After sending her my information and brief biography, I had four physicians who reached out to me for shadowing opportunities. That year, I shadowed two interventional radiologists, a family physician, and a nephrologist. Shadowing was such an amazing experience, and it really confirmed that medicine was the career I wanted to pursue. I loved how knowledgeable the doctors were about their patients’ illnesses and treatment plans, and I also loved the relationship physicians had with their patients. Additionally, in my first year, I really wanted to begin looking into research positions. I knew medical schools liked the way research looked on an application, and it was definitely a way to set two applicants apart. Therefore, I used my networking skills to gain a volunteer research position in the clinical trials department of the hospital, where I would help out the research nurses and staff in any way that I could. I started off doing small tasks like filing and organizing, but it was definitely better than nothing.
Like first year, second year involved keeping my GPA high, continuing to be incredibly involved, and volunteering. However, it was also the year that I planned on writing the MCAT. Without rambling on for too long, second year was definitely chaotic. It was the busiest year of my program and I still wanted to maintain my involvement on campus and at the hospital. In order to stay on track, I remained incredibly focused and followed an organized routine to optimize my time. My hard work paid off and I made it through the crazy year.
Excitingly, my second year was also when I got my first official research position with a psychiatrist at the hospital. I conducted research for him and published my first paper on the effects smoking cessation drugs have on mentally ill patients. It was an amazing achievement and I was so proud to be able to add a publication to my CV.
… now we need to talk about the MCAT. Remember 2009? I was only in the eighth grade and had nothing to really worry about. Well, time flies and, before I even knew it, it was already time for me to write the “scary” MCAT. I booked my test date for the end of August and I began studying in early May. I signed up for a prep course that was being held at my university by the Princeton Review, and that really helped me stay on a consistent study regime. I would read the textbooks, go to class, do the practice questions, and take practice tests. After my course was complete, I had one month left of self-studying before my test date. During that time, I studied with a classmate who was also writing her MCAT at the end of August and we motivated each other to push through that last month. Test day was here before I knew it, and I wrote the seven hour MCAT all premeds dreaded.
In order to stay calm, I just told myself that there was no pressure to do incredible and that this was all a learning experience. Writing the MCAT after my second year ensured that, if I did poorly, I still had another chance to take it without falling behind schedule. Most people aim to get into medical school after the completion of their four year undergraduate degree, meaning that you can write your MCAT after your third year and still apply for that timeline. Writing early gives you a buffer. If you mess up, you get a second chance to write without any harm done. If you do well, you don’t need to write it again – bonus!
With all of that said and done, you still need to wait over a month to receive your score. That means that if you write at the end of August, after your second year, you don’t receive your score until the beginning of third year. I would describe third year as a big, long waiting game. You’re constantly waiting for something. The first thing you’re waiting for is your MCAT score.
I received my MCAT score at the end of September. I honestly did not expect much, but I hoped for the best. I was in class when I got the email stating that my score was available, and my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I was a panicky mess. Thankfully, when I opened it, I scored high enough to apply to my two top choice schools! As a third year student, I didn’t have too many options since only a few schools allow you to apply without the completion of your degree. However, I was so excited that I was able to apply to my two top choice schools.
I had already began preparing my application because I knew the deadline was quickly approaching. I had my score, my transcripts, my essays, and my 48 things all ready to go. I asked my professor, high school teacher, and my research supervisor to be my references for my application, and when it was all done, I sent it off.
The waiting game continued. When would I hear back from the schools? Would I hear back? I was so nervous. In fact, I was nervous for months until I received my first interview invitation. My first interview was from the University of Ottawa in late February. However, I had already been practicing and preparing for months. I read books, listened to podcasts, memorized the CanMEDS, and even went to mock interviews. I felt ready. After my interview, I felt relieved and confident on my performance.
Then, the waiting continued again. I was still waiting to hear back from the other school. I thought maybe they didn’t want me because I felt like I was waiting forever. Until one day, I finally heard back. My last interview was from the University of Toronto on April 8th. Since I had already practiced for Ottawa’s interview, I felt good about my next one. I knew what I had to do and I knew what to expect. However, I was still a little bit nervous because Toronto was my number one choice for medical school. In fact, it’s the best medical school in the country and offers its students a novel experience with clinical training in world renowned hospitals. I wanted to impress them. I felt that my interview went well and I was so relieved that it was all done. I finally had a moment to relax, and I didn’t have to worry about my performance anymore. At this point, what was done was done, and nothing could be changed.
Then, again, the waiting game continued. The application results are always released on one certain day for all of the Ontario medical schools. This year the magic date was May 9th. I had another month of waiting until I would hear back from the schools. It felt like forever away. I though May 9th would never come around, until it did.
May 9th at about 7:45 am I became the happiest person on this planet. I received acceptances to both medical schools I applied to. Meaning, I WAS GOING TO BE A DOCTOR. I was over the moon! I called my parents, my boyfriend, and my friends so that I could share the wonderful news. I was ecstatic! I could not believe that I got into my number one choice for medical school a.k.a. THE BEST SCHOOL IN THE COUNTRY! After years of perseverance and hard work, I finally achieved the goal I set for myself in the eighth grade.
This is my premed story and by sharing it with all of you, I want you all to know that you can do it too. You can achieve your goals if you work hard and stay passionate. It’s your life and your journey, so you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. My advice would be to never give up and to really research the job you want so that you know what to prepare. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to do at such a young because I had so much time to prepare for everything, but as long as you research and prepare everything as soon as you know – you will be fine!
I hope you all enjoyed my premed journey over the last few years and if you have any questions, please comment, email, or connect with me on social media. I also have mentoring services now on the website, so if you want one on one sessions – contact me for more information!
The Girly MD (to be)