By: Benjamin Robison, MD, DMA
Dr. Robison graduated from Stony Brook University earning a Doctorate of Musical Art before completing his medical degree at Stanford University, School of Medicine. Dr. Robison is currently working in healthcare consulting and is the newest member of the MedSchoolCoach advising team.
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden
It is easy to think of admission applications as a job, a task to check off, a to-do. X hours of volunteer work, lining up recommendations, writing a personal statement, entering grades, describing achievements.
But the goal of attending medical school preceded by the admissions process can and should be much more than that. It can be a stunning mountain top to inspire the best in yourself. Such a goal offers the opportunity to develop and live your dream to the fullest. To adventure, take risks, and become what you aspire to be.
A great admissions essay captures the powerful urgency of a life lived to the fullest in pursuit of your own vision.
Writing your personal statement offers the chance to assess and reflect upon the themes, values, and goals that have defined your life. Medical school admissions officers are looking for particular qualities: a hopefulness for the future expressed through compassionate action, combined with a hard headed realism about how to get there. They aren’t looking for a life of 100% success – if you haven’t failed, you probably haven’t tried hard enough – but of effort and achievement and the wisdom learned from facing your unique challenges. And the grit to try harder and smarter the next time.
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While there is a lot of work that can be done to polish and deftly convey that story when the time comes, you can also start building that story now. The benefits will compound on themselves each and every day.
What is your story? By beginning to answer this question, you can better choose your next steps. A life story is inevitably a balance of premeditated intentions and world’s varied reactions. It is your great privilege and opportunity to start to shape your own story as it shapes you. To give yourself the space to dream, then to cultivate those dreams though savvy execution and improvisation in the face of the exigencies of life. When you finish your day, having done all you can, in a way that brings you and those you serve happiness and comfort, you have taken a huge step toward your medical school aspirations while building the very story you’ll want to tell.
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In his landmark work on the deliberate practice, Anders Ericksson points to the qualities that lead to expertise: A lofty goal, a clear plan to achieve that goal, daily action outside your comfort zone, and a source of fast and reliable feedback. Aiming toward admission to medical school can focus how you think about each of these steps. The goal – to help alleviate suffering through medicine is clear, but you can write the plan each day, then take those actions that push your comfort zone, make you expand your abilities, and challenges you, then look for peers, mentors or coaches who can give you quality feedback on how you are doing. This practice of following your dream in a rigorous way is what allows you to achieve those dreams.
When you wake up and homework is due, and you have track practice or quartet practice, and a new research project starting, and it’s your friends birthday, and that homeless shelter you volunteer at wants a new funding plan, take a moment. Take a moment to breathe, remember your vision, how these pieces fit in, and then take fierce pride in the work you are doing.
The best medical schools want compassionate, inquisitive, skeptical, flexible, and dynamic thinkers who bring a unique presence and perspective to their community. They are looking for someone who works to make their own dreams a reality, each and every day.
If you are on this path, and I hope you are, then never stop following your aspirations and dreams. Health and healthcare will be best served when you do.
And then we’ll be here to help you share your story and demonstrate why medical schools will be lucky to have you.