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If at first you don’t succeed, keep on trying

How to be resilient in applying to medical school, even when life doesn’t go your way

By Dakota Buhrman

67. 67 is the number of rejections I received over the course of two application cycles to medical school. Right around rejection letter number 30, I started to field questions from concerned friends and family members. They inquired not only to my mental state after being told my no to my dreams, but also what my back up plan was. To be honest, I never really had an answer for them.

With each failed attempt at matriculating into medical school, I gained new insight as to what attributes I possessed which helped my application as well as the parts of my application I needed to work on. Never once during those two years did I, however, lose sight of my goal. I knew being a physician was my purpose in life. I was not going to let even 67 schools telling me “no” get in the way of this aspiration. I am a firm believer that everything in life happens for a reason. The knowledge I gained through these failures is something I wish to pass along to other students who may be in the same place I was only a few short years ago.

With each failure, my knowledge of the grueling beast that is the medical application cycle grew.  I learned what specific attributes make a successful candidate and how to convey these to admission committees. I gained insight as to when an applicant is strong enough to be successful in an application cycle and when they are not.  After many long discussions with several different admission committee members across various schools, I even had the opportunity to discover what schools’ applicants should apply to in order to maximize their chances at gaining at acceptance and which ones they should not waste their time and money on.

Through numerous secondary applications, I developed an understanding of the true meaning of diversity and how to appropriately portray this understanding in writing. Even on the interview trail, I had the opportunity to learn how to convey my assets to several admission committee members in one-on-one, panel, and multiple-mini interviews. I learned how to adapt to each school’s environment while maintaining my core values. I even discovered how to gain an acceptance off of the waitlist. While I learned a tremendous about what medical schools are looking for in a student, the most important lesson I learned over the course of 67 rejections is in regard to my own personal resilience and grit.

A career in medicine is by no means an easy journey to undertake. Making it through an application cycle to medical school is just the start of a very windy and bumpy road ahead. The truth is, many hopeful students will apply to medical school next year and most will unfortunately not be successful. Their passion for medicine will be tested and their own perseverance will be questioned. While I want to help these students craft the perfect essay on why they would meet a schools’ mission and learn how to ace a medical school interview, I more importantly want to provide them support through what undoubtedly might be the toughest year they have every encountered. I want to remind them that if a career in medicine is what they genuinely want to pursue, then with a little hard work they can make that happen. I want to question those students who are unsure of this path. Medical school is challenging, and admissions committees are learning how to weed out students who are not passionate about becoming a physician. If a student is doubting their reasons for entering this field, then I also wish to provide mentorship to these applicants as well.

Everything happens in life for a reason. If the reason why I received over 60 rejection letters is to help at least one student obtain a goal they thought was unattainable, then I truly believe each of those “not now” letters were worth it.

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