Getting into medical school is more of an artform than just a process. Each year, over 50,000 applicants spend hours trying to put to paper their educational achievements, research, awards and accomplishments, realizing the hardest part of the process is finding what makes you ‘you’ and how to reflect that in your application.
We all know everyone has the perfect answer to the question “why do you want to become a doctor”. We’ve all thought about it, rehearsed it, wondered if it was different enough from the next candidate, but many times, however, finding what really makes you different than the next applicant takes much more soul searching and thought than just spitting out an answer that sounds good.
For me, I think I had a few things that played in my favor. I was a non-traditional student, I took around five years off between the time I spent at Penn State right out of high school, to ultimately finishing my bachelors at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I spent those five years working, building a career, traveling the world and honestly, I getting to know myself and figuring out who I was and who I wasn’t. Growing up I never thought about becoming a doctor. I was an athlete. Don’t get me wrong, I always had good grades and exceled in the classroom, but sports were my passion. I never thought of myself as the nerdy studious type that I thought was necessary to become a physician. I worked extremely hard at everything though, and I believe that is one of my best characteristics. Working between my time I school allowed me to learn how to talk to people, I learned how to adjust what I needed to say in a way that it could be heard and understood. I was blessed with the opportunities to travel and see the world, learn new cultures and appreciate growing up in the United States of America.
So yes, I can talk to almost anyone and I make friends quite easily. I am well-adjusted and can adapt to almost any surrounding, but how did that help me get into medical school? When I started back in school to finish my bachelor’s, I had a specific moment in class that I remember felt like a light bulb that went off in my head and in my heart that I wanted to become a doctor. We were learning about neurotransmitters and how medications are used to aide or hinder these. I was beyond interested, excited and wanted more. From that moment on, it was like a fire inside of me, trying to remain patient during the many years it needed to get to the point I was ready to start applying to medical school. I remember sitting down trying to write my personal statement. It was torture. How in the world do they expect you to put into words everything that makes you ‘you’ and how wanting to become a doctor is somehow a part of you and your lifelong goal. And try doing that on a one-page essay. Easier said than done. I remember struggling in the beginning, yet once I realized the questions I needed to answer in my essay, it came easily. Figuring out what I could bring to the table was important in how I delivered my essay. It is what every applicant needs to figure out when writing their own essay. Why does that medical school need you? How are you going to make that school, that residency program, that hospital or clinic better?
Unfortunately, many applicants never receive that phone call and letter of acceptance to medical school. The acceptance rate in 2017 was near 39%, meaning thousands of individuals are left with sore egos and bruised hearts. Take the time to get to know yourself and put it gracefully in writing. Learn to speak to people and have a real conversation. Perfect these things and you will be in your white coat before you know it.