By: Luke Wallis, MD
The road to medical school is often times more challenging than one would expect. I know it was for me. After 4 years of doing what I thought would get me accepted and finally submitting my application, I didn’t get a single interview for medical school. Not ONE. Fast-forward 5 years and I matched into my dream residency in dermatology. If you are in a similar scenario after applying for medical school, I understand this is not only a frustrating time but it can also be embarrassing and agonizing. The reality is that each year medical school has more and more qualified applicants applying for the same positions and what was once a more straightforward process for admission (30 years ago) has become much more challenging. Unfortunately, many of us can be lulled into a false sense of security about what is required for medical school admission and beginning that dream of becoming a physician can become delayed. If that is your story as it was mine, I want to encourage you with a few things. First of all you CAN do it. People less talented, less intelligent, and less passionate about this career have gone before you and been successful which means you can too. I say this to encourage you that you are capable if you are willing to make a few minor changes to your past ways of doing things. Below are a couple important ingredients people shared with me to be successful both prior to and during medical school.
Determination. You might say this one is obvious and that is because it is obvious. Especially when times are tough, I cannot stress enough the importance of remembering the “why” behind your choice of going to medical school. Your passion will help you keep going no matter the challenge. My mentality after learning I wasn’t accepted my first time was “other people may be ‘smarter’ than me but no one is going to outwork me”. You don’t have to be a genius to work hard and most often determination is 90% of the battle. It takes no particular skill to work hard and is more valuable than any level of natural intelligence. Your “luck” is made through hard work and your eventual acceptance into medical school will be no different.
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While working hard is extremely important, working smart is of equal importance. During college, I would often remember this first part about working hard and often times forget to work smart. If your system of studying/applying/writing essays is broken, working harder is not the answer until you have first discovered how to adapt your system to the problem at hand. Just as each year since high school your classes and their requirements have changed so do your study habits also need to change. Only when you have adapted to the task at hand does working harder produce results. If you are at a place where things don’t seem to be working like they use to, try talking to others about changing your habits. Becoming complacent or static in drastically different scenarios is a recipe for disaster. I encourage you to avoid this mistake that I made.
Depending on your personality, sometimes the hard work is what people find difficult and other times it is the ability to adapt to changing demands. Whatever your struggle is currently, making a change in these two areas may make a massive difference. Many of my colleagues who matched into the most competitive specialties were often times people like myself who applied several times previously, who came off the waitlist the week before the first day of class or who only got one interview out of dozens of applications. The common thread is that each individual was not afraid to work hard and change the habits until they got it right.
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A final encouragement for those who did not get accepted to medical school right away is that while you may feel this is wasted time, know that you are learning a valuable lesson. The toughness and grit you will possess going forward will be what sets you apart from your classmates when the going gets tough. Toughness will let you believe in yourself and remind you that you’ve been through worse before and you can succeed. Determination and adaptability are the special ingredients for this process. I hope you will learn from my mistakes and the lessons I have learned. When you are on the other side of this season you will look back and be thankful for this important life lesson that is learned in no other way than through failure.