I’m not in US, and something close to how I understand the BS/MD program is the only actual option here. And no, there’s no time for ‘non-science’ courses, especially that in my country it’s been changed from 6 years to 5 (and hardly any material was cut). I’ll be on wards at 21. It’s very hard, but perfect.
Lights at the End of the Tunnel
I’m enrolled in my first semester of retaking classes because I have a terrible undergrad GPA with a downward trend. Each day I wonder if I’m cut out for this. It seems as if every time I try to get serious about school some tragedy happens in my life to make it impossible. Over the years I’ve had to deal with emotional and physical abuse, death of my best friend, depression etc. Do you have any advice for someone like me who doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel?
It sounds like you have had a rough go of it. I am sorry to hear that you have struggled so much; I can’t imagine how tough it has been for you.
It is hard to give advice without knowing your back-story, but I will try none-the-less. At some point you have to decide what’s feasible for you. I would never discourage anyone from their dreams, but unfortunately life circumstances don’t always allow us to do everything we want. You’ve been given a crappy hand of cards. But just because you can’t accomplish everything you might want doesn’t mean you can’t still achieve most of it.
I am assuming that you want to be a doctor, since you chose to direct your question towards me. It is unfortunate that life hardships aren’t clearly delineated on medical school applications. As such your GPA is somewhat hung out to dry without the back-story of how it got that way. I would recommend working on that GPA however you can - through tutoring, retaking classes, or getting a post-bacc or advanced degree. Even with extra work, a poor GPA may raise questions. Here is some advice on how to spin it to your advantage.
You may also have to ask yourself if the timing is right. Many people pursue medical degrees much later in life due to their life circumstances. I worry that you might negatively impact your mental health if you experience dramatic tragedy and march onwards without dealing with it. Perhaps you need to take some time away, find a new balance in your life and return to school. Don’t ever feel like there is an expiration date on education - it will be ready when you are ready.
That said, my greatest successes have been when people told me no, or when it felt like life was against me. I have had relationships fall apart right before finals, family tragedies occur when I was literally thousands of miles away in another country, and missed tremendous professional opportunities for myriad reasons. I can’t know the pain you have experienced, nor can I pretend to understand your circumstances. I can however say that I personally know many people have been successful against tremendous odds - drug addiction, rape, and even the murder of family members.
You also have to question how honest you are being with yourself. Emotional and physical abuse has the potential to dramatically damage your self-esteem. This can also be overcome. Perhaps you don’t even realize your full potential. The first time I submitted work to be published in my local newspaper (in my high school’s town of 8,000) I was told I wasn’t good enough to write. When I approached my medical school about getting an MPH degree I was told flat out that I wouldn’t be able to handle a graduate degree and this curriculum. All through my life people have opted to tell me I can’t do things. Only recently have I realized I thrive on this.
(By the way, I am now a regular contributor to a much larger newspaper and my writing has been featured in medical journals and nationally recognized medical blogs. And those people who told me I couldn’t handle an MD/MPH? I am currently working with their bosses to design a combined curriculum modeled after my success.)
That was a really long post to get to this one point: the light isn’t always at the end of the tunnel - sometimes you have to find that light in yourself. If all I focused on was the end of medical school, or residency, I would be constantly discouraged. That’s a long time from now! Not to mention always looking ahead prevents you from seeing the opportunities in the present. Sometimes you have to find that drive in yourself. Pain and tragedy are phenomenal motivators. They are also the beginning to every great success story.
You have been given this life, for better or worse. It is the only one you’ve got. You can’t decide what happens to you, but you can choose how to react.
You have a long road ahead of you. I hope you choose to light your own way through the tunnel.
I wish you the very best,
BS/MD - Yay or Nay? [Continued]
Most Important Factor?
What would you say is the most important factor (other than grades) of getting into a med school? Something almost all medical students came in with? I heard its lab experience
I would say that most medical students have some research experience, though lab research is definitely not a pre-requisite. There are lots of research methods that can be done outside a lab - from chart reviews to sociology studies. You could even do research in another field entirely. I would say research is common, but not necessarily required.
If I was the interviewer for a medical school the thing I would look for most is passion. Did you do something with lots of vigor and does that show through when you speak about it? Research doesn’t make you a good student; passion does.
Several of my classmates never did any research, but they all had significant experiences or accomplishments in their lives. Some got other degrees (MPH, MBA, etc.), some spent time traveling or working in other countries, and some played sports at the college level. As a med school applicant you should think less of what will make you fit the mold of the traditional student and focus more on what will make you stand out.
The longer I am in medical the more I am convinced that the less traditional the student, the better the student. It is not about what you do, but how you do it. Avoid being someone who does things to check them off on your application. Do it because you love it. That will make you standout on the interview trail.
Best of luck,
Would you ever recommend going into a 6-year or 7-year program, which combines your undergraduate and MD degrees? I’ve applied to one, and it does not require you to take the MCAT at any point in time. Just curious to see what you think, though!
It’s no secret that the smooth, plastic bodies staring out of store windows aren’t true physical replicas of the people who stare back at them. But there’s no reason they can’t be.
Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.
A truly inspiring man. May he RIP.
Tongue Tied Applicant
Hi! I have an interview for a bs/md program soon and could really use a few tips! I struggle with saying why I want to be a doctor, which I think may hurt me. Thank you!
Here is a post of interview advice that I wrote a while back. I would start by reading that.
To get to your statement, why is it that you can’t express reasons you want to be a doctor? Is it that you don’t know? You feel your answer is silly? Or perhaps you just can’t find the right words?
If you don’t know why you want to be a doctor, I would suggest that is a problem. This is the rest of your life we are talking about - you have to be sure! If you aren’t then maybe you should forgo the dual degree and proceed with a BS to allow yourself some time to explore and ensure medical school is the right path for you.
What if you think your answer is silly? Remember that most answers you give will sound cliché to a point. That is because these admissions peeps interview hundreds of people a year - they have heard it all. I guarantee that 90% of those interviewees have said they want to help people. I want to emphasize that you should always, always, always say what is true over what you think sounds best. If you want to go into medicine to help people then say that, no matter how it sounds.
One way to make that sound a bit more memorable is to include a specific example of a time you did help someone, or a time that made you want to help people. Read these aloud and see how different they sound:
"Why do you want to be a doctor?"
"I just really enjoy helping people and want to spend my life doing that." or "Well when I was 16 I started volunteering at the hospital. I spent a lot of time with the elderly veterans playing bingo and I just really enjoyed getting to know them. I’ve always wished I could do more for that population. Ultimately I want to help people, but I think it was my volunteer experience that really taught me that."
I hope you recognize that an example, no matter how silly it sounds, changed the entire tone of that answer.
That leads me to the last point: finding the right words. I hope you have spent some time in the healthcare field already, shadowing and volunteering. Write down some memorable experiences and reflect on those. Why do they make you feel certain about being a doctor? Did you enjoy the teamwork? The complex patients? The ability to improve someone’s health through advice and recommendations (exercise, eating well, etc.)? After finishing this exercise see which themes emerge. I imagine that pulling out these themes will help you illustrate why you want to be a doctor.
Best of luck in your interviews,
Hi, I’m in high school and have been interested in medicine from a very young age. I don’t have any questions, I just wanted to share something. While I am well aware of the harsh realities of being in med school and of being a doctor; I recently volunteered at a hospital and just being in an environment where you get to see all these nurses and doctors attending to patients and genuinely caring for them makes me feel all tingly inside. I realized more how badly I want to be a part of it all. :)
Truth be told I still get that tingly feeling sometimes. But your story sounds very similar to my first experience shadowing in a hospital. Hold on to that feeling, it’s what will steer you through the rough waters.
Thanks for sharing,
Hey TQND, I’m a high schooler and I’ve been filling out my junior interview packet, and I want to be a neurosurgeon, but at the same time I want to do biomedical engineering for my undergrad because I’m really into that & I think it would help me a lot. I don’t know whether doing that would make it harder for me later in Med school. People have been telling me that it will, and I’ve been hunting for answers on the interwebs but there’s no clear answer. Any advice?
I think biomedical engineering is a great degree for medical school. We have several students at my school with bioengineering undergrad degrees. I think their degrees translated well and if anything gave them a leg up in medical school.
Best of luck,
The Untold Life of a Med Student
It’s 6:30. I have eaten dinner – a microwavable meal – and have half a pot of coffee to get me through the night. I have been up since about 6 am studying, with bouts of lecture punctuating my day. I will study until roughly midnight, go to bed, then do it all again tomorrow.
This is my life. This is the glamour of being a 2nd year med student.
Some days it really sucks.
I recently caught up with a buddy who goes to another medical school. We talked about our experiences and the perception people have when they learn we are in medical school. Non-medical personal might as well be the muggles of our world. They look in with curiosity and the assumption that, like Grey’s Anatomy, my life is awash in beautiful women, drama, and the type of lifelong friendships one always dreams of. Unfortunately that couldn’t be further from the truth. Right now most of my life is spent reading medical texts.
The constant studying would be forgivable if we only studied the interesting parts of medicine. But on this particular night I have spent an hour reading about different types of transfusion reactions. Before that I dove into the intricacies of different psychiatric medications, teasing out which double as sedatives, which help with neuropathic pains, and which I can use for an incontinent patient. The truth is that a good portion of medicine is, well… boring. Unfortunately most diseases we learn about are not House-like medical mysteries.
What about the patients I do get to see? They are far from the idealized patients displayed on T.V. Many are elderly or in poor health with multiple comorbid conditions. For every rare presentation there are 20 pneumonias, 15 heart failures, and 10 COPDs (that is probably an understatement). On T.V. patients appear composed; in real life they are likely to have multiple orifices with fluids coming out. Needless to say, most patients do not appear like they just got done with their Glamour Shots.
I love medicine, I honestly and truly do. But sometimes I hate how much it controls my life. I have a stack of books that are awaiting my attention, half written stories that need to be finished, and tons of bicycling adventures needing to be had. Not to mention all of the travel opportunities, friends and family that have been neglected over the last years.
I don’t mean to complain. I am extremely lucky to be where I am. I really do feel fortunate to be on a career path I love, especially when so many don’t end up in medical school. But sometimes I am frustrated by the completely inaccurate portrayal of medicine. I feel like these unfortunate stereotypes are only getting worse as people see healthcare costs rising and vilify doctors as the cause. Half of my Thanksgiving was spent justifying a system that I am not even a part of yet.
In all honesty, being a doctor isn’t like what’s on T.V. It is hard work, day in and day out, as is the road to get there. But for every complaint above there are ten more reasons that I love it. I am proud to be on this road and I can’t wait to one day help patients. This is a rewarding path filled with excitement and daily revelations.
But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t suck sometimes.
Got C’s in my first semester of general biology and chemistry which means low science gpa… I’m going to try harder next semester but should I just give up aiming for med schools since I’ve already screwed up my first semester?
In short - no.
For a longer post about this topic, read this!
Best of luck,