Pre-Med Advice: What I Wish I Knew (& My Nontraditional Story)

[Presentation video coming SOON! ... until then, please review the advising slides and transcript notes below]

Currently, I am a 1st year medical student at LECOM and a Weber State University graduate.

I am mom of a 9-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Major, and a 3-year-old little lady, Justice.

This is my very convoluted pre-medical pathway.

It's a little overwhelming so let's back up and I'll take you through it.

As a pre-medical student, I remember the pressure of feeling like I was on the outside and that my non-linear path would keep me from med school and ultimately becoming a doctor.

But I want you to know that many of us take long and uncertain detours to get here.

Those experiences shape you, they improve your maturity, expand your aptitude for empathy as a clinician, and if nothing else... make for great med school application essays.

Let's get into my undergraduate journey that led me to become a student doctor in the 2021 entering class.

I started studying full-time at Weber State University, at 16-years-young, in the accounting department. I was always good with numbers and accounting was a safe degree.

But coming from a family of meager means, I also felt the pressure to work to provide for myself so I typically held 2-3 jobs and worked anywhere form 40-70 hours/week, on top of full-time classes. I worked in the emergency department at McKay Dee Hospital and for a while in ICU research down at Intermountain Medical Center. I also worked as a CNA in a long term care facility.

That pressure led me to failing an entire semester in 2010.

At this point I was 18 years young and just couldn't keep all of the balls in the air.

I didn't withdraw or drop, I simply stopped going to classes or completing coursework. I was too ashamed to communicate with anyone at the school. So, I earned a full plate of Fs.

While I actually loved school, I knew I needed some time away.

So I moved to California and worked at Sutter health in labor and delivery and then Rideout Health as a business analyst.

After a couple of years and a really positive end to a romantic relationship, I took off to Colorado and worked for SCL Health as an analyst.

While I was doing really well for so young, I started to feel the call of my education again.

Now, because I had earned above a threshold number of credit hours at WSU, I could re-enroll and take advantage of in-state tuition, regardless of my current state of residency.

In 2014 I started with a couple of online courses while I tied up loose ends and by that spring I relocated to Utah to attend Weber full-time again, but this time I dual-majored in Exercise and Sport Science.

Remember that great breakup I mentioned? It was so good, I lost 75 pounds and became an awesome version of myself that led me want to study exercise and diet.

The exercise science major, and realizing that I was already in school for the long-haul, really lit the fire in me to take it a step further. But I didn't quite get up the courage to go pre-med until 2016.

Now I was dual-majoring and adding all of the pre-med recommended courses (that consequently earned me a minor in chemistry).

To be in line with some of my class I decided to apply for graduation and I walked across the stage on 4/27/2018.

That's a picture of my actual cap there with 3 Bs:

  • "BS" for earning my degree

  • "Bday" because April 27th is my birthday (I got to walk on my birthday)

  • "Baby" because I was 12 weeks pregnant with my daughter

Although I had graduated, I still had a few recommended pre-med courses I needed to take, and some that I just wanted to take (can you tell I like school?) So I continued classes over the summer... then into the fall semester.

And knowing that I was due to give birth in late October, I communicated early with all of my professors so that I could try to work ahead as much as possible before then.

I went in for an induction on a Sunday morning, labored 2.5 days, pushed for 4.5 hours before getting a consequent chorio infection, and then having an unplanned C-section.

My daughter was born on a Tuesday. I was released home that Friday. And by Saturday morning I waddled my cinched-up belly up the Davis campus stairs to sit for an exam in the testing center.

Then I continued that semester and another while caring for my daughter and returning to work.

Somewhere in there I took the MCAT, didn't score too hot--498.

But finally in 2019 I decided to submit my med school applications for the graduating class of 2024.

We will get into applications in a bit, but, long story short: the cycle came to a close and I started looking ahead at the next.

As I was preparing the following year's applications, I decided to also look into and apply to some special master's programs (SMPs) after weighing the likelihood that my GPA and MCAT score would get me past primary/secondary application screenings.

The longer you're out of school, the harder succeeding in med school will be. And the more years you spend applying, the less years you get to be a physician.

In 2020 I applied to a handful of medical schools as well as SMPs and was subsequently admitted to LECOMs Master of Medical Sciences 1-year program.

During the program, I performed well enough to interview for the medical school and at the conclusion of those grueling 10 months I was offered a seat in the DO program, in my chosen pathway.

Not depicted in my pre-medical pathway timeline:

  • I was hospitalized twice for recurrent infections, septic the first, in 2015, I believe.

  • Then on 9/8/16, my niece who I had raised for several years when she was about 4-7 years old, then a 14-year-old high school cheerleader, committed suicide. It took time, that felt like it had frozen still, for me to feel like I was living on earth and among other people again.

Windy, bumpy, and discontinuous as my journey was, I'm speaking to you today as a student doctor.

Looking back, Weber State has incredible resources if you experience adversities as a student.

Speak to professors for individual course leniency... when my niece left us, I was eventually able to open up to my professors and it was very helpful that some of them shared my experience and were so generous in allowing me to actually create a timeline for catching up on coursework.

Taking an "incomplete" grade is also an option for extra time to complete coursework after the semester's end.

Don't be afraid of that corner office where the counseling services center lives. They are very welcoming of walk-ins and phone calls.

If you just can't escape a blemish on your transcript because... life happens, explore an academic petition. With a little explanation and perhaps some supporting documentation (like from a therapist or physician), you may be able to have some things removed from your official transcript.

On this note, please hesitate to repeat courses. I know I was advised not to do so but of course, sometimes you just gotta learn for yourself.

If no one has told you, AMCAS and AACOMAS average repeat coursework, they do not replace grades like your school does. And over the hundred (or hundreds, in my case) credit hours you will take in undergrad, an average of repeat course grades is not going to move the GPA needle.

Just to put this into perspective, my WSU cumulative GPA = 3.56, contrasted with my undergraduate AMCAS/AACOMAS cumGPA = 3.19.

Let's dive into a bit about the actual med school applications.

If you haven't felt it yet get ready for a roller coaster of emotions.

Once you get to a place where you have a good idea of your hard statistics (your GPA and MCAT score), it's time to start curating your list of schools to apply to.

There are a couple of awesome resources to get you started.

I am so stinking stoked at the updates that the Choose DO Explorer has made recently that allows you to use filters! When I first started researching DO schools, the only resource available was a huge PDF catalog they published every year.

Choose DO is free, you just sign up with your email address and get immediate access.

MSAR for the MD schools is a paid database running $28/1 year or $36/2 years.

(The AAMC fee assistance program includes free 2-year access to MSAR.)

A few things you might compare on these sites when researching potential schools:

  • GPA

  • MCAT

  • Mission/vision

  • Tuition

  • Required/recommended coursework

  • Extracurriculars

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Age of students

  • Residencies matched

  • Student home states (and in-/out- of state)

  • Racial/ethnic diversity of class

That last one I mention because I did (and still do) want to attend a diverse medical school. The reason to pay attention to this particular published statistic is that there are some schools whose mission is centered around supporting a particular minority group. If you are part of that group, then you are their bread and butter and should absolutely apply. But if you're not, it might be more of a wasted application in the end. For example, I had wanted to apply to Morehouse based solely on statistics, until I noticed who their target demographic is--the 2020 entering class is 93% black/African American, and I am not.

I encourage you to make a spreadsheet with the data you look up to avoid searching for the same schools repeatedly. Trust me, you will find yourself doing so.

Some value (taken with a grain of salt) can be gleamed from peer impressions on forums like the Student Doctor Network (SDN) & Reddit.

Moving on, let's talk about the money that goes into applying to med school.

I remember having a pre-med meeting where I was told to plan to spend about $10,000 on an application cycle and thinking that was some made-up non-sense.