'The first time I jumped out of an airplane,' other failed attempts at applying to medical school


As anyone in the process of applying to graduate school knows, it's that time of year again! Well, more accurately, it's always that time of year. Although there isn’t a formula for success in graduate school applications or acceptance, if you read the books, scourge the internet and ask your fellow students, you’ll get a textbook full of formulas. 

In my experience with pre-medical applications, if you’re really on top of your game, you’ve already made a file with the Health Professions Office probably in your first year, (despite it convincing you to give it up, because your GPA isn’t a 4.0 and it can't risk your rejection lowering the University’s acceptance statistics). 

You’ve sat through all of the classes with your professors telling you that your class average in the '60s is the highest they’ve had in years ... yet they still aren’t going to give you that  curve. And that all of your experience — the internship, the volunteering, the job you took to pay for your rent and all those textbooks — must be paired with research and a publication, if you even want to consider applying. 

But despite the obstacles, here you are, ready to study and take your MCAT, planning to apply over the summer. 

The latest news I’ve been hit with is that most of my fellow pre-med students have already been formulating their personal statement. The first round of applications doesn’t open for months, but apparently this is crucial. 

As a feeling I’ve become accustomed to, I began to panic, feel inadequate and beg my clearly well-informed peers for advice. Just tell them why you want to be a doctor, they say. This elicits an immediate rant about the injustices of Western medical practices, how much the field is lacking and how passionate I am about implementing changes. 

No, they don’t want to hear that. 

They want you to be compliant with the system. (I’m curious — who the hell was ever revolutionary by being compliant?) But I start again. There are going to be thousands of applicants so you need to stand out, I am told. Be sweet and move them, they say. 

So I begin to write about my volunteer experience: That's right, you can’t start any dreams of entering the medical field if you haven’t volunteered in a hospital (in a different country), and love children and dogs and your grandma (hopefully my love for all of these will balance out a subpar GPA). 

Still, I give in and write about the time I volunteered in a nursing home and how much I learned and loved it. That’s better, I am told, but if you really want to stand out, give them something crazy. Like this one kid I’m told about, who wrote his entire statement about training a marching band and who got into Harvard University. 

So this time I start off with “The first time I jumped out of an airplane,” and run wild with how my fear of heights, paired with being an adrenaline junkie, has moved me toward some really questionable decisions. But at this point even I would jump at the thought of a candidate like this holding a scalpel, so again I am left with a blank paper.

Again, I think of that same advice: Just let them get to know you, so you feel like a real person to them. I try once more, writing now about the origin of my name, albeit a unique one, and why I’d never connected to it until more recent years. It’s appropriate, at least, but it’s bland and lacks all the personality I was intending to convey. 

It doesn’t actually matter, is the final advice I am given. They are reading through thousands, they won’t remember either way. Just give them a little background and you will be fine. This is the perfect advice after having spent hours reviewing every life altering experience I’ve had and revisiting every high school crush I can remember. 

I don’t believe this to be the case, but it reassures me somewhat and reminds me that none of us have the formula or the answers, but we’re all in a similar boat, struggling with the sink or swim mentality. 

There is still a ways to go. I know no one wants to say it, but things are going to fall into place for all of us, no matter how pressing our stresses seem. 

And while it seems like a clock is counting down loudly, breathing hot air down our backs, telling us we are inadequate, this is not the case. I can assure you, despite the sleepless nights, the lack of nutrition and the anxiety attacks we cannot escape, we can try to breathe easy and rest assured knowing that we are not alone in the journey. 


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