I wanted to share a story about one of my oldest friends from Shanghai. Shirley attends one of the top medical schools in the country. She’s incredibly brilliant and amazing, but what surprises many about her med school experience is that she actually applied twice. I think her perseverance and willingness to overcome adversity will be inspiring to many premeds and reapplicants who are going through the same grueling process of applying to med school.
Hi Shirley. Tell us a little about yourself!
I am a first-year medical student at UCSF (University of California, San Francisco). I grew up in the Bay Area and Shanghai. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2013 with a major in public health, then took 3 gap years before starting med school.
What got you into medicine?
My love for science and stories. I was always fascinated by science and the miraculous ways in which life works. And I am always on the hunt for a good story, whether it be from a book, an old friend, or someone I meet in passing. Medicine is the perfect marriage of the two: a profession that is founded upon our scientific knowledge of the human body, and is dependent on eliciting stories in order to understand our patients and provide the best care.
What was the application process like for you?
Long! I applied to medical school the first time in 2013, then again in 2015 (25 schools each time). I took both the old and new MCAT and went through two rounds of primaries, secondaries, and interviews.
How did you change your application the second time around?
The biggest difference was the range and depth of my work experiences. During my first gap year, I worked for a non-profit for the homeless, as a pediatric medical scribe, as a receptionist at a family practice. During my second and third gap years, I worked as the clinic operations manager of a free clinic, a research assistant, and piano teacher. Each experience pushed me in a different way and gave me many stories to share throughout my second application. I also completely rewrote my personal statement, updated my MCAT score, and submitted my application earlier.
Did you ever consider another career option?
I vaguely had the idea of working in public health or becoming a piano teacher if I didn’t get in the second time around.
Was your story ever brought up during interviews?
Every single one! I was usually asked about my status as a reapplicant (at open file interviews), and if not it would invariably come up because it’s such an important part of my path of medical school.
Do you think being a reapplicant was ever a disadvantage during interviews?
There was definitely an additional pressure to prove that I was a stronger applicant the second time around. But my sense is, the schools that offered me interviews were the ones that appreciated my persistence.
How has this experience impacted you?
Not getting into medical school is one of the most important parts of my story. It humbled me and gave me the opportunity to discover who I am when I fail. And it opened so many doors that led me to new experiences, skills, relationships, and perspectives. Looking back, I can truly appreciate how life-changing that was for me and am so grateful for it.
Any advice for other premeds or reapplicants?
- Take care of yourself and do things that make you happy and human!
- Be prepared for the long road ahead. Not to discourage you! It’s just very long.
- Document your life, in some way. Something that helped me write/talk about myself during applications was a diary of things that I did, things that piqued my interest, and things that moved me.
- Ask for help and mentorship from medical students, residents, and physicians.
- Never give up what you love for something else that you’re not excited about, but might look “better” on an application. There is almost always a way to have both. It is much harder, but much more fulfilling.
- If you don’t get in the first time: Be patient with yourself and do not give up!!! If medicine is what you unquestionably want to do, it is 100% worth it to go through a second round. Actively change yourself and work in an area you love, medically-related or not. Apply when you are ready (I decided to wait an additional year before applying again). Always do what you feel in your gut is the right thing for you, regardless of what other people do or say.
- Finally, DO NOT FOR ANY REASON GO ON STUDENT DOCTOR NETWORK.
What’s next for you?
I’m still adjusting from work life to student life again – it’s been harder than I thought. I’m working on staying healthy and committing time to my friendships, hobbies, and also volunteering. In terms of specialties, I love pediatrics and am interested in cardiology and surgery.
To contact Shirley, you may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.