Today's question is from a recent college graduate who asks Why did I get several interviews but then not get into medical school and what should I do now?
First off, I know it really stinks when you've worked so hard and then hit a wall like that.
Welcome to the I want to be a doctor podcast where insider information about what it takes to become a physician is available for anyone. I'm Dr. Robin Dickinson, a board-certified family physician and I will give honest answers to your questions. Today's question is from a recent college graduate who asks Why did I get several interviews but then not get into medical school and what should I do now?
First off, I know it really stinks when you've worked so hard and then hit a wall like that. I'm sorry you're having to go through that.
Take good care of yourself. You're a human and you probably have a lot of big feelings right now. Do what you'd counsel your patients to do... don't engage in destructive coping strategies. Instead, do something fun with a friend, do something active to work out some of those feelings, do something creative to stretch that part of you, do something comforting. When I was in school, my grandma sent me a couple movies that she had watched over and over to help her cope as her husband, my grandpa was declining. She thought they might help me deal with the stress of school. Sure enough, these movies were my fall back, comfort movies every time I needed to forget my problems for a little while. If you don't have a whole set of ways to take care of yourself, now is the time to create your own emergency comfort kit. Life is going to throw stuff at you and you deserve to care for yourself.
Next, it's not a reflection on who you are, or how caring, smart, or talented you are. It doesn't predict your future happiness. I know it totally doesn't help at all when the school writes that they have many talented applicants and they're sorry they don't have space for you. It's easy to read that as "We have many talented applicants and many are even more talented than you." But that's not what that says. In reality, there are sooooo many wonderful applicants just like you. Which is the problem. How do they choose?
Many schools will actually talk with you about why you didn't get in or at least what criteria they're using to decide. It takes real guts to ask and if you really want to get into medical school, you're going to have to ask. Here you are dealing with all the big scary feelings of rejection and hurt and disappointment and fear and now I'm telling you to pick at the wound by asking why. Sit with a friend, hold a pet, do what it takes to get through it and contact them.
Then take what they say with grain of salt. They aren't necessarily telling you what's wrong with your application, they are telling you what's wrong with your presentation of it. I'm assuming here that since you got an interview at all, you've checked all the boxes and have basically what they are looking for. Any listeners who haven't gotten to that point yet, the previous episode was about how to build your application starting where you are now. But this information may help you with any applications you need to fill out whether it’s for a camp or school or college.
I had a student years ago who was in grad school and was doing a rotation with me through her program. Graduate school is where you go after college to get a master's degree. She was in grad school because she hadn't gotten into medical school and didn't know what to do. The medical schools had been concerned about some early grades in college that weren't great but she'd gotten straight A's after that. They didn't think her volunteer work showed many of the traits they were looking for. And so forth.
So we sat down with her application and worked on changing her presentation rather than her actual facts about herself. She had struggled in college at first because she'd been helping care for her uncle, who had complications from medical problems he'd had his whole life. She was embarrassed about the poor grades so hadn't talked about them. Instead, I suggested she highlight them. Talk about the struggle to care for another human with significant needs and the mental and emotional toll it took on her. How it taught her greater empathy for both patients and their caregivers.
Her volunteer work that they considered less than impressive was with an organization providing transportation for adults with special needs. She had helped in the office, answering the phone and keeping records. I asked her to tell me some stories about the phone calls she received. Most of them were from family members of the person who needed help. I pointed out that she could weave that into a bigger story about how important it is to help caregivers meet the needs of their loved ones, to listen to caregivers and their loved ones, and so forth.
So we took the biggest problem in her application, her grades, and made the situation that caused them the focus of her applications. She wrote a really wonderful personal statement all about how she could bring these experiences to her work as a physician.
She applied to a new batch of medical schools and was accepted to almost all of them. She went to her top choice. She said that during her interviews, the representatives from the schools were all really interested in her experiences and her perspective and asked her lots of questions. She piqued their interest. She stood out from all the other applicants. She had a memorable story to share.
And that's probably what you need too...a good story. Have you ever sat through an ad so good that you wanted to see the rest of it? That was probably because it was a good story. You wanted to see what happened. I remember years ago there was a Google ad about two old men who were childhood friends reuniting and the entire story was told in Google searches. I not only watched the whole thing...I cried at the end. Who would have thought an ad for a search engine created from nothing but searches could have that kind of impact. But when I've brought that up, I've met a number of other people who felt the same way about the ad.
Stories are compelling. They get people to care and connect with you on a different level than a list of accomplishments ever could.
So look through your application and find a story or a theme. It doesn't have to be obvious. Have someone you trust and who tends to be really convincing look at it with you. Take any of the areas that the medical schools said were a problem and make sure your story answers it. Don't ever make it sound like you're making excuses. Instead be proud of who you are and what you've done and let it show.
And if you really want to be a physician, don't give up. One of my good friends in school applied 7 times before getting in, then ended up honoring every single class and rotation (that means getting the highest possible grade in everything), went to a really competitive residency, and is now a very respected and successful specialist.
If, once you've had a chance to lick your wounds, you decide that you're actually relieved to not be going to medical school, great!
It can be hard to change paths, to think you're headed straight to medical school and then realize that you'd rather not. It can be easy to feel like you've wasted your time and are behind.
It's okay to have lots of different feelings at once. The yucky feeling of not getting what you wanted and worked for, the relief of realizing that you didn't actually want it, a fear of having wasted your time. That education and experience will never go to waste. It's part of who you are and you'll need it someday. Most people change careers multiple times.
So now you need to figure out what to do next. Maybe your fall back plan is looking fabulous. Then do that. Maybe there's an obvious opportunity. A research job, a slot at a grad school you'd really like to attend, or a friend who is joining the Peace Corp and suggests you come too.
But maybe nothing looks good right now. That's okay. You've been working really hard to develop one aspect of yourself so other areas of interest may have suffered. Take some time to get to know more about yourself.
Most colleges have a career counseling office where someone can help you figure it out. Even if you've already graduated, you often still have access to it.
But whatever happens, whether you end up going to medical school or not, you're here on this planet for a reason. You were packed with a particular set of skills and interests that we need. I'm glad you're here.
That's it for today. Subscribe, share with your friends and mentors; and remember to live the life that is right for you with your personality, interests, and values.
Please send your questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's podcast at d-o-c Robin like the bird school dot com.
Show notes are available on the podcast website linked below.
This episode was sponsored by Dr. Robin's School, the first pre-medical curriculum for kids, and recorded in beautiful, downtown Englewood, Colorado.