(trademark AAMC. Image obtained from google)
Part of my new position is reviewing application to our Internal Medicine residency program. Each application has a personal statement. The purpose of the personal statement is to reveal a little bit about yourself, your journey, and your purpose for pursuing your field of interest. Most personal statements are damped by fear of judgement from the anonymous reader that may hold the fate of the writer in their hands. Because of this most of them are the same. Now I, on the other hand, am past this stage in my life. I have a freedom to write after years of reflection on that person that I was 12 years ago, preparing to enter residency. Without fear of judgement (hopefully I won’t lose my job over this), and as an exercise in creative writing…I give you, what I should have written, all those years ago.
It was 2nd semester of freshman year where my journey began. I registered for Introduction to Biochemistry at the request of a girl I met so she would have someone to study with. “Sure, why not.” I needed to fill my schedule. I had no direction at the time. At the end of the course, I had a near perfect grade. The professor offered to write a letter to dean of sciences that would afford me the option to skip basic chemistry to enroll in organic chemistry. Again, “sure, why not,” you can write the letter.
Organic chemistry was established as the most difficult course on campus. I decided to take my shot and enrolled. The students were serious. Different from other classes. There was a competitive, survival of the fittest culture to it. I carried a B through the first three exams. Even showed a few of the chemistry majors how to solve some proofs. I held my B average for the year. As the course came to an end, a friend reminded me that I had just completed the class that disqualifies most pre-med students. “You should just finish the rest of the pre-requisites.”
That next week I scheduled a meeting with the pre-med advisor (Prof M). The meeting lasted less than five minutes. He pulled out two 6x2 tables representing my final two years of college. He frantically wrote down the classes I needed to complete before graduation. Looked me right in the eye; “You’re a full year behind, you’re carrying a 3.0 GPA, you’re never going to make it. Only 10% of pre-med students at this school will make it to medical school, and you aren’t one of them. Don’t bother rescheduling another appointment with me. Good luck.”
There I sat. In my stupid black hoodie and blue jeans, blank stare on my face, naive as can be, with nothing to say. I felt so small. I will never forget this meeting. It was a seminal moment in my life. One of those moments that changes everything. I walked out of his office thinking, “who is this guy? F-him. I’m going to make it. I’m never going to quit!”
I enrolled 24 credit hours for the first semester of my junior year. For the second semester, 22 credit hours. It was grueling. I was introduced to coffee. I started smoking cigarettes in order to stay awake. I was not going to fail. I carried a 3.6 GPA that next year. I was caught up. For my senior year, I took the hardest classes I could find and carried a 3.87.
I studied 3 months for the MCAT, did ok. Applied to 30 schools across the nation. Nothing. Not a single interview. Went home after graduation, started looking for jobs at universities as a research assistant, and regrouped. Retook the MCAT. Scored lower than before. Applied again to 30 or so schools. Nothing. Started a job at the University of Oklahoma molecular biology lab as a research technician. Studied more for the MCAT. Took it again. Did better, but not great. Applied again, and finally two interviews. I got the Job!
In total 84 schools rejected me over the course of 3 application cycles. I started medical school with a chip on my shoulder the size of the Empire State Building. Even-though I was intimidated, I knew I wouldn’t fail. This was my moment. My moment to prove to everyone I belonged. I finished at the top of my class. I was a high performer on each rotation. I was called a “gunner,” by my classmates. A badge I wore with great pride. They were right. I wanted to win. I was worthy of this profession and on a mission to prove it.
In retrospect, I should thank Prof. M. Whether he was trying to be a wet blanket, or kerosene, he lit a fire that still burns bright. If you’re asking yourself, “what will I get if you take a chance on this young man?” You should not be surprised to learn I still have a ton to prove. That chip on my shoulder is still there. It pushes me to give my best, every day, regardless of difficulty. It will continue to be there, until I can look back on my journey, with fulfillment, and quiet the fire inside.