Hey guys, welcome back to the Scenic Route and happy Monday. It’s been a busy few weeks with exams and working through some difficult yet interesting lectures; immunology, glycogen storage disorders and gene mutations oh myyy.
This week’s post on rejection brought up a rollercoaster of emotions for me, which sounds lame, but this was the first point in my school plans that I genuinely felt like I maybe couldn’t accomplish what I set out to do. I’m SURE I’m not the only one who has felt this way before. Obviously I feel differently now, and while there is still a ton of “unknown” in my future, I feel happy that I am in a place of working towards my dream.
Last time we left off talking about the MCAT and all of the warm, fuzzy feelings it brought into my life. Not. But what could have very possibly been worse than writing that exam, was filling out medical school applications.
So to give some background information on schools. Canada is very different from the States when it comes to the medical school application process. For starters, we have only 17 schools, while the US has 154 MD programs and 38 DO programs. When applying, you are always more likely to get into your home province, as usually the out of province GPA/MCAT requirements are higher and they let in maybe 5-10 students. (Not sure if the US has similar rules or not, I can only speak to what I dealt with.) Class sizes can range from about 80-250 per class, depending on the school, with roughly 5000+ applicants – all with the same dream. All but two are regular, September-April semesters, while the University of Calgary and McMaster University are three year programs that pretty much run all year round.
I had to look first at my stats compared to others who applied to these schools. My GPA was good, but not perfect. I didn’t have research experience, and my diploma to undergrad hybrid route looked messy AF on paper. I knew that. If I was on an admissions committee, it would be way easier to take someone else with a more streamlined application. But I knew if I could just secure an interview, I could make the admissions board realize that I would (hopefully) make an amazing physician one day.
Because of my diploma to undergrad transfer programs plus trying to work all year round on my courses while working full time at the hospital, I realized I was actually ineligible to apply to quite a few of the programs I initially viewed. I had worked my butt off to maintain “fulltime” course status (4 courses/semester) through my university and maintain enough working hours to pay for life and the application process. Yet when I was looking at the application requirements for many of these schools, their fulltime status required 5 classes/semester and they only counted classes taken between September and April (mine went all year long).
When I called a few schools to inquire about this requirement and the reasoning for it, they told me it was to ensure that the successful candidates would be able to handle the rigorous fulltime courseload of medical school and to have proper time management skills.
When I asked if there was any way they would make an exception for someone in my situation, they either didn’t reply to my emails/voicemail, or left me with a very cold, copy + pasted response. Hmmm…okay. The application list decreased at an uncomfortably fast pace all in the matter of a week.
It’s fine, don’t panic. All you need is one yes, that’s all it takes.
While I hadn’t given up hope yet, I must say this was an extremely discouraging time. For years I had tried to check off all the boxes to be a successful applicant. I was already working in healthcare and getting great hands-on patient care experience. I was taking 4 classes/ semester all year round while trying to balance quality volunteer and shadow experiences. Yet even with my schedule packed to the brim and planned out from morning to night, I was already written off as “unable to keep up with the rigorous course load of medical school” or unable to properly manage my time. I was pissed. Clearly if anyone would have taken the time to listen to me they would have seen that my ability to manage a schedule or maintain fast-paced studies was more than up to par.
One of my biggest frustrations going through that whole process and now looking back on it is that essentially, it felt like they were saying I wasn’t even good enough to bother applying because I didn’t fit their mold. And that IF I wanted to pursue medicine, I either already had to have it all planned out from age 17, or had to have an extremely wealthy family to fully support me so I could drop everything, work included, to start over and be a fulltime student to meet their criteria. These are not realistic scenarios for everyone, especially at 30, and the fact that so many schools here fail to recognize mature students was beyond discouraging. (Remember, this is just my recollection of feelings and experiences. I’m not saying Canadian schools are terrible, just that there are some large flaws in the system which we all know is not new or isolated to medical school.)
Suddenly I was down to 4 schools, all of which were out of province. I felt a bit more panicky but still felt like if I could JUST get an interview, I could show them what they’d be missing. The schools I ended up applying to seemed to be known for enjoying applicants who had some life experience and unique qualities in their applications. Okay, we can work with this.
Then came the actual application process.
If you enjoy things like:
- Coming to the realization that you are a huge loser with no hobbies
- Memorizing every single address you’ve ever lived at
- Trying to seek out people to write letters of recommendation for you without being TOO annoying about it
- Securing every single post-secondary transcript you’ve ever had, getting them sent to the school and STILL having to manually enter them into the application webpage
- Trying to find someone who can sign off as a reference for your “gardening” hobby – seriously, do they call these people? What do they ask? “Have you physically seen Jessica water her plants or grow a garden??” I have so many questions.
Well by golly, this might be just for you!
They require basic information that you would expect on a university application: employment history, volunteer activities, research experience, awards and accomplishments (again, nothing makes you feel more blatantly average than seeing 10 blank spots to fill and having to think long and hard before finally managing to fill out two), as well as extracurricular activities.
Oh, did I forget to mention that all of these categories are from age SIXTEEN?? WITH references? Sorry I can’t get a hold of the phone number for my tennis coach I had for a summer when I was 16, guess we don’t get to put that one down.
Honestly, once I hit the post-secondary stage of the extracurriculars section, it made me realize that while I had hobbies I truly did (and do) enjoy, school and studying had essentially become my main one. I have since made it a goal to always have interests OTHER than school that bring me joy. While I am a student for the long haul, that’s not the only thing that defines me.
Next we had to secure some Grade A letters of recommendation. This was another thing that I felt was quite difficult, especially since most of the latter part of my degree had been done through distance. This meant that I didn’t have many professors I would have considered close enough to ask about a letter of recommendation. Thankfully, I had some wonderful surgeons and colleagues that were more than willing to help me out.
This was yet again another instance of me feeling very annoying. While some schools allowed your reference to send in an open letter, other programs required a pre-formatted LORs. This meant that I had to ask multiple times to essentially get the same letter filled out in different ways. (sorry guys, and I still appreciate you all helping me out so much!)
While I was dabbling away at these applications, two of the schools I was applying to had an extra requirement to complete: the CASPer test. This exam was meant to showcase non-academic attributes and present realistic ethical dilemma based questions through quick, 5 minute written responses. I actually didn’t mind this test. I’ve always loved ethics and sociology/psychology courses so I found the questions to be quite intriguing. The thing I didn’t enjoy however, as a Type A human, was the fact that you never saw a final score or how you were graded. You just wrote it and never spoke of it again.
I know there are study materials out there for this type of exam, I just didn’t use any of them. I did however, do a practice exam beforehand because I was worried about being able to answer the questions in time. The actual exam felt like those typing speed quizzes you take in junior high english class where you basically black out and smash the keyboard for 5 minutes straight.
Finally after filling out all of this information four times over, plus some extra information depending on the program, I was ready to submit. Big breath. Okay…but maybe I needed to just check it one last time in case the other 27 times I missed something…
Okay. SUBMIT. Done. It happened. I applied to medical school. Time to relax. Or more realistically, time to be anxious over the next ~5 months while I wait for my application to be read and interview decisions to be made.
FINALLY, when January came, every time I got an email ping my heart would start beating a million miles a minute. I wasn’t really sure exactly when the letters would start to come in, but I was ready.
One by one, however, the four schools I applied to started messaging me back, and unfortunately not in the context I was hoping for.
“We regret to inform you, that you were not one of the applicants chosen for an interview this cycle.”
“Unfortunately, your application this year did not fall into the limited number which could be brought for interview.”
I kept reading the words, but there was no hidden “JUST KIDDING, WELCOME to Med School!” at the end. Four applications. Four rejections. I had never felt so defeated. I worked so hard and was so proud of how far I had come, yet no one else seemed to feel the same way. Thousands of dollars to get to this point, hours of studying, flights to the US, important birthdays and celebrations missed. For what?
I felt like I was back to square one. Then the questions of self doubt started to sink in:
Was I out to lunch in thinking I could make this happen? What if I had paid more attention straight out of high school, maybe I would have gotten better grades. I should have gone straight into an undergraduate degree before taking my nursing diploma, then maybe my application would have looked nicer. Were my hobbies and volunteer experiences too boring? Did they even read my application? Did they laugh at the thought of someone like me applying?
And the most burning question of all…
What the hell do I do now?