When being a premed is a struggle and there are times you don’t think you are going to make it, remember you can do it. Humor and hustle will get us by.
[01:15] Caller of the Week:
“Just a little foreword to this rant because being a premed sucks and lot of it sucks and it’s hard and it’s so lonely. I just want to express some sincere gratitude to both Drs. Gray for all the efforts in making this whole premed experience a little bit more bearable – humble, grateful, excited that this might just spread a little bit of positivity.
Initial Interest in Biomedical Engineering
When I went to college, I wanted to be a biomedical engineer. I didn’t really know what they did but it was probably cool, right? Prosthetics or drugs or whatever nanotubes… I was 17, I just thought I could be part of that. I could graduate in four years, get a job, maybe a Master’s but probably not. No big deal – but not medicine.
I didn’t have anyone in my family in science or medicine but I saw their type. They always talk about grades, how easy everything was. They always documented how many hours they were in the library or Instagram and I wasn’t about that “gunner” stuff. Anyway, I dropped out of engineering after about two weeks. It turned out I’m not good at math and I don’t like it at all. Not my thing.
Thinking Through What to Take
But going into the whole chemistry, PhD, the big pharma was a good second bet. Sure it was a bit more school but at least PhD programs in my area, they were funded. I didn’t have to worry about loans. I don’t really have financial support from my folks. Nothing against them but it’s just not my scenario. It was kind of big topic in me choosing these things. But orgo was my favorite class, biochemistry was a close second. I even tolerated PChem pretty well. It was still math but it was about something. It wasn’t just numbers on a page and I like that. So I did the thing people do. I got a lab tech job that would help me pay rent. My PI was making these peptide drugs that would convince to cure cancer or Alzheimer’s or dengue fever or whatever. I did more blocks and more PCRs than I could count…
“I was part of the team… but the whole time, I had this feeling that something was missing here.”
I was just grateful to be there. I was part of the team… but the whole time, I had this feeling that something was missing here. It wasn’t cutthroat. But the part of the work that I enjoyed the most was this prospect of making a therapy that could save someone. But I got sad, maybe it was selfish, knowing that I’d never meet this person. I would just be at the vent where I couldn’t take their hand or high five their kids…but that was the road I was convinced that I was supposed to go on – get a job, settle down, have family, have my 2.5 kids in a white picket fence – the American Dream.
Going Labless and Jobless
Fast-forward to the week before my Junior year began, I keep doing the chemistry lab nerds thing and then I got an email from my PI that essentially says someone who worked before you came back from being abroad. She started this project so we got to let you go. Now, I’m labless, I’m jobless, I’m pissed off. How am I going to pay rent?
I go on a run. I come home. I sing all my feelings out in the shower. And I emailed many chemistry professors as possible to add to my CV and get a job and get into a good grad school. But little did I know that I was going to be premed buddy that day.
From Jobless to Having a Job on the Same Day!
That afternoon, I got a call from my dad about my mom… I visited them. It wasn’t anything serious, probably heartburn. But she’s okay. The doc and ED was the second nonprimary care doctor I’ve ever met. The first was a cardiothoracic surgeon who gave my dad a bypass. But I’ve never seen a doctor like him before. He was chatting with families between rooms. He was high fiving patients in the hall. I think he’s a total rockstar in the midst of all this chaos. I just remember thinking it was pretty different from what I thought those kids tearing textbook pages so other people couldn’t have it. It was pretty different from that image in my hear that I thought they were like.
Then there’s this guy with a computer following the doctor around. So I asked him and the doctor said to me it was his scribe who writes his notes so he can spend his time seeing patients, what he was trained to do, instead of sitting behind the computer. For him, it was like paid shadowing and he’s going to medical school next year.
Me, not really caring about medical school or not, I just thought this was a job and since I was jobless six hours ago, I asked if they needed more scribes. So I got a job but I really didn’t know much about shadowing but looks like I could get paid and I could learn at the same time…ultimately, it was a pretty good ending to my otherwise pretty rough day.
An Interest in Premed
At that point, I totally caught this medicine bug that all my premed friends couldn’t shut up about. This was the stuff that I was missing from lab… at the end of the day, I could see an immediate positive impact that these doctors have with others and I was inspired by that.
Caring someone of an ailment is super dope, but at the very least, the physician can empathize, they can educate these people. To me, it was this perfect marriage of continued education and expertise and just being a human being and I like that.
So I kept scribing and I ended up in my premed office… but I still didn’t have my MCAT or done some shadowing or volunteering. But I told her I’ve been a scribe for two weeks. In retrospect, I wasn’t prepared and I wasn’t expecting someone to tell me I’d get into an Ivy League school. I just wanted some direction. I didn’t have any family who had done this before.
“I didn’t really have a template to go forward but I didn’t get any encouragement or direction from this lady. She just said pretty quickly, ‘you’re not going to get in.'”
“You’re not that bright,” she said. “Physicians are good in biology and you’re not. I recommend sales or finance.” She then went off-tangent… and then she forgot who I was and just moved on to the next person.
Finding His Own Encouragement and Getting into Medical School
I guess I just had to find my own encouragement. So like I did when I lost my lab job, I went on a run. And some of my friends were talking about podcasting and that’s how I stumbled upon this, the Medical School HQ Podcast. And it’s just very nice to have that weekly dose of positivity, hearing these stories of a 40 something single parent of four who went against all odds and got into medical school. And I thought that at least one person who had a story at least somewhat similar to mine, let alone all these people who had so many more challenges that I had.
“If one person was able to do it, then there’s no reason that I couldn’t as well.”
So I joined that pretty cutthroat premed crowd but I still had this mantra of collaboration, not competition. That was still the goal. I kept scribing my junior and senior year. I joined a master’s program. I moved to Manhattan. I did some quality work. I joined a second lab, I hated it, I left after six months. I got married. I joined the third lab. I love the third lab. There now, published a couple of things, you shake a couple hands, you shadow a bit, volunteer for a bit… and got into an MD school last week.
The first thing that went through my mind other than sobbing to my wife, been calling everyone who had picked up in the middle of the day during the week, was just to stick it to that random one advisor that I had met five years ago. And I just wanted to tell her that if I get 25 rejections today doesn’t matter. I got in and you were wrong. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I wanted to spread the thing that got me this far in the first place, spreading a little bit of positivity in the light of “oh, look at this small amount of adversity that I’ve come around and look who came from it.” Instead of sticking it to the advisor.
I know Dr. Gray has been digesting a lot of Gary Vee, he’s this entrepreneur. Something he always says is “happiness is the ROI, the return on investment of life.” And this constant negativity from this three-letter forum that shall not be named or these classmates who are stealing textbooks, just the cutthroat nature of this field makes this process so challenging but it doesn’t have to be that way. So I hope I can just spread a little encouragement to you all who maybe just got a D on a test or your peer just called it super easy and they didn’t study for it and they got an A. Or if you’re planning a wedding. That’s challenging. If you lost a family member, if you have a kid or three, or you’re taking your unplanned gap year, if you have to apply more than once, or if you just had some jaded premed advisor tell you that you should go and become a used car salesman. Keep hustling because it does improve gratitude. Be thankful for the opportunity you have and you all got this!
This caller has a very good sense of humor and it’s infectious. Congratulations on your admission to medical school! Who could blame you for wanting to stick it to your advisor. It’s just sad when you think about how somebody like you, if you had listened to that premed advisor and gone in finance. You could have regretted not pursuing this the whole rest of your life. And what a shame that would have been!
You obviously got a lot of hustle and hearing how you picked yourself off after having hurdles and things thrown against you and get right back onto the next thing. You have so much drive and ambition. Clearly, that is why you’re where you are now.
I love how you go for a run, how you sing in the shower… those are great coping strategies. You have an incredible story from losing your job, going for a run, singing in the shower, and this whole series of things happening with your mother in the emergency room, and six hours later, you had a new job which propelled you to end up going to medical school. That is an incredible story! It just goes to show that with that loss of a job, you could’ve just decided that maybe work and go into finance. Or you might have just completely changed course and decide to leave science.
[17:05] Collaboration, Not Competition
It’s also cool how you were inspired by that emergency room doc. Yes, not all premeds are that gunner type. It’s miserable to be around people who all they want to talk about is their grades, how many hours they were in the library, and making other people feel uncomfortable. It’s not who we are, it’s not who we want to be, it’s not who we should be. As you pointed out in your entry, Ryan who is the host of The Premed Years podcast always talks about collaboration, not competition. And that’s exactly what the premed community should be.
“Collaboration, not competition — and that’s exactly what the premed community should be.”
Unfortunately, not everybody is like that. But it’s great that you got the opportunity to be in the emergency room. Obviously, it wasn’t a good reason you were there because your mom was not feeling well. But the fact you got to see this ER doc high-fiving patients inspired you and made you realize that not all premed students are like that.
[19:00] Making a Difference as a Physician
It’s true. Once you get the medicine bug, you can’t get rid of it. It’s neat that you got that bug and just stuck with it.
It’s also amazing how you said about the way in which physicians can be there. Even if they can’t cure a person, they can always have a positive impact. I think that’s why many of us want to be physicians.
“You can make a positive impact even if, at the end of the day, you can’t cure anyone.”
As a neurologist, I am unable to cure a lot of people. But I feel very strongly that my job is not to cure people. That’s not why I became a doctor, but I became a doctor to make a difference. You can absolutely make a difference in whatever field of medicine you choose
[23:17] Spreading Some Positivity
Whether you’re having a terrible day or struggling through all sorts of things, we help one another by being there and supporting one another and by being grateful. It’s hard not to feel just the weight of the amount of negativity that can come from other people. So anytime there is some positivity, it’s wonderful that you spread it around.
“Grades don’t define an applicant by any means.”
Certainly, you don’t tell a person what their chances are getting into medical school. If any of you have had similar unfortunate experiences with an advisor, listen to our caller’s wise words and just keep on pushing, keep hustling, and don’t let that drag you down. Don’t let that make it impossible for you to see yourself as a physician and to keep on a path you’re fighting.
[26:15] Feedback on Episode 10
“I was actually going to call myself to make an entry about this because it’s been in my mind a lot. Keeping it short, I am a 31-year-old who is applying for medical school now. I’m married and not a day goes by without me thinking about it. And it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in this and I do agree that being a woman does carry a different perspective into what having kids in the next few years is going to be like. My husband is very supportive too but I know that some things will have to be done by me and not him. So I worry about that a lot and I did get a lot of comments when I decided to.
I’m a career changer too and I got a lot of comments and I started to share that I was going to apply for medical school from family just them worrying asking when we’re going to have kids if I’m going back to school now. I guess I just learned to listen to them and not take it to heart. What I realized, and I’ve been on the premed track for the last four years, I actually went back to doing another undergrad to get better marks that are more competitive.
And so for the last four years, I have just been thinking about this and working towards being a competitive applicant and what I realized is that I want to be a mom just as bad as I want to be a doctor. It just happened that they’re going to have to happen at the same time because of my age. I pretty much have the next ten years to do both. And so I just learned to accept that. What I did start to do, and I would have some suggestions for the caller. I just started to go try seeing other moms who were doctors. I just thought that seeing women who are doing this on a daily basis, using social media to that purpose, and so I started following a lot of doctor moms on Instagram. There is #mamasinmedicine on Instagram and you can find just amazing posts of women who are doing those. I just figured that if I see it enough, my brain would just get the message that it’s possible.
“Everybody has a different journey that they figured it out in the end.”
There’s also another blog called Mothers in Medicine. The blog features a lot of women who are in different stages of medicine where they all share their journey. There’s also YouTuber called Jenny Le and she is a mother of a two-year-old now and she was applying for residency when she was pregnant.
This has just been my coping medicine of soaking these energies in and reading about how they make it happen so that I am ready to just be confident in myself and my husband and I’s capacity to make it work and just going for it.
It’s really nice to know that I’m not alone in this and to hear the caller just telling her story is so much of what goes through my head everyday. So know that you’re not alone either. If she feels like that it is something she wants badly as she wants to be a mom, just go for it as I’m going for it. I try to also think of that picture and think of 20 years from now when this is all over and our kids are teenagers and we’re doctors and we’re going to look back and just see that we’re proud of ourselves then our kids will be so proud of us. And we’ll set as an example. I don’t want to a job that I’m not excited about. I realized that’s not what I want that’s why I’m going into medicine and to make a difference in people’s lives. I feel that’show my life is going to have meaning. So I’m going for it and I hope that she does too.”
“20 years from now, I’m going to thank me for making this decision and it’s all I can hope for. As I said, I want to be a mom as badly as I want to be a doctor.”
[36:05] Be a Part of this Community!
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