Overview of the Series
In this series of articles, I will be sharing excerpts of case studies on several of my former students (with their permission, of course). Names and other identifying information have been changed, but the material facts — MCAT score, GPA, etc. — are unchanged. The full case studies are published in my book, Pre-Med Success Stories.
I’ll present each case study in three parts — an introduction of the student, followed by an in-depth assessment of the student’s profile and chances for admission to medical school, and then finally I’ll explain what happened to the student once s/he applied.
In this article, I will be introducing a client of mine named Paul — this is part one of a three-part series.
Part I — Who Is Paul?
Paul had a tendency to mumble and pull his expressions inward. He had deep-set eyes and he told me that, after two years, he still couldn’t get into medical school. He’d been rejected at every one. While some people would have taken this as a sign medical school was not right for them, Paul was more determined than most; he wanted to give it another shot, and he had come to me for help.
At first glance, his numbers did not look bad. However, as I began to ask him about particulars, I began to understand why he had been having a hard time. The first time he applied, he had only applied to five schools to stay close to his girlfriend. He only received one interview, which he told me botched badly. The second time around, he applied to 20 schools but lacked the financial means to submit all his secondary applications. Even the ones he did finish, they didn’t materialize — although looking good on paper, Paul couldn’t seal the deal in person. This much he admitted to me himself. We definitely had something to work on.
Paul lacked confidence. He told me the first time he went in for an interview, he couldn’t relax and had little in common with the old pediatrician who interviewed him. Oftentimes, his mind went blank. He simply wasn’t prepared for the questions. I felt a strong urge to ease his nervousness, but still he was on guard. He made jokes, but sometimes I couldn’t make out if they were actually jokes or if he was serious. Paul made interesting reflections on himself, but still, he was uptight and calculating in every word.
Paul was also a Christian and he saw God through his work. He was passionate about neurology and psychology — because, as he told me, “out of all of God’s mysteries, the human brain is the biggest brain-teaser!” Paul wanted a career where he would have a lasting influence. As our conversation went on, Paul began being eloquent and personal with me. I wanted to recreate that for his medical school interviews. I had to teach him to tap into this personality, which he clearly possessed.
Looking at the Numbers: Paul’s File
Paul is a 24 year-old white male. He graduated from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in Biomedical Engineering and a GPA of 3.6. His MCAT score was 31. His numbers were not bad and I did not think this was the major fault of his application — rather, it was his interview and personal statement that we needed to focus on most.
- Volunteer Abbott Northwestern Hospital emergency room department; transported patients around the hospital (2 years / 150 hrs).
- Biomedical engineer for Xynamed; visited congestive heart failure patients once a week to test the medical device that he is designing (10 months / 90 hrs).
He was also very active in community service.
- Harold Treny Clinic; worked as a teaching assistant to help deaf children learn to speak effectively (9 months / 90 hrs).
- Caritas Learning Center; assisted in diagnosing children with serious learning disorders often mistaken for Attention Deficit Disorder (3 months / 20 hrs).
- Camarillo Christian Church; volunteered as a youth mentor and participated in other church-organized activities (6 months / 80 hrs).
- Organized fraternity’s philanthropic effort that took 60 underprivileged Salvation Army kids to Magic Mountain Amusement Park (15 hrs).
Paul had one clinical research project he was especially invested in — he spent full-time managing the engineering of a new medical device that measures endocardiac pressure in congestive heart failure patients. He told me he will be the co-author of two papers on the subject.
Aside from these extracurriculars, Paul also manages the engineering team at Xynamed, a biomedical device manufacturer, and is a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity (3 years) having served as its philanthropy chair (50 hours).
What Are the Hurdles?
Paul’s main hurdle was his introversion due to his low self-esteem. Because of his shyness, he had not reached out while applying to medical school. His faculty recommendations were weak and his previous interviews went very poorly. I gave him some advice on how to compose himself during interviews. I also suggested he join the Toastmasters club to better his public speaking abilities.
The content of his existing letters of recommendation were quite impersonal, so I asked Paul if he could do better. He expressed disappointment that it would be difficult since these professors are so far-removed from him now — however, he was retaking a Genetics course at a junior college so there was a potential for him to establish a relationship with its professor. This proved to be a significant part of our strategy.
Want to keep reading about Paul’s story? Stay tuned for part two.