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 introduce you to a student of mine, Gwen, in part one of a three-part series.
Part I — Who Is Gwen?
Usually when I work with traditional premeds, they come in with a shy grin expecting me to set the tone of the meeting. Gwen, a non-traditional student, wasn’t like this. She wore a business suit the first time I met her, looking comfortable, and shook my hand very seriously. “Shall we get started?” she asked. Her main concern was her personal statement. She wanted to open with explaining her time as a concert soloist and connecting her experience as a performer with being a physician. As I gave her file a look, I told her that her idea seemed to make sense.
Gwen, I also realized, was extremely organized. A few months before coming to see me, Gwen had put together her entire AMCAS application already, gathered all her transcripts, updated every college grade she ever received, had three letters of recommendation, and also had a rough draft of her personal statement. She knew all the advantages of applying early — she had even submitted her AMCAS the first week of June. However, she revoked it three weeks later. Why? She felt she wasn’t ready. Gwen had received a job promotion around the same time and she was finding it difficult to juggle her work with studying. She decided to cancel her MCAT exam in August and wait another year. During this time, she also figured it would be a wasted opportunity if she didn’t work on making her application the best it could possibly be. This is why she came to me.
Gwen spoke to me with directness and her years in the corporate world definitely showed: she was never tardy, often typed up a list of questions, and she timed our meetings internally. She always made sure we ended on time. However, despite being very serious and punctual, Gwen was also unsure about her future as a doctor. She came from a family of doctors and she was told not to pursue medicine unless she was truly sure. Gwen decided to test herself, and try out other fields, before pursuing medicine — she worked in public relations, marketing, banking, public speaking, scientific consulting, and research. By doing so, Gwen realized what she really wanted in her career. She found with these other professions that the learning curve was short and once she reached a certain point, the challenge of it was gone. She wanted a career where opportunities would be unlimited, and although I’ve heard this many times from other pre-meds, the fact that this drive grounded her impressed me.
Gwen had become more selective with what she wanted to do. Instead of wanting awards, I could see from her file that was dedicating more time to each activity instead. She told me that it was better to be a quality participant than an overworked superwoman, and she had only begun to realize that recently. I agreed and I thought this would be a good starting point from which to write her personal statement.
Gwen’s file was impressive. She is a 28-year old white woman who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in Human Development with a 4.0 GPA. For her postbaccalaureate education, she attended San Jose State University with a GPA of 3.9. Her MCAT score was a 32.
She had plenty of experience with patient contact:
- Shadowed several doctors and gained exposure to OB/GYN, pediatrics, internal med, ophthalmology, optometry, anesthesiology (~200 hrs)
- As an Auxiliary Member, she worked in the Labor and Delivery unit (~20 hrs/month; 1 year)
- Volunteer at the Munk Skilled Nursing Facility where she spent time with patients talking, socializing, and playing games; staged shows and performed for patients on a monthly basis; staged special performances for holidays and special occasions. (4 hours/month; 10 years)
- Volunteered at the Discovery Foundation and worked with physically and emotionally abused children (~10 hrs/month; 8 years)
Gwen was also active through her community service.
- Children’s Carnival Chairman and Executive Committee Member on the Discovery Foundation; staged children’s carnival during the annual Pear Festival fundraiser; researched, prepared, organized, and managed hundreds of volunteers and vendors for the carnival (2000+ hrs/year; 3 years)
- Advisor and Board Member for Girls W.I.N. (a philanthropic organization for young women); assisted the leadership of the organization with special projects, programs, and events; oversaw the development and establishment of a new chapter (10-20 hrs /year; 6 years)
- Speech Consultant; developed public speaking training seminars; volunteered time to teach people how to be effective public speakers (~10-20 hrs/month; 4 years)
- Professional soloist for the Cloquet Community Choir; sang with the choir, served as section leader, conducted section rehearsals, and sang for various special events. (~10-20 hrs/month; 3 years)
Gwen took on many leadership roles at her university as well. The sheer amount of different organizations throughout her file was very remarkable.
- Alpha Nu Sorority VP, Standards Chairman, Programming Chairman (~10 hrs/month; 2 years)
- University of Pennsylvania Ambassador; organized student events, represented students at official university, community, and national events (20 hrs/year; 2 years)
- University of Pennsylvania Human Ecology Ambassador; worked with the School of Human Ecology on recruitment and student activities, conduct tours, information sessions, etc. (30 hrs/year; 1 year)
- California State President, Girls W.I.N.; served as state president of philanthropic organization for young women; directed activities of 79 officers and operations of 5000-member organization; traveled all over the country giving speeches; chaired a fundraising campaign that raised approximately $100,000 for charity. (40+ hrs/week; 1 year)
Gwen had leadership positions, community service, and plenty of patient experience — but she was also a lover of science, and it showed with all her research work.
- Listed as second author on a piece published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, “Cost-Effectiveness of Screening for Chronic Kidney Disease in Asymptomatic Patients”
- Contributor to technical report: “Measuring Arsenic Levels in Declining Water Tables: A Survey,” published by Environmental Monitor
- Contributor and Editor, Communica Health News, published by Communica.
- Worked with Dr. Moore Calvert at UPenn to study stress and coping processes, particularly as they pertain to child abuse survivors.
- Research Assistant at the Communica Health Group; worked with medical doctors, epidemiologists, and toxicologists on research projects related to a variety of human health issues and problems; developed and edited the “Communica Health News” newsletter.
- Marketing Specialist, Communica, Inc.; worked with scientists of all disciplines to market their projects and capabilities; produced the Communica Public-Health-Issue-of-the-Month Calendar
Gwen’s application was excellent — she had more time than most other candidates to gain experience in many different fields. This only boosted her chances of going to an excellent medical school.
In some respects, we had very little to do. Gwen had already most of her application figured out. However, sometimes I worried she was doing too much and for someone that was so focused on time and scheduling, she admitted to me her current job would limit her ability to work on her application this summer. To rein her in a bit, we set up a timetable with milestones. She would finish her new personal statement by December and work on her secondary essay questions starting in January. The personal statement Gwen first showed to me when I met her was engaging, but I wanted to take it to an exceptional level. I decided it would be best to start from scratch and we would begin by brainstorming and discussing core themes.
What became of Gwen’s personal statement? I’ll talk about that in the next part of this three-part series.