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 perPmission, 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 a student of mine named Sara.
Part I — Getting to Know Sara
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to get into medical school,” Sarah told me upon meeting her. Sara was a 22-year old graduate of Texas A&M University and immediately, judging from her application, she seemed hard-working. Yet, still, she was a bit too eager to please and she didn’t break eye contact. She began to tell me about her work in the clinic and she mentioned Sister Marie Catherine who, I soon realized, was one of her most important mentors. She was formative in Sara’s life and pushed her to pursue medicine, to get straight As, and to someday come back to her clinic to help. This, no doubt, would need to be mentioned in her application.
She soon disclosed to me her main problem — she was having a real hard time on the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT. She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t doing well. This told me that Sara didn’t quite “get” failure, and if she did, she likely hid and did not think much about it. Her knowledge, however, was vast. As she was explaining to me her experiences working at the clinic, she was able to recount statistics with ease. I could tell why she had won so much praise throughout her life. Still though, I thought it was necessary that she be a bit more open about her vulnerabilities. I also wondered what Sara was like when she was outside a professional setting — who was she really and what was she like when she wasn’t serving? This, I felt, would need to be talked about throughout our meetings together.
Sara is a 22-year old Latina who graduated from the Texas A&M University with a GPA of 3.95 with a major in chemistry. This was impressive on all counts. Her MCAT score, however, needed some work — she received a total score of 23.
Her patient contact was mainly through the St. Louise de Marillac Free Medical Clinic where she took vital signs, administered glucose and hemoglobin tests, screened and educated patients afflicted with diabetes. She had been working there for 8 years, putting in 8-10 hours a week. Aside from her work at the hospital, Sara also had an extensive record of community service and leadership roles.
- Organized annual Thanksgiving Dinner and Fiesta Days for the Marillac Ladies Auxiliary (10 hrs/month for two years)
- Volunteer at annual Texas Health and Wellness Expo
- Lab — Trained new students in PCR techniques
- Assistant coach for Brazos Buccaneers, a boys junior soccer team (6 hrs/ wk; 1 year)
Her clinical and applied research was also elaborate .
- Minority access for Research Careers fellow / Minority Science Improvement Program
- At Texas A&M. she studied antibiotic resistance related to microbiology and published a paper on the topic
- Biomedical engineering at Baylor University — studied increasing the efficiency of micro-applied metrology to sense changes in the complex electrical per-mittivity of blood as affected by sugar content. She presented her research at three conferences: Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), Austin Legislature Conference
- American Chemical Society Award for Outstanding Graduating Senior
- Undergraduate award for Achievement in Organic Chemistry
On-campus, Sara has been involved with the Health Professions Association and Chicanos for Creative Medicine. She is also a recipient of the Gerald Lipkis scholarship, Dean’s list, and the President’s honor roll.
Sara was also the first in her family to graduate from college which put her entire college experience in different light. I thought this was crucial.
The MCAT was her biggest obstacle and Sara knew this. We discussed her study methods I suggested to her she shouldn’t repetitively cram for this part of the exam. Instead, she should discuss with a tutor her Verbal Reasoning pitfalls. Also, I noticed a significant hurdle that was hidden in Sara’s strengths — she had been surrounded by a safe circle her entire life, but this also made her ignore her blind spots. If she was going to excel in medicine, she needed to learn how to handle adversity and solve ethical dilemmas. She also needed to better understand failure and her own limits. This brings me to another problem I saw throughout Sara’s application: she also wasn’t inclined for leadership and I questioned how well she would do had she not been in a clear hierarchical structure, which she had been her entire life. I recommended Sara pursue an extracurricular activity that would allow her to work on her interpersonal skills and leadership abilities. This was not just for the sake of the application, but for her own sake too.
The problem with Sara was that she enjoyed structure too much. Whenever I asked of her experiences for a particular organization, she would simply tell me the general description every time. I knew there was something more to it than that, but she was very hesitant to say anything else. I thought that her desire to please people had obscured how she actually felt. I don’t think she was doing this consciously, but this was something we had to address if she was going to succeed in medicine.
In part two of this three-part series, I will delve into Sara’s personal statement and core themes.