So, the applications for the 2015 intake year have opened recently, and this year, I can look at them with a certain detachment that I haven’t been able to in three years. There’s a certain amount of irony associated with this – it’s only been a month (upon checking, a month to the day) since I got that fateful call from MUN, and before then, I had resigned myself to being part of this cycle again, which would have been my last – of meeting all those deadlines and applying to all of those schools again.
Now, I only knew they were open because of someone else’s blog.
Now, obviously there is a great feeling of relief at getting accepted, and not just because I don’t have to apply again, though it’s a surprising weight off my shoulders. Because, although I don’t agree, med schools and the pre-med community seem to have a word for applicants like me.
Now, this has never really been a word I’ve associated with myself, certainly not academically, and so it’s a word that I chafe under when it is associated with my app, as I imagine most people would. I had a 33Q for the MCAT, a 3.92 GPA, academic awards, two years of hospital volunteer work in 4 different wards (and three different hospitals), was an executive on several student clubs and committees, was employed as a TA and tutor, and, in my third application, had my thesis published in an academic paper (2nd author – special thanks to my thesis supervisor and his grad student who rewrote my pitiful offerings into something publish worthy – you know who you are, and you rock out). My application was, in my eyes, pretty well rounded.
But well rounded and “spectacular” are two very different things in the realm of medical school applications I have learned.
Because, here’s the thing – I didn’t have anything that was really “unique.” Anything that made me “stand out.”
Those are words that I seen thrown around a lot on pre-med forums, especially when asking for advice on improving one’s chances for the next year, and although it’s perhaps valid advice, it’s not always useful or feasible advice. Take me as an example. A sport or sports victory might have helped me, but I’m not a “sports girl.” I work out on a regular basis, and recently restarted karate as an activity, but I’m 24 – it’s too late for me to take up soccer (congrats to Germany in only slightly related news) or baseball, or join a varsity team. Additionally, I can’t play an instrument (stopped playing the clarinet after grade 12), and I just don’t have the money to take 4 weeks in the summer to fly to some tropical country to play doctor in an international volunteer program. My parents are solid middle class, and they can’t afford to contribute yearly to my schooling. I have to work to pay for my education, and I have been doing so since I was 15.
My interests include reading, writing, watching movies, swimming (but solely recreational), and some various other sundry things. I’m not a jump rope champion (a med school board member once mentioned they had an applicant with this on their app) or the winner of a national hot dog eating contest, or an Olympian or a concert violinist or a mime.
But, here’s the thing I want you to consider, potential med student, as you move into this application cycle – the reason for my little rant on the word “average.”
I got accepted.
Me, the “average” applicant. Yes, it took me three cycles, and yes, I got in off the wait-list, but it happened. So don’t let the pre-med 101 forum psych you out. It’s a great resource, but in terms of “what are my chances?” it can be a bit depressing, and unnecessarily so. Don’t read all of the postings of people who seem to have done things much more impressive than you have and not gotten in and despair. The truth is, getting into a Canadian medical school is a numbers game, and as long as you have a sincere desire to be a doctor, your number will come up eventually. Don’t ever think of yourself as average, and don’t let that word psych you out. You have life experiences that no one else has, and the unique ability to express those experiences in your app. I watched a live birth at the age of 10 (yes, there will be a story on this at some point) that jump-started my interest in medicine. It was my “ah-ha” moment. You can bet your ass I mentioned that in my app and my interview, and I’m pretty sure it helped to make me that oh so coveted “unique.”
So, yeah. Apps are largely terrible. You work so hard on them, stress over every aspect and worry about the worth of your very self, but don’t let them get you down. Apply smart, of course. Work on your apps, know your deadlines, have someone read over any essays or paragraph questions. Promote yourself and all the things that make you special, that make you “you” at every chance that you get, and know what specific schools are looking for. If you’re applying to a school that likes rural applicants, and you have a rural experience, promote the heck out of it. Find that “unique” thing that you have, that thing that you might not even recognize you have, and work it into your app and your interview. Tell a joke (but a tasteful one, remember) in your interview or app. I did, and I got both of my panel interviewers to laugh out loud (MUN, remember is half panel, half MMI). Do your best, because at the end of the day, that’s all anyone can ever really do.
But don’t ever worry about being “average.”
I’ve got the sneaking suspicion that there might actually be no such thing.