When I started my undergraduate education, I was sure that I would be going to medical school. I didn’t even realize that a combined MD/Ph.D. program was available until I was a junior with substantive research experience and making the gut-wrenching decision between applying to an MD or a Ph.D. program. Honestly, the MD/Ph.D. program was a miracle for me when I made this decision; however, my journey has certainly not been easy.
Like many other Pre-Med students, I was subjected to the horrors of “weed out” classes and felt the agonizing blows to my self-confidence when I took organic chemistry. In fact, there were a couple of nights when I would call my mom and ask her how I was supposed to become a doctor if I couldn’t figure out Grignard reaction, which is an objectively easy reaction to understand when one is not running on four hours of sleep.
Beyond the pre-requisite classes and the standardized tests that challenged me emotionally and intellectually, the medical school application cycle itself is a monster. As a person that values mentorship, I want to provide an unobstructed view of what it feels like to be an applicant that wants to be a physician-scientist.
For starters, I was not a high-stat applicant like many of the applicants you see on Reddit or Student Doctor Network (SDN). While my GPA was well above average for an accepted applicant, my MCAT did not quite reach the mark and fell in the 51st percentile. Neither of these facts stopped me from applying, even when I had student mentors tell me that they would be shocked if I received an interview, much less an acceptance.
After submitting my primary and secondary applications by the first of August, I was left in limbo. While all my peers were receiving interviews, I waited for mine to begin rolling in. It was not until mid-September that I received my first interview invitation. By the end of the cycle, I had a total of five MD/Ph.D. interviews.
Throughout my whole experience, I was constantly wondering if I was a good enough applicant or if the program directors would like me as a person. Truthfully, I allowed the negative opinions of others to get into my brain, which escalated my anxiety.
By the time March came, I had the “final” results of my cycle. I was placed on the waitlist for three MD/Ph.D. programs, accepted for an MD at one of the schools, and rejected in full by the last one. In truth, this was the moment that I started crying. Although I had an acceptance at a school that I loved, I did not have an acceptance into the exact dual degree program that I wanted to get into.
Despite this disappointment, I composed myself and reminded myself that I would be a doctor. The journey to becoming a physician-scientist is not the same for everyone. While the dual degree programs are wonderful and what I envisioned for myself, I also reminded myself that being a scientist did not necessarily require a Ph.D. Beyond that, I reminded myself that I was on three waitlists. Statistically speaking, I was not out of the running yet.
During moments like these, applicants should remember they are worthy and intelligent individuals. The medical school application process does a good job of tearing applicants apart to assess each piece of their personality through the application materials that they receive. Too often, the emphasis is placed on the wrong piece of the equation, and completely deserving individuals suffer as a result. Being gentle and kind to oneself in the face of adversity is necessary in any field, especially in medicine.
As March began to wind down, I had grown comfortable with my situation. I was happily planning to attend and give a second-look at my MD acceptance. However, I was cautiously optimistic about the chance that I would be accepted off the waitlist at one of the three MD/Ph.D. programs that I did not have a complete answer from. I also focused on my classes and research as I attempted to get all A’s in my final engineering classes and completed my research to produce a publication.
When I was studying for one of my exams, a call interrupted my thoughts. As I looked at the number calling, my heart sped up at the thought that this call could be the acceptance I had been waiting for. I answered the phone in the midst of commotion occurring at my house and was immediately greeted by a warm tone. Then, I heard the words every medical school applicant wants to hear.
“I have some great news. You’ve been accepted to the MD/PhD program!”
To be honest, there were a lot of emotions going on at that moment, and I simultaneously started crying and asking the admissions staff if the call was genuine.
The journey to get to medical school is not easy. It requires a lot of grit and determination. However, the feeling at the finish line is elating, and at that moment, you will know that your hard work and resilience got you to where you are. And while it is common for imposter syndrome to creep back in as you wonder if you truly belong in your entering class, you can think back to all of those long nights that you spent studying to remind yourself that you belong in medical school.
Sometimes it just takes patience to achieve your dreams. You just have to remember to stay true to yourself and keep working hard. Take it from someone that was in your same position and is now an accepted MD/Ph.D. student.