Hope and Getting into Medical School

THopehe following is an anonymous submission from a member of the Student-Doctor Network forum. I thought it was helpful, poignant, and made for some thoughtful discussion: This semester I served as an interviewer at a multiple mini interview (MMI) for medical school applicants. Just one year prior, I was the one sitting outside the door, with my fingers crossed that I would do well. Flash forward back to the present, and I was slightly preoccupied with my first medical school exam coming up and also struggling to use my stethoscope (my hands make too much noise and I can barely hear a heartbeat . . . oh yeah, and I had to remember which side of the stethoscope to use - diaphragm or bell). In one year I went from the hopeful interviewee to the intimidating interviewer.

As I looked across the room at the faces of some of the premeds, I saw some of the different phases that I went through as a premed. I saw my hopeful stage, my panic stage, my robotic-MCAT stage, and my feeling-awesome stage. The luxury of this hindsight urged me to share the lessons that I had learned as a struggling premed.

One piece of advice that I want to share is my tortuous relationship with hope. It is a delightful mistress to cling to, and a dangerous cliff to drop from. Hope can be a danger if you abuse it. Please be cautious of how many eggs you put in the hope basket. When I first committed be being a "pre-med," my blind ambition made me avoid confronting my weaknesses and become confident in a house built in a weak foundation. I used hope as justification for actions that were ill-advised, and to allow myself to take shortcuts.

This behavior caused me to take the MCAT pre-maturely and do poorly. I used hope to deny my academic need for help. I was bad at the verbal section so I made myself believe that admissions staff did not care about this section. I hoped and prayed for this enough, and actually convinced myself that verbal was useless. Therefore, I half-heartedly studied for verbal, focusing on BS and PS. I was in denial and ill-prepared but blinded by my own ill-placed positivity.

When I took my first MCAT I came home and basically didn't talk to anyone for a day. I felt like I was a derailed train. When I emerged from my fetal position I dragged out the "H"-word again. I again started to convince myself...."Maybe I will be lucky. Maybe I managed to guess the hard questions correctly. Maybe I did better than what my gut is telling me." I crawled through the SDN forums looking for affirmation that I had done OK.

As you can imagine, hope was not enough...at all.

When the miserable month of waiting was over and I opened my score and was deflated. Hope (ignorance?) had failed me. I earned a 26 on the most crucial test of my life. Unsurprisingly, I scored a 7 in verbal. This automatically discounted me from several schools that required minimum subsection scores of 8 or above on all sections.

Well what about the rest of my application? At this stage I had one academic letter from a community college lecturer, I had a year of hospital volunteering and I had some work as a home care aid. I had no research, no leadership roles, and no awesome pre-med accomplishments on my resume. My GPA was acceptable, but I had a few low grades that were also reflected in my MCAT score. I had pegged a lot on my MCAT. I hoped that someone would still see me, wringing my hands with my less than stellar application, and know that I was worth it.

Because of this behavior I wasted money on an application cycle that I was clearly not competitive in. I had pegged so much hope on my first MCAT that when I finally admitted defeat the disappointment was almost paralyzing. I nearly gave up.

Hope did not bring me here. Hard work and persistence dragged me through the MCAT, twice. Passion and enthusiasm connected me with research and work opportunities. Confidence brought me success in my classes and my interviews...Hope almost dropped me out of the race.

Hope gives you the boost to move forward in the arduous path to medical school, but you certainly can’t hope/pray your way to an acceptance. Use it to stay positive, but don’t hide behind it. Identify your mistakes, weaknesses and then use motivation to strategize solutions. As one of my mentors told me, "Hope without action is not enough for this process."

Hope is a tool, but do not abuse it. Trust in hard work and smart preparation to get you into medical school.