Getting accepted to medical school is no easy task. AAMC provides data (Table A-1) that shows how many medical school applicants there are in a cycle compared to how many of those applicants matriculate. In 2016-2017, there were 53,042 applicants and only 21,030 matriculants. I’ve often heard that getting into medical school is the hardest part of a career in medicine – and after applying twice, I definitely believe it.
My first application cycle ended in a round of heartbreaking rejections. I was shocked, saddened, and felt defeated. Applications cost hundreds of dollars. You have to take the MCAT, send transcripts, travel for interviews, buy dress clothes, and many other tasks that cost money. You have high hopes when you press submit on AMCAS. Your hopes dwindle a little after you see someone you know on Facebook share that they received an interview invite while you’re checking your inbox every 5 minutes. Your hopes skyrocket when you receive your very own interview invite only to be dropped back down when you are put on the waitlist. You’re still hopeful, I mean, you are on a waitlist – you weren’t flat out rejected! Months of hoping, praying, and wishing came to an end for me in August, once all 3 schools I had been waitlisted at had started classes. My rejection letters were coming shortly.
So how did I receive three interviews yet not one acceptance? I believe I was rejected to medical school because of a lack of confidence. It seems so silly now looking back. How did I still feel so inferior at interviews when I should have felt validated? I remember getting an interview at my dream school and thinking to myself, “there’s no way I deserve this, I’m below their average MCAT”. I want to let applicants in on a little secret… if you are even applying to medical school, you deserve an interview. You’ve taken all the prerequisites, written dozens of essays, hundreds of hours were spent building up to your application – you deserve an interview. If you receive an interview, OF COURSE you deserve that interview! You were handpicked by the committee. That school has a spot for you. It is now your job to sell yourself on why you deserve that spot.
I knew I needed to bring confidence to my interviews. I knew what I needed to do. But I still came up short. My whole educational career, I’ve always downplayed good grades and achievements. I never wanted to come across too boastful or arrogant. I pride myself in being a humble person. Medical school interviews are not the time to downplay your achievements. There are ways to talk about yourself confidently and assertively without coming across negatively. I now know how to come across this way thanks to my gap year.
My gap year gave me time to think about what went wrong during my first application: I was too timid, lacked confidence, and felt inferior. Knowing what I didn’t know then, I was ready for my second set of interviews. I knew how to talk about myself more positively, assertively, and confidently. I can recall one interview (to the school I currently attend) where I spoke about myself in a very eloquent and confident manner. I actually believe it was this moment that led to my acceptance.
The interview with two faculty members was almost over after only about 15 minutes but I hadn’t yet discussed a main point I wanted to sell about myself. The new addition to my resume, working as an nurse aide, was something I desperately wanted to share. This new job of mine was hard but gave me a perspective on healthcare that I had never seen before. So when one of the faculty members asked if there was anything else I would have liked to add, old Madison would politely say no and then run out the door thankful to be done. New Madison asked if she could shed some light on a new experience that she believed made her an even more qualified candidate. It might not seem like a huge moment to you, but it was the biggest deal for me. I talked about myself and what I could offer to the program in a way I had never done before.
If you’re about to apply to medical school for the first, second, third, or whatever time, please know that there are other people who have struggled through what you are about to go through that can help and guide you in anyway you need! Please know that you are deserving of an interview and a seat in a class. Sometimes, luck just doesn’t go your way. So don’t give up on your dreams after one failed attempt! Try and try again! And remember, you have to be your own advocate because no one else will be fighting for you.
Update: I had originally said there were 830,016 applicants. There were actually 830,016 applications and 53,042 applicants. (Thank you to an instagram follower who helped with the correction!)