Getting into Medical School, aka Holy of Holies (the F-1 version)

My adventures as an international student trying to get into a US medical school as a prestigious MSI student!

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Location: East Coast, United States

I am a 22 yr old Foreign lady trying to get into an American med school. The journey has been "rough" to say the least. So join the band wagon and let's see if they think I'm good enough to become a doctor. I hope my story encourages someone, maybe you. Not necessarily to become a doctor, but just to follow your dream. Leave your comments as you read...I thrive on feedback. And if this is your first time here, catch up on what you missed, cus every post IS important...well almost all. So forget that board meeting(at your own risk) or skip that class (again at your own risk) and lose yourself in my archives. REMEMBER: "If it aint ROUGH, it aint RIGHT" - Richard Hamilton, Detroit Pistons Guard

Friday, July 28, 2006

The past, part II

Did you ever hear that funny play on words, Assumptions make an "a*s" of "u" and "me"? I think it's like the cleverest of these I've heard in a while...seriously. But to keep it PG up in here, I have proceeded to replace the not-so-well-accepted portion of this phrase with "donkey" (or "butt" whichever floats your boat). This is the story of how my ASSUMPTIONS made a "donkey" of me, in essence, The "Donkey"fication of Abbey.

Before I start, let's make sure we're all on thesame page. The location is Miu Corp right now and I have finally gotten over my "Wow! so this is where all the magic happens" phase. I came into this internship with lots of stories from my peers both within and outside "The Ends of the Earth". Apparently most of them were the best things to happen to their company. They had perfect reviews from their bosses. They were offered second internships/full time jobs the minute they submitted their first copy-paste projects. The design team could not hold a meeting without them. And last but most important of all, they ate lunch with the VP on a daily basis. So I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the drift. There's a BIG difference between stretching the truth and straight up lying. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell that difference back then. I soaked up all these stroies ASSUMING my "peeps" will never lie to me and patiently waited for some or all of these "great" things to happen to me too. ASSUMPTION #1 made, "Donkey"fication stage I complete.

It's now month 3 and still no one has invited me to any special events with the VP, and most meetings, I was lucky if they remembered to leave room for me at the conference table. Even when they did, there was this neon sign on everyone's head that clearly stated: NO COMMENTS NEEDED FROM YOU. I remember one of the first times I decided to ignore this notice. It was at one of our design meetings and I made what I thought to be a brilliant suggestion. Trying to show them I can do more than photocopy 400 page know, "for the team". They all looked at me, nodded and pretended to take notes, finally I thought, someone was listening. But for some reason, this "brilliant" suggestion never got implemented. Maybe I should ASSUME they'll implement it in the second release of the product? Nahhh, too soon for "Donkey"fication stage II.

So as you can see, it was very easy to feel like an overpaid human xerox machine in this new world. But the future was looking bright, I was finally beginning to understand their tech savvy mumbo jumbo. Luckily for me the project we were working on was a new one so everyone else was as clueless as I was. So when we weren't at team meetings trying to understand the project, I spent the rest of the work day devouring the design specification manual. OK, I'll be honest. I spent the rest of the day perfecting how to sleep sitting upright. Don't blame me, there really was nothing to do, even my team leader couldn't come up with stuff for herself. You might be wondering how all this ties in to learning who I really was. Well for sure, one thing I had learnt so far was that my daily productivity was inversely proportional to how much I ate for lunch. But apparently, there were still more painful lessons to come.

You see there are these things called Mid-Coop reviews where you meet with your manager and he updates you on your performance so far. I was excited at the prospect of finding out how many times my manager had caught me drooling at my desk. So on the appointed date, I got to work earlier than ususal, updated myself on all I had done so far, just in case he decided to give me a pop quiz and got ready for our meeting. The meeting was going well, he discussed his opinion about my work, my personality and my team members opinion about my performance. Everything was excellent. Perfect scores on all sections except one, "efficiency at performing tasks" or something like that. I asked him why that was lower, his answer? I had not done enough yet for him to judge that. Understandable. Afterall, the developers were still writing the code so there was nothing for me to test yet. We were now about to round up, but for some reason I was feeling very confident with myself. I ASSUMED I could handle anything. ASSUMPTION #2 made, "Donkey"fication stage II complete.

Maybe I should have just let the meeting end, but I don't regret doing what I did next because it changed my life forever. Really it did. I asked my manager one more question. "What did I needed to improve on?" I honestly thought he was going to give me a pat on the back (or an equivalent that did not qualify as sexual harassment), and say everything was perfect. He was quiet. My heart had since stopped beating at this point and I could hear my brain screaming for its blood supply. But it wasn't getting any until I heard the answer to my question. The answer came, luckily before I suffered a stroke. "Take more Initiative". Yup that was the answer. The sad thing was that I knew what exactly he wanted me to do. Things were slow in my department, so he probably expected me to ask permission to spend a week or two with the developers and work on some stuff with them. The even sadder thing was that I thought of this everytime I sat at my desk doing nothing , but give up a nap to write some code? Sorry I just couldn't do it. Yes I love coding that much! Also, I "knew" for sure I wasn't going to end up in corporate America after college. So I worked hard, but the whole "above and beyond" deal was asking too much. There was just no motivation to do so. No motivation at all. Till that faithful meeting I thought I could do anything, whether or not I had a passion for it, and still be the best at it. I learnt otherwise. Unfortunately my "donkey"fication was still not complete, stage III? encounter with... The MCAT!!("insert action sequence music here") be continued

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Some things you might want to know...

In preparation for the chosen day (tomorrow), I will proceed to go over my applications again for like the millionth time. The last 999,999 times I went over them, everything I wrote prior always looked so stupid. I always find some new website that has a supposedly indispensable list of " The BIG 10 don'ts for primary applications" and each time, I find out I'm always in violation of at least 7 of them. What can a sister do? I can't delete an essay that took me a month to write just because "John I-know-it all" says what I saw on "Jane I-know-more than-John's" website is wrong. ANYWAYS, I will be going over the applications for the LAST time tonite and only making GRAMMAR corrections. Those grammatic errors are also just a pain. I'm beginning to feel like someone goes into my account and adds new errors while I'm away because there just always seems to be a new one hiding you can rightly tell, the sooner I turn these apps in, the better my mental health will be.

So in the calm preceeding the next hurricane season (secondary applications), I will go ahead and fill you in on the rest of my past. To make sure we're all on thesame page, here is a link to some useful statistics . It might be quite overwhelming and completely useless to you now, but it will all come to make complete sense in the weeks to come.

To cut the long story short, here is my version of the requirements:

MCAT Possible Score Range: 3 - 45 , Score to aim for >= 30 (almost guaranteed admission)

Physical Sciences: Score Range: 1-15, Score to aim for >=10

Verbal Reasoning: Score Range: 1-15, Score to aim for >= 9

Writing Section: Score Range: J through T , Score to aim for >= P

Biological Sciences: Score Range: 1-15, Score to aim for >=10

Cummulative GPA >= 3.6/4.0

BCPM GPA >= 3.7/4.0 and > Cummulative GPA

Choose your destiny:
MCAT Score between 3 and 24: Only by some miracle can you get in, unless you're Black (not African), Hispanic, etc
(It was pointed out to me that Asian Americans are not included in this category. I had earlier thought that even though they had higher scores on average, they were still considered minority)

MCAT Score between 25 and 29: Your chances are a bit higher, but all thesame questionable. Financial aid is however, still very uncertain, unless of course you are of ethnic origin.

MCAT Score between 30 and 32: You are guaranteed a spot like I said earlier, but remember beggars can't be choosers.

MCAT Score 33 and above: The Sky is only the beginning. Ironically, some schools are very wary of extremely high scores (greater than 39 or so), then they begin to wonder if you actually have any people skills or you spent most of your adult life studying for the MCAT!

MCAT Score of 45: NO COMMENTS!

* wonderful extracurricular activities like extensive research, publications, athletics, etc can sway all these predictions drastically.

By the way "Physical Sciences" really means "Physics and General/Inorganic Chemistry" and "Biological Sciences" means "Biology and Organic Chemistry". The Verbal Reasoning is also not just reading comprehension. I really wish it was. It's exactly what the name says - VERBAL REASONING. They say all the answers are in the passage but thats a freaking lie. You have to read the passage and become the author. You have to get in his/her mind and think like them because at the end they're going to ask you some random question like what should be the topic of the next paragraph, or what was the author really thinking when he/she said blah blah blah. How on earth are we supposed to know? I apologize for my bad attitude and all but all I can say is no one should leave me in thesame room with the person/people/committee that created this exam. One word for the events that will occur.FOOLHARDINESS!

On a calmer note, I will fill you guys in on another part of my story in a few days.

PS: As I will be turning the apps in soon, I will appreciate it if you can bookmark my page if you are still interested in viewing it. Also, delete the link from your walls if you can (facebookers), if not I'll be going around and doing that in a few days. If you want to leave it on your wall do so, but pls find a way to get rid of my smiling face next to it. Operation "Get-Under-The-Radar" is officially in full swing.

Monday, July 24, 2006


ANONYMITY. The POWER to say what you want, when you want, how you want and about who you want BUT simultaneously denying the world the ability to trace it back to you...

Unfortunately I lack this power (thanks to my profile on some webpages of choice) . S0 as the faithful day when I bare my soul to "the 21" draws nigh ("the 21"= the 21 med schools on my list, "Faithful Day" = Wednesday), I'm beginning to wonder. Exactly how much can I say about them on here? Especially these days when HR representatives view facebook profiles before making hiring decisions. How do I know the admission committees (adcomm) don't have some Steve Urkel type guy stashed away somewhere, digging into the depths of the web for dirt on me?...

FOOLHARDINESS. The ABILITY to not only look death (or equivalent) in the eye BUT actively pursue it without knowing one lacks the POWER to conquer it...

Unfortunately, I have been known to display this ability more than once. And once again, its looking appealing. I'm thinking of letting all my thoughts out and ignoring those nosy people that might be poking around! Life is full of risks anyway, right?

SELF-INTELLIGENCE. The STATE OF MIND of understanding the ABILITIES one has and the POWER one lacks...

Fortunately, for a change, I get into this state of mind occasionally. So in order to save my behind, I have restricted my profiles on these websites of choice to my "friends" alone. Of course the definition of "friends" in reality and on facebook, for example, are VERY different. We add people as friends just because they held the door open for us yesterday, or we sat next to them in class the other day, to name a few of the random reasons. So I can only HOPE that none of these "friends" are part of some adcomm somewhere that would print out everything I say on here, hand it right back to me come interview day, and make sure I never smell the four walls of a hospital.(I know they have some students on those adcomms). That is assuming of course they let me get as far as the interview! I'm fresh out of any intelligent ideas to protect myself. So bring it on, life is a highway they say, and right now I'm going 90, right through a school district! (ahem...GOD HELP ME!!)

Interesting link:
PS: In view of this, I will be a little more vague in terms of institutions where I worked etc, but I promise, the story will still be good and you'll get the drift.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The past...(part 1 of I really don't know)

Sometimes I wonder why I didn't just choose to become an engineer, or something that didn't require at least 12 yrs of training. You know, graduate, start making my cash like most of y'all are doing and have a choice as to whether or not to go to grad school. But I knew if I did that, I will be cheating myself. How can I be an engineer when I pretty much drooled on every word my professor uttered in anatomy class? Thank GOD for policies, after two semesters of Anatomy, I thought I was a doctor already because I could finally understand a word or two from ER. Unfortunately life isn't that easy.

If it was, I really would have been a doctor by now. Afterall, I was already in med school back home and all my mates are currently in their final year about to start their internships. But nooooo, I couldn't pass up a chance to pursue the "American Dream". So I proceeded to up root my whole life in 2001 and come up to a very small town in Michigan aka "The Ends of the Earth". For some reason, my wise self decided to major in computer science, you know, I wanted to have a back up plan in case med school didn't work out. A classic case of a good idea executed badly. At least thank GOD I realized this before my GPA became completely non-existent. So I changed majors. To Bioinformatics. Less coding, more biology. Priceless.

In between all this jumping around , I missed a visit or two with my advisor and ended up wasting two summers finding new ways to sit on a couch at different locations around the country. What could I have done you might wonder? Well there was no money for classes, I didn't have the heart to ask my dad to pay tuition three times in one year. I could have volunteered at the hospital or something, but honestly, at this point, I had no clue that I had to volunteer or do anything outside school to get into med school. It was hard keeping tabs with my bioinformatics requirements and my premed ones. It was not until I started talking to some of my other premed friends that I found out most of what I had to do. Research...Doctor Shadowing...Volunteering, etc. There was a problem though. All these either paid nothing at all or almost nothing compared to what I needed. The answer laid in corporate America. This again was a problem. My resume was looking rather empty, all I had done till this point was wash dishes in the cafeteria and tutor. Well let's repharase that. I was a vital part of a cafeteria team ensuring that all parties were served in optimal hygiene conditions. But I still needed a job whose description I didn't have to rephrase.

So come October 2003, in the middle of "The Ends of the Earth's" first snow fall, I attempted to put together my best corporate outfit (I had nothing close to a suit in my wardrobe at this point in my college career) and walk up the humongous hill to the sports center for our annual career fair. Every step I took, I kept asking myself why? Why was I bothering myself? Why was I out in the freaking cold, doing my first cardio workout in ages in uncomfortable clothes? I had been up at the career fair twice before. You see my school is an engineering school so we only get about two companies, out of 200 or so, who are interested in non-engineering majors. Of these two companies, zero of them hire internationals. I was already half way up by now and what else could I be doing? Confusing myself more in my data structures class? Never! Anyways I knew I would keep asking myself "what if?" if I didn't go up there and try. So I did. I joined the parry and tried to explain to the recruiters what exactly my major was while thinking to myself how good all the guys looked cleaned up.

A friend of mine had earlier told me that one of the top technology companies (let's call it Miu Corp) had a life sciences dept that might be interested in someone who knew a little bit about computers and biology. So I went up to talk to them, knowing fully well they had kicked me out the last two times immediately they heard my "weird" name. But this time, I started differently. I told them about their life sciences dept and how my major was just the right combination they needed. The guy was nodding. That was the first truthful nod I had gotten from any of the recruiters. Good sign! Then he asked the dreaded question "Are you legally authorized to work in the US without sponsorship?" Of course I said yes! It wasn't a lie, heck I was working in the cafeteria and they weren't sponsoring me (whatever that meant).

Long story short, I got the job. A premed major working in a tech company testing some developers code. Apart from saving up for my tuition and getting a much needed wardrobe upgrade, I began to discover who I really was...

( be continued)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

My most useful links:
This website lists all the medical schools in US and Canada and their policies towards international students.
This one is a profile of a fellow international student and his experience in the application process
Here are different rankings of US medical schools, for each school click on the "student body" link to see their acceptance rates and the different kinds of students admitted.
Tips for all applicants, including tips to give your recommenders
For people interested in MD/PhD programs (most of these programs cover your tuition and give you a stipend)
Schools with MD/MBA Programs
MD/JD Programs (Yes, you can be both a doctor and a lawyer, having a life along with that is a different story)
MD/MPH Programs

So how exactly does the process work?

For the benefit of my non-premedically inclined readers (aka layman) and anyone else that wants to understand the process, I proceed to explain the long winding process of applying to med school...

The first stage is of course knowing you want to be a doctor. The only deadline that exists here is realizing this fact while you're still mentally and physically capable of doing whatever this journey entails. This might be at age 70 for some people or as early as age 30 for others. Personally, I believe the earlier the better. You will need all the time you can get to pay up the loans you were so generously granted, or just to get your credit history back above 500 after 4 years of swiping your life away. People have been known to decide to study medicine as late as 40 and then there's most of us that figure this out before our college graduation. So now you know you want to be a doctor, what next?

Well, next you have to take those group of classes that will assure you of meeting the inital requirements for application to most schools. This usually consists of at least 4 semesters of biology and chemistry, one year of physics, psychology, writing and history. Technically this is easy unless you don't talk to your advisor till late in your college career, in which case you're kinda screwed into spending some extra time in undergrad. You also have to squeeze in a few lab research experiences and tangible clinical volunteer experiences. So every summer you spend bumming out at home, just know it will come back to hunt you. Somewhere between matriculation and graduation, you proceed to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Ahhh the MCAT, the official guardsman of the Holy of Holies. Only the fit can conquer this obstacle and proceed into the fortress. Do I have stories for you or what? But I'll try not to get too personal in this post...that's for the next one. You know I have to spread them out, if not my page will be looking rather scanty. So stay tuned. Anyways, till August of this year, the MCAT is an 8 hour exam that supposedly tests how much of the "basic" concepts you have grasped in your science classes. Personally, I don't think there's anything freaking basic about it, but then again, we're not getting personal here, so I'll move on...It has 4 sections-Physical Sciences, Verbal, Writing and Biological Sciences.You can read more about it here . Up till now, you were given two tries a year to pass it and three tries total to get your ideal score. If you still want to take it again a fourth time, you have to show a letter of rejection from one school and some other info. But after this year, it will be held 19 times a year (wow!) but you still have only 3 tries at getting the score you want. After finally conquering the MCAT, say...on your first try(ahem!) and usually around the end of your junior year in college, you proceed to apply to med schools during senior year. Oh I forgot to mention, it costs about 200 bucks to take the exam, and this increases by about $10 every year.

If the MCAT is expensive, then the application process completely sucks whatever juice is left in your already suffering free checking account and/or your shiny student credit card(credit limit permitting). First you fill out the cumbersome primary application on the aamc website ( The main theme here is to make your years as a dishwasher in the school cafeteria sound like it made you a better person. So you will need (or have to know someone with) a way with words to phrase your experiences, or the lack thereof, right. You will also have to write a page and a half essay explaining why you want to be a doctor (emotional personal story required!!). This application is not due till around October but thanks to most school's Rolling Admission Policy, you better turn it in way before then (of course with some discretion, I don't recommend turning it in the first day, but who am I?). By the way, "rolling" means that the med schools don't wait to receive all applications before looking at them. They process them as they receive it.

So after you turn in the primaries (160 bucks for the first school, and 30 bucks for every additional one) and all your transcripts (yes, that include's the one from that community college in Alpine, WY), they calculate your cumulative GPA and your Biology Chemistry Physics and Math (BCPM) GPA and send them to your listed schools. Said schools now look at your numbers (i.e MCAT and GPAs), make sure you have all the right experiences ie volunteer and research and scheme your personal statement (in that order) then decide if they want to send you a secondary app.

So if you're lucky enough to get a secondary, you fill that out as soon as possible too and send it back in. You will probably need to write two or three more essays per app, get your letters of recommendation (lors) and pay another set of application fees. Yes...they still want more money, on average about $70 per school. If they like what they see, they call you in for an interview, which you fund yourself. Here they mostly try to find out your views on medical issues and what not, and ask whatever questions they want. Including, but not limited to, why did you have to take physics three times?

After the interviews you wait again to hear back as to whether or not you've been accepted. If you have, you will be invited for the second look weekend which they fund (about time!) and if you have many schools to select from, you make a choice and if not thank the Lord for that one school. Of course if you don't get accepted you can wait a year, improve on your experiences and try again next year.

So now that I've bored you with these details....we can finally get personal!

The present...

So I finally got around to creating this was easier than I thought. I used to think I had to relive some of my computer science nightmares just to get this up and running. Thank God for other people that enjoy making such things easy for the rest of us. I am watching CASINO right now and I think its Robert Deniro, or some other dude, doing the voice over who mentioned something about the Holy of Holies...and that solved the naming problem.

This is my story of the journey to my LONG term dream, becoming a board certified physician. Which of course starts with getting into medical school (aka Holy of Holies)...there's a catch though. Its the F-1 version. In case you didn't know, an F-1 student is an international student, yes, we are the ones with the thick accents that have to repeat everything we say at least twice to get across to you. That is of course until we perfect the act of sounding somewhat American, which in itself still solves the problem only part way.

So unlike the average applicant that has about 125 schools to choose from, we F-1's only have...let's see....a little less than half of that. Why? you might wonder, shouldn't all the schools want us? You know, to add on to their diversity quota and what not. For some reason though, they think we should have stayed in our third world countries where we belong. Which when I think about it, would not have been a bad idea...but thats another story for another time. So to deter us people, they put up walls. Huge ones. The tallest of which is that most of them just don't accept internationals period. Of the fraction that actually does, half of them want us to pay our tuition and fees for all four years (~ $200,000) in advance before admission confirmation, yes they want us to pay ummmm...the equivalent of 30 000 000 nigerian naira in advance. To put that in perspective, that is enough money to build about 2 six-bedroom duplexes back home(naija peeps, correct me if I'm wrong). Even by American standards, that is enough for a four bedroom house down south and you actually have 30 yrs to pay this! Personally, I think anyone that pays all this at once without loans should be investigated by all anti-corruption bodies both in the United States and the greater planet earth!

So due to certain circumstances beyond my control, I will not be applying to this "small" fraction of schools that require the equivalent of body parts in payments. As of now I have 21 carefully researched and scrutinized schools on my list and as soon as finances allow ($760, God Help Me!) I will be turning in my primary applications. This has to be within the next few days too because the early birds have had theirs in for almost about a month now. I'm really not liking this rolling admission thing much. Why can't we just have that one blessed day when everything is due so we can all stay up the night before, turn it in at the last minute and hope the system crashes so we get another day or so(lol!). You know, just like they taught us in college.

So I will try to keep everyone interested updated on my progress! I can't guarantee daily posts but everytime I hear something new from my schools, I am bound to put it up here. So in the next year or so, one of three things can happen:
1. I get admitted into one of my 21 schools
2. I get admitted into one of my 21 schools with lots of money in aid and...
3. I don't get admitted all together in which case there would be a systematic change to a PhD program of choice, that is of course after taking the GRE sometime in Novemeber and hopefully meeting the deadline for most of these programs(mid-Dec). (GOD FORBID!!!!!!!!!).

So needless to say, the next year is going to be an emotional roller coaster and all you get to do is read, shake your head, laugh with me and maybe cry with me. Scratch that...let's just say laugh with me, I'm going to try the optimisitic route here.