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

Thursday, August 31, 2006

What to do when all Hell Breaks Loose

Someone please tell me to get off here! Right now I'm trying to escape from my reality. Everything seems to be happening all at once.

Challenge 1:
My summer sublease is over tomorrow so I will be leaving the comfort of a stranger's bed, couch, TV, etc and spending labor day weekend moving my stuff one block down the street and most likely, smack in the middle of Tropical Depression "Ernesto" or whatever other state of mind he decides to turn into this weekend. The best part is the apartment is completely...UNFURNISHED. Why did I just find that out today? In other words, I will be in a very spartan apartment, me and my camping chair from freshman year, just the two of us, well and a sea of boxes of my junk. I guess with no internet and cable I will have no excuse but to face my reality...

Challenge 2, 3, 4...
What Reality you might ask? All I can say is be careful what you ask for. I've been begging GOD to allow the powers that be verify my primary applications all this while and yesterday, 1 month and five days after submission, after sucking up my $760, after taking my blood pressure to new highs, they finally did. They verified the darn thing. And the cycle has started again. Round two of my Charity Ball has started but this time the money is being doled out in bits...100 bucks to school A, 75 bucks to school B and the nice ones only ask for $45, but they all add up. Between yesterday and today I have received about 6 more secondaries, I know I wanted them but dang! Can we agree on a Take-It-Easy-On-ABBEY ceasefire here. One a week please. And not only do they want my money, they have other requests.

They want to get to know "another side of me". Like other things I'm passionate about apart from medicine. Oh I'm allowed to have interests outside wondering how every organ in the body worked? Wow, wish I had known that sooner. Then some of them want me to tell them something ELSE apart from what I told them in my primary applications. Problem is I told them everything they want and need to hear already. The only card left to play is the Poor-Girl-From-Third-World-Country one and that is only used when the doodoo is right about to hit the fan. If they push hard enough though, they might just get it. *I really just feel like screaming right now*

*Shakes head* Human beings! We honestly can never be satisfied. God Forgive Me.

In between all of this, my student is taking his GREs in a week or so and needless to say our sessions have been getting more intensive. I really hope he does very well so at least I won't feel bad for taking those checks after each of our sessions. It has been an emotional roller coaster too. Some days things are looking positive and others are just frustrating, for both of us. Note that this is only considered a "pseudo-challenge" cus it actually brings in income unlike the earlier ones. Nuff Said!

So my tasks for this weekend are to
- Look into getting a decent "lightly-used" mattress that at least looks like no party/parties have had numerous failed attempts at "going into the world and multiplying" on it.
- Or a couch, whichever is cheaper
- Get one of these seemingly impossible essays done and turn in a few more applications next week.
- Wait and Pray, then start ranting again when the wait is over!

So what do you do when all hell breaks loose? You ESCAPE, into another world-cyber or otherwise. The key to this technique is that said ESCAPE is TEMPORARY, again I say TEMPORARY. If you find it hard to come back to your REALITY, you're on your own. This is me getting back to mine...

PS: If anyone knows where I can get free GRE math tests online let me know. thanks!
PPS: And checkout some other interesting blogs on my sidebars...more ways to escape reality lol

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Best Laid Plans....

(The Past Part IV)

OK finally back to the main gist. Let's do a quick recap. So far in my journey to fulfil those admissions requirements, I have gone to the right classes and done an internship. That's pretty much it. Actually the internship does not really count cus it's not on the list, more like a plus. I still needed two very important activities though-research and volunteering. At this point (Jan 2005), I realized I only had one summer left before graduation so I needed to make VERY good use of it.

Seeing as I had to take the MCAT again that April and I already had two jobs, I really didn't have any free time to spend being a doorman (oops I mean "volunteering") at the hospital. So I decided to concentrate on the MCAT and look for a summer research position. Of course, I faced the normal problem. Three quarters of the positions I found did not take internationals, to add fuel to the fire, I did not have any prior research experience. Honestly speaking, I had no clue what the heck research involved. The most I knew about it was from watching Dexter's Lab and Steve Urkel. So needless to say, my application was not very competitive. I started out applying to about five or so schools. I can't even remember which ones they are right now and I just waited to hear back.

Subconsciously though, I had other plans. One way or another, my manager at Miu Corp had signed me up for another internship that summer. Personally I think all they require of their interns was to show up to work daily and you automatically get resigned. Not trying to say I didn't pull my weight, cus when things eventually got busy in the fall you can trust your girl held it down. Compared to some other interns that showed up to work at 3 pm daily, I was an excellent intern. I even tried to submit a patent, which the corporate lawyers, of course, quickly threw out citing financial reasons. Tsall good though, if they don't like my idea, someone else will. Anyways, the point of all this is that I had another choice, I could go back to Miu Corp for the summer if none of the schools I applied to for research called me back. Or so I thought...

At about March, I still had not heard back from any of the schools I applied to and I almost started getting worried. Almost. Until I remembered I had choices, better paying choices for that matter. I was already contemplating what pet project to take on that summer, perhaps wardrobe expansion part II infact why not just do part II and III all in one, that would be enough to keep me busy for a summer. So I relaxed a bit, I was sure some people had gotten into medical school without research anyways so why stress. Or worst case, I could look for a position with a professor at my school. That was until I got the email from my manager:

"Abbey", unfortunately, due to stricter hiring policies, I am not able to offer you a coop position for this summer. I want to thank you again for your work last year and best of luck in the future.

I read it again, hoping some of the words will have changed. Unfortunately they didn't. How could this happen? In all of three lines, my back-up plan was officially non-existent and all that seemed to await me was a summer like the two others. Either one of earning 6+ bucks per hour or earning nothing at all and bumming out at some unfortunate relative's house. I don't know y'all but it was at this point that it finally began to hit me that I was not in control and only GOD was. That was the only explanation as to why I could be getting this email now. My manager and I had finalized everything before this, he had sent me the paperwork and I was already planning my accomodations for goodness sake! In my hysteria, I called him to find out what the heck went wrong. I was very candid with him and told him I just wanted the truth. That I would understand if my performance was subpar and that was the reason for the change of heart. But he explained that he begged the higher ups for me and they said there was no point hiring an international intern when they knew they couldn't hire her for a full time position. *Sigh*

With no other choice, I stayed up all night with dearest Uncle Google looking for research programs online, I must have applied to about fourteen programs that night, and when my body sent me the "We're about to crash for good" signal, I gave up and went to bed. It paid off cus a few weeks later I got an email from a professor at "Know-your-dilutions" University. Offering me a position. More on the name later. I was so excited that I did not stop to think why he sent the email to two other people. I quickly replied him pouring blessings on him and the rest of his generation for being kind enough to grant me a position.

He replied the next day. Again to me and the two others. He told us he had just short-listed us from the group of applicants and he needed us to read one of his research articles and ask him questions. He would make a decision based on the nature and depth of the questions we asked. What kind of long-winded-ANTM-type elimination process was this? Anyways, again beggar has no choice. I quickly printed the article and began trying to make some sense of it. I had to get my answers in as soon as possible, I felt like I was really on a game show. But if you have seen any research articles, you will know that they are pretty much like greek and latin rolled up into one. Acronyms and jargon thrown all over the place. You had to read them like three or four times over to even begin to understand it. I ended up asking him what I consider very stupid questions but they were the best I could come up with, considering the fact that I read it while simultaneously pretending to listen in all my classes that day. For some reason though, he "liked" my questions, or maybe the other applicants were just like "Screw it" and didn't reply him. Whatever the case, it worked out perfectly for me.

Again, if I had been thinking clearly during all this, I would have put two-and-two together and figured out that ol' boy didn't play. But if I didn't realize it then, I quickly did my very first day in his lab...

PS: I'm sure you guys are tired of all my Inspector Gadget type Code words on here. I plan to do a post in the near future where I will reveal everything, my former workplaces, the famous "21", etc. If you have anything you will want me to add to this post, let me know. But it will only be up for 24 hrs cus I'm still watching my back on here. Don't miss it!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Link Up

All the talk about interviews got me poking around the internet, here are some links I consider interesting...they vary from career help articles, countdowns and other completely random stuff. Some I just found and some are from my classic collection. Take time out and click on a few. For the Forbes countdowns there's usually a picture on the left you can click on for slideshows. ENJOY!

Henrietta has left the building, or not?

Are you being too nice?
I recommend all of the links, but this is a personal favorite...especially for those in Corporate America, in fact, anyone working period!

Tell me about yourself. And no, not the 1 hour version

Is dating on the job really a no-no?

So if I become a surgeon, would I really have to learn to hold my pee for a 26 hr surgery?
This one settled an argument between my sister and I. Of course I

Geez, another career fair? How will this be any different from the 100 others?

Renting aint easy, especially if you live here

How not to fall into the trap
Useful tips, but sometimes very idealistic

Who says you have to sleep 8 hrs to stay healthy?
Found this one today.

PS: Henrietta Lack's (HeLa) cells are used in almost all human disease research labs worldwide, yes WORLDWIDE. Anytime you hear of something being tested on human cells, chances are they're talking about HeLa cells. We have a little "garden" of them growing in the lab where I work and I have the honor of feeding them every other day.

I know you came here expecting some interesting story or the other...yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm working on it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Let the games begin already!

As the days go by, my applications are gradually reclaiming their spot somewhere close to the front burner. I'm trying not to allow my still unverified primary applications get to me. It will be officially one month tomorrow since submission. At this time of the year I was expecting to have had some interviews in the bag by now, but so far I have only received four secondaries and expecting at most 16 more. Oh well...I'll just have to be patient and keep praying that AAMC gets its act together sooner than later. Till then though, I am completing the few secondaries I have been blessed with in as little time as possible. Some of them have been nothing short of a joke and others have been a little more involved than the others. One of the Ivy League ones is actually asking me to type out my responses on the paper application they sent me. Helllooo...this is like the 21st century where am I going to find a typewriter? Tsall good though, beggar has no choice.

So in my "free time", I've been casually preparing for the much awaited interviews. First on the to do list is to purchase a suit. Yes even after I realized the need during college I still didn't buy one. They are just too darn expensive and the need hadn't come up again, well, until now. I actually bought one at the beginning of the summer but it's not exactly appropriate. BLUE, with PINK and WHITE pinstripes. It probably sounds ugly but it really is cute. CUTE in a not-for-an-interview kinda way. The only befitting ones I've seen so far are at EXPRESS and they seem to be going for nothing less than $250! If anyone has tips on where to find affordable suits that don't look like home-made halloween costumes, your comments are really welcome. Then there's also the question of whether to get a pant suit or a skirt suit. Again John I-know-it-all says that most of the interviewers are conservative old-school doctors and might not like the idea of a woman wearing the pants in medicine...but the rebel in me wants to do exactly that, just because. When I think of the price of the flight and all the stress of travelling though, I might just have to conform to whatever the good doctor wants!

I've also been mentally planning my interviewing strategies. The way I see it, I have two options. I could go in there, like I don't want the position. You know, not try to suck up. Not try to read my interviewer's mind as to the answers he/she wants for his questions. Just answer truthfully and candidly. Like telling him(I'll just stick to "he" cus chances are it will be a "he") my stand on pro-choice or pro-life varies with the situation because let's face it, it's easier to have an opinion about someone else's life but when it happens to you, that's a whole different story. Or telling him that the only reason I volunteered in the hospital was really because I was required to do so, not from the beauty of my heart. And it's not until after I actually did it that I enjoyed it and not the reverse. Ok this might sound extreme but I used a milder variation of this at my Miu Corp Interview and I still got the job...but that was an internship not med school so it might be a bit different. I think I might try this at a few schools I really don't care much about(depending on how many interviews I have, I might end up having to care about them all) and see if it works before trying it at others.

But let's face it, a school like say...Harvard that everyone applies to, say they interview ~900 people for ~120 positions, which is usually the scenario, you will really need something that makes you stand out. In a good way that is, and giving thesame answers as everyone else will probably not help. Ok again I need your contributions here...whether or not you are currently in medical school, whatever job or position it was that you interviewed for and got, what do you think made you stand out and if you didn't get it, what were those words you wished you never mentioned? Apart from your statistics, etc. Hopefully we can all learn something, if you take all your knowledge to the grave what good will it do you and the bacteria 6 ft under?

Option 2 is obvious...nod at everything the interviewer says, try not to get into a heated argument, look as conservative as possible, etc...cookie cutter candidate, boring!

Perhaps an Option 1.5 might be the best shot...we'll see.

I'm really depending on some feedback on this one, so since the AAMC isn't bringing it on, let our own games begin...

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Whatever can go wrong, will DEFINITELY go wrong"

...aka DEVIL is a freaking LIAR

OK it's been quite a minute but you will have to bear with me, some hardcore stuff been going down lately. I turned in one of my secondaries (Boston) on Friday, slowly but surely, I'm getting them in. I still can't get over the fact that all I had to do was walk into our office supply room and get free Fedex materials to mail my stuff out. Maybe that's not a big deal to you but believe me every little bit counts, if not I would have been trying to figure out what bus will get me to the fedex office, how to get there before 5pm, and numerous other details. Thank GOD for little mercies.

And the big ones too, like good health. Cliche...but very true. The last few weeks have been CRAZY. At the end of this post, all I need you to do is take away a few important lessons.

I woke up two Mondays ago, hoping the week will fly by as fast as all the others. I still couldn't believe it was already August, felt like yesterday I was just the new kid on the block at work and now here I was feeling I had been there for 20+ years. Anyways I was doing the daily clean up routine in the shower and that's when I noticed some little white spots on my inner lip. I was supposed to stop by the hospital that day anyways to get some blood tests done before I started volunteering so I was going to ask then. But I couldn't help but go to the nearby pharmacy before my hospital appointment. I asked the pharmacist what exactly it was...she looked at me like I had the plague and told me she had no clue, I should go see a doctor. Alarm one went off in my head. Tried to hit snooze, but the button was stuck.

I counted every second till my appointment at the hospital. Finally came, I asked the doctor/technician, I really don't know what he was, other than he was authorized to draw blood. He had to know something. He waved me off and said that every once in a while the mouth went on its own home remodelling project and decided to shed and replace all its old cells. Understandable enough. Then came the itching and a few rashes.

This probably started on Tuesday But nothing much else happened over that day, the white spots disappeared, but the itch continued. I was beginning to think they were just insect bites or maybe I just needed to wash those sheets. (NOTE TO SELF: Can't put off doing that laundry any longer, just 5 bucks, 5 bucks!). But nothing much else happened over that day, the white spots disappeared, but the itch continued.

Then came the sore throat on Thursday. At this point I was no longer comforted by Dr.Who's HGTV theory. I decided to GOOGLE my symptoms. Wrong move people...WRONG MOVE! All kind of crazy pictures, diseases I had never heard of in my life and some that were recently becoming all too familiar. Alarm 2, 3 and 4 went off simultaneously. But I had to keep calm, I still had to show up to work and perform, regardless of how "old faithful" was feeling, still too early to take that sick day. I decided to go back and talk to Dr.Who, to let him know that his theory was tanking fast and I needed a different explanation for the symptoms. Why not go to a certified physician this time? Well, let's just say Health Insurance doesn't grow on trees.

Unfortunately, he was busy so I had to talk to another lady who was apparently having a bad day. She shooed me off like I was some housefly and told me to get over myself that it was probably just some virus. Can a girl not just want to confirm some symptoms? Things just seemed to get worse, I got a fever, swollen lymph nodes, severe just-hiked-through-the-sahara dehydration and flu symptoms. I found a free community health care service. Here they did some tests, everything was thankfully negative, yes THAT TEST too, but they said to come back and show them the white spots if they come back.

To stop myself from going completely crazy, I've tried to stop diagnosing myself online and just see a professional. I finally gave in and purchased health insurance yesterday. Gone are the college days of playing hide and seek with the international office trying to get by without paying for insurance we never used. So I will be going back to the clinic tomorrow trying to find out what exactly is going on. It probably really is some virus but better be safe than sorry, I know my GOD won't let me down. Needless to say "Fight-or-Flight" has successfully kicked my applications to the back burner's back burner till further notice.

So what are those lessons you need to remember?
- GOOGLE is good for a lot of things, but CERTAINLY not for everything
- HEALTH really is WEALTH
- Murphy's darn Law holds true in all situations, so don't try to avoid it, just make necessary accomodations.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


So now are y'all getting an idea of why I said this journey hasn't been easy? It was really hard for me to absorb the fact that I pretty much failed the exam my first trial. I was even more pissed of at the biology section, I got a 9/15. I felt betrayed. Me and Biology were supposed to be tight, and it up and announced to the world that our friendship wasn't real. We'll settle that later. I got an "R" in the writing section which is only two letters away from the highest score (T) but who was going to admit a doctor who knew how to describe an operation on paper but supposedly didn't know where the patient's heart was located?

I was comforted by knowing that I didn't study hard for it. The most annoying thing about the whole issue was when I talked to other premeds about their results....I pretty much told them my score straight up, no mincing words. I didn't do well, I didn't do well, no point in lying. And you won't believe these "kids" won't tell me what they got, they'll be like "I did Ok" or "I did better than I thought". I used to be so pissed off. It's like telling someone "I love you" and the person just nodding in response. Maybe they were feeling sorry for me and didn't want me to know they got a 35 but I didn't and still don't appreciate the sympathy.

Anyways, I've been a bit under the weather of late and been busy trying to complete some of the secondaries I got...I had another one from the school I currently work at but theirs is non-rolling so technically no hurry. I've gotten all my recommendation letters in order so I really want to get the apps done and send them out by the end of the week, you know, get them off my shoulder.

And you are right if you thought I took the exam again. The details of that will come in another post. I feel the urge to say some lovey-dovey stuff to you guys at the end of every post but I'm trying not to sound cheesy. Thanks for reading though...You know I looo' u, yes u that never puts up any comments but still reads it everyday and you that comments all the time and keeps things interesting...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The past part III

Theme parks on a beautiful summer Saturday. You wait in line for hours, watch some "smart" teenagers cut in front of you, hear those on the ride scream as their organs get thrown around and prepare yourself for thesame. Then you think about random stuff like what school the roller coaster's engineers graduated from, if they ever went to their physics classes, if they passed statics and dynamics, or if they even graduated at all...Then you get on the ride for all of three minutes, get off and repeat the cycle somewhere else. Even worse, you forget to check if you're tall enough, and in some cases slim enough, to get on the ride before joining the line, then all the hours of waiting are wasted. Reminds me of the sometimes skewed mentality of some guys. They buy her gifts, buy her drinks, take her to movies, carry her books, laugh at all her "jokes", etc. They wait and prepare. In this case for weeks and sometimes months. Why? Just to get her in a certain position for three minutes. They forget to do their background check to see if she's that kind of girl, or they make one wrong move, then all the weeks/months are wasted, but she will still have the teddy bears, will still have drunk that drink and will still think she has good jokes. His loss, her gain. It's all about good preparation and yes, covering all your bases. I wish I knew that back when I was preparing for the MCAT.

I had experienced the whole exam vicariously through one of my high school friends (we'll call her "smart-one") that was about a year ahead of me in college. The strenous preparation, the long days, late nights and such and had seen her do very well in the exam (mid 30's). So when I finally decided to take the exam I decided to follow in her foot steps and sign up for the famously over-priced Kaplan course. Luckily for me I was outside "The Ends of the Earth" at the location of Miu Corp and the course was available locally. So I went to class after work all through the summer, paid as much attention as I could summon after staring at a computer for 8 hours, and tried to do the whole mental preparation thing. Till now, "smart-one" had ingrained in my head how I was among the smartest people she knew (probably remebering my high school glory days when all the brain cells were still ready and willing) and how I was bound to get at least a 40 on the test. I guess when you hear something often enough you start believing it. So I started believing I could slaughter the exam with one pencil stroke...which wasn't necessarily a bad thing to believe, so far I backed it up with adequate preparation. But the moment that decided my fate in the exam came when we did our first practice test.

It was at this point I realized that most of the questions were based on reading passages. I had a quick flash back to the SAT verbal passages and ASSUMED they were going to be of similar difficulty..."Donkey"fication finally complete. You would think I would know better after scoring a 23 on the practice test, but for some reason, my brain had already registered that the exam was a walk-over and there was no going back. This led to me taking things REALLY easy during my preparation. I didn't stress myself out, I didn't see why. I didn't do any practice tests on my own, didn't study anything more than 30 minutes daily which entailed going through flash cards on the bus to work while keeping an eye on my purse.(Purse-watching became a full time job the moment my checking account started reporting a steady four-figure daily balance). As I gradually became more familiar with the exam and its questions, my practice tests improved and I began to feel more confident, well until the night before the exam.

Bear in mind that the exam is an 8 hour long exam that demands at least that many hours of sleep if you hope to perform your best. So the night before the exam after receiving numerous pep talks from quite a handful of people, I proceeded to glance at the supporting material that I was supposed to have studied on my own over the past few months. You know, the science summary books, the practice tests, etc. Page after page I freaked out a bit more. There was so much I hadn't done, no wonder I never got anywhere close to a 30 on the practice test. This was the first time it hit me that my preparation to that point was "slightly" lacking. And with every passing hour getting enough/any sleep was looking impossible. I had two choices, I could just not show up for the exam the next day($1500 for classes and $190 exam fees down the drain) or I could go for it and hope for some miracle. I remembered the few exams I had "free styled" through out my educational career and how I had been pleasantly surprised...sporadically. Maybe this would be one of those times.

Exam day came, I was running on three hours of sleep and eight of panic. Should really have been the other way around. I barely finished any of the sections. Physical Sciences was like greek,Verbal a bit better but didn't come close to finishing, writing...ok, biological sciences...good but could surely have been better. Time was up, and the proctor gave us one more opportunity to cancel the exam, it sounded very appealing. But I didn't/couldn't do it. Eight harrowing weeks later, the results came out.

I had gone after the "girl" for three months, paid for "her" drinks, laughed at "her" jokes and carried "her" books but I made one wrong move. I hadn't given her the respect she deserved. Not only was I unable to get "her" in the position I wanted, she had tossed me right out the window and left me to lick the wounds. My loss, her $190 gain.

We fall down, sometimes more than once, but we eventually get up and if we're sane, we don't follow thesame path again...if and only if we are sane.

PS: I got a 25 R on the test.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The things we do for money

I'm sure by now you are getting tired of my financial lamentations...I really wish I could say it would be over soon, more for my sake than yours, but except by some miracle it doesn't look likely. A few weeks ago I was "managing" my checking accounts online. By managing, I mean making sure no one had cashed that check covering my share of the pizza we ordered eons ago, putting me and my struggling finances into the red light district. Luckily, no one had. But there were other things to worry about.

By now I had done the math and figured that I might end up spending close to $6000 by February next year on the whole application process. This is not a bad thing though, as that means I would have been invited and had to fly/drive to at least 15 of my 21, for interviews. After doing the math though (you'll be surprised at how much complex mental math you can do when you're facing impending brokedom), I realized that there was no way my 9 to 5, rather my 10ish to 7ish, was going to pay for the process and at the same time solve for the variable "x" (my survival after the process). So guess what I did...I called on one of my life lessons that I had thus far been trying to perfect.

I took INITIATIVE. You see, I did learn something from Miu Corp after all. But in all honesty, when faced with the "right" circumstances, you don't even need to TAKE initiative, it comes JUMPING at you from all corners. Literally and Figuratively. I had to sift through the 1000 ideas sprouting up in my head on how to make an extra dime, and come up with a robust plan B. Should I go back to my roots in customer service? You know, like waitressing, cashier, or maybe even the school library? Nahhh...the thought of sucking up to some Boss figure was not vey appealing. I needed to call my own shots. Determine when I got to work, how much I got paid, how I went to work or if I even went at all. You know, be an "entrepeneur". Ok maybe not exactly but you catch the drift. So what exactly did I eventually decide on?

After ruling out all those options that were ruled by a "boss"-archy and those that could potentially get my black behind deported, I was left with one. I had formally tutored biology in college for 4 years as well as math, physics and organic chem informally. So why not do it again, but this time on my on terms. All I had gotten for it till this point was a measly 7 bucks/hr, an occasional "thank-you", and an even more occasional threat to get beaten up for possessing an accent. So I upped my prices and put a very emotional "love for teaching" ad on craigslist, complete with how it wasn't just for the money but to satisfy my desire to help others...blah blah blah. It really wasn't just for the money though, like I said before, I was getting sick of watching Lifetime's rendition of "My father didn't love me so now I will kill all men that look at me" and I needed something to get me off the couch. And fast. Unfortunately though, no one seemed to be buying my emotional rantings. So I advertised again on another tutor website, and just waited. And waited.

It was during this waiting period that I decided to randomly try an SAT exam online. Seeing as I had boldly advertised I could help with the math section of the test and I had taken the exam almost six years ago, a refresher was very much in order. So there I was clicking on the first "SAT test" link good 'ole Uncle Google gave me about to show them who the math don was...or not. I solved the first problem easily. I hadn't lost my touch. Tried the next one, missed that. Can't win 'em all anyway. Then the next, that threw me off completely. Some random question about how to construct a fence with some rope and sticks. What the....? What happened to the retro style questions, you know, "it takes two men to build a house, how long will it take three...". OK, so the point is I bombed the test. At this point panic set in. I had not only advertised the SAT, but also the GRE and the GMAT, all of which I had not taken to this point, and didn't plan to take anytime soon. What on earth was I thinking? I considered deleting my ads and just forgetting about the whole tutoring thing, but as I remembered the kwashiorkor ridden state of my account, I decided otherwise...maybe no one will answer, it had been two weeks already anyways so why don't I just leave them up.

No such luck, about two days later someone emailed me, wanted help with GRE Math! Ok, be cool. We exchanged some emails and set up a meeting time. I quickly explained that I had never taken the GRE just in case he wanted some expert. He was fine with it, I wanted him to back out so bad, but he didn't. We talked about the good part, the money. My strategy was to find out how much regular tutors ask for (~$40/hr), and go way lower. It worked, I'm sure ol' boy was even beginning to wonder if it was some scam or something, the price was ridiculously low, to him, but to me it was a heck of a lot of money.

We had the first session this Monday and it really hasn't been as bad as I thought, the SAT is actually a bit more fanciful with its questions than the GRE. Some of the questions still throw me off though, but at least I gave the disclaimer that I wasn't a guru, so he doesn't always expect an answer in 2 seconds. Timewise it's harder than I thought, cus now I don't get any free time till 11pm at night(3 days a week) and it's even getting hard to put up posts here, but you know I won't leave you hanging for too long, so be patient with me. But the checks are darn good. Let's just say we're one step closer to solving for "x". I had to do all I could to resist cashing the first check the very next day. We don't want me looking desperately broke now do we?'s the rule of the game, "The broke always try to look rich, and the rich just try to look normal...(Eric Jerome Dickey).

Saturday, August 05, 2006


You won't believe it, a few hours after putting up yesterday's post, I checked my email and VOILA! It was another secondary application. And believe it or not, it was from thesame school(one of the Boston ones) I saw that guy submitting his secondary for the other time. Thank GOD I didn't try anything stupid. All I can really say is HALELLUJAH, my GOD liveth!! Don't ask me to explain why I'm getting it now though 'cus technically my primary apps haven't been verified yet, but right now, Imma take whatever Imma get! I'm going to try to fill out the application as soon as I can and get all the necessary recommendation letters(another interesting story waiting to be told!) together.

PS: Location of the Schools I sent my primary apps to:
New York
Washington, DC
North Carolina

*And a few more whose locations might pretty much give up the school names

I have my preferences, but I'll really take whoever right now. Things are looking up though, 1 valuable secondary changes everything. In all my excitement, I screwed up one of my experiments at work yesterday so I'll be back in today, patching it up. Unfortunately there goes my Saturday but it will take more than that to get me down right now, what would I have been doing anyways, apart from getting caught up in two hour cycles of Lifetime movies!

Thanks for all the support, I'll keep you posted

Friday, August 04, 2006

Harsher Realities

It's now about one week and three days since I submitted my application and it's still waiting in line to be reviewed. I keep telling myself it will eventually get on top of the stack but I can't help being worried. We are already in August, deep into the admission process and I am not even in contention yet! Only yesterday, at the bus stop, I saw one of those early birds I told you about, chatting away with his friend about how he was on his way to mail in his secondary app, to make matters worse, to one of the schools I was applying to myself! So there was my competition. The hater in me wanted to grab the envelope from him and run away with his precious credentials. You know, let him start over so I could buy myself some time. This could finally be a good time to put some of those MATRIX moves to use, I didn't understand the movie but at least I remembered some of the moves. For real though, who was I kidding, I could just see myself tripping on some imaginary rope placed there by "The Oracle" and getting the whooping of my life right there, infront of my job...bad career move. Even if I succeeded, this was definitely not the time to get some bad karma working against me. So I let him go. As I rode home that evening, trying to calm myself down, I had an epiphany. As hard as it was for me to admit, the world did not revolve around me getting into med school...

Let me introduce you to PAULA. I was drawn to her the first time I met her. Something about her, a certain quietness and calm. She reminded me of my mom a bit. She was probably in her late fifties and looked like life had dealt her some tough blows below the belt. Last week was my third time visiting her. She complained even more than usual this time. Her stomach was worse and all she could eat was fruit. I like fruits but dang! To be stuck eating that alone had to suck! Unlike the last two times I visited her, I didn't just talk to her for five minutes and run off. I forced myself to sit down, and actually hold a deep conversation. She asked about my life and I asked about hers. She talked about her children, the ones in the army which she worried about all the time and the one at home that she worried about just as much. She talked about how much pain she felt and how it was worse than the last time. Regardless of her complaints, I was just happy to see her again. I had not been there for about two weeks now and I was beginning to worry if she would still be there on my next visit. Again this time, the question was right at the tip of my tongue but I couldn't ask it. I thought about all the possible ways of asking without offending her. None of them sounded right. Where were the right words when you needed them?

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I started volunteering at the AIDS Hospice where I met Paula a few weeks ago and it really has not been easy. I remember the week before I started, that's when the gravity of what I was about to to do hit me. I was going to deal, DIRECTLY, with people that had this disease. The people that were treated like our modern lepers. Even more importantly, was I risking my life? I spent most of my time online trying to find out if anyone had caught the disease while spending time with patients. I should know better right? Easier said than done. Believe me, all the theories you know about these things completely fall apart when you are actually faced with the practical situation. I knew everything about the virus. I knew how you could contract it and how you couldn't. But with a possible encounter looming ahead, I began to wonder how sure the scientists were about these details. 'Cus there ARE exceptions to every rule. Five years of science had taught me this, if nothing else. I kept thinking I was crazy for doing this, and then I began to wonder what my parents would think. Well, let's just say what they won't be finding out until it's over.

After a semester of immunology and mircobiology, you could wake me up in the middle of the night and I would rat out how the virus attacked human cells, step by step, detail after detail, but I did not know the first thing about interacting with the victims themselves. After those classes, I even developed a new respect for the virus. I mean this thing completely evades our amazing immune system. It's like getting past the worker termites, the soldiers and the drones to attack the queen of the nest. But it does it in disguise. How do you defend against something that looks just like you? The first stage in solving any problem is identifying it, but unfortunately our bodies won't even know there's something wrong until it's too late. It uses our own weapons to make itself stronger, and then turns around and uses these same weapons against us. Like Al-Queda, learning to fly planes in American Schools and using America's own planes to harm its people. At the same time getting past the CIA. But like 9/11 seeing the victims of this "Intelligent" virus only generates anger.

As I went around the hospice, I saw residents at various stages of the disease, some looked completely healthy while others were barely hanging on. I couldn't believe there was still no cure. But then again, every generation has its battle. The Bubonic Plague, Small Pox and now AIDS and each time, human sacrifices had to be made before the magic vaccine was found or the disease simply died out. As I was introduced to each resident I couldn't help but think. How did they get the disease? What was that one moment they replay in their head each time and wish never happened? Was it the day they met that partner? Or the day they needed that fix? Whether or not it was their "fault", they were paying for it now and unfortunately, the world was making them pay double for it too. Many of them had been shunned by family and friends. I would later find out that over 90% of the residents were there because of drug addiction and were still battling their addictions along with the disease. Yes, many of them put themselves in risky situations, but honestly, we are all just one wrong move away from the virus too. Harsh Reality.

I personally don't think Paula is/was a drug addict, she is a mother of four grown children that visit and call her often, has grand children and looks very well rounded. But then again, you never know. I cannot and might never find a good way to ask her how she got the disease, I don't even know if it is ethical to do so, but as I got ready to leave her again last week, I faced another problem, one I had faced the last two times also. What do I say? I couldn't really say "Get Well Soon" because technically that was almost impossible, neither could I give her any hope, because God knows I didn't have any. I knew I was going to spend the next two days or so thinking about her and the rest of the residents. I also knew that those couple of days will be filled with paranoia as to whether or not I exposed myself to the virus on my visits. Stupid but true. I will not stop going until I get over this. People take care of their spouses and children with the disease and do not contract it. Heck! People like Cookie Johnson are only a broken condom away from catching it so why on earth was I worried, when I never even did more than rub a shoulder? It's all in the mind guys, all in the mind. So as I walked out Paula's door, I said thesame thing I said the last two times... "Hang in there Paula, and see you next week"...I hope.

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As I spend the rest of the week worrying whether or not I will get into medical school, Saturday mornings put everything in perspective. I know that whether or not I become a doctor, as long as I'm alive, life goes on and I have other dreams to realize. This doesn't mean I'm going to stop "whinning" up here, but believe me I know things could be much worse.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Covering all the bases...

Whatever happened to those applications from last week? *Sigh* Well remember I said I was going to turn them in on Wednesday? So I lied. I was going over them again Tuesday night and I just got so sick of reading it that I decided to turn it in. That, and the fact that I had just donated my entire paycheck to my credit card company, allowed things like spending $760 in one sitting now possible. With financial difficulties temporarily solved, the rest should be easy right? Unfortunately not.

It took me about ten minutes to hit the submit button. I just sat there and stared at the darn thing. I felt like I was about to lay my head on 21 chopping blocks nationwide, and all at thesame time. Like all this was not bad enough, the ever faithful process of second guessing myself kicked in too. Did I pick the right schools? Were 21 schools enough? Should I add a couple or so more?(This was actually financially impossible, but I still considered it). What was I thinking putting my life on the internet, when I wasn't even sure how the story was going to end? This was the real world not some chick flick where I'm sure the girl(me) will certainly get the guy(a med school). And why on earth was I applying to any Ivy League schools, did I even stand a chance? They'll probably just look at my app, toss it and admit some dude with a 45 on his MCAT instead. Why? Why? Why? My head was close to blowing up at this point, and I could feel tears stinging my eyes, but I wasn't going to let them(whoever "they" were) get to me. If they wanted me fine, if not, well, too bad...actually, my current stage of temporary insanity aside, if they didn't want me, I was technically screwed from all sides.

With my adrenalin, estrogen, testosterone and whatever other chemical swimming around my body, attaining their highest peaks in my life at this moment, I made some last minute decisions. I gave in and switched one of my higher end schools to a lower ranked one. Ironically to one of those that I so proudly stated I wasn't going to apply to because of their impractical financial requirements. I figured no harm having one in there, if that was the only one that ended up admitting me, I would have to do whatever "Simon" says, and do so by any means necessary. Oh well, I'll cross that ocean when/if I get to it. I hit submit, FINALLY. Apparently, the raging hormones were not ready to settle down yet and I remembered one base I hadn't covered.

My fellow Africans and some of you, might be very familiar with a process called "prayer and fasting". You see back home it's not something you just do when you're looking for a miracle. You do it on a regular basis. Do we just like to starve ourselves for no reason?...nahhh. With you not knowing which member of your extended family was currently visiting the village herbalist/native doctor/voodoo priest looking for that potion to make your life just that much worse, you had no choice, you fasted. Voluntarily, often and sometimes for extended stretches of time. In fact, everything religious was taken seriously. You woke up bright and early on Sunday morning, regardless of what time you slept or whose 60th birthday party you were jamming at all night, wore your best native attire and joined the mob of people travelling in the burning heat to seek their GOD. And even when we got to church, we didn't just sit down in our pews, listen to the wonderful sermon, mumble a few words in prayer, hug and kiss everyone and call it a day. Heck nahhh! We got on our knees and prayed. Like our lives depended on it. And more often than not, it did. So what happens when you're actually looking for a miracle? In this case you repeat all the above multiple times a week and in extreme cases, everyday of the week.

So if I was back home and about to go through something as important as this, I would have embarked on a one week prayer and fasting routine, without any hesitation whatsoever. But unfortunately something happens to many of us when we go abroad. All those religious things aren't of paramount importance anymore. GOD hears all prayers anyways so why stress? Some of us have also comforted ourselves with the rumor/fact that voodoo lacks the ability to cross the oceans(i.e any voodoo done in Africa, cannot affect them overseas). I don't know how true that is, I always forget to ask my mom but I'll surely remember to, next time I talk to her. Or if any of you have evidence about this, please share. So till then, believe whatever lets you sleep at night. Anyways, back to reality. As I sat there in front of the computer, one thing was certain. Sooner than later, I will have to do the routine too. If not for anything else, to satisfy myself that I did everything humanly possible. Didn't want to start second guessing myself again a year from now...I could already hear my stomach growling at the thought of having its steady supply of rice and stew interrupted for almost 24 hrs. But you got to do what you gotta do.

So at 9:45 pm today(yes I remember the exact minute I hit that button), it will be exactly one week ago I submitted my applications. But it is still awaiting verification so the schools haven't received it yet. They say verification can take up to 6 weeks but that is really on the high end. It usually takes about a week or a bit more unless you submit it during peak periods or there are some discrepancies they need to verify. E.g you telling them you got an "A" in biochem when your transcript proves otherwise. After the verification, I will be expecting the secondary applications.

Funny thing is that the very next day after I turned in my primary app, I got a secondary application via email from George Washington University, I was excited for a moment (another dose of temporary insanity) but then logical thought set in. If my apps haven't even been verified how could they screen it and determine I was eligible for a secondary app? As I read the application further, my question got answered.

"Please note that GW does not screen on the basis of the AMCAS application. We invite all applicants who submit an AMCAS application to GW to complete the secondary application and submit letters of recommendation so that we may review the entire file"

Wow that makes me feel special. There was more to come though. There was another clause somewhere that stated only U.S citizens were allowed to apply to the four year MD program. None U.S citizens were only eligible to apply for a 5 year international MD program after which you go back home for residency training. Why would I want to come all the way to the US do part of my training and go back home for the most important part? I called them yesterday, and they confirmed it, in fact F-1 students could not apply for the program at all, only people with J-1 visas(exchange visitors). I really thought I did my research, how could I have missed that?...Geeeez, there goes my 30 bucks and here comes another round of second guesses...