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!

My Photo
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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Little Victories

Thanks for all your comments on the last post...seems more people will support going for the scholarship regardless of rank etc. Actually, everyone but the premeds seem to support this notion. I thought about it some more and talked to a few people about it. One comment that stuck with me the most was similar to Folu's.

What I was told was that it probably all depends on what you eventually want to do with the MD degree. If you just want to be a doctor, then your school doesn't matter, so go anywhere but if you're planning to go into research/academia or a competitive specialty, then you might be better of going to a school with a good reputation.

But then, what if you're trying to leave your options open...aaarrgghhhh

Unto more exciting and less confusing current issues; some of my hustling and glorified boot-licking has come through. The same school that put me on a pre-interview hold during my "week from hell", that I eventually sent a letter and other "look-at-me-I-really-am-smart" documents finally gave me an interview last week. It's ironic because I remember writing another one of the update letters for yet another school a day or two before this and as I was about to send it, I stared at it for a few minutes and asked GOD if any of this extra, seemingly unnecessary labor was even worth the stress and time. And the same week, the answer came. So one more interview is on the horizon.

And the interview is in the exact same city as my last one. I thought about it for a minute and was about to fuss and complain about paying for two tickets instead of one...but thought otherwise. If there's anything this process has taught me, and my bank account, it's that Dreams aren't cheap these days!

In similar news, I took another update letter to the admissions office here. I had been to their office like two times before this and all I was told was to either go home and wait, or from the last time, if you really want to go to school here, write us a letter. So I obediently wrote one and decided to take a few minutes off work to hand deliver it myself. I addressed it to the dean of admissions and figured I'd probably just drop it off with someone in his office. No chance I was going to meet him. When I got to the office, I spoke to a very nice lady and casually asked her if the dean was around. Expecting the ususal "No", I simultaneously motioned the letter at her to deliver for me when she smiled and told me he was in his office. It was lunch hour so I was in no way expecting this lucky break. Thank GOD I didn't wear my tattered jeans that morning, I only took them off as an afterthought!! As she went to notify him I quickly did a breath check, said a quick prayer and prepared myself for an impromptu interview(scene of Will Smith in the cab with one of the stock brokers and his rubik's cube from the Pursuit of Happiness playing in my head at this point). After greeting and everything, I spent way too long apologizing for not making an appointment and just barging into his office while he continued to stare at his computer and talk to me about some problem he was having with whatever he was doing on it. Shoot, this would be a good time to miraculously solve whatever the problem was (lol) or worse yet embarass myself. The right side of my brain placed that all too mischievous left one in check and probably for a good reason this time. I just waited as he continued to punch keys here and there.

He finally fixed whatever was wrong and looked up while offering me a seat and we got talking. He pulled up my application online, asked me a few questions about my hometown, how I got to the US, how I got to their school etc. It really was a mini-interview...he also took my letter and stuck a post-it on it mentioning that I stopped by his office in person. And that was ten minutes to present my case was over. I didn't even bother mulling over every word I uttered like I do for other interviews, ok I did it just a bit but not as much. I just walked back to work singing some african style praise and worship songs in my head. Too excited. I don't know if I'll get a call/email for an official interview but I'm just going to keep hoping and praying.

Hope the news inspires someone to get off their behind and do something about whatever it is they want...cus your miracle can find you but sometimes it kinda has to know you want it too!

Meanwhile, I need to find a dry cleaner for my one-in-town...I told y'all I wasn't ready to hang it up yet, and now we're going to be off on another journey soon. Hmm that dry cleaner better have some skills because if anything happens to the only suit I've ever had in my life...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Would you go for a dream school over a practical "not-so-dream" choice?

I'm answering O.E's question as a post because I've been thinking about it a lot myself.

(Staring into space trying to think of an analogy for this one)

Here's the best I could come up with

If you're not a lady, first assume you're one. Ok now let's be shallow and a tad bit over the top for a moment:
- If you had to pick between dating...nah this is more serious than dating...MARRYING John Aint Nobody or Prince William, (ok let's assume lucky Miss Kate hasn't gotten into the picture yet),who would you choose? Easy right? Well here's the small print

John Aint Nobody: Nice friendly guy, everybody loves him, so do you. Well at least so you thought, until Prince William, your life long crush that you have hence forth deemed unattainable, started sending you some secret love notes. Now everytime you hop into sweet John's old and faithful toyota you think of the possibility that it could be a bentley, complete with a state of the art GPS-finally, you can both get to your destination on time without having to convince John to stop and ask for directions. But on the other hand, the day you marry John will also be the day the $500, 000 inheritance from grandma will get deposited into his account, so you know financial worries would be out of the question for a while...assuming you both spend the money wisely.

Prince William: You were happy with John until His Royal Highness came trotting along. He hasn't even proposed yet but now as hard as you try, you can't stop seeing yourself in those diamond clad evening gowns with thousands of people running after you trying to catch a whiff of your fart to sell on eBay. Then there's also the way everyone would raise an eyebrow everytime they find out who's wife you are. There are a few things that are not so exciting about a future marriage though. For starters you hate London. Then there's all the uppitty etiquette that comes with your new position. And even worse, for some reason the pastor of your church, your voodoo priest or your psychic(pick one) tells you that with William, all the glamour aside, the first ten years of your marriage are going to be hella rough but after that it will be smooth sailing. Why does he have to rain on your freaking parade?! He's probably hating just cus its not his daughter about to marry some Prince (shoot he hasn't proposed)...
Deep inside though, you know his prophecies are fail proof...but dang it's the Prince!!

Ok now pick!

So John is the average med school that accepts you, gives you a good financial aid package, is located in a beautiful town etc. One thing is for sure, after med school you're not going to be in any significant debt.

Then there's the Prince. That top school that you didn't even think you'll get an interview at, then you get stressed out at work one day...throw down your experiments and go seek a safe haven in your email. And voila there's the dream interview. It's not an acceptance but you're already dreaming that it is. Even though the school is in a crazily expensive city, or in a city where stepping out of your apartment on any given day might also mean taking a stray bullet to the heart, you still want it like no man's business. And then there's the minor issue of them not giving as much financial aid as the other average med school you were accepted at. Which inevitably means the first ten+ years of your career will be spent repaying student loans!!

Personally it's a very tough decision but certain experiences have cleared things up a bit. From the few interviews I've gone to it seems every one just wants to know how I got into Ivy Que, what I do there, how it feels to come from a small school to a world renowned school etc. So yeah...imagine what doors would open if you attend such a med school.

The same attending I talked to last week tried to convince me that where you went for med school didn't really matter. Apparently the only thing important is where you do your residency. Hind sight is 20-20 though. It's like trying to convince a premed that the adcomms do look at your application as a whole not just your MCAT and GPA, I know I didn't believe that for a minute.

So would I give up a full scholarship at a so-so school for a top ranked dream school that gives me little or no scholarship?

...A car is a car but you never know when that extra GPS you had to pay extra for will come in handy!!

I must add though that if two schools are close in ranking, reputation etc, then I will start being picky as per location, financial aid package, etc

I might be a disillusioned premed so professional counselling from seasoned ones are very welcome but I personally think I would go for the best I can get.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

What will I be when I grow up?

Tough One! Even some fourth year med students have no answer to this, talk more of an ignorant wannabe like me, but hey! you gotta have a plan right? I can sooo see myself reading this post five years from now and laughing at my naivete...but again, they say Ignorance is Bliss.

So we all know that Abbey wants to be a doc, heck! she sings it into your ears with every post(can she find something else to talk about already!!). And we all also know that a certain school somewhere in the Midwest granted her a seat in their class despite the fact that she turned into a big fat cry baby at their interview, apparently it's really OK to be yourself at these things. But it's not OK to be just a doctor, you have to specialize in something, anything or everything, there is even a residency in Jackofalltradology! Thankfully I have something in mind, and that something tends to change every week. I'll take you through the list of most of my different fantasies...

Ahhhh if wishes were horses! I think what attracts me the most to this speciality is how complicated it is and the fact that there are only few neurosurgeons out there(relatively). In fact, I am yet to meet one. I'm sure the first time I do, I'll pretty much freeze for a few minutes and quickly proceed to drool all over myself. If it also happens to be a woman...dang! it will be over. And I'm not exagerrating at all here. The other day I was on the bus and as we passed the hospital, I saw a female doc in her white coat and everything strapping her two kids into their car seats. A pure Kodak moment, but I didn't have a camera so my eyes did the Kodaking. Thank GOD the light was red, I just plastered my face to the bus' mirror and stared at her. My first impulse was to run up front and ask the driver to let me off so I could go interrogate her. Like really, what specialty did you do that grants you the luxury to leave work this early and have some time to spend with your kids and such? After deeper thought though, I realized I had no clue how long she had been at work, and how often it was she got off this early, oh and how excited she would be about some random girl walking up to her and asking her questions about her work schedule!

But yeah back to Neurosurgery...I do feel it would be really interesting though. The brain, mind-body connection and the Nervous System are pretty intriguing to me and it will be a complete trip to be able to tweek it up here and there for a living! But this is probably going to be a no-no. Assuming I get good enough board scores to become one, I don't want to earn a million dollars a year, buy a 10 room mansion and an 80k limited edition AUDI just to drive the ride home once a week and never have enough energy to make it up to my $10k king size bed for a good night's rest. And just when I finally make it to the top of my marble flight of stairs, right past the original "Mona Lisa" hanging opposite my mahogany bedroom door...the darn pager goes off [insert expletives here].

A step down, a little less intense. Actually the choice of this week."Living" example, Omar Epps' character in House, MD. An even more living example? The one I got to shadow at the ER yesterday. It's amazing how much more you get to see when you introduce yourself as

"Hi, My name is Abbey, and I would be starting med school in the fall..."

as opposed to

"Hi, my name is Abbey and I'm a premed. Would you be needing my boot licking services over the next 3 or so hours? No? I sanitize my spit before spit-shinning...See..."

As in, the resident actually sent me to rooms myself to "interview" patients. I had to make sure I heard her correctly.

Me: "Do you mean you want me to go into the patients room without a chaperon and ask my own questions??"

Resident: "Yeah Sure"

Me: "Oh...ok"

I walked by the patient's room about three times.

"Oh shoot, I can't do it!"

If I was just supposed to ask them if they wanted some cranberry juice I would have only walked by the rooms twice to size them up before going in(lol) but this was completely different. I went back to the Resident.

Me: "Umm sorry to bug you again but I'm not exactly a pro at this...what exactly am I supposed to say?"

Resident: Laughing "Oh just ask about their history and such"

Me: "Oh ok"

(I walked by the room twice again before finally going in)

Of course they still go back and interview them too but whatever at least I had a chance!

I feel Neurology would be interesting cus you get to learn probably as much as a Neurosurgeon knows, minus surgery and such, the hours are a bit more decent, no million dollars here but at least you can squeeze in a few more trips to a fancy restaurant every now and then, no? There's also this weird interest I've been developing for neurotoxins. As in I just don't want to know that substance xxx is a poison, I want to know exactly what it does and how it does it...don't ask me why.

One of the so-called pathways to happiness. Because you practice your medicine, make your money and still have a life. I was strongly advised by one of the Attendings at the ER to either go into surgery, dermatology, radiology or anesthesiology (Notice the casual mention of talking to the attending, lol, I'm playing it waaaay down. This was the first time one of them in as much as held a conversation with me and it was because we both found out he attended my undergrad institution...the probability of this, is usually slim to none!). The little issue I have with Anesthesiology is that I'm not sure if this field is as exciting as I might like. It seems you just put people to sleep, keep them asleep for as long as possible and then hope you can wake them up again. Then there's also the problem of addiction in this field. Apparently many anesthesiologists end up getting hooked on their own sleep medicine(Physician, heal thy self??). But a certain someone I know who is currently interviewing for residencies in this field(and who has not picked up his phone to allow me interview him...ahem) promises me that it is intellectually challenging and stimulating. I'm hanging on to that promise for now. Anesthesiology is also very much connected to Neurology so it gets mad points for that.

Oh by the way, do you guys know the anesthesiologist chic on Nip/Tuck? The one that operates Christian and Shawn's oh-so-high-tech CD player during surgeries, that also got one of her kidneys stolen last season? Well until recently, I always thought she was one of the nurses. Huh. (Scratching head).

This appeals to my love for research the most...get to look at diseased cells live under the microscope, understand disease pathways and maybe even find a cure to something or the other. The litte qualms I have here is that I will probably spend most of my waking hours at a lab in some hospital's basement. I'm also not sure how much of a market there is for this back in Nigeria, it seems we just wait for the western world to make the discoveries and then we buy whatever drugs that comes out of the research. I don't blame us though, we are too busy trying to feed ourselves to get into such luxuries as saving the world.

Here I'll lump in all the other possible specialties out there(minus the ones I will list in the upcoming section), you gotta keep your options open. Along with that, I could get my med degree, do a residency in Jackofalltradology and work for one of the pharma companies doing clinical trials for their drugs or actually working in management, consulting or something of that nature. And maybe teach in between all this. Ahhh the choices!

ORTHOPEDICS: Can't watch people do anything to bones. I also can't get over using a drill, hammer or any other power tool on a fellow human being. I've tried to psyche myself out of it, forced myself to watch plastic surgeons do rhinoplasties on tv, tried to desensitize myself to broken bones sticking out of people's flesh, etc. Nothing seems to work so I'm officially giving up on this field. But the orthopedic guys at the hospital do look mighty cool when they strut down to the ER in their different colored scrubs. Looking mighty fine and everything. I can almost hear the theme music playing in the background as they walk down the hallway huddle together in a group and mumble some hush-hush stuff then proceed to...wait for this...P.O.P some kids broken arm. All in a days work.

OPHTHALMOLOGY: Same qualms as orthopedics, but worse. O.E. I'm with you on this one.

DERMATOLOGY: Another one of the pathways to happiness. But this one has the tendency to get straight up gross. I can only imagine the different manifestations of warts that one might encounter on any given day. But yeah they are hardly on call which is a good thing. Apparently the only time the ER had to page a dermatologist in, the dude had probably never been paged before. He came bolting in wide-eyed, from home or somewhere, complete with his text book/rash 101 guide (lol). One thing that could attract me into this field would be the thrill of doing some kind of research on my own hair and coming up with the right product line for the poor thing.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

App Updates

  • So I hear back about my last interview in the middle of February (gitters). I liked the school a lot, the program etc. The interview was also unusual like I said in the last post. I got hit hard by a perfectly thrown curve ball too. I was asked if I would choose Ivy Que(where I currently work) over their institution. Ahem!! But can I just say that the more I meet the other premeds at interviews, the more I sooo wanna be a doc. As in there is just this bond we all have...knowing we're all currently going through the same hellish rigors, and that in a few months we might be officially signing up for some kind of lifetime's simply unexplainable. It's also almost intimidating humbling to find out how smart they all are and what different experiences led them to this point. As in just when you're beginning to think you're the shizznit, you meet the person whose achievements the word was custom made for.

    I had an interesting conversation with a premed that had just returned from a West African Country where she had volunteered at a hospital. The most interesting part was how surprised she said her friends were when she showed them pictures of high rise buildings in Africa. While I was gloating at this little victory, she quickly took me off my high-horse by mentioning that on any given day in the city, she was often approached by the townsfolk asking her to help them pay for a daughter or son's school fees. I don't blame them though, I know back then too I used to think all white people were inconceivably rich. I guess we're all guilty of some genre of stereotyping

  • In other news, remember that school that I was so in love with, the one where I was interviewed by the Nigerian doc and all? **looong sigh* So they waitlisted me *another looong sigh*. I probably won't find out anything more till the summer so another waiting spree begins. I also heard back from another school I had interviewed at, all they said, was they will be deciding on my file in March...Trying to look on the bright side: At least I haven't been rejected yet

  • I'm kinda officially done with the interviews I have. I'm skipping the last one I received because I won't pick them over my acceptance, no point wasting time and good money. But I'm not exactly relegating my suit to the back of the closet just yet cus I'm hoping I get a few more interviews pretty soon. Hoping and praying.

  • In line with that, I called the Harvard Admissions Office some time ago and the guy I spoke to told me to not even bother with my letter cus the deadline for receiving supplemental materials was last November. Too bad, I already spent two weeks trying to charismatically beg for an interview on paper (if there is any such thing) so I might as well send it, whatever happens after that? Oh Well! Also spoke to Ivy Que about getting an interview too, it's been 3 months since they recieved my application and the worry was about to set in...actually it was already in. So I went to the admissions office last week and poured my heart out to one of the admission directors. She listened patiently and compassionately but at the end, all she said was...yup! write another letter. GREAT.

  • In other news, my GMAT books finally arrived from Amazon. What GMAT books huh? So I've been toying with the idea of getting an MD/MBA degree. Most schools plan it such that you take a year off med school after your third year, move to their business school, do your MBA and come back to finish last year of med school. So all in all, it takes about 5 years to get both degrees. The GMAT is valid for 5 years so I figured I might as well take it this summer and whether or not I eventually use it, at least it will be an option. Even more importantly, I won't have to add the load of studying for it during med school. I've been going back and forth with this decision for the last year or so but I figured buying the books and putting my plans up here will kinda force me to do it, hopefully. And can I just inform you that from what I've seen so far the junk is harder than I thought!! To complicate matters, as soon as I started doing the diagnostic test, the psychological effects of my multiple MCATs(which I never knew I had) kicked in. My subconscious kept asking me "How are you sure you're not going to take this exam multiple times again?" It just wouldn't shut up! I'm currently working on silencing that thought

  • Obviously, a sister needs a posthumous date with Sigmund Freud!

    Monday, January 08, 2007

    Giving of Another Sort (II)

    What it do?

    So my friday interview was different in more ways than one. Apart from the unusual format of the interviews, for the first time, we were actually shown a live cadaver. Ok...a little oxymoronic(is that even a word?). All other interviews I'd been at involved our tour guides showing us the ominously shut doors to the anatomy lab, or taking us into the formaldehyde clad room and waving the sealed cadaver tanks in our faces closely followed by a short lecture about how for privacy reasons, the actual bodies couldn't be viewed by the public. You can imagine me and the other premeds elations when the med students/tour guides asked if we wanted to actually see the cadavers. Of course we said yes but as they unlocked the tanks, the looks on our faces gradually metamorphosized into one of confusion. I even began to ask myself if I was actually emotionally ready for it. On a few occasions, I've been known to think of myself braver than I actually am (Case in question: Watching certain movies and believing I was too "grown" to have nightmares). Hopefully this wasn't one of them.

    Eventually they revealed the body to us. With all due respect, it reminded me of the cat I dissected in Undergrad Anatomy...just bigger. I was expecting well defined organs and stuff but everything was just brown and indistinguishable. No one passed out or felt woozy(at least they didn't show it). But that might also have been because the cadaver's face and hands were covered up so for a minute you might even forget it was once a living human being. I don't know what I'd have done if I saw the face of what used to be a 79 year old man staring back at me.

    Anyways while in the room as I read the info sheets on the other tanks, I noticed a few things. For one thing none of the cadavers had died of natural causes and also, all of them were way over 70. I vaguely recalled Naijabloke's "lamentation" about how most people that even think about donating organs, and in this case bodies are usually older or terminally ill. From this little evidence, that idea seems accurate.

    I also have to agree with Oge.E et al that said it wasn't something they were ready to deal with. I think about it once in a while too but never enough to do anything about it. I guess when you are of age and the next step in life for you is neither med school nor how to survive it but making a safe painless transition to the other side, it might be easier to voluntarily think of organ legacies.

    More than ever even if I ever make the decision to donate my body parts, like Anonymous said, I am too scared that overzealous doctors waiting for organs for their patients might not do enough to save me before hauling in the commercial harvester and stripping me of my used to be life-maintainers. (PS: Anonymous, sorry to hear about your best friends mom, like the other commenters said, I what she did is the noblest form of love one can express. She would probably feel worse if she hadn't tried at all.) And yes, it is easier(emotionally and scientifically) to donate to a family member, I hear about those kind of donors more often, maybe because the media sensationalizes it and for once, with good reason.

    I'll leave you with an interesting irony. Most of the med students I've talked to say that after seeing what a cadaver goes through during anatomy, even if they were planning to donate their bodies to science...they have hurriedly changed their minds!

    Most schools have funeral services for their cadaver after the anatomy class, they meet with the family and thank them for the donation. That brings to mind an interesting thought...I wonder where Nigerian Med Schools get their cadavers from cus I know aint no one donating even a broken fingernail to science on that part of the globe!!

    See Part I

    See Comments from part I

    Sorry I know this isn't exactly ideal monday morning reading...

    Wednesday, January 03, 2007

    Top 10 ToDos for 07

    Again Happy New Year All!!

    Thank you for all the interesting comments on the last post. I was going to do a feedback now but thought I'd lighten things up a bit for the New Year and save it for next time. If you still want to leave your comments on it, please do.

    So I don't have New Year Resolutions...per se. But I do have a laundry list of things that need to get done this year, by any means necessary.

    In roughly chronological order...

    1. Get that letter to Harvard by the end of next week

    2. Save up all the money I will need for the few months after May 7th when I'm out of a job(I'm about a quarter of the way there and Christmas didn't help much either)

    3. In case 2 fails, find something to do to possibly bring in some income after May 7th or start alerting possible contributors/donors of a possible resident-bum

    4. Work on developing body and spirit. Ok lemme spell that out: Gain all the weight I lost last year back(yes you read right, I said GAIN), and learn to chill with the Big Guy even when things are going smoothly.

    5. Try to be a little less selfish (that's probably part of 4, but I feel needs individual mention) and appreciate the people that love me

    6. Get my kids ready for their exam (3 more weeks, I'm getting cold feet)

    7. To follow through with transitioning my hair to natural this time, so help me GOD (3.5 months since last perm and counting)

    8. Matriculate at my dream medical school with some free money in the bank and no cosigner...again, So Help me GOD

    9. Finally renew that Student Visa, like...totally...really about time!

    10. Go Home after six long years, eat some suya and celebrate my mum's 50th with her!

    I think that covers it. I wish everyone a wonderful year and whatever you have on your list, God Speed achieving it/them. I'm off for interview #5 tomorrow. This might be THE ONE y'all! Did you just say "Aren't they all?"