Hello! Today we are introducing a series of question and answers for Virginia Tech alumni who have gone on to become successful as a health professional student. The first series in our installment is Laura Simon, a 2013 Virginia Tech graduate who is currently in her third year of medical school at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine-Greenville. Read Part 1 of her story below, and stay tuned for the rest of the installment on Monday, September 21st!
Laura Simon, Part 1:
What led to your interest in medicine?
“I had a particular fascination in anatomy, physiology, and diseases, as well as an interest in giving back to the community. I want to help others to be healthier both physically and mentally, and enjoy communicating with people and developing relationships.”
Who or what inspired you to pursue medicine?
“While there are plenty of inspiring doctors and people out there, no specific person inspired me. I was most interested in the way the body works and the desire to make an impact in a job I would enjoy, so a career in some sort of medicine seemed right.”
What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?
“I was a Biochemistry major. I chose this field because I found the course topics of biochem interesting, thought a science major would be best for me, and I wanted to challenge myself in a demanding degree. When I decided I would pursue a career in medicine, biochem was a good choice to prepare me adequately for applying to medical school.”
What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for medical school?
“I was a student-athlete (a swimmer) at VT, so much of my time was devoted to training and competition. I enjoyed taking classes outside my major, such as Acting and Shakespeare. I participated in community service events like the Big Event and Relay for Life, among others, and held a position on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). I think being well-rounded and having interests outside the field helps show you’re well-rounded, and brings diversity to a school.”
How did you prepare for the medical school application process?
“I researched online for general application information. I accessed information from various schools I was interested in and found their application requirements and statements. I used VT’s pre-med advisory committee (Now the Health Professions Evaluation Committee, HPEC) to assist me in putting together all the requirements for my application, as well as completing the (HPEC) interview and letters. I tried to build relationships with my professors so that they could get to know me and write an accurate and genuine recommendation letter for my applications.”
What are some words of wisdom about the application process? What would you have liked to know ahead of time? What do you wish someone would have told you before you began applying?
“Around my sophomore year of undergrad, I decided that I would try to pursue a career in medicine and apply to medical school, but I put off a lot of the research into the process and resume building until later on. I suggest researching how to go about the process as early as you make the decision it is what you’d like to do, and keep a list of things you have done in preparation for applying. You should also keep a list of those people you work with so that they might be a reference and back up what work you have done. Shadow early and often, so you can experience different fields of medicine and make sure it’s what you want to do. Always try and build relationships with your professors so that they can write you a genuine letter of recommendation. This is also good practice of being a good people person; building relationships with your professors, mentors and peers is very important in medical school and beyond. Be realistic about where you apply; don’t limit yourself, but don’t waste your money. Don’t get disappointed if you don’t get in the first time; I cannot relate to this myself, but don’t give up on your dream! I wish I had been more prepared for medical ethical questions when it comes to interviews – perhaps read up on some ethical questions, or cases where reporting is mandatory for a physician. I did not do a significant amount of hours of shadowing – but I suggest doing as much as you can, not just for the numbers but for the experience. Try shadowing various practices, for your own sake, so you have an idea of what you’re really getting in to.”
Do you feel that you were prepared for the medical school interview? What preparation advice would you give?
“I expected a horror-filled, disastrous interview with difficult questions that I couldn’t answer. My (HPEC) interview at VT was worse than any interview I went to. For the most part, interviewers have read your file before hand; they just want a glimpse into your personality and how you might work with others. There may be a few “thinker” questions you have to answer and not everyone you interview with is personable, but the majority of my interviewers were very kind and funny and just wanted to have a conversation. That being said, I did not get accepted into every school I interviewed at.”
Is there any advice or feedback that you received regarding personal statements that you would like to share?
“I don’t think I got much feedback about my personal statement from interviewers – I’m certain they read it, but they didn’t discuss it with me. Try to be original, but don’t fabricate stories. I think many students are similar to me in that they might think their story is boring. Don’t think that!! Even if you don’t have a crazy inspiring story about a patient you helped treat in a distant country, you have your own reasons for pursuing this career. These reasons must be good for you to put in the time and effort to get there. Be open, be honest, and be confident in yourself. Honestly, only “interesting” thing about me was being a student-athlete; you can make anything work, just let your compassion and empathy shine through your words.”
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
“My parents and may other people encouraged my pursuit of this career. I got more encouragement than discouragement, but there are some people that discouraged my decision. Some of those people are in the medical field and seemed a bit jaded from their work; it’s understandable that with the changes going on, there are unhappy people in the field. But the most important thing about health care is providing health care; it’s about the patients, not the doctors. While it is a job, and you need to enjoy your life to remain healthy so you can successfully treat patients, I’m not in this job just for the money.”
How many schools did you apply to and what criteria or resources did you use to select these schools?
“I applied to many schools, but I don’t remember the number. Most were in the South East, because my home is near there and I wanted to be in that area. Often times the majority of accepted students in a class are in-state residents, so apply to schools in your state. I “Googled” ranks of schools and researched information about their programs. I applied to some “ambitious” programs, as well as more that I thought were attainable for me.”
What is your top tip for applicants preparing to take the MCAT exam?
“Take the proper time to study, make a schedule, and don’t overwhelm yourself with it. It’s an important exam, but those numbers alone are not what will get you into medical school.”
What was your favorite undergraduate class outside of the medical school prerequisite classes?
“Intro to Acting was probably my favorite. It was fun, entertaining, and I made good friends.”
What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?
“Prepare a good application with the advice you’ve been given, but make sure you enjoy your time in undergrad! Be yourself – I think people at medical schools are looking to build a diverse population of students. By diverse, I mean different past experiences. Most of you will have shadowing, volunteering experience, and good grades. They want to learn who you really are and what makes you different.”