Monday, June 27th, 2016

A Recipe for Success

Jacqueline Suttin

Sitting on my kitchen floor, I was curled up in tears over the sight of the cake I was making for an upcoming birthday party. A woman was supposed to pay for and pick up this cake in less than twenty-four hours! Perhaps I had overwhelmed myself with this new challenging hobby, as this cake had turned into a broken mess despite my best attempts. Pulling myself together, I thought about all of the time and energy it took to create this cake. I had already gotten so far, and the chocolate ganache was hardening by the second. With time growing thin, I decided to improvise and work with what I had. After several hours of cutting and using icing as a glue-like base, the cake looked completely flawless! While I covered it with fondant I had a smile on my face. I thought how silly it was that I had gotten upset to begin with. The next time I would know to be more careful when transferring a cake from the pan to a stand. Though this was a moment of frustration and panic, it also reminded me of my perseverance and my ability to problem solve. It also brought back memories of how an advisor had once tried to give me a recipe for success that didn’t exactly work out.

I think you can consider applying to medical school as a process very similar to baking a cake. You start by trying to follow a recipe perfectly, allow yourself the specified amount of time for preparation and baking, and feel the pressure of achieving the expected outcome. I was given a plan by my pre-med advisor for what she felt was the optimal path for pursuing medical school. But I was struggling financially and as a first-generation college student, I had a naïve understanding of the college education system. I didn’t understand the way certain assignments were done online, final exam schedules, or how to communicate efficiently with my professors. I had so many questions that I began to question why I was even there.

The very first question my advisor asked when I went to discuss pursuing medical school wasn’t concerning my academic achievements or examples of leadership, but when I wanted to have a family. This was upsetting, as I wanted to discuss purely academic topics rather than my personal choices in the future. The discussion continued on to whether I could afford medical school, if I had any family members in medicine, or if would be able to balance my job (it t paid for the majority of my science textbooks) with the strain of my classes. According to the advisor, the typical pre-med path meant a full-time schedule with the completion of the MCAT by junior year, activity that demonstrated leadership skills, and volunteering at a local hospital. However, in addition to my job, I had the responsibility of helping my father care for my younger sister, so this plan didn’t seem realistic for me and my situation. My first advising session was not one of hope and inspiration, but of doubt and dismissal. Because of this, I had come to believe that there was only one way of pursuing medicine, and I was missing the right ingredients for the recipe. This created a sense of doubt and I started to think I had little to offer.

I decided to do my own research about pursuing medical school. I decided to focus on my grades first to provide a foundation, like flour. Next, I would add the baking powder of extracurricular activities. I would stay true to my own personality and passions so I wasn’t just creating another generic vanilla application that would get lost among other similar applications.  I decided it would be most important for me to retain my individualism throughout the grueling preparation and application process and to remember what kind of doctor I want to eventually become.

I started to shadow physicians during my sophomore year and after discussing my pathway with them, they recommended taking a gap year. This was not on the plan my advisor had spoken about, but was something that the physicians had explained would offer me “life experience” before managing the lives of others. This meant taking the MCAT and applying during my senior year, which would allow me to relax my timeline. They told me to do anything I could to enhance my application, while at the same time taking advantage of my free time. I plan to focus on gaining more clinical exposure, clinical research, and volunteering abroad on medical mission trips to get a deeper understanding of the health-care systems in developing countries and comparing them to the system we have here. I want my gap year to be devoted to helping others, and practicing compassion. The physicians I spoke to also expressed how important it is to be sure I want to devote my entire being to others and, most of all, find happiness in doing so. It surprised me to learn that many of them didn’t start their academic paths to medicine until later in college.

Working on creating my own beautiful and unique pathway has made this experience more enjoyable. I’ve learned not to cry over a misstep like a damaged cake, but be proud of what I have accomplished.  After all, the journey that I am pursuing is meant to break the mold, not be contained in one! I can ask others for help and guidance, but at the end of the day it is my own experiences that will influence admission to the medical school of my dreams. I strive to not be a plain cake trying to please everyone, but rather an exciting and enticing lemon meringue pie, and as a biracial young woman I have never fit into a specific category and I don’t plan on doing so anytime soon. My unique composite of different cultures adds depth to my application and allows me to connect many different people.

Making mistakes and learning from them is what truly makes a brilliant chef, inventor, and student. Some mistakes can result in magnificent creations. I’m not going to beat myself up over a B- in Statistics, but continue on to more advanced classes learning, growing and improving from my missteps. Although I was upset to find myself stuck on the phase, it actually gave me the room and freedom to take a step back and reassess my path. I can take more time to enjoy how far I’ve come since I found myself covered in flour, second-guessing my decision to pursue this path. To save lives and provide comfort to others is a privilege, and we must prove to others that we are willing to devote our lives to just that.

About Jacqueline Suttin

Jacqueline headshot sizedJacqueline Suttin is a pre-medical student at the University of the Incarnate Word pursuing a Biology major with a minor in Sociology. A first-generation college student, Jacqueline volunteers extensively at several assisted living facilities in the San Antonio area. Jacqueline is currently learning Spanish to reach a broader diversity of people, and desires to help others in her local community. She enjoys writing about her experiences as a creative outlet to the demands of being a full-time student.

14 thoughts on “A Recipe for Success

  1. Thank you Jacqueline,

    My daughter (17) is in her final leg of her high school years and passionate about pursuing medical education. There is no one in our circle who can advise her on what it would truly take to navigate through the process of applying for medical school. As I was trying to understand what may be awaiting her, I came across your article and loved it.

    You are already on a well defined path for success and I am sure that your story will inspire many young girls like my daughter.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article.


    1. That’s wonderful! It warms my heart to know that I am able to inspire and help others who feel discouraged in pursuing this path! This path is truly a calling, and I hope that your daughter continues on pursuing her dreams!

  2. Hey Jacqueline, thanks for the article. I’m a pre med major entering my second year of college. I already shadowed my primary care doctor. Is there an approximate hours of how I can shadow doctors?

  3. As a 44, soon. To be, 45 year old nontraditional medical student (Just finished first term at St. Georges University in Grenada), I am here to tell you that there is no one way to get to medical school. A lot of ‘life’ happened along my journey to medical school, but I stuck to my ‘recipe’ and I finally made it here. Enjoy the journey; you will grow a great deal from it and do not let others try to get you to change your ‘recipe’. I wish you all the best. ☺

  4. This is an amazing story 🙂 I am soon to be a second year college student in the biotechnology field and have finally decided to take the plunge and begin my medical education, you mentioned an advisor that helped you out, how did you hear about them/get in contact with them? I feel like that’s exactly what I need right now! Thanks 🙂

    1. I was able to find my advisor in a very surprising way, as I was originally seeking to change my major, because the major I had at the time required an overabundance in many upper-level biology courses that distracted me from the core prerequisites required for Medical School. After doing some research on what the medical schools in my state required, I narrowed it down to just that, and found an advisor that found a class schedule for me that worked for my schedule. A good advisor was what stopped me from dropping out from frustration, and feeling like I just wasn’t good enough. I hope that you are able to find one that works for you!

    1. I recommend starting with your own primary care doctor, and go from there! Ask them about their passion for medicine, their path, and why you want to be involved in it. Breaking the ice with a physician that you know personally helps with making connections with others later on if you want to shadow a specific speciality. After you have shadowed your PCP for a few weeks or so ask them about specialists that they refer patients to that would be willing to allow a shadow. University hospitals are also a great source for looking for physicians to shadow as many of them are already in a teaching mindset, making them more willing to be patient and make the shadowing experience more fulfilling!

  5. Truly inspiring and just what I needed. I am currently in my 2nd year of studies at my community college dually enrolled in an Associates in Science and Associates in Arts program and will be graduating this Spring. I’ve always planned to be a Biology major; I had only known that it was what most pre-med students majored in. I recently did some looking into things and found out that I didn’t have to be a Biology major and my life changed tremendously. Although I performed well in my science courses, I knew that undergrad for me would suck. I’ve decided to major in English and to see that someone else is also majoring in it and thriving on the path to the medical field is really encouraging! Writing has always been my thing, I am a published poet and have won two poetry awards for my works, I have also had my work mentioned on The News and Observer.

  6. Thanks Jacqueline for your story! It’s really inspiring. I remember my mentor asked me not to be afraid of being different from others since everyone is an individual. I am sure you truly know yourself after getting through all these and probably you have found your way to become the type of physician you want to be. Just like you, I am also a first generation college student in my family and preparing for med school. Sometimes I find it a little overwhelming of being a premed, going to school on weekdays, studying and doing community service at weekends, Although the schedule may get more crazy during the exam period, I find myself and all my premed friends enjoy doing it because this is a step to med school where we can achieve our dreams. We don’t wish this journey to be easy ’cause difficulties are what make you stronger. Wish you all the best in your journey to med school!

  7. I love this! Definitely had to read the whole post after reading through your first paragraph! I love the way you tied it all in! Best of luck on your journey! 🙂

  8. good,
    I had only known that it was what most pre-med students majored in. I recently did some looking into things and found out that I didn’t have to be a Biology major and my life changed tremendously.

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