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 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.