That’s what we really want to hear; it’s a common goal for all humans. To belong to a group and to feel recognized for all the hard work, time, and dedication you’ve put into achieving your dreams.
I often envision myself wearing the symbolic white coat, greeting my future patients, and seeing a smile or sense of relief on their faces as I reassure them. I know they are depending on me to help them feel whole again.
But that vision was only a dream unless I could gain acceptance to medical school. Curious about potential pathways, I searched online for hours looking at medical schools that offered early decision and Baccalaureate-MD programs.
Then one day, I finally found it: Early Assurance Programs. To me, it sounded too good to be true. I couldn’t believe that there were programs out there that gave sophomores and juniors a provisional seat in medical school. The first program I found was at Upstate Medical University during my sophomore year. I remember reading through their website over and over, mentally checking off all the requirements they had to see if I qualified to apply.
I swiftly put together my application, asked key people (my Honors College advisors, research mentors, and extra-curricular advisors) for letters of recommendation, requested my high school and college transcripts, wrote and re-wrote my personal statement, and polished my CV. I remember being so excited and scared at the same time. This was THE opportunity that I was waiting for—the chance to apply to medical school. I sat for a few minutes before submitting my application, checking to see if I had dotted all of my i’s and crossed all of my t’s. I had spent the past few weeks presenting all that I had done to prove that I was worthy of becoming a physician.
I stared at the submit button, said a little prayer, and clicked submit.
After a few months of waiting, I finally received an invitation to come for an interview. I called my parents and told them that I needed to book a flight to Syracuse, New York right away! To prepare, I practiced answering interview questions and thought of potential talking points to discuss. I felt confident, I felt ready, and I felt like I could achieve all my goals with this one opportunity.
The day of the interview finally came. First I was taken on a tour of the medical school. I made friends with the other interviewees—my potential future classmates. I could already see myself walking around the halls of the hospital. Next, I went through the interview. Upstate uses the multiple mini interview format. I walked out thinking that I had done well enough to show the admissions committee that I was ready for the rigors of medical school and how much I truly wanted this opportunity. I left that day hoping that I would finally get to enter into the next phase of my journey toward becoming a physician.
I was wrong.
After a month of agonizing waiting and refreshing my email every hour, I received an e-mail that started with something like, “We regret to inform you…”
I was crushed. I felt like that e-mail invalidated all of my hard work, that what I did was wrong or wasn’t enough. I sat there and tried to think of ways that I could improve my application or going over the interview in my mind, trying to figure out what must have gone wrong. The feeling of rejection was difficult to handle.
I called my mom and she guided me with her wisdom. She said, “Rafid, don’t ever give up. Sure, maybe you didn’t get in today but you will someday. There are many, many medical schools; you never know, this could be what is best for you. Just keep your head up and keep moving towards your goals.”
So weeks went by and I got back into my regular hectic schedule of juggling classes, extra-curriculars, hanging out with friends, etc. Then I noticed an e-mail, “Congratulations Rafid, you’ve been selected…”
I slowly opened the rest of the e-mail and read it through. I had been invited to interview at the University of Toledo Medical Center (UTMC) for their Early Assurance Program called MedStart. I had applied there a few weeks after I submitted my application to Upstate, but after my post-interview heartbreak I had told myself not to be too hopeful to get an interview with UTMC.
Memories started flying and the gratitude of being offered an opportunity to interview was mixed in with the pangs of potential rejection. I called my parents again and booked a flight to Ohio, but this time I was wary of this journey and afraid of receiving another rejection.
Although everything I had done up until this point was because I was passionate about it (I had done very few typical pre-med things), I was worried that the admissions committee wouldn’t see my activities as the right ones for the path to becoming a physician. I mean, how does being the president of a bike club and a tutoring club even relate to medicine?
So, I flew to Toledo, Ohio and mentally prepared for another rejection. During the flight, I envisioned the potential wording of another rejection e-mail, “Sorry, but the application pool was extremely competitive” or “Please try again for our regular cycle.” I was expecting the worst, even though I had tried my hardest during my undergrad career and knew I was ready to be a med student at UTMC.
But the day of the interview, when I put on my suit and looked in the mirror I told myself, “You were invited for a reason. They saw something in you. Believe in yourself. You have worked so hard to come this far. So many people have supported you and helped you to get here. Keep your chin up. Do it for your supporters, do it for your future patients. Do it for you.”
All I needed to do was believe in myself, and trust that I had done all that I could do, and even if my dreams wouldn’t come true based on today, they would someday.
A few weeks later, while I was in cell biology lab centrifuging some Tetrahymena, I opened up my e-mail during the wait period.
“Acceptance to the University of Toledo” was in the subject line.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I quickly shut my laptop and pinched myself just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Then I hastily logged back into my computer and refreshed my inbox. The e-mail was still there. I clicked on it and read it through twice. I didn’t see the words “sorry to inform you,” “please apply again,” or “rejection” anywhere.
I feel that my successes have been based on support from others: my mom who has always prayed to God for blessings for me, my dad, a Lt. Colonel in the US Army who has been deployed twice to Iraq but still made time to answer all my questions and support my ideas. Also my mentors, who stayed late after class or extra-curriculars to provide me with feedback and encourage me, even when I made mistakes. This moment was possible because of them.
I was one of the sixteen lucky, blessed people who were offered admission to the program. It was beyond surreal and it only happened because of the support system surrounding me. Only because people invested time to believe in me and my mission. Because I didn’t give up on myself.
About Rafid Rahman
Rafid grew up in Springfield, IL and attends the Honors College at the University of Illinois at Chicago, double majoring in Anthropology and Biological Sciences. He will begin medical school at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences in the fall of 2017. Rafid has been named an Evergrande Scholar at Harvard Medical School. He loves journalism and media and aspires to be the next Dr. Sanjay Gupta!
Because mentorship was the cornerstone to his success, Rafid began MedSpeak, a YouTube channel about the journey of medicine for high school, college, and medical students. You can follow him on Twitter @Rafid__Rahman and check out his blog.