As a single mother and a first generation college student who has to work full-time, I knew I would be at a large disadvantage on my journey to become a physician. Becoming a physician is so important to me that I’ve always been willing to put in the work. I have struggled for almost three years trying to find balance. I want to be a physician for many reasons, but the number one thing that motivates me is being able to provide people with the highest level of medical care. I want to give patients more time with their loved ones. Not only that, I hope that in addition to providing great care, I can also have an impact on medical policies and disease prevention. It’s been an uphill climb so far, but I’ve worked on my weak points, and I know getting there is possible.
While I earned my associate’s degree in biology, I had to work full time to pay my bills, books, and childcare. Obtaining my associate’s degree was more feasible as a single working mother, and a stepping stone prior to starting university classes. I had family support, which meant the world to me, but still, it was exhausting! There was a constant pull between spending time with my son, studying, and working. I tried using a planner, Google calendar, and different organizational techniques, but nothing was helping me get the balance I wanted. I was beginning to feel lost and disheartened with the harsh possibility that I may never get into medical school. However, even with all of these challenges I did graduate with my associate’s degree.
My next step was to enroll at Portland State University to earn a bachelor’s degree and take my medical school prerequisites. I was still concerned that my GPA was too low and that my inability to reel in my haphazard schedule would be an issue. But starting my first quarter at a university felt refreshing and I was ready for my next challenge. I took organic chemistry, genetics, and another general education class; I had a new outlook, but no actual plan for success that was different from the past. At the same time, I was balancing working two jobs, one overnight as a medical scribe, while homeschooling my then 5-year old.. Despite a new start, and my positive attitude, I failed. The key lesson is that I did not really set myself up for success. I did not manage time properly and I could not find a balance between all that I took on. I worked and worked, and pushed myself through sleepless nights to take tests I wasn’t prepared for, then came home to homeschool my son. It really took a toll on me. I thought I could do it all, but as unpaid bills piled up, and my grades fell, I couldn’t do anything but cry.
After that hellacious quarter was over and I finally had time to breathe, I reflected. What were my barriers to success? Was I working too much? Why wasn’t I happy? What could I do differently to ensure my success in the future? What was making me so busy that I could not be successful? I began to notice a pattern in lack of time management. I had prioritize my responsibilities and needs: being a mom, attending my classes, and having to work. I decided that if I didn’t want to let some of my activities go, I would have to modify them. Cutting down hours at work, more closely budgeting money so I could still pay bills, and calculating my free time so that it would be efficiently used, all contributed to the building of my success. And it also led to the improvement of my grades. Once I was able to work a little less, budget money better and spend more time focusing on academics and parenting, I began to feel happier, and more prepared.
This was the turning point for me. I bought a planner, and used the next two terms to focus on ensuring that every assignment, quiz and test was written down. I even penciled in times dedicated to studying. I checked the planner at least twice a day to help keep me accountable. Meanwhile, I was also able to gradually refine my studying techniques. I made sure all of my studying was done at school so that once I got home I was mom until bedtime.
I also took time to consider my study methods and figure out how to best and most efficiently use my time. I used to be a part of study groups, but realized that more than 70% of the time “studying” was actually spent talking, — not an efficient use of my time. The best study strategy for me is studying by myself, rewriting notes, and creating worksheets and practice tests for myself. This has allowed me to grasp material without distractions. After I’ve developed comfort with the material, I then attend group study sessions and even tutor others to ensure that I have a solid foundation and understanding. After two quarters of these changes, I was able to achieve my first quarter with straight A’s.
During this time, I also became more involved at school. I realized that I was so focused on finishing my undergrad degree and thinking about getting into medical school that I’d completely forgotten about the journey. I forgot about all of the important things on the way, like making friends, meeting new people, and getting involved in activities. I decided to start a chapter of The American Medical Women’s Association (at PSU) to help get involved with another pre-med group on campus, join the Women’s Resource Center, and even student government.
All of these activities may sound like a lot, especially for someone who struggled with balance for the first couple years of undergrad, but it’s not now that I’ve found my balance. Joining clubs, meeting people, and moving out of my comfort zone has only added to my success. Even more importantly, it created a bliss I didn’t know I was missing. Recording everything in my planner, taking a step back and allowing for self-reflection was one of the most crucial things I’ve done for myself. One of the lessons I learned was to understand that my journey is mine, and owning what makes me me. I stopped stressing and started looking into different solutions to ensure that I was not just excelling but also moving forward. Focusing on ways to improve when facing challenges gave me a lens on life I didn’t know I had. We all fall down and sometimes, we fail. What matters most is understanding why, accepting it, and moving forward despite the setback.
About Lelani Lealiiee
Lelani is from Torrance, California and currently attends Portland State University as a science major, chemistry minor. She is a research intern in the trauma lab at Oregon Health and Sciences University and homeschools her 6-year old son. In her free time enjoys baking, watching her son play sports, and Polynesian dancing.