It’s that time of year again.
No, I don’t mean the time of year when some of us have to dig through the recesses of the medicine cabinet for antihistamines to combat the onslaught of spring pollen. I’m talking about something far less predictable – the time of year when medical school admission decisions for the upcoming year are released.
Some of you may be thrilled to hold an acceptance to your first-choice program. Others among you may be contemplating a move to a part of the country that otherwise you may have never considered. Still more of you might be playing the waitlist game, wondering how much longer you can put life on hold before making concrete plans, or if reapplying for the following cycle is a good idea.
This time of the year, emotions run high: anticipation, anxiety, excitement, disappointment – sometimes a confusing combination of all the above. I went through the process myself more than two years ago, but I remember the whole experience all too vividly. I remember feeling that my entire career trajectory hinged on which school I attended, and the bitter sting of each email harboring a waitlist or rejection.
I’m on the other side of that chapter of my life, but for those going through it right now, I want you to know that your current circumstances do not define your future. You are still uniquely you, regardless of the institution whose name will appear at the top of your medical degree.
In the model of so-called “success” that too many of us entering medicine ascribe to, we believe that happiness can be attained only once we reach the next self-imposed milestone in our lives. We excel through high school and pour our souls into essays with hopes of getting into a high-ranking college. We must maintain near-perfect GPAs to get into a top medical school, where we must ace Step 1 to match our first-choice residency program. Do you see how quickly this gets out of hand? I urge you to consider reducing some of the pressure you place on your future self, and focus on what the journey towards a career in medicine has to offer, one day at a time.
As a second-year med student, I’ve had the fortune to work with a variety of attending physicians. In my experience, where in the country they were educated and trained is far less notable than the way in which they interact with others – both patients and colleagues. Just think about what qualities you would like in your own physicians, or those who will be treating your family. I’d hazard a guess to say that the qualities you most desire in someone managing your health aren’t necessarily skills they teach in organic chemistry classes or USMLE prep books.
You don’t need a degree from a top-tier school to be a compassionate listener. You don’t need a 4.0 to be the first person someone trusts with their most personal health-related concern. You certainly don’t need a 260+ USMLE score to advocate for a patient’s needs when nobody else will take the time to do so, and you won’t gain the ability to be patient with a concerned family member in any postbaccalaureate program. While building an elegant CV sufficient to “unlock” the next level of an overscheduled life can sometimes feel like your only reason for existence, remember that you are capable of so much more than can ever be demonstrated by a line on your resume.
So for those of you facing your plan B, know that you are not alone. I personally never expected to end up where I did for medical school, but looking back I realize how what I thought I wanted at the time – to stay at the medical school affiliated with my undergraduate institution – wouldn’t have led to the amazing personal growth and supportive circle of new friends and mentors I have found since beginning out here. I’ve come to value my nearby family members as an enormous source of support and reminder of normalcy in the insular world of med school. I have friends in my class whom I value, and who value me. I’m the healthiest I’ve been in years. Most importantly, I’ve realized that only I can define my worth as a person – something test scores, adcoms, or evaluations have little authority in doing.
Nobody’s journey is without its roadblocks, and the effortless perfection you think you see in your classmates is likely not their reality. We all deal with disappointment, rejection, and uncertainty. So even when you feel like your life is in the hands of a distant, anonymous admissions committee, know that you are the only one truly in charge of becoming the best version of the doctor you want to be.
Go where you are planted, and bloom.
About Jessica Prescott
Jessica Prescott is a second year medical student at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Prior to beginning medical school, she graduated magna cum laude from Duke University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry. While at Duke, she performed nephrology research and coached a Girls on the Run team in Durham. She grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona and enjoys being back on the sunny West Coast. When not studying or learning in the hospital, she can be found running loops around the Rose Bowl stadium and discovering which beaches in LA have the least expensive parking. At the moment she hopes to pursue a subspecialty of internal medicine, but is open to being surprised by where her medical school journey takes her.