Why did I pick this relationship break-up phrase for medical school rejections? Because it feels just like a break up. You invest some time into researching and applying to a certain school (like you invest time into a relationship). Then you start to form an attachment to the school as you adopt it’s philosophy and begin to see yourself attending the school, envisioning yourself proudly walking across the campus with your white coat. Then…BOOM. Rejection. But wasn’t this going great? Didn’t you invite me to fill out a secondary application? And all that you’re left with is a rejection letter that feels like the school is saying “It’s not you, it’s me”, which leaves you a little bewildered (“Is there something that I could have done differently??”).
You would think medical school rejections would give it to you straight, and say something along the lines of “Sorry, you were just not good enough”, but instead, they say it in a round-about way that makes it seem like you ARE an amazing applicant, but just BARELY good enough to garner an interview invite or acceptance. Almost all the medical school rejections letters that I have received follow some general template of:
1: Thank you for your interest in the school (but unfortunately…)
2: Sorry, you were not selected (womp womp; but it’s okay because…)
3: I’m sure you would have been a great doctor, it’s just that you were among x-thousand number of very competitive/well-qualified applicants for x-hundred of seats in our class (so you shouldn’t feel that bad about yourself, but maybe you should because you missed the cut)
4: I wish you the best in your endeavors and you’ll make a great doctor one day (just not with us)
So, in sum: It’s not that you weren’t a competitive applicant, it’s just that we didn’t have enough room in our class to accept so many great applicants, like yourself.
Yep, it sucks. But alas, medical school rejections aren’t the end of the world (…just the end of your medical school career with them, but if they didn’t want you, it’s their lost anyways, right?) From someone who has dealt with countless painful rejections, here is how I best handled it:
1) Accept the facts: You need to accept that the medical school has rejected you, and for a concrete reason. Once you can accept it, you can begin to move on and be constructive with the rejection, like learn why they have rejected you so perhaps you can improve your application if you need to apply again. And rejection doesn’t necessarily mean that you weren’t a great applicant. A lot of times it is because they thought you weren’t a great fit for the school. Each school has it’s own philosophy, and thus it’s own type of med student that it’s looking for. If the school really emphasizes service, and you really enriched yourself in research and did minimal volunteer work (or not enough to really learn from it or speak about it), it shows the school that you aren’t that passionate about service to others and not the type of person they are looking for.
2) Learn from it: I alluded to this before, but in the case that you need to apply to medical schools the next round, it’s always good to get feedback on your application so that you can improve it, and increase your chances of gaining an acceptance the next round. Some schools offer to give applicants real feedback on their application, and I think this is invaluable information, especially if you want to find out concisely what is holding your application back. How do you go asking for feedback from schools? I e-mailed admissions (or, hit “reply” to the sender of the rejection e-mail) and or called them if they weren’t responsive by e-mail (I found that it works best to call them). Then I schedule an appointment to talk over the phone (for 15-30min) with someone from either someone on the admissions team, or an admissions counselor. Schedule an appointment ASAP- they fill up quickly. For UCI and University of Louisville, they were booked for the rest of the month. Some schools don’t offer counseling until May (UCD and Loyola- Stritch School of Medicine). And some don’t offer counseling at all (Albany).
3) Positive thinking: Changing your thinking about it can be therapeutic. So what you didn’t get accepted to School A, which was your #1 choice, or the school you thought would accept you for sure (you fit their philosophy, your stats are above their average, and you nailed the interview)? Maybe you would truly be better off at School B. I am a proponent in believing in fate and that things happen for a reason. Maybe you weren’t accepted to School A because you would thrive so much more in School B. Just think positively about the situation and you can begin to focus on the schools that have accepted you. So don’t dwell on a particular school that you were rejected from- that is not productive and it makes you feel worse. And for those who just couldn’t get any interview invites or acceptances, and this application cycle is looking grim (which happens more often than I thought), maybe you weren’t meant to start medical school this year after all. And that is okay. Getting into medical school IS tough, and not getting into medical school the first time around does not necessarily mean you won’t be a good doctor, or not a doctor at all! Take some time off to reflect and improve your application. In the grand scheme of things, a 1 or 2 year delay is not much (i.e. becoming a doctor at 31 vs. 32). Think of the extra year or so as time to develop a new hobby, meet new people, travel to a new place, or learn a new language. Better start these fun things now before you won’t have the opportunity to in medical school! I always think that the extra experiences and memories I have from my gap years would serve as a “mental cushion” if I ever feel exhausted or burnt out in medical school.