The unspoken emotionality of applying to medical school

I didn’t realize how emotionally tied I was to the application process until I was on the phone with an admissions counselor from UCI’s School of Medicine. This wonderful lady was going over my application and giving me application feedback so I had a better understanding of why my application didn’t quite make the cut for their class. She affirmed that I was a strong applicant, and everything looked good, and the passion was clearly there. It felt good to hear because it assured me that the work I put in during those 4 years of undergrad did not seem in vain. However, it became more perplexing to me then, why I was not offered a spot in their class, or at least granted an interview. All she could tell me was that the pool of applicants were so competitive this year, and there were just so many great applicants, many many more than there are seats for their class. She said it was almost like luck: the admissions officers are human, and it depends on who reviews my application and their own interpretation of it.

I could feel a pang of helplessness and frustration burn through me. All those years of hard work, and to hear that my fate had something to do with “luck”. And coupled with my desire (which has only grown stronger since I applied) to finally begin the path to a career that I truly feel is for me. It felt like the door was shutting in my face again after repeated rejections from schools. I was being denied of the opportunity and access to what I truly wanted to do, what I believe I was meant to do, and only thing I believe I would enjoy doing (the lack of fulfillment in my current job all the more affirmed this). I was too overwhelmed at the moment for words, but I quickly composed myself and expressed the very crux of the emotion that has plagued me over the last year. My voice shaky with emotion, I let out, “This is frustrating…”

Suddenly, I felt a burning in my chest, and my eyes immediately began to well up. I was surprised at how emotional I became with the slightest trigger of my own words, and was even a little embarrassed by it– that I was sharing this deeply personal moment with a woman whom I didn’t even know. Quickly, she comforted me and expressed confidence that I will become a doctor. You will get there. And reminded me that if it is truly what I wanted to do and what I thought I was meant for, then keep going and not to give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up, she insisted. It stopped the tears from flowing, and I was finally able to catch a breath.

She quickly changed the subject and started telling me how she thinks the phrase “nontraditional applicant” should no longer refer to applicants who take a gap year or two because it is so prevalent these days (60% of the class is made up of students who had taken gap years, mostly 1+ years). She suggested that this phrase should refer to applicants who were perhaps undergoing a career change, and are usually in their 30’s. It did comfort me to know that it was more common for medical students to take some time off before starting medical school. Personally knowing of people who entered medical school immediately after college skewed my perception of when the appropriate time to start medical school was, which made me anxious about my gap years. In turn, it fueled my frustration when I thought about the prospect of reapplying and thus, delaying everything another year. But I think my gap years were well-spent, and I probably would not be able to succeed in medical school if I had not taken them.

After we hung up the phone, I continued to sit there and let the residual tears fall to the floor. It was the result of pent up emotions that had I unknowingly suppressed for the sake of not letting this whole process take over my life. I had never talked to anyone about the emotionality of applying to medical school, and how it was influencing how I felt day to day. And when she said she knew how I felt, that she could feel my frustration and that my heart was every bit in it, she had tugged on a loose thread that had unraveled a flurry of emotions I was not able to contain in that moment. But by the end of the call, I was brought back down to reality. This isn’t necessarily the end. That it can work out for me. That it WILL work out for me. And after drying those last bits of tears, I stood up and continued on with the rest of my day.

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3 thoughts on “The unspoken emotionality of applying to medical school

  1. As someone who has mentored a number of students going through the MD admissions process, I have seen what it does to people. There is a serious disconnect between the number of MD’s we are going to need, and the number of spots in medical school. The whole system is pretty broken. But hang in there – I had students who were great candidates and that had to apply two years in a row and they are all now in medical school. But the whole thing will put you through the wringer first. Cheers – Marcy

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    • Thanks for the tip. The whole process is definitely draining, and I have accepted that some part of it is out of my control. But I take comfort in the fact that I will get there eventually, it just might take a little longer if I don’t get in the first time around.

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