It’s going to be a long one. I wrote all of this before I got in, because there is something wonderfully raw and vulnerable about documenting my reflections while I’m still on the outside looking in. I knew that if I was unsuccessful this cycle, I would still read it to remind myself of how far I’ve come.
My non-trad path is nothing unusual- I suppose I am just a late bloomer who paid her dues after the fact. The biggest challenge for me, throughout this whole journey, was lacking the protective factors to cushion the falls. I have been financially independent, which means choices were often made to have a financial safety net rather than for improving my med school applications. I had no one within my social network to guide me; my family has not been supportive of my decisions, so I felt like I could never turn to them (as of now they still don’t know that I interviewed and got accepted). This forum taught me everything I needed to know about getting into medical school, and that being a physician is still a possibility for someone like me.
I began university when I was 18, completely lacking in self-awareness and nowhere near ready to make any sort of decisions about my future. I went to UofT for life sciences. There’s that joke: “How many UofT students does it take to change a light bulb? Four; one to change it and three to crack under the pressure”. Well, I was one of the three. My time at UofT was the closest I’d come to being depressed. My marks were atrocious; I felt worthless and incompetent all the time. My family didn’t understand- and didn’t know how to- help me; no one told me “you should stop and figure your shit out before completely ruining your transcript”. I tried going to counselling but felt like I was not being listened to, so I never went back. Something was very wrong, I didn’t know what or how to fix it.
Things at home were bad. In my final year, I cut all financial ties with my parents, and moved out- I needed to become my own person. The independence was exhilarating. The financial stress was real, but my mental health also improved 100%, and I gained the energy and mental clarity to finally start thinking about what I wanted in life. Unfortunately, at this point my marks (cGPA of 3.1, no year above 3.5) were useless for any post-grad program. I applied to Michener’s medical radiation program, a second-entry bachelor program, to become an X-ray tech. I got accepted, but opted to not attend-- for the first time, I thought about what I wanted in my career, and decided it was not for me.
I decided to take a year off and consider other second degree options. I started to look into becoming a dietitian (other RDs on this forum, like Real Beef, were very helpful). This would be a competitive process with a lot more uncertainty than going to Michener. I had a lot to prove and nothing to show for it. I used the year to work several minimum wage jobs in healthcare to save up money for a year of unpaid dietetic internship that would follow my second undergrad, while getting volunteer experience in nutrition to start building my resume for dietetic internship applications.
I started my second degree in nutrition with a lot of self-doubt. After UofT, I was uncertain that I could even pull off low 80s. I was sure that everyone was smarter than me, and that I was the loser who flunked a whole degree but still couldn’t keep up. But I also had a level of mental clarity and focus that I’d never felt before. And low and behold, I ended up finishing my first year with the highest average in my program. A 3.94.
It was then that I realized I was onto something-for the first time, it seemed like medicine could be a possibility. I decided to extend my second degree into 3 years, to be eligible for Ottawa (ironically, I never interviewed at Ottawa), while building my application for dietetic internships. This led me to different opportunities in leadership, teaching, and working with low SES populations. After 2 years into my second degree, I wrote the MCAT while working full-time and self-teaching myself the material despite taking (and flunking) my pre-reqs 4-5 years before that. I was pleasantly surprised with a balanced 514 (however, with a CARS of 128, it was never good enough for Western). The year after, I graduated from my second degree with the highest cumulative average in my program.
It took me 3 cycles to get my first and only interview at Queen’s. During my second cycle, I was completing my dietetic internship, which provided many opportunities to gain clinical and counselling skills, work with marginalized populations, lead QI projects, and work within interdisciplinary teams- I learned more about my interest and suitability for medicine in this 1 year than I had in my whole life prior to this. Internship was hard work, but also gave me small boosts of confidence and signs I am not a complete dumbass (e.g. a nephrologist who had no idea that I was applying to med, after listening to my renal case presentation, told me how impressed he was that I’ve shown level of knowledge that he’d only expect from a senior medical resident; 2 of my preceptors said that in their 10-20 years teaching, they’ve never seen a student work so hard to improve herself and be so dedicated to her patients; rotation after rotation I was praised for my critical thinking skills and natural ease in developing rapport with patients). This wasn’t just about ticking off boxes to get into med, but about developing my passion for hands-on learning and learning about my strengths and weaknesses as a professional. For the first time in my life, I thought “maybe I am good enough to become a doctor.”
When I submitted my application for the third cycle, I had just graduated from internship and started working in public health in Northern Ontario. I moved here because I wanted to continue to step outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to do more advocacy and upstream work, and this was the place to do it. At around the time of decision day, I had applied to RD jobs in Alberta to gain IP status for U of C.
So here’s what I’ve learned in the last five years:
· Know yourself. Know your identity outside of being a premed. Figure out what your values are, what kind of a person you want to be, what drives you to take action, what triggers your mind to go down dark rabbit holes. This takes time and effort, and self-reflection from life experiences, but it helps to build resilience against the hurdles along the application process, medical training, and set-backs life in general. Knowing who you are and what you have to offer the world protects you against having your self-esteem and identity shattered when things don’t go as you had hoped; it gives you the courage to say “let’s try again.” when the world seems to tells you “you are not good enough.” Similarly, I hear too often that when people have spent their whole life dedicated to getting into med school, that when they finally get in, they feel a bit lost- “now what?”. I suppose that happens when you see getting in as a final destination rather than one of the stops along a never-ending journey of building yourself up. People around me couldn’t fathom where I got the persistence to keep at it despite facing setbacks and watching the years go by. It’s because I knew there is nothing valuable that a rejection can take away from me. I have been building myself up as a person. I am still going to be me, no matter what happens inside that interview room, and what May 8th brings. I still possess all the traits that I worked hard to develop and love about myself- my grit, self-awareness, intellectual curiosity, empathy, open-mindedness- and these are all going to carry me far in life, medicine or not. No rejection letter can take that away from me.
· Figure out what you want to accomplish in medicine, outside of medicine. I always ask myself: what's appealing about a career as a physician, and how can I try to achieve it through another route? What skills do I want to use on a day to day basis in my career? What core values and beliefs will motivate me to do what I do in my career? I think reflecting on this helps to flesh out your motivations for pursuing medicine, helps to identify alternative career paths, and should you pursue an alternative path while you reapply, helps you to gain insights and skills that will be useful for medicine. Hopefully the adcoms will recognize this. If not, well, at least your satisfaction with your alternative path will still be pretty high.
· Be kind to yourself. The playing field is not even, and you don’t need to add an additional layer of self-inflicted cruelty to the mix. It’s ok to not feel 100% determined all the time. When the self-doubt starts to creep in, sit on it, talk to someone (in my opinion, everyone should have a therapist). Use the insights from the above 2 points to ground yourself and as motivation to keep going.
· Develop yourself in areas outside of academics. What saved me was working minimum wage jobs since I was 16 (I actually started out cleaning bathrooms, after I was fired from scooping ice cream for being too socially inept. True story.). 75% of my activities on my ABS were employment. I had to work, because I did not come from a background as privileged as that of many premeds. If the circumstances were different, perhaps I would’ve gotten in earlier. But the real world was the best teacher I’ve ever had- it helped me develop financial independence and literacy, character, resilience, and interpersonal skills that helped me along every step of this journey. It helped to shape my convictions of the kind of physician, what kind of person, I want to be. Ease yourself into uncomfortable situations today to build resilience against shit-hitting-the-fan moments later in life.
I also want to say that sometimes on these forums, we read non-trad stories and it seems like people were 100% determined from the get-go while they stayed on this one path for 4-10 years. I know I wasn’t…and that’s ok. As a non-trad, you have more life decisions to make along your journey, some big, some small. I know that I had to make many decisions over the years to favour either my nutrition career, chances for med school, or my personal life- many times, these three conflicted. There’s no right way to go about it- it depends on your risk tolerance, other responsibilities in life, and priorities. Know yourself…this is so, so important.
I feel so privileged that everything in my life lined up so perfectly to allow me to pursue this path long enough to eventually get accepted. I’m always happy to chat about second degrees, being an RD, or anything related. Stay positive and kind to yourself, PM101.