#MCAT Confidential.

taking the MCAT

GRADUATE TRACK: MEDICAL SCHOOL

Name: Hannah Conway

Age: 23

College/ Major & Minor: Notre Dame CollegeEnvironmental Chemistry and Ecology, Biology.

How did you choose the college you attended, and what factors influenced that decision? I was actually settled on not going to college until I started to get offers to play college lacrosse. I chose Notre Dame College over another school in Michigan truly based on the location… it was in a bigger city than Michigan could offer.   

When did you realize that you were interested in environmental chemistry and ecology? In high school, one of my biology teachers let me take over the greenhouse that needed some TLC. I fell in love with the idea of working with plants and it eventually sprouted my passion (ha!) for environmental science. It wasn’t until I was in my senior year of college that I realized I was capable of pursuing medicine. I knew I loved environmentalism and had a passion for bettering the world around me, but hadn’t discovered that my passion really was driven by helping people. Both of my parents worked in a form of service, my dad as a fireman/paramedic for 25+ years and my mom currently working as a dietician in primary care. Growing up, many of my relatives had only graduated high school, so my perspective on careers was narrower than I had realized at the time. I didn’t know any doctors personally, and my friends’ parents were electricians or mechanics, store clerks, bank tellers and grade school teachers. I had to truly push myself to look outside of the box and appreciate that it takes more than just outstanding grades to go to medical school.

What is your current career goal? I have way too long of a list of things that I want to pursue, but my definite long term goals would be to attend medical school, work to improve the quality and availability of women’s health, and then one day sit on the committee of the UN Women’s division. 

You are in the process of preparing to apply to medical schools. What type of medicine do you hope to practice? I’m currently interested in pediatrics but also have a strong pull towards women’s health with gynecology and obstetrics. Then again, every field that I’m exposed to I get excited about. Maybe I’ll fall in love with psychiatry! I’m recently uncovering my interest in women’s health and gender equality through some volunteer projects and honestly just letting myself go where the wind takes me. I’ve had such fun already exploring different ideas, career options, and fields of interest that I’ve decided to let all barriers and judgements down to see what’s out there. Often we don’t know that we want to do something partly because we didn’t even know it existed!

What does the med school application process involve? What is the biggest challenge applicants often encounter? What doesn’t it involve?! Volunteering, leadership, shadowing physicians, research experience, patient exposure, the dreaded MCAT, the even more dreaded personal statement. Yes, intimidating. But it does make you really ask yourself (and ask yourself again 35 million more times) “Is this really what I want to do?!?” I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of the preparations – some more than others – but what I’ve really learned is that much of the prep work can be rather interesting and fun! For instance, the first day volunteering at a children’s hospital I had an eight year old puke up a grape popsicle on me. But other times you meet really great patients who inspire you, or coworkers who make you laugh so hard that your weekly lab meetings become anything but productive. This process also forces you to really find yourself and understand who you are. Daunting, yes, but enlightening….most of the time.

What advice would you give to young women considering the pre-med track and preparing to take the MCAT? Don’t talk to other pre-meds. We all want to ask each other about how everyone else is preparing, where you volunteer at ‘blah blah blah,’ but it always ends up making you feel like you’re not doing enough. Or that you don’t know the secret to success. WRONG. You do: its called working super hard. Also, don’t become intimidated by the puffed up egos of some pre-med guys. They’re just trying to impress you 😉

The MCAT recently changed. What does the test consist of now? How long is the exam? The MCAT now consists of the usual biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and critical analysis along with more rigorous biochemistry and the behavioral sciences, including psychology and sociology. All of this is jammed into 7 hours of testing. Yuck. I highly suggest Kaplan and Examcrackers… and don’t be shy on those practice questions.  Learning the difference between your college exam questions and how MCAT likes to ask questions is KEY. 

Have you participated in any related internships or summer jobs? How do you cultivate your resume outside of school? I currently work in lung cancer research at the University of Utah’s Cancer Institute. We build mouse models for adenocarcinomas via epigenetic studies. Sounds way cooler that it actually is, but it’s still pretty cool. I had originally worked my first summer out of college in prostate cancer research at the Cleveland Clinic, and as much as I’d like to say I got the job due to my stellar resume… it was really because one of the post-doc fellows was in a book club with me. Science is funny in that a lot of times you just need to find someone who is willing to help you with your first steps in medicine/research. Make friends! Be inviting and be interested! Most importantly, work really hard and be humble, because research is a field where 90% of the things you’ll do will require knowledge that you didn’t know existed. Be a sponge, soak in every bit of information they throw at you while accepting that you’ll be doing a lot of dirty, tedious work. We’ve all been there.

You are a recent graduate, which many consider to be a daunting time in life! What advice would you give a college senior about life after graduation? Pay your bills, including your credit card! Work out at least 4 times a week because “adulting” sometimes requires eating four snacks at work and then meeting for drinks later, and that turns into too many cocktails for a Tuesday night. Invest in a nice planner and some comfy but stylish ballet flats and NEVER be seen at work with ripped jeans. Please. Just don’t. Try to update your resume once a month because there’s going to be that one physician who agrees to let you shadow and then throws in “Could you send your resume over?” To avoid that “oh shit!” moment, keep it saved on your work desktop, laptop, and maybe in an email to yourself so you’re at the ready! Learn how to do makeup cleanly and quickly.  Skincare products will really save you but don’t skimp on the cheap stuff. Your face will thank you (check out ASDM Beverly Hills!) Be punctual and avoid complaining about lack of sleep, everyone you meet in medicine is chronically sleep deprived. Make your own coffee in the morning to skip the Starbucks line and never, ever, ever skip breakfast. Yes, pb&j can be found in the breakfast folder. 

Any other words of wisdom? Don’t rush through first year or even second year out of college. I’m coming up on two years out of school and have loved every minute of it. The more “life experience” you have the better. Keep a Plan B in your head in case medical school doesn’t work out (mine is to become a pastry chef and I can’t even make boxed brownies.) On days where you don’t feel like small-talking in an elevator or smiling at that person on the bus, remember that you never know who you might meet (like a doctor who has some influence on admissions… just sayin’). Most of all, be honest with yourself and love every part of this crazy, hectic, and challenging journey. Stay true to who you are and don’t let some jerk in too-tight pants with a gucci messenger bag make you think that you’re not good enough to pursue your passion. (Just so we’re clear this didn’t happen to me, but if it did, I would imagine that this is what he would look like – including some noxious smelling hair gel). 🙂

Much love from SLC!

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