New OldPreMed - Nontrad on a winding path

Hello, everyone,

I began listening to Dr. Gray’s Old PreMed and The PreMed Years podcasts around a week and a half ago and I’ve loved every one of them so far (I will be leaving reviews…that will probably be much shorter than this post). As a nontraditional student, the podcasts have aided me greatly in better understanding the process, pressures and unique obstacles of applying to medical school as a nontrad. It already feels like I have found a community and I thank you all for your willingness to openly share your journeys. Here is a bit of my story (I realize it’s long), followed by a few questions:

I grew up in Kansas and Oklahoma and I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a physician since I was around five or six years old. I took AP courses in high school, received full academic and partial band scholarships to attend Howard University in Washington, DC and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2010 with a degree in biology, minor in chemistry. Similar to the stories I’ve heard many times on the podcasts, the first semester of my freshman year was by far my worst academically. At the end of the semester my GPA was 2.75 and I needed a 4.0 in order to meet the minimum GPA required to maintain my scholarship - a standard I met. I continued to rebound throughout the rest of my tenure, and graduated with an overall GPA of 3.62, and a science GPA of 3.37 (the science GPA is by my calculation).

In addition to my interest in science, medicine and health, I have always had an interest in policy and the law, particularly as it intersects with the health of communities and individuals. I even competed in mock trial and debate in high school. After receiving a C in microbiology at the end of the second semester of my sophomore year, my confidence in being accepted to medical school took a major hit. I decided to complete my biology major, as opposed to switching majors, because I love science, but I also decided to look at what other career paths might be available to me. How I wish a forum like this had existed back then! During my senior year I took a science and public policy course, which reinvigorated my above stated interest so I though law was a good career to settle on and began exploring those options, including taking the LSAT that year. Unsatisfied with my score and generally unsure that law was truly the direction I wanted to take, I decided not to apply to law school and to take what I called at the time a gap year…it turned into five and a half gap years.

Toward the end of my senior year I was accepted into two summer programs: Morehouse’s Project Imhotep which was funded by the CDC and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholars program. I accepted the position in the KFF program, primarily because of my interest but also because I didn’t have much confidence that I would be able to go to medical school and should begin to build a career outside of that…and in the very least I would be building my resume.

The below information includes my work history, but it’s posted on other public forums such as LinkedIn, so I don’t believe I’m oversharing.

The KFF placed me in a CBC Member’s office in the House of Representatives, who at the time was on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. She is a physician who practiced until being elected to Congress and was instrumental in including many of the provisions in the ACA that address health disparities and concerns in minority communities and I was able to prepare and staff her during subcommittee hearings.

At the end of the summer an entry level position opened in another Member’s office and I began working there as a Staff Assistant, eventually working my way up to Senior Legislative Assistant with a portfolio that included the Members work on the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee, the Budget Committee, Poverty, and the Health portfolio overall (minus HIV policy which another staffer handled). I also handled her work as chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus’ Healthcare Braintrust. Needless to say, this was incredibly rewarding, and demanding work. I left her office after 4 years to join the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors, where I currently work on the viral hepatitis and policy & legislative affairs teams. In this position I advocate on behalf of State Health Departments and populations disproportionately impacted by hepatitis (People Who Inject Drugs, Native Americans, African Americans, Latin@s, Asian/Pacific Islanders/Native Hawaiians, etc), with the ultimate goal of reducing transmission of hepatitis B and C, preventing HBV and HCV, addressing coinfection with HIV and increasing access to curative HCV treatments. Appropriations and budget work continue to be a primary focus. Again, very rewarding work…but…medicine.

Shortly after joining the Hill I began to realize that medicine was still what I wanted to do. It would always come up when I would least expect it. It’s grown to the point that it is constantly on my mind. I go to sleep and wake up thinking about medical school and one day practicing medicine. I took the MCAT in 2012 while working on the Hill. I wasn’t able to take much time to study, and the long hours didn’t help. I made the decision to study on my own, which I believe now was a mistake, and ultimately scored a 22. This was another blow to my confidence. SDN didn’t help matters.

But medicine was still on my mind. So in the beginning of 2014 I began to look for another job that I thought would allow me to recalibrate, focus more on the med school application process and retake the MCAT. While I was looking for this new full-time employment I also applied to scribe positions, in order to gain some clinical exposure. I was able to work during the summer of 2014 as a scribe, a job which I absolutely loved and have experiences to that I can share in the application, while also working full time on the Hill. When I got the position at NASTAD, the salary was such that my husband and I agreed that I should let go of the scribe position, work one job and focus on medical school. After dealing with the death of three close family members, my sister’s lupus flare ups, and some financial set backs with my family between 2014 and 2015, I am now registered to retake the MCAT with a test date of April 23, 2016. This time I am studying with a Kaplan online course which has been helpful in terms of content review so far, and the structure has really helped me to stay on track…I’m two weeks in so hopefully this continues. I have decided this it is, now or never for me. I intend to submit my application on the first day schools begin accepting applications. I’ve written a lot (probably too much) but thought I’d explain where I am…oh yes, during all of this (since 2008) I’ve been an active member of a Black Greek Letter Organization, holding an elected position nearly each year and advising (and/or supporting) the undergraduate chapters of the organization. Through this I’ve developed a couple of mentor relationships that continue. Everything I do through this organization is volunteer time.


  1. I’ve heard a lot of discussion on the podcasts about ensuring that I have shadowing AND volunteering experience. I understand that shadowing of a physician is clinical experience, however each time I’ve heard volunteering discussed it’s also been in the context of a clinical setting with patient interaction. Does this mean that I should get additional clinical volunteer experience in addition to the clinical time I accumulated as a scribe (only for a summer, but I believe in excess of 100 hours) and my organization? I should mention here that the scribe company I worked for does not approve of letters of recommendation unless the scribe has worked there for 1-2 years. I understood that when I walked away from the job.

  2. I know schools are beginning to require biochemistry as a pre-req. At my undergrad institution, biochem wasn’t offered as an undergraduate course and I really have had neither time to take a course nor the money, until recently, to afford it. Now that I am back on track with the application process I am thinking about taking the course, but given the application timeline I’m worried that I won’t be able to study for the MCAT and score well while also taking a biochem course and working full time. What are your thoughts on my submitting the med school application and then trying to pick up a course in the fall? Would schools that require biochem frown upon this? Should I try to complete it sooner?

  3. Per extracurriculars, I am interested in your thoughts on how to approach this from a non traditional perspective. The nature of my work has afforded me many experiences that reinforce my desire to go to medical school. Given the character limitations in AMCAS I worry that I will be unable to adequately describe them in one post per position. Is it acceptable to view extracurriculars on a project basis? For example, using one EC to describe my work with a physicians group to address an issue in one of the CMS guidances on the ACA given the adverse impact on their patients while using another EC space to describe a trip to Singapore - both experiences happened during the course of one employment period…I hope this makes sense…but I’m happy to clarify if it does not.

  4. Do courses such as maternal and child health, and health science count toward the science GPA?

    My apologies again for the length of the post. I’ve been thinking about posting since first listening to the podcasts and now that I finally have everything came tumbling out.

Here’s my take:

  1. Short answer: your 100 hours of scribing should be fine for clinical exposure. Regarding volunteering, any type should be fine as long as it’s something you’re interested in and can speak passionately about. You need to be able to show the adcoms that 1) you understand what it’s like being a doctor, and 2) that you’re a well-rounded and compassionate human being. If you think you can express those sentiments in your application, PS and interviews, then you should be set.

  2. All of the pre-reqs need to be completed prior to matriculation at med school. So, you could apply this cycle and take biochem in the fall and be ok. You may be at a slight disadvantage on the MCAT by not having it, but if you’re ok with studying that on your own, you can proceed with your plans.

  3. I would not break down your experiences further than a job basis, unless you served in different roles in that organization. That said, you can designate up to two experiences as your “Most Significant” experiences and you get more space to write about those. I used one of my jobs as a most significant experience on my application.

  4. AMCAS has a guide on what courses count to science in the AMCAS application instructions.

    Hope that helps some. Best of luck on your path.

Thanks! Very helpful

In ref to question 1:

When I was researching schools, UW (seattle) seemed to be the most anal about shadowing, at least on their website. They seem to accept being a scribe as a shadowing/clinical experience, so I think you should be good. You might want to check out their site about it because they list a lot of questions that you should think about to either make sure you got what you should’ve out of the experience and what schools might want you to be able to talk about from your experiences.

An update for anyone who may happen across this thread: I moved forward with applying, with the help of Dr. Gray, and was accepted to MD school for the coming fall, 2017.

Awesome! Congrats! Welcome to the suck :slight_smile:

For the group, would you mind answering your questions from your post(s) above so we have a more updated perspective on what schools are looking for based on your recent experience? You must’ve done something right!

Congrats! :smiley: