Learn From Me: Applying to Medical School
I always knew I wanted to be a physician. Being a doctor was always easy to dream about, but once I got to college, facing my future goals became more of a reality.
As a first-year, I wasn’t confident that I would be able to do it. I felt very overwhelmed by all the steps I would have to take to apply to medical school: taking the “weed-out” organic chemistry class, studying for the MCAT, etc. I also thought my “college experience” was going to be ruined because of how time-consuming and rigorous the pre-med track is known to be. All of the challenges associated with being a “pre-med” made me want to give up before I even started. However, as I got through each little step, I became more and more confident that medical school was the right path for me. Looking back on my journey to applying to medical school, I am amazed at how far I have come, and I want to encourage students who are feeling defeated.
My first semester, I took CHM 030 (general chemistry), which was the first course of the “pre-med track.” I studied hard and continued to take the pre-med coursework throughout my sophomore year: Organic chemistry, physics, calculus, etc. My primary focus in my first two years of Lehigh was doing well at school and getting acclimated to college. At Lehigh, there were no feelings of competitiveness among my peers. Everyone was happy to help each other and it was a great collaborative environment. I made great friendships from my classes and always felt supported.
It wasn’t until my second semester of sophomore year until I confirmed that medicine was the right career for me. I signed up for a training program to become a phlebotomist, and I worked in outpatient labs for St. Luke’s Health Network. I loved doing a procedure (drawing blood and performing EKGs) and working directly with patients. I could see how much of an impact I had on my patients, and I wanted to have even more as a physician. It’s important to gain clinical experience not only to see if you would like a health career, but also to have it for your medical school application. Working at St. Luke’s also gave me the opportunity to shadow and learn from physicians and medical students.
Winter break during junior year, I began studying for the dreaded MCAT. The 7.5 hour test is what I feared the most, and I had no clue where to even start. So, I took baby steps: I went to my local library at home and took notes on Kahn Academy videos and did only 20 practice questions a day. Over the course of 4 months, I added more content to my study plan and made longer practice tests. Studying for the MCAT eventually became a regular part of my daily routine; I sat in the same cubicle in FML every day to study between classes. I would fit in practice questions and flashcards whenever I could throughout the day, whether I was in between appointments at work or waiting in line for coffee. Studying for the MCAT was the hardest part of the pre-med process for me because I had to learn how to discipline myself to study every day. I did not have a professor to create deadlines for me, or classmates to go through questions with me. I was completely on my own, and it was up to me to create a schedule and get myself up at 7AM every Saturday morning to take a mock exam. When the test day came in April, I felt ready. After taking the test, I realized I was able to push myself beyond what I thought I could do, solidifying my confidence that I could do well in medical school and become the physician I have always wanted to be.
With the help of the Pre-Health Advisor and my professors, I was ready to submit my primary application to AMCAS in mid-June after my junior year. The primary application consisted of my Lehigh transcript, MCAT score, personal background information, my personal statement, and descriptions of my extracurricular activities. In July, I received email invites from medical schools to fill out their secondary applications. These secondaries mostly consisted of 1 or 2 small essays specific to each school. I spent this summer writing essays and continuing my phlebotomy job.
Now that I am in my senior year, I am focusing on medical school interviews, volunteering at a local food pantry and shadowing physicians at St. Luke’s. Most importantly, I am enjoying my last year of college by relaxing and spending time with my friends. Looking back on my college experience, I still had time to do the things I loved outside of being a pre-med.
I am grateful for Lehigh and all of the resources it had to offer me. From peer tutoring sessions, mock interviews with the Pre-Health Advisor, personal statement workshops at the Career Center, and my kind professors, I had a strong support system at Lehigh. The further I went through my pre-med journey, the prouder I was of myself, and the more motivated I was to keep going. I want to tell my 18-year-old self who was just arriving at college that applying to medical school was not as scary as it first seemed. I also want to tell her to not be too hard on herself, and that everything does not seem so daunting if she takes it one step at a time. So I am telling anyone now who is just starting the process and is feeling doomed: You can do it!
About the Author: Isabel Lavine (Biology '23)
I’m Isabel Lavine and I am from Newtown, PA. I am a senior majoring in Biology and minoring in Psychology, while on a pre-med track. I am also a phlebotomist at St. Luke’s University Hospital. Outside of work and school, I enjoy exercising with my friends, baking, and working on the school yearbook. Next year, I will start medical school at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.