Since I was young, I was always interested in the sciences, and wanted to pursue a path to further my education, but more importantly to help others. My grandfather, who inspired me to serve my community, was a pathologist in India. Growing up, I listened to my father tell stories about my grandfather’s unique cases, and how he was able to solve them.
Although applying to medical school can be a daunting, tedious, and seemingly endless process, one must keep in mind that there are many ways to take advantage of the application process. It is also important to continue to harbor the same motivations, dedications, and discipline from when an individual first matriculated into any college. Many assume that there is one pathway to become a physician, but the reality is that there are multiple alternatives to pursue the same dream - to obtain a medical degree.
Thinking about the future:
For any student currently enrolled in the premedical track, and those also considering medicine, it is important to get some clinical exposure and research experience prior to applying to medical school. However, it is not necessary to seek paid positions to appreciate healthcare, but it can help in funding some of the expenses in applying to medical school. Before I attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I had been exposed to various clinical settings, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Baystate Medical Center. I was also employed as a Laboratory Assistant in Transfusion Medical Services at Baystate Medical Center for 6 years.
After I was enrolled at UMass Amherst with a major in Microbiology on a Pre-Medical Track, I fulfilled the basic Microbiology Bachelor’s Degree requirements, as well as completing four graduate level courses, which included Pathogenic Bacteriology (552), Immunology Lab (542), Archaea Journal Club (597B), and Microbial Diversity (560). I did not stop there, because I wanted to push myself to apply my knowledge in the sciences into laboratory investigations. The faculties at the university appreciated students to become well rounded and to take full advantage of their education. I worked on two research projects. The first was under the direction of Professor John Burand (Department of Entomology) to study the declining population of European honey bees in relation to increased viral infections and climate change using reverse transcriptase PCR. My second was under Professor Steven Petsch (Department of Geosciences) to study global climate change and evolutionary patterns of sedimentary organisms within Lake El’gygytgyn, Northeast Siberia, by isolating and quantifying fatty acids and fatty acid methyl esters.
Having leadership roles are also advantageous for those who love to educate others. As a physician, there is great emphasis of educating both colleagues and patients; being a teaching assistant at UMass can be a great stepping-stone. I was employed for three years as a Teaching Assistant Supervisor under the supervision of Professor Robert Feldman (Department of Psychology) for the Power-Up Program for first year students who wish to gain a head-start opportunity on campus and student life. I was also a Teaching Assistant for Microbiology Lab under Professor Erika Hamilton (Department of Microbiology), for which I helped to teach classes on occasion and assisted students in various experiments. I enrolled in Sustainable Living that was taught by Professor John Gerber (Department of Plant and Soil Sciences), and he invited me to be his Teaching Assistant the following year after he appreciated my hard work. I created online quizzes and coordinated open-forum discussions amongst faculty and students.
MCAT and Caribbean schools: Debunking the Myth
After I graduated from UMass in 2011, I took the MCAT 3 times, and scored low. Students know that the MCAT tests the basic sciences, but it does not test individual competency. The MCAT does determine where you will attend medical school, but it does not end your future. I knew that my MCAT scores did not reflect my potential as a student. I researched many programs in the US as well as in the Caribbean. Although I was rejected by both MD and DO programs in the US, I was accepted by American University of Antigua College of Medicine. Comparing the curriculum with those in the US, there is honestly no difference with the exception that students study in the Caribbean for two years and complete their rotations back in the US. Medical students are required to take the USMLE Steps 1 and 2 before graduating (as it is for US medical schools).
As with US medical students, international students will also be competitive when they apply for residency, either through research or published case articles. Many international students tend to have higher USMLE scores than those in the US, which creates difficulty when applying for residency. Thus, I too wanted to be competitive when applying for residency. Throughout my clinical rotations I focused on my exams, as well as keeping a close eye on interesting cases. I found a new skill in writing throughout my clinical rotations, and I published a total of 7 cases, including a book. I had applied my scientific and medical knowledge to share with the general audience for them to gain a better appreciation for unique diseases/disease entities and appropriate management.
Coming full circle, I am currently a Resident Pathology Physician at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA. Although there were many hurdles I faced throughout my undergraduate and medical (graduate) education, I am grateful to be where I am today.
My story is one of many, to help those students who feel there is little hope after struggling with low MCAT scores or “bad” grades. I will say that going to any Caribbean school is not a total loss at all. It is essentially an alternative to acquire the same medical degree as those in the US. I have participated in clinical rotations where I rotated with students from other US medical schools (Northeast Ohio Medical University, SUNY Downstate, and Hofstra University). I had the same medical knowledge as they had, and there were no biases or negative connotations for having a different educational background. The same can be said for applying for residency. The program directors interview both international and US medical students, and they choose individuals based on the USMLE scores, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation (a similar process undergraduates face when applying to medical school apart from the MCAT in place of the USMLE).