Med School Application Journey Crisis Point

There’s an episode in Season 7 of Gilmore Girls where Lorelai has to write a character reference to Luke. When she tells Rory that she can’t write the letter, they have this exchange:

Rory: Sounds like you’re overthinking this. Maybe if you just put pen to paper.

Lorelai: I tried that, I thought, “I’ll just sit down and write whatever comes – no judgment, no inner critic.” Boy was that a bad idea.

Rory: Really? Why?

Lorelai: Because my brain is a wild jungle full of scary gibberish. “I’m writing a letter, I can’t write a letter, why can’t I write a letter? I’m wearing a green dress, I wish I was wearing my blue dress, my blue dress is at the cleaner’s. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue, ‘Casablanca’ is such a good movie. Casablanca, the White House, Bush. Why don’t I drive a hybrid car? I should really drive a hybrid car. I should really take my bicycle to work. Bicycle, unicycle, unitard. Hockey puck, rattlesnake, monkey, monkey, underpants!”

Rory: Hockey puck, rattlesnake, monkey, monkey, underpants?

Lately, like for the last month, my brain feels like hockey puck, rattlesnake, monkey monkey underpants.

There is so much to think through, weigh out and decide, and I feel utterly lost. In some ways, the past few months have been some of the best I’ve had in years, which actually complicates things. In other ways, I think if I had to do this all over again, I maybe wouldn’t.

Right now, here’s how things stand. I went to six interviews and out of those six, two schools accepted me, one waitlisted me, one rejected me and the other two put me on hold, which means I’ll find out on or just before April 30th, which is also the deadline for me to make my final decision on where to go. It scares the crap out of me to think that I might have to make this decision with only a day, or maybe only a few hours, of knowing all my options. I hate that. This is a major life decision that affects so much, a decision in which I want to take many things into account. It seems crazy to think I won’t even have a week to think it through. It makes me a little crazy to know I likely won’t have that.

So of course, in the meantime, I’m overthinking everything, trying to figure out what I’d do in every contingency, but it’s really hard to do without info. If I felt differently about the options that are on the table, I might be less stressed, but I don’t.

My first choice school, by far, is one of the ones that put me on hold, so one that I still haven’t heard from and may not until decision day.

My second choice school was the one that rejected me. I tried not to be upset about it because I have other options, but to be honest, I was crushed. At all my interviews, the current students said they chose their school based on “fit” and where they clicked with the people most, and I felt this, far and away, the most at this school. I really clicked with the current students, felt comfortable and at home with them. I think it’s probably because there were several nontraditional students, so I was more among age group peers than at any other interview. Plus the culture was very relaxed outside of the actual interview day, and I liked that a lot. It was a state school in a state I have no ties to and had actually never been to before outside of layovers, so it wasn’t terribly surprising that I didn’t get in, but the area is said to be somewhat similar to where I live now, and I felt that. The people and culture and atmosphere felt closest to home aside from my state school

My state school is my number one choice, and their admissions process feels a little unpredictable. On paper, I feel like there’s no way I wouldn’t get in. They have a very high average age of matriculating students and almost seem to prefer older students; the in-state bias is in my favor; I know there’s no way I interview particularly poorly or I wouldn’t have the acceptances I do now (or the waitlist spot, which was at the most prestigious school I interviewed at, where it truly feels like an honor to be waitlisted), and I felt I connected well with interviewers at all my stations, except maybe one where the guy himself just seemed standoffish (everyone else who interviewed with him felt the same way) and even then I had him fully engaged by the end of the interview, and my academics are pretty stellar. They say they accept half of the people they interview, and still take into account things like essays (they had several on their secondary application) and I know mine were strong. I had someone at another school tell me my essays were so beautiful she wondered if I’d used a ghostwriter. And my advisor confirmed that all my letters of recommendation were really strong (I can’t see them but she could). So in a way, I feel like I have to be in that top 50%, but I doubt it more as every day goes by and I’m not taken off hold. People are starting to be taken off hold and I haven’t been. This is leading to a lot of panic.

Plus there’s the big, unpredictable factor, how the school and the admissions committee will feel about my disability. This school had the most extensive info about students with disabilities in their interview day packet (only one other school even mentioned it while this school had two out of about ten pages dedicated to it, this is a big factor in making it my first choice). And when I went through the online volunteer training there was a question in the diversity training asking could they deny a qualified med school applicant due to visual impairment. The answer was no. I did this training in 2015 and still have the screen shot of that question and its answer. But all that said, you never know how people will react when really facing the possibility. I do think that if I don’t get in there, disability almost has to be why, but I don’t think anyone would ever say that. I think legally they can, but I still don’t think anyone would. It’s the one factor I have no control over, and it’s been kinda strange that schools that have seemed much less aware of disability (I fully disclosed in my app, so anyone who interviewed me did so knowing before they sent the invite) accepted me.

The truth is, I have no idea what I’ll do if I don’t get in to my top choice. One of the schools I’m accepted at is pretty much off the table for me. I didn’t like the curriculum at all. And while every other school I interviewed at emphasized their dedication to student wellness and ensuring students have some sort of balance, and about half of them put all quizzes and tests on Fridays so that students have weekends off (med school burnout and mental breakdowns are a real, serious thing; at one school they even talked to us about the risk of med student suicide), this school scheduled students six days a week. That, plus the curriculum I really didn’t think would work for me, plus really not fitting with the current students all made this school go in my own personal “no” pile.

Some of these may sound like minor things, but if I’m going to undertake this whole thing, go into the hundreds and thousands of dollars of debt and commit so much of my life to something, I want to be in a place where I feel at least generally good about being there. I’ve been places where I really didn’t fit before, and it hasn’t been pretty.

The other school I got into actually had, has, my favorite curriculum. Kinda by far. There are other factors that make it not so favorable, personal ones, like not being sure I want to move back to the east coast or be so very close to family. We’ve forged some sort of relationship in the last few years, after many years of estrangement, and it feels like a lot of that is the function of distance, like it works a lot better to only see each other at family events and holidays. I don’t mean to say anything against them, but I have a lot of fear of what it would be like to live so close again. I feel like I’d have to spend a ton of mental energy dealing with that, probably going to therapy, managing all that, and I’m not sure that would be good for my mental health on top of the pressure of medical school. I worked really, really hard to get away and to build my own life for myself. I risked a lot and sacrificed a lot and just, as I said, worked really really hard. And I don’t know that I’m willing to go back on that. The more real the possibility of this school gets, the more I feel this way.

I was going to set all of that aside. I had come to the decision that this school would be my plan B should my local one not accept me. But then I went to their Second Look and I had a pretty awful experience. It honestly felt like being back in high school or middle school. I don’t know what it was but I just couldn’t really make inroads with people. The class at this school is very young, and that was probably part of it. I’m fifteen years older than most of them, and though I like to think I still look really young, I don’t look twenty-two. So maybe that was it. I don’t know. It felt really cliquey, like everyone already knew each other and had found “their group” and when I joined in conversations or initiated them, the other students just ignored me. Even a few times when I’d happen on people going the same way so it’d seem natural we’d walk together, after a minute or two of small talk, they ran on ahead.

It was the first time in years that I really felt how different I look, really felt like the freaky albino girl I felt like growing up. I didn’t feel it during interviews, like at all, I got along with my fellow applicants pretty much everywhere and was always joking around and talking and just generally having a good social time, but not at this Second Look. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb, to use the cliche. It felt awful. I don’t feel I fit with these people at all.

So now, I literally don’t know what I’m going to do if my local school says no. It’s so weird to me that the two schools I got into, out of the ones I interviewed at, are the ones with the youngest classes and also the ones that say nothing whatsoever about disability services. That scares me a lot, and it also is just a little odd, like the two that seem like the worst fit demographics wise are the ones who said yes.

I feel very guilty for feeling the way I do about the places where I got acceptances. Both schools had things I loved, and I’m aware of how hard it is to get into med school, that just having an acceptance at all should put me over the moon, and the first one (for the school near my family) originally did. I cried when I got the call. The second school, I don’t know why but I felt nothing.

Here’s another part of it. A big part. I don’t want to leave where I live. It’s not even that I’m so attached to the area so much that I don’t want to move somewhere new and start over. I’ve done it before, several times when I was younger, and I don’t really want to do it again. When I was applying, this was all in the abstract, and it was kind of exciting to think about, but as the possibility gets closer and more real, my feeling on it has completely changed. I have a life where I live now. I have friendships years in the making. I have friends who I knew when they were still single whose weddings I’ve been to and whose kids I’m watching grow up. I have my people and I spent a lot of my life not having people, and I don’t want to go back to that. Even with people, I struggle with feelings of loneliness, and I feel like that would be worse in a new place with a group of people I don’t fit in with. It took a long time to build the connections I have now to what they are. When it comes down to it, I just don’t want to start over all alone. And maybe what that comes down to is I don’t want it enough, med school. I think someone who truly wanted it might feel apprehensive at the idea of moving, but would feel it was worth it to live the dream. I want to feel that way but I don’t.

And here’s the crux of things, and the thing that’s the hardest for me to write about and that I’ve said to very few people (maybe three): I’m not sure med school is my dream anymore. Part of me really doesn’t want to go. Maybe even if I do get into my local school.

It started as a joke. I would say to people as a total joke that this year’s been so great that maybe I didn’t want to go anymore. It was a joke and it was true. It has been amazing to not be in school. To not have that cycle of stress and release, to kind of just live my life. In the last year, I’ve lost almost twenty pounds, some of it from eating better (Blue Apron has a lot to do with that) and some of it because I had time to work out. I took up running and got to my first 5k earlier this month, starting from nothing at all, and have come to really like it. I finally read Infinite Jest and LOVED it and want to write blog posts about it and remembered what it’s like to love literature.

And most of all, I’ve been writing. For the last two and a half months, I’ve been writing steadily. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s the most since I went back to school. It’s not that I want to drop everything and try to make it as a writer – I see it more as a lifelong hobby that maybe will blossom into more but maybe won’t than as a full-time career – but it’s also not something that I want to give up.

This year has been really hectic with all the flying around to interviews, and still I’ve felt the most balanced and contented than I have in years…when I’m not worrying and wondering about all the what ifs and such. And so, I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about how nice it would be to just get a regular job, something with good benefits but maybe something I’m not totally invested in and, you know, have a life, have time for writing and working out and cooking and cultivating all these friendship connections I care so much about. That sounds like a dream.

I’m too caught up in all of it to really be able to tell if I’m just having cold feet and panicking and looking for a way out, or sabotaging myself, or using it as a defense mechanism so maybe I won’t be so crushed if OHSU says no, or if this is really what I want to do. I’m so overtired that it’s hard to tease these things apart anymore. But it might not be cold feet. It might be real.

If it is, then I don’t know what to do with myself. I love chemistry, but I don’t want to go to grad school for it, never have and probably never will. I don’t want to completely waste my mind, but sometimes I wonder if there are jobs out there that I could do with my current degrees that maybe won’t be fancy or prestigious or impressive jobs, but will be something that allows me to do the other things in life I care about. I’m just not sure that my job or career is my highest priority, and I feel really guilty about this, but maybe that’s just who I am. In a way, I value the ability to write more. And the time to have and continue to build good, strong connections with the important people in my life. And having the time and space to be healthy, mentally and physically. It’s hard not to feel like valuing these things more makes me weak.

It’s hard to think about how much I put into this endeavor – all the classes and volunteer hours at the hospital and research work and MCAT studying and physician shadowing and flying around to all these interviews – and feel like I can’t turn back now, after all the time and money and energy I’ve invested. But it’ll be a lot more if I start and don’t finish, or start and do finish and feel miserable. It’s also hard to think about all the people I might disappoint. I know on some level I shouldn’t consider that, but it’s hard not to. I feel a lot of people have invested in this along with me, the people I took my classes with, some of whom have become lifelong friends, my friends outside of school, my family, my professors and bosses and mentors who wrote me letters of recommendation, the organizations that have given me scholarships, the people who have helped me get through the tough times when I was full of despair or terrified of whatever new phase, my advisor who despite all the things you hear about premed advisors being awful was a guiding light who always took the time to look into questions she didn’t know the answers to, gave me impeccable advice at every step of the way, always remembered when I was going on interviews and wished me luck despite having so many students that you have to book appointments with her a month out. People have been really great and supportive along this journey, and I hate the idea that if I don’t go forward with it, they may be really disappointed, or feel like they’ve wasted time or energy on me. I also feel like no one will understand my decision if I decide not to go to med school. Again, intellectually, I know I shouldn’t worry about this, but I really am realizing how very much I value my connections with the people I care about, and many of them have been forged in this journey, or after I started it. I think so many people in my life know me as the girl who wants to be a doctor, and I wonder what happens if that identity changes.

There’s also a huge question of what’s next. My job only goes through June, which would be totally fine if I were starting med school in July or August, but if I don’t, I’ve gotta come up with a plan B pretty quickly, both for what I’m going to look into career wise and also what I’m going to do to pay the bills in a couple months. I feel really untethered and confused and like maybe I’m not as confused as I wish I could claim to be.

Anyway, I’m going to sign off now. I could probably go back and forth on this indefinitely, and probably will in the next week. It feels like my brain is a mess – actually one of the most helpful things anyone has said to me so far is a friend who went through this process before I did and is already a med student who said they saw a counselor during their application year because of the stress; I kinda wish I’d thought of seeking that out months ago but regardless it made me feel a lot better to know I wasn’t alone in how stressed out I am in all this. I used to love sleeping and now I dread it because I know the moment I lay down, the thoughts are going to start spinning some more.

Monkey monkey underpants indeed.

~EJ

 

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One thought on “Med School Application Journey Crisis Point

  1. Great write. Great exploration.
    It’s a major decision!
    I would meditate. Quiet the mind. And use my pendulum or ask for an answer in my dreams.
    Here’s to all of your success, past and future!

    Or I’d call the best Tarot card reader.

    much love,
    Elynn

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