Hi, I’m Kim
and this is my story of how I got into medical school…
I was 30 when I realized I wanted to change careers from law enforcement to medicine. It wasn’t a HUGE LEAP. I already had a degree in neuroscience and experience working as an emergency medical technician. The hard part was I had been working in law enforcement for over eight years as a community service officer (CSO). Embarking on a career change would be years in the making.
The best way to describe my job as a CSO is a police officer without a gun. I did not arrest anyone or tackle any bad guys. I responded to traffic collisions, runaway juveniles, missing persons, vehicle thefts, burglaries, and even transported people to jail for the deputies I worked with. I witnessed people dying and dead. I collected DNA evidence, photographed my own crime scenes, and dusted for fingerprints. I enjoyed the interactions, the investigation, and being able to help people in their most vulnerable state.
One of my responsibilities as a CSO was to occasionally get medical clearance from the emergency room before taking individuals to jail. This could be due to high blood pressure, broken limbs, chest pain, needing sutures, traffic collision injuries or being pregnant and on drugs. I was able to interact with all the medical staff. I watched as they performed all sorts of medical skills from staples to the head, suturing of the face, central lines on a drug addict, and treatments for diabetes and hypertension. I finally realized I wanted to be providing these services and not just observing.
I attended information sessions and seminars to see what I wanted to do in medicine. I looked into becoming a nurse, a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner. I took a couple prerequisites before I realized I would not be satisfied unless I became a doctor. I was finally ready to start.
I ended up doing my own DIY post-baccalaureate. There were certificate programs and master degrees, but none of them seemed like the right fit for me. I already had a masters in criminal justice with a solid gpa, so I retook some classes I needed to improve my grades in and I took new classes. I wanted to show medical schools I could do well, especially after so many years of being out of school. I got over the fact I would probably be one of the oldest students in the room. I took courses one at a time because I still had to work full-time to pay my bills. In a little over two years I was ready to apply.
I took the MCAT in August and was not intending to apply until the next cycle. However, I am impatient and decided I would try applying to some schools even though it was already late in the cycle. I applied to a handful of schools, both osteopathic and allopathic, and ended up getting an interview at UC San Diego Medical School. I was beyond excited and definitely felt the imposter syndrome setting in. I got waitlisted there, but the fact I got an interview lit a fire within me. I was ready to apply the next year, all the while hoping I got pulled off the waitlist.
I never got off the waitlist and I applied to many more schools the next cycle. I got four more interviews from across the country, and they were a mix of osteopathic and allopathic schools. I was accepted at one and waitlisted at the other three. I had spent over twelve years working as a CSO when I finally quit to start medical school. I sold most of my belongings and drove across the country to New York. I was thirty-five when I finally started medical school.
I knew medical school was going to be difficult and it is. I spend most of my time studying, but I knew what I was getting into. I have been given the opportunity to become a physician and I am thankful for that. As I head into my second year I have no regrets, even as I know this year will come with its own trials.
My advice for any future medical student is to sit down and really think about what you want. If you wake up thinking about medicine and becoming a physician then go for it. Do not let the amount of work you have to put in it scare you. I found my calling and I hope you can find yours.
Something I always tell myself:
One day at a time.
Don’t Let Someone Tell You NO.
When I decided to go back to medicine and retake classes, I went to the local community college I had attended on and off for years. I needed to retake one portion of organic chemistry and so I was directed to a guidance counselor for the approval of the course. She asked why I was retaking the course and I told her of my goal of becoming a physician and improving my grades. Instead of being supportive, she told me I should look into easier options because it was difficult to get into medical school. She asked if I wanted to be a nurse, a physician assistant, etc. Basically, she was saying, “You can’t get into medical school, so look at some other option.” This woman who knew nothing about me made that assessment. I left frustrated, but had gotten the approval to take organic chemistry.
I knew I was more than capable of becoming a physician. I had no doubt. What frustrated me about that interaction was the fact that many would choose not to pursue their dreams because of conversations like this.
If you know yourself and you believe you can do it, then do not let someone tell you you can’t. If you want it, fight for it. I am a testament to that.
About My DIY Post-bacc
I graduated with a “B” average in undergrad. I had C’s in several of my medical school prerequisite classes that I knew I needed to improve. The grades were mostly a result of lack of drive, not my capability. I simply didn’t know what I wanted back then. With my goal in mind, I found classes through UCLA Extension. They offered a certificate program, however, I did not need to retake all my classes. I took one class per block they offered because I worked full-time and it was all I could afford. Classes were typically $500 and up depending if a lab was included.
I still had more classes I wanted to take, but the times they were offered by UCLA Extension did not work with my work schedule. I found another school closer to home that offered classes on the weekend and I was able to finish my classes there before applying to medical school. The only downside was the cost per class was borderline obscene at $1800 per class.
If you are going to retake classes, you really need to ensure you are excelling in the courses. I know it goes without saying, but getting a second bad grade will make medical schools question whether you have what it takes to succeed. Also, look into your community college. Some offer condensed summer courses that can help speed up your timeline and the cost will be considerably less.
This is going to vary from person to person based on life circumstances. I was abandoning one career path to start a new one in medicine. I was working 10-hour days and was unable to take multiple classes at a time. From Fall 2015 to Spring 2017 I took eight classes. I applied my first cycle in September 2017 after taking the August MCAT. Between my first and second cycle I took an anatomy and physiology series to show I was still working towards my goal. I applied again at the very beginning of the next cycle in July 2018. I was accepted in January 2019 and I officially started medical school in Fall 2019. All in all it took me four years from the first class towards medical school to my first class in medical school. The timeline of course was longer because I applied a second cycle and had to wait another six months for school to begin.
Caveat about applying to medical school. If you are a non-traditional student, or really anyone applying to medical school, I do not recommend applying so late in the cycle or taking your MCAT that late. My original plan was to apply in July of 2018, which ended up being my second cycle. I also only applied to eleven schools my first round. I do not recommend that either. I was amazed I got an interview. Build a strong application and submit early in the cycle and apply to at least fifteen schools to give yourself the best chance.
How To Stand Out
I consider myself both a traditional and non-traditional student. My career path and everything I have done since undergrad helped me stand out. Think about what you have done in your life. Schools want to know what makes you unique. I had my neuroscience degree, experience working as an EMT on ambulance, and I volunteered for several years in an emergency room, but everyone else applying also had those same boxes checked.
I was UNIQUE because after all that I spent twelve years in law enforcement. I dealt with the public on a daily basis. I saw and experienced things most people will never see or understand. My work experience helped me become more patient and caring. It also helped me interact with diverse populations. I had life experience.
If you have been out of school for several years, then you probably have life and work experiences you can talk about. Your experiences will be different from mine, but it is what makes you unique. That’s what makes you STAND OUT.
About the Author
My name is Kim Bell. I am a second year medical student at TouroCOM, NY. I am from Southern California and love the beach and water. I love to travel and so far have traveled to 9 different countries. I have a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience from UC Riverside, and a Master’s in Criminal Justice from Boston University. I am a certified Crime and Intelligence Analyst with the state of California. I also maintained an EMT-Basic certification for ten years, and worked on an ambulance and volunteered in the emergency room for several years. Prior to attending medical school, I had a 12-year career with the Sheriff’s Department. I hope by sharing my story, I can inspire someone to pursue their dreams.