Nontraditional Latina Med Student
About The Author
Hello! My name is Christina. I was born and raised in California. I am a proud daughter of Mexican immigrants. I am a rising second-year medical student in the Midwest. I graduated college in 2015 and took 5 gap years. As a first-generation college student, I faced many obstacles during my premed journey. I entered college without a declared major. I decided to pursue medicine during my second year of college. I also met my husband in college. As premed students, we took classes together and even did internships together. We got married in 2020 and attend the same medical school. I am a non-traditional student and I want to offer hope to premed students. You can recover from a “low” GPA and still be competitive when applying to medical school. I completed informal postbacc classes to improve my GPA, worked as a CNA, and volunteered in several nonprofit organizations during my 5 gap years. I made sure to apply to medical school when I felt ready, and I worked hard to submit a strong application.
Things I Learned During Premedical Journey
01. Seek help
As a first-generation college student, I had no idea what I was doing or what it took to get into medical school. I was so used to having to figure things out for myself that I did not even think about asking for help. Therefore, I recommend finding a professor or peer who you trust and ask for help. Go to free tutoring and ask the tutors how they studied and what resources they used. We are so lucky to have free resources available online. When I was in college, I did not know about the amazing videos on YouTube or Khan Academy. Ask around for recommendations and take advantage of all the good resources out there. Also, if you do ask a professor for help, be specific. Do not just go to office hours and tell them that you don’t understand. Find exactly what you are struggling with. Are you having a hard time understanding a specific topic in the class or do you not know how to best study for the subject? Take some time to figure it out and then ask for help. People are willing to help if they see that you are putting in some effort. Also, follow medical students on Instagram. This has truly been a game changer for me. Following medical students, residents, and attendings on Instagram and YouTube has helped me learn about medical school and has showed me what to expect in the upcoming years of my journey. I feel more aware, informed, and inspired.
02. You are your own journey
During college, I was constantly looking at what my peers were doing because I felt that if I did all of that, then I would be successful in obtaining admission to medical school. Looking back, I realize how different my needs were. Instead of volunteering to gain some clinical experience, I could have worked at the hospital. There are so many clinical jobs that are flexible with school schedules. Many of my medical school classmates were scribes, Emergency Medical Technicians, and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), during or after college. I worked as a CNA/Medication Technician at an assisted living facility, and I loved it!
03. Be careful with extracurriculars
Do not get too involved with extracurricular activities until you have demonstrated to yourself that you can do well in all your courses. You can always gain experience in your later years of college or during gap years. Having a low GPA will require a lot more work and money to overcome.
04. What if you have “bad grades”
You can recover with an upward trend. It is important to show medical schools that you will be able to handle the rigor of medical school. Therefore, it is important to show you academic capability through an improved GPA. In your medical school application, there will be a separate GPA from each year of college as well as a breakdown of your science GPA. You want to demonstrate an increasing trend (if you started with a low GPA). If you graduate with a “low” science GPA, you may want to consider a postbacc (formal or informal) program or a science master’s program. There are Special Master’s Programs (SMP) that are designed for pre-health students. At some schools, students take classes with the first-year medical students at the school. By doing well in an SMP, students show medical schools that they can handle the rigor of medical school.
05. Pursue your passions
Even though it is important to gain research, clinical, volunteering, and leadership experience, keep in mind that there are so many opportunities for you to focus on your passions. For example, I got involved in research that allowed me to work with vulnerable populations. I also volunteered with nonprofit organizations that aligned with my personal passions. I volunteered at a hospital and spent most of my time on the maternal and baby unit. I also worked as a CNA at a job that I absolutely loved and enjoyed. Do not do something simply because you think medical schools will think highly of it. What they want is a diverse class made up of students who have different experiences so students can learn from each other. Also, going after your interests and passions will help you easily share your story in your application. For my application, I showed how my background motivated me to pursue activities working with underserved populations. I was able to show my passion through my experiences. This will come through in your application and interview because of your enthusiasm when you talk about your experiences. Schools will be able to tell if you just “checked boxes” because of how you talk about each experience and because of how committed you were with each activity. It is better to have a few activities that you committed to over the course of a few years rather than a lot of activities that you did each for a short period of time.
06. It’s growth, not failure
View a “failure” as an opportunity to grow. I never planned on taking five gap years. I took it hard every time I experienced a setback. Once I accepted my situation, I allowed myself to enjoy the process. Looking back, I feel like my gap years helped me grow as a person. I met so many people during my postbacc classes, CNA class, CNA job, and volunteer activities. Life experiences are important to becoming a physician because you are able to offer a unique perspective.