After a career in computers and then an era of travel and leisure, I decided to become a family physician in my small town (pop 2,000). As a non-traditional non-trad, I acquired quite the eclectic collection of Extra Curriculars. In addition to the cookie-cutter premed checkboxes like shadowing, tutoring, small town EMT, and an Americorps service project, I included bullet points like these:
professional scuba divemaster spent a summer walking from mexico to canada endowed a scholarship at Johns Hopkins (lol, I don\'t qualify for my own scholarship, besides I never applied there :-) climbed the tallest mountain in each state lived on my boat for 5 years, sailing from Nova Scotia to Alaska via the Panama Canal
Hopefully it will make for some interesting interview conversations!
Personal Statement: I waited for radio silence, and then keyed the microphone on my ski patrol vest.
\"Dispatch, we have an eighteen year old male, complaining of difficulty breathing, vitals are heart rate 72 strong and regular, G.C.S. 15, respirations 24 regular and extremely labored. Eighteen year olds at rest, even at 8,000 feet, are not supposed to be breathing like this.\" I wanted to add that this situation looked really bad, but that isn\'t appropriate on a public radio channel.
My transmission had the desired effect. A paramedic on the mountain was called in to take over the scene, the patient received advanced life support, and he was quickly transported off the mountain and into an ambulance to receive definitive care at the nearest hospital, an hour away.
The system worked and the patient received the best possible care, but I was left once again with an empty feeling. As a mere EMT-B in my EMS service, every time an interesting call occurs I am pushed to the sidelines. When patients complain of chest pain, I\'m not the one handing out aspirin and nitroglycerin. When patients complain of asthma attacks, I\'m not the one administering albuterol. When patients bleed and have diminshed level of responsiveness, I\'m not the one monitoring vitals. Without a doubt, patients in my unincorporated rural district receive fantastic prehospital care, but due to my limited training and our abundance of ALS providers, I feel like I am underutilized. I want to become a physician so I can put my skills and talents to their best use helping the residents and visitors of Big Sky, Montana.
I have been seriously pursuing a career in medicine for two years now. However, I feel like medicine has been pursuing me for a lot longer. When I took classes in storm avoidance and boat emergencies, the maritime institute provided a complimentary first aid class too. When I became a PADI Divemaster I was required to become a rescue scuba diver first, and learn the unique issues of providing aid on (and under!) the water\'s surface. When I wanted to join the ski patrol, I had to become an EMT first. It seems that whether I am below, at, or far above sea level, I always explore an activity in sufficient depth that some aspect of patient care rears its head.
In 2009 I was in paramedic school when yet another person, a professor this time, encouraged me to become a physician. The more I thought about it, the more it actually made sense for me. Due to a combination of state laws and county policies, it was unlikely I could ever practice as a paramedic in Big Sky. We have no nurses nor physician assistants in our small town. Truly, if I want to upgrade my medical skills and practice in the town I love, then the natural next step for me above EMT is to become a physician.
Of course as a part of exploring this significant new career goal I shadowed doctors. When I shadowed doctors in Big Sky, I got to see the life of a small town doctor, one who knows his patients and their families well. I felt the excitement of a new pregnancy. I felt the frustration of managing a chronic illness. I helped out stitching up the results of a work mishap. And, like the doctor, I knew these patients personally too. While I certainly have not been exposed to all of the medical specialties, my shadowing taught me that being a small town doctor is something I would enjoy.
What I did not expect to find in my mountain village was the constant education in such a remote medical clinic. At Big Sky we have many rotations for residents and medical students, so the clinic is a constant exchange of medical knowledge and latest techniques from across the country. I have been active in education as a student, mentor, tutor, and donor for much of my life, and I am glad that even in an isolated town of 2,000 I will continue to learn and educate.
My experiences in mountaineering, long distance hiking, and especially international boat travel have taught me a measure of self sufficiency, which will serve me well in isolated Montana. Visiting medical students are often surprised that doctors in Big Sky take vitals and do their own blood draws. Once when I was shadowing at the county health clinic in Billings, the X-ray machine died. I helped a doctor jury-rig a sterile sonogram so he could find a piece of shrapnel in a patient already prepped for surgery. I enjoy a can-do attitude and solving problems with what\'s available, whether I am in the woods or in a medical clinic.
As a non-traditional student, I capitalized on my opportunity to explore much of the world, but my explorations led me right back to Big Sky. In my journeys I learned that I naturally integrate some type of medical assistance into almost everything I do, but I am dissatisfied with the amount of care I can currently provide. I also learned that while I am comfortable with being self sufficient, I still enjoy the regular exchange of ideas. My diverse range of experience only confirms that I would be a natural fit as a physician in Big Sky.
// Applications //
Application Cycle One: 07/04/2011
Undergraduate college: Montana State University Billings
Undergraduate Area of study: Premedical Studies
Total MCAT SCORE: 525
MCAT Section Scores:
Overall GPA: 3.70
Science GPA: 3.80
Summary of Application Experience
Montana has no medical schools, so I have to apply out of state. I'm applying to western state schools that take pity on folks from the Big Sky state (via the WICHE and WWAMI programs), and eastern private schools that don't seem to have a regional preference. I prefer schools that emphasize primary care over research, and any school with a rural track is a big plus.
Conclusion: 20 apps, 7 interviews, 2 acceptances. It's a typical and respectable yield (9:3:1).
My app was aimed at western rural public schools (like where I am from), and I supposedly had access to programs like WICHE and WWAMI that give me a significant boost in application strength there, but in the end I got got almost no love from them. Did I not interview well? Was it my lousy MCAT writing score? My lack of any research? Something else?
Instead I was much more popular at private schools I had never heard of. While RFU was a pleasant enough experience, I absolutely fell in love with Tulane and New Orleans when I was down there for my interview. Judging by my quick Tulane acceptance post-interview, the feeling was mutual. I never knew what medical school "fit" meant until the Tulane Asst Dean of Admissions dragged me by my ear into her office and we had a real heart-to-heart discussion about how our mutual offerings complemented each other perfectly.
Will I really return to the land of the Big Sky to practice rural medicine when I am done, as I originally planned? Honestly, I doubt it. Given the poor treatment I received from the western public medical education establishment, I'm packing all my belongings, heading to Creole Country, and not looking back. Four years in NOLA is a long time to ponder my future, and it is difficult to predict where I will wind up in residency (and in which specialty). Most likely I am one of "those applicants" who sings the praises of rural medicine when applying, only to wind up in an urban setting when I am an attending. I was honest about my rural plans when I applied; had I been able to matriculate at ND, CO, WA, or NV I believe I would have remained true to those plans.
If you, dear reader, are pondering applying to medical schools, my only suggestion is to apply broadly and be open to new environments. Hopefully when you are interviewing, you too will discover a school that just feels right and makes you smile.
MT Headed, spring 2012 laissez les bons temps rouler