Medical School Saga… Part Uno

My senior year has come to a near close (med school-wise).  From last April to now, it’s been a limbo roller coaster ride; luckily, I did not have to deal with a crash.  With interviews all done and a final decision to attend my top choice Stony Brook, I can enjoy the last few months and reveal the longest, most difficult and amusing year of my life from day Uno.  It has been a challenging learning experience for me, and I’d like to share the ups and downs with the public.  I hope I can bring inspiration, humor, and counsel for the greater community.


Just the beginning of my junior year ride through purgatory. I started my weekly Kaplan MCAT course very early on, but I slacked and took everything in stride.  I had to balance Physics, Biochemistry, and some other random classes along with research at NYU Med.  I thought it was strategic to take physics alongside my MCAT class and just before my exam, because it is truly the bane of my existence and much harder than what the simple MCATs test (jk, I’m exaggerating on the “simple”).

Winter break 2009: Reality begins to hit!

During winter break, I went on an Alternative Breaks trip to Atlanta, GA. To guilt myself into studying, I brought my books with me for the road trip. Not like I really ended up studying after all that lugging. Basically, I started catching up on all the practice problems and hw assignments I pushed aside during the rest of break. I actually opened up the books to read all the BS and PS chapters for the first time.  I felt like such a nerd, when I was supposed to be enjoying the Southern hospitality and the break from the semester.  It felt less like a break and more like a vicious cycle of memorizing equations and organ systems, a taste of med school already.

March-April 2009:  Crunch time. Reality is sinking in around now.

I started to panic around now. I was taking Biochemistry and Physics, which I just pushed aside to devote ALL my waking hours to AAMC tests, practice sections, etc… I spent my all days in the Kaplan center or the Bobst library, enmeshed in my books or glazed in front of the computer screen. I took a hiatus from volunteering, exercising, studying for my classes, or even going to classes, just for this one test. Oy, not healthy or auspicious for me.

And do you know how I managed to get away from the lab I worked at.  I lied that I was “sick” for 2 weeks.  The truth is out, I faked a bad illness to get away from the lab, because otherwise, I’d still be stressing at work and not be productive.  That’s how unfair and bad my situation at the lab could get; my boss expects and demands our time (and plenty of it and had barely enough), even for a lowly undergrad.  On top of that, to ask for time off to study, even though she claims academics trumps research (ya right), would be an inquisition and embarrassment.  It would mean I cannot balance my work and studies, I cannot commit to the job she offered me, and I cannot have breaks, though it’ll only be a study break for a major exam.  Well I managed to get away with it, and scroll down to read how else I covered it up.

April 18, 2009: The big test day.  Never felt more jittery or like my life is on the line.

I did everything right:  I slept well, woke up early, and made myself a power breakfast (cereal and fruits). My loving dad came all the way from Long Island, just to drive me and my friend Larry to the testing center at 7 am.  We walked around Walgreens, just trying NOT to think about the darn test.  I hated the testing center in Manhattan though. Throughout the exam, all I heard were the screaming sirens of ambulances or the creaking radiator next to me. The headphones sucked, hurting my ears the entire time and barely tuning out much noise. I came out of the test feeling like I just bombed it (and I did). I think it went downhill after the PS and VB section, when time ran out.  I was not confident in my answers and lost time to check my answers; I nearly imploded in front of that computer. When I get super-nervous (like that day), I get sensitive to noise and my uncontrollable anxiety… such a stressful day. I decided to play with my chances and chose not to void my score; hey, if I spent $200+, I’d take a gamble.

Funny thing though, I felt like cops were running the testing center.  We get fingerprinted, we have lockers to put ALL our belongings, and we were watched like a hawk.  Even the SATs did not feel like a criminal lockdown.  The only thing you can bring inside that you came with, was your brain and clothing.  You cannot leave the room without signing your name and the precise time! At the end, they shred your scrap paper like it’s top-secret notes on Communist tenets.  I guess the AAMC really are trying to catch the crooks and imposters out there.

Well, right after the exam, I went to lab feeling very dejected.  The sun was shining, but the light did not give me hope or comfort.  After such a long hiatus, faking an illness to escape the prison of a lab, I decided to go back to avoid troubles.  See, after a week, my boss did not ask me about my well-being anymore; at first, she sent out her condolences.  Also, none of the other lab members sent out condolences, because I think they knew the game I was playing.  Anyway, I brushed on a noticeable amount of blush to redden my complexion and arrived at the med center “coughing” and looking uncomfortable.  Well, all that was not too far from the truth; I was feeling queasy from the MCATs- that’s how miserable I felt from my performance.  In the elevator on everyone’s merry way to lab meeting in the park (it was that springy and nice out), my boss said to me “You look rosy in the face…” and I said “Well, I haven’t been feeling very well lately.” [cough, hack]… At the park, I continued coughing in fits and looking dehydrated from the sun.  Funny thing is, around this time, the swine flu outbreak was just beginning, and one of the lab techs ended up thinking I was legitimately sick… Woops.

May 2009:  The most depressing month of my life and how I coped.

My score came back in the first week:  25R. All I could think was “Crap, I screwed up big time. I failed in my journey to be a doctor already.” I moped around for a few days, before I motivated myself to pick up the pieces and hit the books again. I was not sure how I could improve my study habits, because I gave my whole energy the first time around. To boost my VB score (my pitifally lowest), I used Kaplan & Examkrackers 101 VB passages religiously. Oh yeah, I read lots of challenging papers and magazines like the Economist and NY Times… In addition, I practiced more on BS (Examkrackers 1001 questions) and PS some more, even though I’m a Biochemistry major. To bring out my artistic side, I made pretty notecards and colorful diagrams, and pasted them like a museum exhibit along my walls (thanks to the inspiration of a fellow friend).

Summer 2009:  APPLICATIONS, ESSAYS, WORK, MCATS (AGAIN!)… an endless cycle and road to no end

Who knew that med school application would be like a full-time job! Now, I didn’t have the pressure of school, but I did have to balance 2 “full-time” jobs between lab research assistant and operations assistant at my residence hall. Running between the medical center and my residence hall was not just exercise, it was hellishly hot in the heat of Manhattan. Here’s my daily schedule: wake up by 8 am, get ready, take the bus to the medical center, take an hour VB exam at the med school library so I could focus and find quietude, run up to my lab by 10 am, do some experiments, take a lunch break (not really, I checked my passages and did more online practice downstairs, blah blah…), run back up to lab, finish and leave. Weekends and evenings were more studying and drawing fancy organ systems to amuse myself (then they’d get plastered on my wall), while working the front desk and all that jazz. At the reception desk, I picked out the junk mail magazines like the Economist and Time that hooked me like a nail.  On down time (and pay time), I snuck into the library to study bio- all by myself.

July 17, 2009:  Judgment Day

I went back home to Long Island to take the test. I took off a week from my lab to focus and prepare myself for the 2nd biggest day so far, all without letting my lab boss know I was retaking. See, retaking assumes you screwed up the first time around (which I definitely did), and I didn’t want her to probe around, ask questions, or yell at me for taking time off to study (she was a bit of a tough cookie to please). I’ve been surprised at how I managed to get away with all my snooping around and balancing so much work up to this point. To get off, I said I was going home to help my parents move, which was not a complete lie. Sometimes, you have to do what’s best for yourself during these important times.

This time around, I did NOT sleep well, but my mother did feed me well up to the last minute; perhaps it was the anxiety and pressure to do well this time around or else I will never be a doctor and must study all over again. All night, I think I fell in and out of sleep, but mostly out of sleep. Surprisingly, I woke up strangely fine and energized, not sleep-deprived or tired. No panda eyes or lethargy. Still, I drank a small cup of 7-11 coffee to get my lucky dose of caffeine. This time I brought ear plugs to avoid those painful headphones (it’s actually allowed, but after some inspection). I liked the Melville testing site; the staff was friendly and the environment was bright and quiet. I took the test in stride, only running out of time for VB (again) and BS this time (last time, I ran out for PS). I stayed calm and took the whole exam in bliss, but with a heavy anchor weighing down both shoulders.

Post-exam, I returned back to near-normalcy; it definitely felt strange that I had nothing to memorize or study! No more organic compounds and mechanisms, menstrual cycle hormone regulation, or chemistry reactions.  Afterwards, I got back to work and moved on, putting the test behind me; my fate has been sealed. That one month period, I was productive with my applications and schools, but the persistent reminder of my MCAT kept ringing. Each day was a countdown, closer to the final judgment day. I was in a loop, where I could either succeed or fail again. I did not want my hard work during the process go to waste, so I religiously hoped I did well and moved on. Each day was like a ticking time bomb, seriously, ready to explode.

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