"This is a marathon, not a sprint."
That's probably the most often-quoted line on www.OldPreMeds.org, an online forum dedicated to so-called "non-traditional" pre-med students such as myself--students who want to go to medical school after time off from college, after another career, after having children ... you name it.
Comparing the journey to, and through, medical school is quite appropriate. First of all, it's long. Especially if (like me) you have a year or two of pre-requisites to take. It's also grueling. Extended work and study hours, lack of sleep, stacks of material to learn. But you learn so much about yourself along the way, and at the end, have accomoplished something incredible. To get there, though, you have to pace yourself, rehydrate along the way, and have trained your ass off before you even started the race.
Another key to finishing this "marathon" is surrounding yourself with supportive people. Family and friends are indispensable, of course, but you also need people who are going through the same journey and can relate, step by step, to what you're going through. That's where OldPreMeds comes in, at least for me.
I started off as a "lurker." A person who perused the online forum but who rarely, if ever, posted anything. I didn't believe I had much, if anything, to contribute to the discussion. After all, I hadn't even started my post-baccalaureate program yet.
And then on June 10 (nearly two weeks ago), Richard Levy, who helps run OldPreMeds, called me out.
I had, at the last minute, decided to attend OldPreMeds' 10th annual conference, which, luckily for me, was held this year in at a hotel just outside Chicago. (Otherwise, I would not have gone--I wasn't familiar enough with the organization and didn't have the money saved.)
It was at the preliminary cocktail session that my status as a lurker was revealed. The rest of the conference, however, was so inspiring that not only have I ceased to be a lurker on the online forum (I'm up to 46 posts so far!), but I've started a Chicago affiliate of OldPreMeds (OPM-Chicago). My goal is to continue the face-to-face interactions, networking, and support that was so helpful at the conference.
So what was so incredible about two and a half days spent in a Holiday Inn? PLENTY! Here are some of my highlights, in no particular order.
- Getting a breakdown of the application process. (from Judy Colwell's "The Nuts and Bolts of Applyint to Medical School As a Nontraditional Applicant). I had no idea that this is a 15-month process, starting in the winter with contacting your reccomendation writers and ending as late as the next summer with final decisions from med school. But now I know what to do in between -- when to request transcripts, when to take the MCAT, all that good stuff.
- Being the ADCOMS. "ADCOM" is the acronym for "admissions committee," and in one of our workshops, we got to play the role of the ADCOMS. The presenter brought in real applications (with the names, addresses, etc. blacked out to protect privacy) and had us work in groups of five or six. Our mission? To decide whether a particular applicant would receive an interview invitation. It was eye-opening to see what ADCOMS (should and do) look for, beyond GPA and MCAT scores--motivation, initiative, community service, clinical exposure, writing skills, an updward trend in grades, a depth and breadth of life experiences, etc. I now have a better idea of how I will structure my own application (when that time comes).
- Professionalism and admissions. Duh, right? Don't wear a tube top to your interview. But no, wait--there's a lot more to "professionalism" in admissions than how you dress. Examples: 1) no questionable photos/posts on Facebook. 2) Get to know the admissions reps where you intend to apply to school (and summer is the best time to do this, because they are the least busy). 3) Visit the campuses where you intend to apply--schools may look very different on paper than in person.
- Richard Levy's "10 Things Every Non-Traditional Applicant Should Know," such as: Take a Breath; Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew; Make The MCAT Your Friend; Don't Risk Bad Grades By Doing Too Much; etc. Common sense things that we (or at least, I) often forget in the midst of stressful times.
- Networking. I got phone numbers and e-mail addresses from fellow OPMs, as well as M.D.s and admissions people who may be willing/able to help me out (including a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I want to apply for school). Note: networking happened at the conference, as well as into the wee hours of the night ...
I left the conference walking on clouds. Because for the first time, I really felt like I wasn't alone.