Just over a year ago, I stood, heart racing and hands trembling, in front of my mailbox. Any other Thursday I would have nonchalantly checked my mail as I came home from work, but today was an entirely different story.
A friend had texted me earlier in the day to let me know that decision letters had been delivered by our state school. I had only been offered two interviews, and the letter which innocently lay in my mailbox represented my highest hope for attending medical school that year. I paced for a full two minutes in front of my mailbox before I built up the courage to open it. I probably would have paced longer, but someone came down my hallway, and I felt a bit foolish dancing around in front of the mailboxes.
Four attempts at inserting my key in the lock later, I was holding a too-thin, white, letter-sized envelope in my severely shaking hands. Suddenly, I desperately needed to know the contents of that letter, and I ripped open the envelope with fervor akin to a starving man diving into a steak dinner. I never made it past the first line. The phrase
We regret to inform you…
jumped out of the page.
Panic gripped me, and it seemed that I could barely breathe, but no tears clouded my vision as I stared mindlessly at those dream-shattering words. I stumbled down the hall to my apartment, where I collapsed in my desk chair.
In an attempt to think of something, anything, else, I opened the browser on my laptop and checked my e-mail. I immediately noticed that I had received an e-mail from the one other school I had interviewed at, my last chance for the year. I quickly opened the e-mail, only to discover that I had been waitlisted.
Utterly shocked, I crossed the room and lay down on my bed with one thought on my mind. What in the world am I going to do now?
As I reflect on my reaction to the news I received that day, I can’t help but see myself as overly dramatic. But if anyone had accused me of being a drama queen that day or in the weeks that followed, it is likely that they would have received a swift kick in the shin (or at least a scathing glare).
It’s easy to downplay the emotions I felt as I watched my dream disappear when those emotions are set firmly in my past. Truthfully, up until a few months ago, I was petrified that the exact same thing would happen again this year. In fact, I must say that I’m proud of myself for having the courage to stick it out, reapply, and dare my fears to make themselves reality again.
So, having been in this position before, I thought it would be beneficial to offer some advice to those who are in the same position now. Be aware, this advice is heavy on how to handle the emotions that come with being rejected, as opposed to what you can do to improve your application for the next time around (though I do have some ideas where that is concerned as well).
First, allow yourself to freak out a little. For you, this may mean a very vocal rant to your friends, an embarrassing sob fest, a pavement-pounding run with angry music screaming in your ears, or a trip down to the local pub to take off some of the sting. Just remember that however you choose to cope with the initial wave of emotion post-rejection, you don’t want to do anything that could damage your chances next cycle. Therefore, I would not recommend jumping on SDN to bash the schools that rejected you or drowning your sorrows to the point that you end up with a public intoxication.
Second, only talk about it if you want to. Perhaps the worst part of being rejected last year was when people would ask me what I was doing after graduation. I hated explaining to people who weren’t familiar with the concept of a waitlist that I was currently on one. I hated admitting that I hadn’t gotten in. Each time someone asked it felt like my self-esteem dipped that much lower. I became a master at avoiding the questions and changing the subject. It wasn’t until late last summer that I realized that I wasn’t obligated to answer their questions, and a simple “I didn’t get in, but I’d prefer not to talk about it” would have sufficed. Whether or not you get in is your business, and whether or not you want to talk about it is your decision to make.
Third, don’t stay in the same town unless it is beneficial to you. I cannot stress this enough. After being rejected last year, I decided to stay at my undergraduate institution and work on raising my undergraduate GPA. While this was academically the right choice for me, it was extremely hard emotionally. Chances are, many of your friends graduated when you did, so not only will you have lost much of your social support system, you will more than likely feel that you are stuck in an enormous rut. If you have the opportunity, change locations. If you are reapplying, look for a research or clinical position in a different city, do a Special Masters Program at a different school (many schools guarantee at least an interview for medical school if you complete their post-baccalaureate program), or go on an extended medical trip (if you can afford it). Do something different that you can add to your application next year and avoid going crazy at the same time.
Next, take this year as an opportunity to grow and mature. Many of us apply when we are just 21 or 22 years old, with a decidedly undergraduate mindset. While we may be ready to move on, we may not be mature enough to handle the pressures that come with medical school at this point in our lives. Admissions Committees may see this and it may be part of the reason an acceptance wasn’t in the cards this year. When I was interviewing this year, I realized how young and uninformed my answers had sounded last year, and I realized just how much I had matured in the past few months. Maybe this is a chance to do the same.
Re-evaluate your ultimate goals and make sure this is what you really want to do with your life. This may be the most important advice I can give. If you can think of concrete reasons why you want to be a doctor, call the places you applied and ask them why you weren’t admitted. Most schools are willing to tell you where you were lacking on your application. Then, act on the information they give you. Whether this means taking more classes, putting in more volunteer hours, completing a masters, working on your writing skills (darn personal statements), or learning how to present yourself more professionally at an interview, if you KNOW that you want to be a doctor, do whatever it takes to improve your application and get in next year. If you don’t know why you want it, there’s a good chance you don’t want it enough.
Finally, realize that you are not alone and that this setback is not indicative of how successful you can later become. Over half the people who apply to medical school each year are not accepted, so even though it feels like you are the only one, recognize that you are actually in the majority. There are many people in the same situation, and you can believe that while some will decide against reapplying there are others who are going to do everything they can to alter their outcome next year.
Do not expect that just because you are a re-applicant, schools will feel sorry for you and let you in. Do not be passive about your future. If medical school is what you want, do not let a single blow to your self-esteem stop you from fulfilling your dreams.
This year, I stood in front of another set of mailboxes. The same feelings gripped me when I held another white envelope in my hands. Even though I had been offered seven interviews, I was still terrified that I would not be accepted anywhere. I carefully opened the envelope and pulled out several sheets of paper. This time I didn’t make it past the first word, congratulations, before my reaction tore through me and I found myself jumping up and down in my hallway. Three acceptances later, I still have a hard time believing that this is real, that I’m going to be a doctor. All I can think is,
What a difference a year makes.