This year for me was a year of immense growth, specifically the last 6 months of this year. Those of you that know me, know my goals and aspirations, to be one of those doctors I see on twitter (ya’ll know who you are), but the journey has been nothing but simple. I took my MCAT in 2016 and that score broke me. I got a 490, I remember clearly seeing the results and trying to be positive as I thought, maybe I can doctor with this, but evidently after 12 secondaries followed by 12 rejections, I couldn’t. My confidence and self esteem plummeted and my aspirations to be a doctor were gone. I recall going to see my mentor at the hospital I do research at and telling her I wasn’t doctor material and should probably just stop trying, I told her I was going to take a break from research and let go of doctoring till I figured out what to do, mind you I was 21 at the time hence the impulsive behavior. She looked at me and said, no. She didn’t let me, and that till this day, was a blessing. I decided to continue my research and take a gap year to get my next game plan set. During this time I became a behavioral therapist and did Applied Behavior Analysis for a few months and during the summer of 2018, I got myself together and started to create my new plan of attack for my MD. With the help of my mentors and family I got into the MPH program with UA in August of 2018, with a research assistantship. While this was a grand celebration it was just the start of a big uphill journey. Around the summer I also decided to pay for the 123 hour Princeton MCAT course, that cost $2500. To say the least, all my savings went to that course. In October I had class form 6–9pm for the MCAT Princeton course Monday thru Thursday, and 6am Sundays, along with my research assistantship, 3 core classes and 1 elective for my MPH, my little sister, my clinical research, my MCAT and MPH studying, and papers, let’s not forget the towers of papers to write. Incredibly enough it wasn’t the work I found hard during these last 6 months, it was the time, the politics and prioritizing and here is why.
My time was scarce, I would get up at 4am or 5am and work till 9pm usually non-stop. I would jump from meetings, to class, to my little sister’s doctor’s appointment, to the hospital, to Starbucks and it goes on. Some days as I would go to sleep I would think to myself, how in the world am I going to do everything I have to do the next day, and eventually I would panic and start organizing. Well after a few weeks of this same thought, I realized I couldn’t panic every time and start cleaning or organizing or starting my work of the next day the day after 8pm, I needed to do something different. Instead I learned to sleep on it, and let it go. It sounds easy but some nights were long, I would toss and turn till 12am thinking how I was going to do it, only to get up at 5am the next day. After a while I learned that some days you just got to survive. You just got to grab that coffee and make it through 1 day only, without thinking of the next day, or next week. Some days, most days really, were and are just like that for me, I grab my coffee and my only priority is to get through that 1 day.
My scarce time showed me another important skill, how to prioritize. This was probably ones of the hardest things I have had to learn this year and am still learning coming into 2019 because not only am I changing priorities but I am changing my culture. When I was little I was taught, family is number 1, you do everything and drop everything for family and while I still have that mindset I had to modify it because, we can’t do it all.
Some days everything would clash, my meetings, class etc crashed with the meetings and appointments of my favorite person, my sister. For those that don’t know, my sister is amazing though I may be biased, but she is. She also has Autism and Epilepsy, and while this has been one of her best years medically, the days I have spent in the ED or in appointments have been exhaustive, and the days I have spent talking to her physicians and creating treatment plans on how we are going to treat have been long and plentiful. Just recently she was admitted into the pediatric epilepsy monitoring unit for 48 hours due to possible seizures. Let me also mention she is a teen, so like any teenager, she is being a teenager. With my parents only speaking Spanish, I got involved in her care very early on in my life, since I was 10. Still to this date I am but the older I get the harder it has become to manage it all. Some days her therapy or meetings clashed with my meetings or with a conference or something else. And unlike before, I couldn’t cancel a meeting or post pone a conference because that’s not how it works anymore as you get older. My three top priorities haven’t changed, they are still my family, school and me, but there is no order anymore. Some days I will be my top priority, other days my sister will, some and most days it will be school, I had to learn that my priorities have to be fluid. Some days I would feel I was doing it all wrong when I couldn’t go to her therapy appointments or a meeting, or take her to school etc. I had and am having to learn to be confident in my decisions.
Another obstacle that I can definitely NOT forget is the politics. In my MPH program we are bundled together with the med students. Let me be the first to say that I did not think the environment was as invasive as it is. I had heard the horror stories but it never dawned on me how realistic those stories can be, especially if you are like me, a female minority that is first generation. I recall an instance when I was walking into the bathroom, this was in the beginning of the school year. As I walked in I was talking to my mom, in Spanish, the 5, I will say it, white girls in the bathroom turned and glared at me, as though I was some stranger that was somewhere she didn’t have to be. This became daily, and I resorted to not going to the library because the medical students were so invasive, and I will be honest, that were all white male and females, inclusion and diversity was completely absent at this medical school. This happened to me with the professionals as well, I remember entering a meeting, it was for student’s who wanted to contribute to the 10 year plan that is going to be in place for the health sciences department of the school. I was wearing black scrubs and my yellow and white school and hospital badge. As I come close to opening the door, I am asked what I am doing. I tell them I am a student, the women stared at me blankly and asked me several times if for that school and what I did. After several repeated questions I got aggravated, grabbed my badge and showed it to her and carried on. These instances made me very insecure, to the point that I didn’t go to the library because I felt I didn’t “fit in” there. It was like high school all over again, and let me tell you I hated high school.
I also learned that I have to be confidence and open minded in this journey. If you would have asked me 2 years ago if I wanted to do a masters before med school you would have heard me give a blatant NO. I wanted to go straight to med school, but sometimes it isn’t what we want that happens, sometimes we just have to trust the process, but never give up. With just a month away from my MCAT, I am prepared to be open minded about it. If I need to do a Ph.D before medical school so be it, as long as I do something I love and never give up my ultimate goal, to be a surgeon, I will be happy. I initially thought I was a failure because I didn’t do it “right.” There is no right way to medical school and a different route to med school doesn’t mean you failed, it means you will be more prepared. I didn’t think this though a few months ago, instead I would tell myself over and over again, why didn’t I do it right?
By December 12, my last day of school I was beat, I was exhausted and had already had a lot of good crying sessions, during, after and before studying, appointments, meetings, in the care, bathroom you name it and I probably cried there. But I did it, I got 3 As and 1B, I presented at 2 conferences, I co-authored my first paper, America is doing well and moving forward, and I am taking my MCAT Jan 24. I took a practice CARS and went from a 117 to a 123. I am doing it, how I am not so sure but I am. Some days I did lay in bed and think I can’t do this, I can’t surgeon and have my sister, and do research and everything else. Some days I would think I should just stop because what if I didn’t do good on my MCAT again, but then I thought, what if I do. I am thankful for my family, my mentors and friends who have helped me this year and have motivated me to stay in medicine and research and assure to me that I can. Now, this year, I have to motivate me and be confident in me. I have to trust myself that I am doing it right, and remind myself I am human, I will make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be a good doctor, or am a horrible human, it just means I am learning.
So I am ready to close this book and start chapter 23 of my life. Cheers to 2019!