Post Baccalaureate Journey
I thought if I didn't go straight into medical school that I would be a failure. I rushed senior year of college to take the MCAT. I enrolled myself in a 3 month Princeton review course while finishing my senior thesis in sociology. At the time I really believed that post-bacs were only for people who didn't get into medical school the first time. I believed if I just sacrificed my last 6 months of senior year that I would be fine.
So. I sacrificed.
I missed senior week at my school because of MCAT studying.
I gave the bare minimum at my jobs on campus because of MCAT.
I drove my roommate Brittany crazy with notecards all over the apartment and having mental breakdowns every other day.
I missed lasting memories with friends and family.
I barely got to enjoy my college graduation because all I could think about was the MCAT.
Deep down, I knew I wasn’t ready. The classes I passed, I barely passed. I was unfocused. To be honest, I wasn't even really sure why I was so determined to be a doctor. I just figured, I HAD to do something. Since I've been doing pre-med classes, I guess I should go ahead and take the MCAT. All because I was stubborn about the idea of going straight into medical school from undergrad. I've told y'all before, I am so stubborn, it's one of my downfalls. But this became a huge lesson for me.
To bring things into perspective for y'all, I rushed to take the MCAT a month after walking during my graduation. My school let me walk with my graduating class, even though I still had one semester left of my sociology degree. I always wanted to study abroad, so I was able to work out the ultimate deal. I was able to finish my last semester on Semester at Sea (SAS). I can tell you alllll about the Semester at Sea which was hands down one of the best experiences of my life, (another post I promise), but I was so excited because I had it all figured out. I would apply for medical school while I was studying on SAS and when I returned in December I would start interviewing for medical school.
August 2014. I get my MCAT score back. I got a 23 (499 equivalent). Not quite my target score. I kinda knew this would happen, so I brought all my big books with me just in case I needed to study during my study abroad program. I immediately went back to self studying. No structure at all… just fear and frantically shoving Princeton review books down my throat. I was doing hundreds of questions and trying to teach myself the foundational concepts that I really did not know. I told everyone on SAS I was taking the MCAT. Everyone was so proud of me. They applauded me for my determination. A few times I even skipped days in a new country because I felt like I had to study. How could I let 'them' down?
I got off the ship Dec 2014 and I was signed up to take the MCAT in January. One month to pull it all together. I had been "studying" for the past 6 months on the ship, so I got this…Right? 2 weeks into my studying, my scores were WORSE than my first MCAT. I was studying at home with my dad, and he could tell something was off. I told him I needed to push it back a few weeks and he stopped me. Kamilah…what are you doing? Two weeks you think will make a difference? Seems like you need to talk to some guidance counselors. Maybeee you need to take the next year to study…
My thoughts were racing through my head. Next year?! I can't wait another year I'm 22 years old already that means I won't get into medical school until I'm 24! Heck no I'm not going BACK to school just to retake this MCAT. I'm right there, give me two more weeks! After going back and forth, my dad told me he would give me the money to pay for rescheduling the MCAT (which is not cheap at all) if I promised to talk to my aunt and a mentor about it. Fine. I stubbornly accepted his deal.
I called my Auntie Sherril who is an internist, told her the situation, and she said the same exact thing my dad said. Take a year off to get your ish together. She tried to convince me two years wasn’t that bad and the average starting age of medical school is 25 years old anyways… blah blah. Honestly I wasn't trying to hear ANY of it ok !!
I proceeded to call my other mentor, Dr. Hines, who has been mentoring me and other young black women to medical school in a group called ABWP. She knew me, she knew the struggle, no way she would suggest me to take years off. I got on the phone with her and explained the situation. What grades I had in undergrad. My previous MCAT score. My goals. My research experience (which was none). My volunteer experience (which was barely anything). My medical experiences (limited).
Dr. Hines: "Kamilah, I know you want to go to medical school, and I mean this in the most loving way, but you are not ready. I think you are perfect for a post-bac program"
My heart dropped. WTF is a post-bac anyway? Aren't those for people who CAN'T get into medical school? I'm not one of those people!
After a looooong, long, day of talking to mentors and my dad, I franticly went back in my room and cried. I felt like no one believed in me. But then, I began to think about it. For the longest I was just in defense mode. Once I calmed down, I thought about myself in a structured program, built just for me to get into medical school, and it gave me peace of mind. I felt relieved. Maybeeee, just maybe, this is exactly what I needed. One year bootcamp to get into medical school. That's it. I was officially convinced. My dad reassured me this was the best decision and calmed me down. It made me feel better that he supported me in this decision and I wasn't a failure to him. We cancelled my MCAT date. We drank a huge bottle of champagne. We celebrated. My "medical journey" was just now beginning. That day I was looking up post-bac programs across the country.
A post-bac is a program that you can apply for to help you get into medical school. There are usually two separate tracts for post- bacs: Career changers and GPA enhancers. I personally love the career changers idea because there are people who have worked in totally different fields, and one day they have an awakening to go to medical school and be a physician. Instead of going back and doing 4 year undergrad, you can do a 2 year post bac and apply. For me, I was already pre-medicine and had taken the MCAT once, so I was applying for the "GPA Enhancer" tract. My dad encouraged me to apply anywhere in the country, not just Texas, so I got really excited. What if I lived in DC and did a post bac at Georgetown? Omg I could move back to LA look at UCLA's post-bac? Since I was applying a little late in the game, a lot of the deadlines already passed, and the programs I actually qualified for were few and far between. I ended up applying for 6 programs. I got rejected from 5. I got accepted to ONE. Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles, CA. It only takes one yes. I packed my bags and headed back to Los Angeles.
Ironically, Charles Drew is a school that has been close to my family. My parents did their residency at King hospital before it got shut down. CDU and UCLA have a joined medical school program. I have always wanted to go to a HBCU. CDU is small, and mostly black and Latino school. In Watts, CA. For those of you that don't know, literally the complete opposite of Chapman University, my undergrad PWI in Orange county lol. My one acceptance seemed perfect for me, and it absolutely was.
I was working as a personal assistant in LA, volunteering, and having the time of my life before my post-bac started. I was single and dating a lot in Los Angeles. But I told myself, this is my year, THE YEAR. To change my habits and make it happen. I said this is the year for FOCUS. I quit my job. I stopped volunteering. Stopped talking to unnecessary men that weren't contributing to my progress. It's grind time baby. Focus. One year. I got to select my classes that I felt I needed to improve on. First semester: organic chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and genetics. Second semester: anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and biochemistry.
My post bac was literally everything I needed. I loved loved loveddd all of our professors. They taught better than any other professors I had in my science classes. I was getting all A's and actually knew wtf I was talking about/learning. I felt myself transforming into a medical student. In addition, I knew I wanted to do research, so in the first week I walked into the directors office and told her my interests and she matched me with my research and medical mentor, Dr. McGhee. I ended up working on a team, the "dream team". These girls along with Dr. McGhee became a huge part of my life, as we all basically had the same dream, medical school. We did research on HeLa cells, and I worked with the CaSki cell line, doing cell culturing and experiments in the realm of HPV and cervical cancer. We took our research to the next level, got to present our abstract at the AACR, lead and organized events in the community to educate people about HPV and cervical cancer. I even got an award for getting one of the highest grades during my post-Bacc!
I learned to become a student scientist at CDU. I learned to focus and give it my all at CDU. And I honestly attribute a lot of my journey to medicine because of my post bac experience. I got everything I needed out of it, and I am so grateful the mentors and family members in my life calmed me down about my stubborn idea of trying to go to medical school directly from undergraduate. Hindsight, I absolutely was NOT ready for medical school before the program. Not only were my grades wack AF. But I also was super immature and all over the place before my post bac. I needed time to grown into this field, and that is was CDU gave me.
OKAY Kamilah. Enough about your sob story, we get it. Tell us the deets. I asked people on my Instagram to send in questions that they wanted me to answer about post bacs, here you go!
Was it hard to apply to post bac? What do you need to qualify?
It wasn't as hard as medical school applications, but it definitely was not easy! Like I said, I applied for 6 programs and only got into 1. I think I underestimated what they were looking for and figured it would be fine. Also different programs require different things.
some programs want you have a MCAT score…and a fairly decent score in order to apply (which to me defeats the purpose, weird flex but okay )
Some schools want you to have above a certain undergrad GPA, or even a previous application to medical school with rejections.
it seems a little bit easier, but you definitely need to prove that you are dedicated and want to pursue medicine. You will need letters of recommendation! Make sure they are people that can speak to your commitment to your previous field and how well trained you are.
Your personal statement is your time to explain your story.
Make sure you apply to as many programs as you can if you want a fair shot at being accepted.
2. Does it matter which program you go to?
I hate starting statements off like this, but it's true…at the end of the day, NO it does not matter. Are there programs that are better set up than others? Absolutely. But if you only have one shot (like I did) and it's not the "best" program out there, are you going to defer and try to apply for others? Absolutely not! Get in there and get what you need, be proactive. Like I said earlier, it's grind time, it's time to focus. I wasn't going to let bad reviews talk me out of MY success. And a lot of people tried, trust me! CDU does not have the best reputation for post bac, and this could be attributed to a lot of different things. But I know my class and I worked extremely hard. A lot of us got in to med school, amazing med schools, with scholarships. So don't let the not-so-perfect set up of a program change YOUR outcomes.
If you are one of those lucky people who had more than one post-bac acceptance I would take into consideration:
#1 Medical school conversion rates: Hands down THE most important thing. If you are going to a program that has 95% acceptance to med school, that's incredible… isn't that the goal? And take into consideration how long it takes to covert the class. Is it 95% med school acceptance over a 5 years? That's not looking too good. Is it only over 1-2 years? Sounds a lot more solid. You don’t want to be in a situation where you graduate from a post bac, apply for med school, get rejected, and have to do another post-bac or masters programs. (It definitely happens, and is still very possibly by the way!) Just really tough on the soul, and tough on the bag.
#2 Medical school/linkage. A great example is Meharry Medical School post bac. If you attend those classes for a year, maintain a certain GPA, take the MCAT and get above a certain MCAT score (a reasonable score that you should be able to get after completing the program), then you get automatic acceptance to their medical school. I had a friend who did this, and he really liked it (shoutout to Hascal). He also liked how all the professors in medical school were the same professors he had during his post bac.
#3 Research/Involvement: I attribute my success in post-bac party to the amazing classes I took, along with my research with my mentor and dream team. That combo was a killer. I got everything I needed and more. I walked out of my post-bac with a 4.0 GPA, research experience, published abstract, community organizing, and a better MCAT score--> medical schools took me serious because they knew I was serious.
More information about linkage and joint acceptance programs:
A linkage program establishes a connection with a specific school that allows a student, once enrolled in the Postbac Premed Program, to begin the application process earlier than usual and skip the "glide year" (the year of the application cycle after the MCAT). Students decide if they wish to be considered for a linkage program after they have begun their postbac premed studies. All course work and the MCAT have to be completed by the spring of the year they hope to begin medical school. Candidates are reviewed in the spring for possible acceptance and matriculation in the fall of that same year. Acceptance to medical school through a linkage program eliminates the traditional "glide year."
A joint acceptance program is one in which the applicant applies to both the Postbac Premed Program and their chosen graduate health profession school simultaneously. Applications are initially reviewed by the Postbac Premed Admissions Committee. Those determined to be competitive "joint" applications are then forwarded to the appropriate graduate school for a second, separate review. Acceptance to the Postbac Premed Program is not affected by the "joint" decision.
3. Why post bac and not master programs?
This is such a good question and really it just depends! I got everything I needed out of my post bac. I didn’t really know about masters programs until it was too late. For a second, right before I started my post bac, I was considering dropping out and applying to a masters program. After talking to another mentor of mine, I decided to stick with my original plan. A lot of medical students are now coming in with letters behind their name already, masters in biomedical sciences, masters in public health, etc. It's incredible to see! Slightly jealous because all you leave out with from a post-bac is more debt. But it really just depends on your goals. I know of master program students who really didn’t care about the degree and only cared about the acceptance to med school. Once they got in, they didn't finish their research and thesis, and now that program in terms of it's real "value" was useless. Their goal was to get into med school though, so the degree, letters behind the name, or thesis really didn't matter to them. I think both serve it's purpose. I think master programs are super helpful. They are hella hard and prepare you well. And they are extremely hard to get into. But if you have that option, why not? Go for it ! Just remember to stay focused and I would hope you would finish the thesis to get more than just a medical school acceptance out of it.
This is something I found really clarifying for the differences between post-bac programs and masters: http://manoa.hawaii.edu/undergrad/pac/health/post-bacc-special-masters-programs/:
Post bacc programs typically have designated focus which can be academic enhancer, career changer, and educationally/economically disadvantaged or underrepresented minority students (URM). Select your post-bacc program depending on the focus suited for you.
Academic enhancers (AE) are intended for pre-health students who wish to raise their overall GPA by retaking relevant prerequisite courses or other science-based pre-health courses. Keep in mind that depending on your program, your courses may or may not be factored into your undergraduate GPA.
Career changers (CC) are for students who have obtained a bachelors degree in a non-science or health related field and have decided for a career change to a health profession. These students in career changer programs take the necessary prerequisites for admission to their intended professional school.
Educationally/economically disadvantaged or underrepresented minority (EED) focus programs offer qualified students preparation and help to become competitive applicants to professional school. The goal of these programs are usually to increase diversity in the work force and provide opportunities for disadvantaged students.
Special Masters Programs offer various types of masters degrees. These programs may offer a thesis or non-thesis track, which are decided upon a student’s interest. Typically, thesis based programs take 2 years to complete; the first year focused on coursework and the second year dedicated to research, while non-thesis tracks take about one year to complete. Courses vary depending on the program curriculum, and help students build a solid foundation to prepare for professional school. SMP degrees include but are not limited to:
MS in Physiology
MS in Biomedical Sciences
MS in Biological Sciences
MS in Medical Sciences
4. How to balance all of the coursework + how to get involved in things that will boost your application
When you are focused and have the mindset already of a medical student, the coursework isn't too bad. I honestly didn't think the coursework was too much for me to handle. I still had fun on the weekends, partied, travelled, dated, so don't be too discouraged. It is absolutely a time to focus and make sure this is your priority, but I wouldn't freak out. If you have done pre-med, or have worked hard before, you can be successful in a post-bac. I knew I wanted to get involved in research, so I made sure those were my top two priorities, and sometimes research went on the backburner for finals, but overall they complimented each other well. I would study on average everyday till about 11pm on non-test weeks. Test week all-nighters were sometimes needed. I did 8-10 hours of research a week which really isn't too bad. I also started working 15 hours/week during my second semester at an urgent care working the front desk. This was helpful because your girl was super broke, but also gave me connections to MD and DO doctors and I was able to secure solid letters of recommendation from working there. So how do you balance it all? Make a top 3 list of priorities and make sure you give them your all! Everything else needs to be put on pause and is not important for your goals.
5. How do you find the right one/go about searching
There are over 200 post bac programs. It’s been awhile, but I really lived on these websites, hope they help:
6. How did you find funding?
Funding is so annoying! If you didn't know, post bac is that awkward middle child. Not yet medical school. Not yet a masters program, but too old for undergrad. Yup, according to the government we are SOL. My program total was around $20,000. So I applied for the max award amount of the direct unsubsidized Stafford loan- $12,500 (4.9% fixed interest rate), had work study money from research, a small grant, and my dad helped pay $2,000 a semester for the rest of balance. This is one the MAJOR drawbacks with post-bacs. At least with master programs you can apply for loans that are subsidized and can get more loans. It sucks. I say this all the time. Medicine is for the privileged and the sacrificed. I am lucky and blessed enough to have a family that has supported me financially throughout this journey. It's not impossible! If money is a really not able to happen after scholarships, I would look into doing a masters of science program.
7. Did you do an internship during post-bac?
See above for more details about my experiences, but short answer yes. I was a full-time post-bac student, a cancer researcher, and worked part time at an urgent care. It is doable and worth it.
8. How do you convince your parents that post-bac is a really good idea? They think taking years off is a waste of time.
When I asked for people to send in questions about this blog post, I got this really special message, and I figured I would speak more on this special circumstance, someone might need it. Parents are one of the many things (besides money) that holds people back from doing a post-bac/ time off. I think our parents are under the impression that if we don't go into medical school directly that we will be distracted and not complete our mission in life. Or taking a year off is pointless, because what was the point of college etc. I actually can understand this perspective, and can understand our parents fears. We have to speak to them and reassure them. I was lucky to have my dad who knew about post-bacs, and supported my years off (as long as I was productive). To be convincing to parents, use specific language:
"This is a masters program specifically build to get into medical school"
"This will help prepare me to score best on my MCAT so I can get into and choose the best medical schools for me"
"I want to make sure that this is really what I want to do, I would like to do a year of working as a scribe/ researcher/ clinical trials to make sure I want to dedicate the rest of my life for this".
"This will give me a structured program to fill in my gaps in my medical application instead of doing it by myself with no guidance"
"I can leave with a committee letter which is like a golden ticket to medical school"
"This is the thing everyone is starting to do, it's very popular and a solid step to medical school"
"Look at this girl Kamilah who got into so many schools after her post-bac, I want to open up the same opportunities for myself (haha)"
With this specific situation, it seemed like this person really just wanted a year off before medical school and her parents aren’t having it at all. I am also all about a plan and win-win situations. I would propose this for you future finesse:
Tell your parents you are going to apply to medical school, but you will also be applying for post-bacs just in case you need a plan B. You don't feel 100% about your application, but you will definitely give it your best shot. When you apply, make sure you are applying for programs that allow deferment. That way if you do get in (wonderful!) you can defer your acceptance for a year while maximize this last year of freedom between undergrad and med school. Tell your parents you got into med school for the following year. Bam. Year off. Have fun. And get ready for your new life, med school! If you don’t get into medical school, but get accepted to post-bac, you now have a year to work and better yourself for the next application season. This really only applies to people who have super strict parents and don’t want their kids to take years off, but definitely still want to go to medical school. Don't waste your time or you parent's time with this if you really are just wanting to be lazy and have no real drive to go to medical school.
9. How did you study for your MCAT during post bac?
Please see my MCAT post for details.
Hope this helps and please comment below if you have any additional questions!