Applying to Med/PA School, Individual Pre-Health Stories
How I Got Accepted to Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine
Hailing from Vestal, New York, Michaela Gartman graduated from the State University of New York – Oneida with a degree in biology and is currently attending Liberty University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Eventually, she hopes to pursue addiction medicine. A lover of travel, Michaela first visited Italy during high school through the People to People project and returned again for her Atlantis Fellowship. In addition to travel, Michaela enjoys hiking and shopping.
This is just one in a series of blog posts that will feature medical students telling their stories of how they got accepted into medical school. Today, Michaela Gartman shares with us the story of her acceptance to Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Michaela, give us a peek into your life. What initially attracted you to pursue medicine?
My heart has always gravitated toward people who fall into addiction, and I knew from a young age that I wanted to help them. I didn’t know exactly if it was going to be through psychology or psychiatry, but after having an illness myself, I saw that medicine was really where I could make a difference in people’s lives. When I experienced respiratory failure issues, I had the opportunity to see how doctors interacted with their patients and learned, through example, what kind of doctor I wanted to be.
Through that, I fell in love with hospitals and everyone that contributes to making them run. I learned, through the physicians who took care of me, how much good care matters to patients. It was not necessarily that the physician had all of the answers, but that he or she knew my name and my parents’ names. Sometimes they brought my parents coffee just to sit down and chat about my case. That was when I knew the type of physician I wanted to be.
Why did you choose to apply to Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine?
After my experience in the hospital, I started looking into the osteopathic approach to medicine because mind, body, and spirit care are intertwined. When I was a patient, that had really hit home with me. I felt most cared for when a physician was addressing all three aspects. So I chose to pursue training that would equip me to do the same with my patients. I started looking into this approach, but didn’t quite understand it at first. Then, I found Liberty though through my research into osteopathic medicine, and I fell in love with the faith of the school.
It was just nothing like I’d ever seen before. When I went for my interview, you could tell that this school was different. It loved on you as an interviewee. You could see that it loved on its students. People were praying for one another in the hallway.
People were cheering one another up after a hard exam. It wasn’t the cut-throat type of environment that I’d pictured medical school being. I remember walking down the hallway during my interview and somebody’s backpack was just sitting out, and I asked the students that were giving us a tour, “Isn’t that person worried that someone could just take his stuff?” They said that people don’t do that here, it just doesn’t happen. And that was absolutely mind-blowing to me: a place as competitive as medical school can also be filled with such love.
I ended up falling in love with Liberty. When I got the call, I immediately said yes. I still remember the phone call. I was at work, and my whole work family was around me. I was absolutely sobbing, I was so excited. Doctor Patton, the Dean of Admissions just told me to take a deep breath and go talk to my family about it, and I was ready to give them my credit card number and put the deposit down right then. As soon as I got the official email that I could, I did. And I was all set to go.
Then I thought, “Hmm, maybe now I should actually look into what osteopathic medicine really is, because I am now going to this school.” After that, I really started to pursue an interest in an osteopathic medicine. I shadowed a DO and that experience hit home with me. The physician was just outstanding in his empathy, outstanding in his relationships with the patients. And ever since then, I’ve pursued that same track. Even if I don’t know all the answers on an exam, can I still uphold this empathy? Can I still uphold my main goal of caring for patients in mind, body, and spirit?
“When I went for my interview, you could tell that this school was different. It loved on you as an interviewee. You could see that it loved on its students. People were praying for one another in the hallway. People were cheering one another up after a hard exam.”
Did you pursue the osteopathic approach to medicine after you found Liberty, or did you find Liberty because you were looking at the osteopathic approach to medicine first?
I would say it was a bit of both. I heard about the mind, body, spirit idea and it attracted me. My father is an M.D., so I had always only known allopathic medicine. However, when I first investigated osteopathic medicine, I discovered Liberty. After I fell in love with Liberty, I wouldn’t have cared what kind of school it was, I just wanted to go to there.
What are three reasons why you think you were accepted?
Well, it definitely wasn’t my grades or my MCAT score. I was very average there, but Liberty saw something in me above the numbers. I think the Atlantis Fellowship definitely gave me an upper hand in experience and cultural awareness. Shadowing in another country is amazing because you are thrown into many different situations where you’re seeing somebody receive the best news of their life or the worst; a new baby or a child who has passed. You’re trying to figure out what the conversation is, and you have no idea because you don’t speak the language. You can only tell what is happening by the physician’s expressions, body language and interactions. Based off of these clues, you have to determine how to act. When it came time to interview, I had special awareness of tone of voice and body language.
Reason number two was probably that I worked as a nurse’s aide the year before I attended medical school. I experienced the whole team that goes into caring for the patient, and it have me a different perspective about being a physician. How does that team work together? If one person falls short, that patient doesn’t receive the care that they need and the care that they deserve.
If I had to guess, probably the third thing that helped me stand out amongst other candidates is that I was myself in my interview. Everyone has this idea of the perfect cookie-cutter medical student coming in with a 4.0 GPA and a perfect MCAT score. I didn’t try to fake it; that wasn’t me. That is not what I had on my application. I showed them my heart, what I wanted my life to look like, how I wanted to walk out the plan that Jesus had for me, and how I wanted to show Jesus everyday through my life. It was clear that my goals lined up with Liberty’s goals. And it was a perfect match. During an interview, you are interviewing the school for yourself as much as you are being interviewed by the school. There are medical schools that I liked, but I didn’t get into, so I wasn’t a good match for them. There were schools that I don’t really like, but they accepted me, so that wasn’t a good match. It wasn’t until I found Liberty that I felt at home. I liked them, they liked me and it was just in God’s perfect timing that everything was able to come together.
How do you think the Atlantis Fellowship influenced or impacted your acceptance?
There were a couple of people in my Fellowship program that spoke Italian. My best friend on the trip actually spoke Spanish so it wasn’t perfect, but she could partly keep up with conversations and was able to communicate in basic conversations. When you’re sitting in a room trying to follow the physician, who is speaking to the patient in Italian, and then trying to catch you up in English, you’re really only getting half the conversation. I became hyper-aware of body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, which really trained me to know what somebody was trying to say even when the words were incomprehensible. I learned to read people in a different way, which is very important when it comes to being a physician. Your patients are telling you one thing, but what do they really mean? What do they really need?
“I became hyper-aware of body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, which really trained me to know what somebody was trying to say even when the words were incomprehensible.”
Wherever you are in America, you are incredibly blessed beyond what words can even say, and it’s very humbling to go from a small town USA life to being the foreigner in a different country. I flew into Milan, Italy on my own and met up with a couple of other Fellows. We’d been traveling for about 24 hours and then we had to get to a hotel. It pushed my comfort level. It made me work in a way that I never had to before with complete strangers who just happened to be in my Fellowship with me. I had to push myself and tap into my problem solving skills.
After a quick tour of the hospital, I had to figure out how to get there every morning and come home in the evening. It tested my responsibility. Could I get myself up and going in the morning? Could I get along with everybody in the Fellowship cohort in order to get the most out of it? Could I stay focused on the reasons why I was there? It’s a really interesting balance that pushed me to grow up. Maybe there’s still room to grow and that’s a good thing. By entering the field of medicine, you are acknowledging your status as a lifetime learner. Atlantis really opens your eyes to this.
How did you feel after the interview?
When I got out of my interview at Liberty University, I was absolutely heartbroken and not because anything went wrong, but because after that interview, there was nothing I wanted more than to go there. I was so terrified that I wasn’t going to get in. I had experienced great interviews at other schools; some had accepted me, others hadn’t.
But I also had this new drive for medicine. Liberty really challenges you to be the best, physician and humanitarian you can be from the moment you apply. They really challenge you to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I just remember feeling a little defeated after the interview. Again, it was not because anything went wrong, but because that’s all I wanted. I had fear that I maybe wasn’t good enough. At the same time, I felt challenged and determined and excited for the journey that was ahead of me because of that interview.
Walk us through the moment you found out you got accepted.
The dean of admissions, Dr. Patton, gave me a phone call. He actually called my home and I was at work at the time, so I got a text message from my father saying that he had received a call from Liberty. He didn’t want to bother me at work, but he thought maybe I should know. I worked evening shifts so I wasn’t going to get home until late that night. Before my father even finished repeating the phone number to me, I thought: “Okay, I have to go.” And I hung up with him and was so excited. I realized that I didn’t have the area code so I had to call my dad back and get the full phone number. Then I called back and Dr. Patton picked up. I remember I began to cry at the beginning of the conversation because I thought that there was no way my dream was coming true.
I remember Dr. Patton saying to me, “Michaela, I’m going to need you to take a seat because we have to talk.” I was sure he was going to say something like: “You’re a strong candidate, but…” Instead, he just said, “Michaela, are you sitting?” and I said, “Yes sir. I’m sitting down.” And then he said: “Okay, you’re going to be a physician.” I was jumping up and down, I was so excited. I was at work, and my work family poured into the room where I was, so excited. Dr. Patton asked me to put him on speaker, and he wanted to tell my work family. He said, “I’ve got bad news and good news for you guys. Bad news — I’m taking Michaela away. Good news — she’s going to be a doctor.” And it was just this huge celebration, and it was so, so awesome.
Last question: How can others imitate your success?
When you’re applying for medical school, just be yourself. It’s almost like a weird dating game, and you have to find the right match for you, and you have to match with them. Medical school is way too big of a commitment of time and money for it to not fit you like a glove. I wouldn’t want to go to medical school anywhere else but Liberty, because it has provided me with the friendship, mentorship, and the knowledge that I need in order to be a good physician.
You really just have to go in, be yourself, and accept constructive criticism. It’s a journey to help you grow as a whole and you’re going to hear things that make you feel really good about yourself. You’re going to hear things that make you feel poorly about yourself. You’re going to be criticized and you’re going to be nitpicked, but just know who you are. Don’t give up and just keep pushing towards your goal. If you truly want to be a physician and you believe that you are meant to be a physician, don’t let anything get in your way. A lot of people don’t get into medical school the first time around. Some people get deferred, and again, it’s okay. You just have to find exactly what you want to do for your own reasons. Get up every day, figure what your “why” is, and just follow that dream.
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