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Applying to Med/PA School, Individual Pre-Health Stories

How I Got Accepted to Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine

Cara profile

About Cara

Cara is a third-year medical student at Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harrogate, Tennessee. Cara went on an Atlantis Fellowship as a rising second year medical student. Cara is a life-long learner who also enjoys traveling, hiking, and playing with her dogs. Cara has a genuine curiosity about life, people, and cultures, which she satisfies by traveling around the United States and to other countries, watching a lot of movies, and trying delicious new food.

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, Cara Donnelly shares with us the story of her acceptance to Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine

Cara, give us a peek into your life. What initially attracted you to pursue medicine?

I’ve probably been interested in medicine in general and healthcare since I was a kid. Science and technology, as well as the ooey-gooey side of surgery, has always been fascinating to me. I’ve never been faint of heart, but I do think I really dove into it more when I was in high school and really enjoyed my science courses.

Then I started shadowing physicians and working with them in a healthcare setting, which opened my eyes to the hospital environment. I still get excited when I go into the hospital– that’s not everyone’s perspective, and it’s certainly not every patient’s perspective when they’re there– but I enjoy that environment. I like the investigation side of medicine, and I enjoy the continued lifelong learning that you’re required to do as well in the field of medicine.

All that said, I knew I wanted to apply to medical school for a very long time because those aspects were attractive to me. I didn’t get in the first application cycle, but I’ve known for a while that my interest in healthcare was there in some capacity.

Why did you choose to apply to LMU-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine?

I graduated from college in 2011, and I had to take the MCAT a couple of times to bring that score up. It took me a while to get to a level where I was competitive enough to apply. I applied one time after I graduated undergrad, and I did not get accepted. I got secondaries, but I didn’t get accepted to any medical school program. That’s more common than not, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get accepted the first time. People don’t talk about it because it’s kind of hush, hush in the community, but it’s very common.

I was devastated for a while and didn’t want to do anything with medicine, but then realized that I still had a passion for it. I retook the MCAT and continued to work in healthcare. I held a variety of medically-related jobs with patient interaction, and then I applied again in 2014 and got accepted to this program. I decided this time to apply to MD and DO programs. DOs actually have to take additional classes in holistic medicine. Our perspective is a little different on medical care than MDs.

I actually did not know that this program existed originally. When I ended up finding it, I looked at the program and said, “Why not? I’m applying to all these others, so let’s go ahead and do it.” I got an interview invitation, which was my only interview invitation. I got a bunch of secondaries, but only got this interview at DeBusk. I interviewed, and even though I was very nervous, I thought the interview went fine.

I had also decided at that time—because I still didn’t know for sure if I would get accepted this time around—to apply for Master’s programs. I was waitlisted at my medical school for maybe a month or two. Then I was accepted to a Master’s program, and it was down to the wire in deciding whether or not I was going to stay on the waitlist or go to the Master’s program, since I was already accepted.

I’ve had friends go through the waitlist experience. The way it works is that basically anytime over that summer before classes start, the medical school can notify you that you’ve made it off the waitlist. I had deadlines for the Master’s program, as well as deadlines for whether or not I was going to continue on the waitlist, and they were the same week. My path was very unconventional compared to other people that come straight out of undergrad. I was older headed into medical school: most people in my class were 24, 25, 26, and I was 26, 27, 28.

Now I’m almost 30, so I have a different perspective on it than I did when I was younger.

I decided to forego the Master’s program and stay on the waitlist. I found out the same day that I got accepted into medical school. It was a crazy and unexpected time. You can’t predict everything that’s going to happen by any means and definitely can’t control it. I got into medical school in 2015 and moved to Tennessee.

What are three reasons why you think you were accepted?

I think my determination and perseverance definitely were important factors. I believe they want to see people who really want to be in healthcare, even if there are obstacles and challenges that have been put in front of you.

The world of healthcare is not an easy one to live and work and survive in. It’s very demanding. You have to be all hands on deck at all times, and you have to be dedicated to that career and passionate about it. They particularly want to see candidates that have overcome obstacles and challenges and have persevered despite those obstacles.

“I think my determination and perseverance definitely were important factors. I believe they want to see people who really want to be in healthcare, even if there are obstacles and challenges that have been put in front of you.”

Everyone who applies to medical school is incredible. They’re all top of their class; they’ve all done 500,000 things. You can’t say a bad word about them, but I think medical schools really like to see how much you’re willing to persevere. That may mean they deny you during your first round of applications, and if you really want to pursue medicine; you have to apply again and you’re more than likely to get accepted– if you have all the credentials you’re supposed to– the next time around.

That was something that I had going for me. I am very flexible and adaptable and can have a challenge thrown at me. I’ll stay calm and logically work through it so I can move forward and try to come up with solutions. They really want to see people that genuinely are enthusiastic about contributing to a team. Practicing medicine is not a solo act, even though it can come across that way– it’s not. It shouldn’t be, because patients lives are on the line. I think they like to see those important attributes, whether that comes out in an interview, your application, or the activities that you’ve done. Also, a genuine interest in lifelong learning and the ability to dive in-depth to a topic is crucial.

They don’t need to see you only be in healthcare. I believe medical schools want people who are more well-rounded because your patients are well-rounded. You have to have some patient exposure and health care experience because they want to know that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

But, if you decide that you have this passion for traveling, which I personally do, and you go do that and you do it to your best ability and you enjoy it, then they’re going to see that as an attribute because you can talk to patients. You’ll be more well-rounded because you have something more to say than what came out of your science textbook.

How do you think the Atlantis Fellowship influenced or impacted your acceptance?

It didn’t affect my entrance into medical school. I was already accepted and had finished a year of the program, but I found it to be very enlightening and a great experience for me and the others in my program. As a medical school student, the experience added to my clinical exposure and supplemented the education I had already received.

So, I think that the Atlantis program should continue to do programs even for students who are accepted to medical school because you need to do shadowing hours, which is what I was able to check off when I did Atlantis. There are a lot of aspects of the Atlantis Fellowship that are rewarding experiences for students, both for those who are applying to medical school and for those already in a graduate level program.

I personally enjoyed the experience of the Atlantis Fellowship because it was a more dynamic and more involved experience. I got to learn about international medicine, and how healthcare is delivered in other countries. I believe that the value of understanding how healthcare works outside of the United States will only increase as we evolve into a more worldwide, interconnected medical community. That comprehension is beneficial to you, as someone who is a current student, as well as someone who’s going to be practicing healthcare in the next 20 to 30 years.

“I believe that the value of understanding how healthcare works outside of the United States will only increase as we evolve into a more worldwide, interconnected medical community.”

How did you feel after the interview?

After the interview, I felt that I did well. There are always going to be times when you’re going to feel like you didn’t do well, and that you could have answered questions better, but I believed I was a strong applicant. You just have to believe in yourself even when you are asking those questions like, “What if I don’t get into this program?” I just had to be confident that I was a strong applicant, and there was a reason that I got the interview in the first place.

Walk us through the moment you found out you got accepted.

I was actually on my way to pay my deposit for the Master’s program. I still hadn’t heard from DeBusk and it was the day that I needed to notify the Master’s program by. I was waiting until the last minute to make this decision in order to give myself as much time as possible. I was driving to pay this deposit, and I just decided to stop at a Barnes and Noble and vent to my dad; “I just don’t know what to do. Should I go pay this deposit? Should I just go ahead and do this master’s program?” I had already been through the application process before and had not been accepted– which is very degrading and overwhelming to go through. But of course, he said: “This is your decision. This is your choice in your life.”

I realized that, at the end of the day, I wanted to do medicine, and if I had that opportunity then I needed to go for that, even if I didn’t get in. So, I called the school and I said: “I’ve been waitlisted for medical school, and I’ve decided that I’m going to accept that wait list. Thank you so much for this opportunity.” They were very kind about it and replied:  “Oh my gosh. You’re on the wait list. That’s fantastic. You should go for that if you don’t get in then reapply, because you’re a great applicant.”

So it ended up working out in that regard. I think people really value honesty more than you think they do. I was very upfront and honest with them and was very torn, and I think they appreciated that side.

I sat there, and I contemplated all these intense major life decisions that I made in a very short period of time. Then once I got off the phone, I checked my email, and I had an email from DeBusk saying to go check your waitlist standing, and it said, “accepted.” So I said, “Well, I guess I was meant to say no because it had just been changed. It might not have changed if I hadn’t declined the Master’s program, who knows?”

But the timing was just incredible, to say the least. So, then I was accepted! I was shocked because I didn’t really understand what was happening. I had just gone through this whole other series of emotions with declining my acceptance to this Master’s program. And I said, “oh, I’m accepted. I guess I’m moving to Tennessee. I’m going to medical school.” It was very exciting. I immediately called my parents back and said, “Well, I’ve been accepted to medical school so we’re doing that.”

It was very exciting and surreal, but I was also in a state of shock. I definitely didn’t expect it, so maybe it made the moment even more valuable and cherished because it was unanticipated. I was elated, but I was then terrified and excited and nervous all at the same moment. I had to move states and uproot my life and go where I knew no one, so those fears came in. Although, most people that you’re going to medical school with are not necessarily from the town that the school is in, so you’re all in the same boat. It comes with the territory, but it was a really exciting time.

I had about a month and a half to notify my job, pack my house, get a new house, and get all of those things in line. Medical school usually starts at the end of July, and you go through a couple of days of orientation in the first week. Then once you start classes, it is like a firehose shooting at your face all the time 24/7, and it never stops.

Last question: How can others imitate your success?

Knowing what you want and what you don’t want, I think is incredibly crucial. It’s okay to say no, and that’s a learning curve that has been a very steep one for me. I think most people who are applying to graduate level programs are go-getters. They want to do everything all the time, and sometimes it’s okay to not. You also need time for yourself and your own hobbies. So, I think making sure you keep a balance between your personal, school, and work life is so unbelievably important. Trust me, your stress level only gets higher and higher as you go further into this field. You have to be able to take a step back and balance that. That is something you need to learn early on.

I look now at my undergraduate career, which was very demanding and, of course, I was doing all of this to apply to medical school, and sometimes I go, “I don’t know how I did all of that. I don’t know how I had the hours in the day to do all of that.”

But, then I compare it to medical school and it’s a piece of cake (even though at the time it was very challenging). That is why work-life balance and managing your stress is incredibly important for your health, well-being, and mental status. That’s a huge point in the healthcare world right now that is being pushed from both a physician and patient standpoint.

On top of that, I think you have to be dedicated and persevere. All of your colleagues that you’re applying with work incredibly hard to get into medical school. I think the applicant that goes the extra mile and says, “hm, I could maybe do this today even though it’s not a requirement. No one has asked me to do that, but I’ve decided to take that upon myself because it would be beneficial for my colleague, my boss, or my preceptor that I’m working with in the clinic.” I think those proactive actions, even though they may seem trivial or small, go above and beyond to say that you’re committed.

Cara at her white coat ceremony.

I think accepting criticism is something that everyone needs to learn, but particularly in healthcare, because you will 100% make mistakes. There’s no way around that. There’ll be days that you have no idea what you’re doing; you’re going to be completely lost and it’s very humbling. So I think it’s important to learn how to best take constructive criticism and utilize it to your advantage. A lot of your attendings and your physicians and your coworkers are going to come at you with a different perspective, usually from many, many years of experience in healthcare. So listen to them and leverage that knowledge and not only accept it, but then say, “How can I employ this constructive feedback in the future?” Because that’s what they’re going to look at when they decide whether or not they’re going to accept you to a residency position or even to get into medical school. I think those are some key things.

“There’ll be days that you have no idea what you’re doing; you’re going to be completely lost and it’s very humbling. So I think it’s important to learn how to best take constructive criticism and utilize it to your advantage.”

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Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.