Applying to Med/PA School, Individual Pre-Health Stories
How I Got Accepted to Texas A&M College of Medicine
Sebastian is from Texas, and graduated with a degree in biomedical sciences from Texas A&M University. He is now a medical student at Texas A&M College of Medicine. Sebastian went on an Atlantis Fellowship in Albacete, Spain in the summer of 2015.
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, Sebastian shares with us the story of his acceptance to Texas A&M College of Medicine.
Sebastian, give us a peek into your life. What initially attracted you to pursue medicine?
Well, I went to high school at an engineering magnet school, and A&M is known for engineering. After high school, I knew that I was not into engineering, even though that’s what I had just done for the last four years. However, I had taken a few electives that I really did enjoy, which were anatomy and AP biology, with a wonderful teacher named Ms. Saldivar. She genuinely sparked my interest in the sciences: biology, anatomy, and physiology.
My best friend, Richard, and I are really close (I’m going to be his best man this summer), and his dad is an RN. His dad would always talk about the hospital throughout my college years, and that lead me to pursue medicine. It also got me interested in shadowing and pursuing other firsthand experiences in the medical field.
I played it safe knowing I didn’t want to be an engineer, and I got into the biomedical sciences program at A&M. Even still, I wasn’t sure that I was going to become a doctor. Becoming a doctor is really competitive, and I didn’t know if I would like it. I also knew that it would be a substantial commitment because I would need a lot of shadowing experience as well.
Honestly, it was after Atlantis— I hadn’t gotten any shadowing experiences up until then– when I got to really see what it was like to be a doctor and experience the hospital environment through shadowing in different specialties. It was after that time when I realized that this was definitely what I wanted to do.
“When I got to really see what it was like to be a doctor and experience the hospital environment through shadowing different specialties. It was after that time when I realized that this was definitely what I wanted to do.”
Why did you choose to apply to Texas A&M College of Medicine?
It’s pretty funny, actually. So, I was a sophomore in college, and mostly everyone in biomedical sciences wants to be a physician, veterinarian, or a dentist. In that year, my college sent out an email–and A&M has some 70,000 students, a lot of which are also biomedical science students– to every biomedical science student saying that there was a program at the Texas A&M College of Medicine that would accept ten students based on academics, experience, and research, so I thought I would just apply. I didn’t think I would get it, but I got an interview, and I got in!
The program is called Pre-Med Fellows Program, and basically, the program saves you a seat in medical school. You sign a contract with the school, and if you apply anywhere else, you void your contract and lose your saved spot. So as long as I got a certain score on the MCAT and maintained a GPA over 3.5, then they reserved me a spot at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
So I essentially knew after sophomore year that I had been accepted into the program, and everything was set in stone for Texas A&M College of medicine as long as my grades didn’t drop– and that’s how I got in.
It was a hard decision because I was required to only apply to that school. So, it’s a sacrifice I made, but I think just getting into medical school is a great achievement.
What are three reasons why you think you were accepted?
Every applicant has phenomenal grades, research, and shadowing experience, but what I think made me stand out was–and I’m not just saying this because you’re interviewing me– Atlantis.
The interviewers asked so many questions about Atlantis. They found it extremely interesting that I was able to experience healthcare in a different country, and compare it to the United States’ healthcare system. They were just impressed by all of the shadowing that I did over there. That definitely made me stand out.
Another reason was research. The research I did working with zebrafish was pretty interesting. These fish are actually extremely great listeners, and if you zap the hair cells in their ears (and yes they have ears) with a laser, they will regenerate. This is of course unlike in humans, where our hair cells die over time. We were trying to understand the genetics of that process and trying to apply it to human hair cells, so that potentially in the future we could regenerate our own hair cells and not go deaf.
I also think that my confidence throughout the interview was really important. I was extremely nervous at first, but I guess just acting like I was confident in the interview and trusting in myself and my background, being really talkative, and opening up in the interview really helped me a lot.
How do you think the Atlantis Fellowship influenced or impacted your acceptance?
When I applied for that program and interviewed with the Pre-Med Fellows Program, and also when I interviewed in medical school (it was still a requirement to interview in medical school since I’m going to do further interviews and applications for residency as well) I got a lot of questions about the Atlantis Fellowship.
Primarily, the questions were, “What was the healthcare system like in Europe compared to the U.S.?” and “Tell me more about the shadowing that you did over there,” and “Tell me about any fun facts about the hospitals over there,” and many more. In Spain, there were so many shocking but cool things that I saw in the hospital, and I had many stories.
I had great shadowing opportunities: cardiothoracic surgery, neurology, gastroenterology, psychiatry…and as a sophomore in college, not everyone is going to have that under their belt.
At A&M, they reserve most of the shadowing opportunities at hospitals for the juniors and seniors, so having all that shadowing experience really stood out. They had so many questions about the shadowing and what I saw. They were just all fascinated because even they didn’t really know what Atlantis was, it seemed pretty intriguing to them in my application. So they seemed to really want to know what the program was, how I got there, what I experienced, what I saw, etc.
One of my favorite things that I saw on my Atlantis Fellowship was when I was in cardiothoracic surgery. So far in my first year in medical school, I don’t think I want to be a surgeon, but when I was shadowing in surgery, we got to see firsthand the physicians remove an entire lung from a patient. I got to see what a lung looked like, and I was taught about how the patient was going to live without their lung, and I got to see, unfortunately, the effects of smoking over many years. The surgeon was really nice– she was a 29-year-old surgeon with a 28-year-old resident as her partner during surgery– and they were very talkative, highly intelligent, and incredibly open.
At that time, I was a college sophomore and didn’t know anything about medicine, and the surgeons were willing to teach me so much during the surgery. It is still impactful for me to this day that I had the opportunity to see the inside of a human body so early on. Sure, I got to deal with a cadaver in my first year of medical school, and that was amazing, but being taught firsthand about the inside of the human body during surgery through Atlantis as a sophomore in college has always had such an impact in my life.
“Sure, I got to deal with a cadaver in my first year of medical school, and that was amazing, but being taught firsthand about the inside of the human body during surgery through Atlantis as a sophomore in college has always had such an impact in my life.”
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.
Several weeks after my interview, I got an email from the College of Medicine, and I was so nervous. I was in class, but I opened it…and it was an email that was irrelevant. It was about something else entirely about the school, so I got nervous for no reason.
The next day the same thing happened: I was in class when I got another email, and this time I tried not to be nervous. But I opened it and it said, “Sebastian, we would like to congratulate you, you have been accepted to the College of Medicine,” you know, the whole spiel, and I honestly could not focus in class after that. I stepped out in the middle of class and FaceTimed my family, who were super happy.
I didn’t go to any classes that entire day– not as a reward or anything– I just really couldn’t focus on anything else because I was so happy. I’m the first child in my family to go to medical school, and my family was all so proud of me. I got my dream job essentially.
Last question: How can others imitate your success?
I’m actually a mentor for pre-med students at Texas A&M, and as a pre-med student, people will always tell you: “Hey, avoid this class,” “Don’t take that professor,” “Take that class at a community college because it is easier,” “Don’t do this,” “Don’t do that.”
Honestly, they give students a lot of fear. I was the opposite, I loved it when people told me I couldn’t do it. I loved the challenge. I had a lot of people say that it was a very dumb thing to do, that I was risking my GPA by taking this professor or signing up for that class.
A lot of people study for the A, and they want to keep a high GPA in college so that they can apply to medical school, but I don’t think that should be your primary concern. Med school is really competitive, and you might have a high GPA, but you are not retaining material because you study for the grade rather than the knowledge.
All throughout college, I thought to myself, “I’m paying a lot for college, I might as well take the classes I want to take and study what I want to study,” that way I could really, truly learn. Don’t take the class just for the A. That helped me so much.
That helped me build a strong knowledge foundation, and when I was studying for the MCAT: I had learned the material the first time around, so it was just review. I got good grades, and it felt so good being able to take a difficult class, with a difficult professor, and still excel because I believed in myself and I loved the challenge.
So, trust yourself more than you trust others, because you’d be surprised by what you can accomplish. That’s something that I tell everyone: don’t be afraid about what other people tell you, you know yourself better than anyone else knows you.
Resilience is key. You’re going to fail at times, and that’s okay. You have to be resilient and willing to admit error. Whenever something goes wrong, whether it’s in the lab or it’s a bad grade, instead of blaming it on the professor or on the test, just take the time to ask, “What went wrong?” Maybe I just didn’t study this chapter as much as I should have, or maybe I spent too much time on Netflix, or with friends, so just be willing to admit what you did wrong. Be very resilient and trust in yourself. Try to accept challenges and go through college not for the grades, but for the knowledge.
“Be very resilient and trust in yourself. Try to accept challenges and go through college not for the grades, but for the knowledge.”
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