David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Sarah, B.S. Chemistry, '12

Class of 2018

1. What led to your interest in a career in medicine? Who or what inspired you?

A friend of mine passed away from cancer during our senior year of high school.  Throughout his long battle, I was exposed to so many different aspects of medicine, from diagnosis to treatment to palliative care. From that point on, I have been interested in oncology, specifically pharmacology research. I loved my work in drug discovery, but I realized in order to feel fulfilled, I needed to make more of an impact on peoples’ lives. After shadowing doctors and seeing the hospital from a different perspective, I knew I wanted to become a physician.

 2. How did you prepare yourself for medical school? The application process?

I feel that the most important preparation I did for the application process was self-reflection. Since I didn’t apply immediately from undergrad and spent a few years working, I was fortunate to be in a position where I didn’t need to rush the process; I had time to sit back and really think about the person I am, why I was so determined to become a physician, and how all of the pieces of my life fit together. I ended up with an interesting and honest personal story.  I think that when you’re eager to share your story with people, the answers to questions within the applications and interviews aren’t only easier, but more genuine. Just figure out your story, own it, and be excited to tell others about it!

3.      What undergraduate experiences were most instrumental to your success?

My involvement with Colleges against Cancer, The Hope Lodge, and Relay for Life was invaluable to me as an applicant and as a person. I was given the opportunity to interact with patients, educate my peers, advocate for cancer related legislation, and fundraise for research.  The common denominator between these activities was gaining experience in talking to people from different walks of life. It may sound trivial, but to get through the application process and to become the physician I want to be, being comfortable talking to anyone is really important. I learned so much just from interacting with people involved in these groups, from patients to caregivers to policy makers.  My undergraduate research experience in Penny Beuning’s DNA Repair Lab was also an instrumental experience, because I was introduced early to scientific thought, research, and problem solving.

4.      What obstacles or hurdles did you overcome in your medical school journey?

The application process can be time-consuming, especially when traveling for interviews. I was fortunate to have a compassionate and understanding boss who let me take off time to finish up application materials and go to interviews.  This could have been a serious issue if my employers weren’t so understanding of my future goals.

5.      Did you matriculate directly to medical school or did you have a gap year? 

I graduated from college two and a half years before beginning medical school.

6.      If you did not matriculate directly, what did you do during your gap year(s) and how valuable were those experiences?

For my final co-op, I worked with Ensemble Therapeutics researching small molecule inhibition of disease related protein-protein interactions. They allowed me to work part-time during my last semester of classes at Northeastern, and hired me as a full time research associate when I graduated.  Working with such intelligent, accomplished scientists for over three years was incredible. They taught me so much about disease pathways and pharmacology. Beyond that, they helped bolster my self-confidence as a capable scientist. The responsibilities I held over specific projects and their respective target proteins forced me to better my organization and communication skills. Looking back, I am grateful I took this time away from school to mature and grow.

7.      What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?

If you are interested in becoming a physician, don’t immediately become intimidated by the process and shy away. I almost made that mistake. But if you do plan on embarking on the journey, make sure you are aware of the commitment you’re making, and be sure you want it for the right reasons. If you don’t have much clinical experience (like myself!), find a way to spend time with doctors. I had an email template requesting to shadow, and sent it to any physician working in Boston that I thought seemed interesting. The vast majority didn’t respond, but a few did, and that was all I needed.

Also, become your own personal advocate. Be certain that your application is free of errors, you follow stated rules and you respect deadlines. Don’t give the admission committees reason to disregard you! If you believe that you deserve to attend medical school and become a physician, be ready and willing to fight for a spot.  I think reasonable confidence and a true sense of self are crucial to success in this process.