Getting To and Through Medical School

I started my undergraduate education in community college, transferred to UC Irvine to complete my B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, took a gap year, and I'm now an MS1 at UC San Diego School of Medicine. I put myself through undergrad, and now medical school, with the help of my husband and our dog, Olie (captain of moral support in the DeVries household.) Along the way, I've learned a lot about resilience and myself.

I'll start with a little background...

I won't delve into the details here, but I have experienced a lot of struggles with my immediate family. From the time that I graduated high school, it was very clear that I would be on my own, financially, emotionally, and otherwise. I knew that I wanted to be a doctor, but that wasn’t something my family supported. This eventually led me to leave home and move in with my now-husband who has been constantly supportive throughout this journey.

Okay, now let’s talk logistics.

I won’t lie, making it through college and medical school without a typical support system is rough. Finding resources, exploring time management approaches, and financial considerations were important parts of my journey. The best thing I can say for anyone going through any sort of personal or educational struggle is to seek advice and help when you need it. Universities have counseling services available for a reason! Through talking with advisors, counselors, and friends, I worked to reframe my thinking into more of a growth mindset. I began to see that where I came from made me who I am and that it would be a disservice to myself and my future patients to give up my dream.

Initially, I was not happy that I had to start my education at community college. It was an incredible experience, but at the time I felt like it wasn’t “real” college, and worried that beginning there would prevent me from matriculating into medical school. Turns out, being at a community college allowed me to save money and find awesome mentors that helped guide me through the transfer process. One of my professors urged me to apply for a research fellowship at a nearby university. Through that, I got a job as a research assistant, which ended up with me later becoming a first-author on a publication!

Time To Transfer

After spending three years in the community college system, I transferred to UCI. My counselors there were essential during the preparation of my medical school applications. I knew that working a typical 40-hour workweek wouldn’t be feasible with classes and extracurricular activities, so I sought out jobs that were more flexible. During the five years that I was in undergrad, I ended up working as a nanny, selling frozen yogurt, working as a research assistant, giving horseback riding lessons, and tutoring. I organized my work around my classes, and my studying around my work and classes.

I also worried about the opportunity costs associated with working so much in undergrad, since such a big part of medical school preparation is extra-curricular experiences. To ameliorate this as best as possible, I applied for every scholarship I was eligible for. Where I could, I focused on opportunities that would pay for my time, whether they be jobs or fellowships. Needing to pay the bills that weren’t covered by scholarships and loans did focus the opportunities I spent my energy on but didn’t limit me entirely. I considered which unpaid experiences meant the most to me and went with those.

Through this selection criteria, I ended up spending four years working with the same non-profit organization and 2 years in the same lab at UCI. In both instances, their work was important to me and I felt I could make a difference in those spaces. I ended up with fantastic mentors in both places as well. There’s no wrong or right way to prepare for medical school, but I personally think I benefited from having fewer experiences that were more longitudinal and meaningful.

My Gap Year

After I transferred and began working with pre-med counselors at my university, it made the most sense for me to take a gap year. This allowed me to take a summer free of classes before my final year to work and study for the MCAT. I was also waiting for one of my research projects to be published, and I knew that would boost my application.

During my gap year, my main focus was on obtaining more clinical experience. I was hoping to only take one year off, but I knew that spending my time off in a meaningful way could also benefit me if my gap year turned into gap years. I ended up working as a medical scribe and it was the best choice I could have made! I loved my coworkers and the experience as a whole. Having a break from school and tests while going through the application and interview process was amazing. For those of you that are in financially tight situations, there are options available from AMCAS to help defray the cost of applying. That took a huge amount of stress off of my shoulders!

And Now I'm Here

Now that I’m actually in med school and nearing the end of my MS1 year, I know without a doubt that I am in the best possible place for me and doing what I’m meant to do. Medical school is hard, and it’s stressful at times, but it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Learning how to seek and utilize resources when I need them has enabled me to succeed academically despite whatever setbacks I face.

Why talk about my journey to, and through, medicine?

I believe it’s vitally important to know that not everyone in medicine comes from an “ideal” background with an identical journey. Overcoming obstacles and learning to be resilient in the face of setbacks has helped me more than any class or extracurricular ever could have. So many students seem to think that everyone around them is perfect in every way, but it’s simply not true. When I was in undergrad, and even in weak moments earlier this year, I got the feeling that the people who love to tell me I’ll fail were right, that a career in medicine wasn’t for someone like me. I realize now that I was wrong to think that way. I wish I had exposure to more people who struggled and overcame obstacles when I was going through the application process, so I’m determined to share my story now.  Knowing you’re not alone can make all the difference. Please feel free to comment below or reach out to me with any feedback or further questions!

I’m Jackie DeVries. I’m a student at University of California San Diego SOM. I'm a lover of all things medical and organizational. You can find me on Instagram and on my blog.