July Scrub Superstar: Medical School Student Ellen Fields
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! My name is Ellen and I’m currently a medical student in Kansas! Fun fact: I was actually born in Switzerland and moved to the U.S. when I was very little. Aside from going to school for undergrad at the University of Arkansas, I have lived in Kansas City my whole life and am so happy to be back here to my favorite city for med school.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in med school and how do you get through them?
I think one of the biggest challenges is comparing yourself to others, and I knew that was going to be tough when starting med school. With acceptance rates to med school being quite low with thousands of applicants, most schools usually have a pretty good pool to hand pick from. Once you get in, you’re surrounded with all the other people that are used to being in the top 5-10% of their class, made all A’s, were the president of multiple student organizations, etc. It’s kind of an odd transition going from an environment where you’re the best and brightest, to a place where no matter what you’re never going to be the smartest person in the room.
It’s easy to get caught up in the competitive nature and environment that medical school brings, but I think the best thing you can do to combat that is to surround yourself with people who will support and encourage you rather than try to always beat you out. There are always going to be those people that brag about how well they did and make you feel bad about your performance, even when you still did well. Finding a group of people that are similar to you and will share study guides, questions, and help collaborate when you don’t understand something is just about priceless. Everyone has different strengths, interests, and backgrounds, so having other people who can help you and you can help them makes med school a lot more fun and enjoyable. Find your niche, work hard, and encourage one another.
How was the med school application process for you?
Long and expensive (laughs). It was good but you need a lot of preparation beforehand. I applied to 8 schools. Typically, traditional applicants apply before senior year of undergrad and take the MCAT before or during that summer. In simple terms, applying to med school is usually a 3-step process. The first step is similar to a “common app” style like when applying to college. This is a big, 20+ page application and the med schools want to know everything – every activity, grade, tons of references, even seemingly insignificant details like where your parents and siblings went to middle school… sometimes you have to do a little digging! Also depending on how many schools you apply to, this can get EXPENSIVE since everyone you send it to adds a fee. According to the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), the average person applies to about 16 schools. For the primary application, the first school you apply to is around $150, and every school you apply to after that is about $40. Depending on the competitiveness of your application and the acceptance rates of the schools you are looking at, people choose to apply to more or less than 16.
I really recommend you don’t put it off. Start your application process as soon as possible. It takes a lot of time to go through and edit it and make it perfect. Once you are ready to submit, you click which schools you’d like to apply to and send your common app out to those schools.
Then the second step is your secondary app (application). All the schools will get that same first application, filter yours by certain things, and look at your application to decide if they would like to get to know you a little more and if you might be a good fit for their school. Those schools will then send you a secondary app that is tailored to their schools. Secondary apps usually have essay questions about why you want to go to that particular school, what makes you unique and how you will add diversity to that med school, etc. They vary in length and specificity – one of my secondary apps had 16 specific essay questions, and one of mine just said: “Use this box to type in a 1,000-word essay about anything you would like us to know.” It definitely depends on the school! For each school, secondary applications usually cost anywhere from $40-100 on top of the primary application fee… do the math and start saving early.
Once the schools have reviewed your primary and secondary apps, if they think you are a good candidate for their program they will invite you to interview. (Don’t forget to add room for hotel and travel expenses!) The med school interview is a whole different beast itself. Some schools are notoriously more difficult than others, and in almost every one I got asked tough ethical questions, specific medical-legal and healthcare policy questions, and some will even put you on the spot and ask you biochemistry/science related questions.
Some funny questions that I got asked during interviews (where they were very much trying to see how I reacted under pressure or trying to throw me off):
What is the 14th amendment of the constitution? (Shout out to my 8th-grade social studies teacher because I somehow remembered this?!?)
Why is there fuzz on a tennis ball?
What is a Ras protein?
An infant, a single mother of two, and an elderly person with the cure to cancer are all dying in one room. You can only save one. Which one do you choose and why? (hint – no matter what you choose your interviewer will likely stick you in a tough spot where you feel like you made the wrong choice)
After the interview, they will select their remaining applicants from there and hopefully, you’re one of the lucky ones to get a big admissions packet in the mail!
In general, this is a multiple step process that takes months and months. It’s kind of like a “hurry up and wait” game where you’re rushing to get your secondary apps in, but then waiting for months to hear back because it’s sitting in a pile of 3,000 other secondary applications. The earlier you get your applications in, the better chances you have of getting one of those remaining seats. For a timeline reference, I submitted my primary application in July and got my first acceptance letter in December.
What advice would you give to others applying to med school?
I would say start early – I know I said that before, but it’s important! Additionally, I think getting clinical experience is really important. During interviews, the admissions committee and the school want you to be aware of exactly what you’re getting into, the *almost* decade of training you’ll need after college before you get a full salary and that there are many ups and downs of the healthcare system. I think just about any doctor or nurse will tell you that it is definitely NOT like Grey’s Anatomy. Med schools want to make sure you’re there for the right reasons and that your heart is in it for the long haul.
I also think doing research and especially having published research as an undergrad is important. It is not a hard and fast requirement to get into med school. But I think these days about 80% of people that get accepted have previous research experience. If you don’t do research, they will likely ask you why you didn’t in the interview. Volunteering is also really good, and diversifying your volunteering experiences in and outside of the medical community is also very welcomed. They have boxes you’ll check on your application – medical volunteer work, outside volunteering, paid medical jobs, paid non-medical jobs, etc.
My main piece of advice is find something that makes you unique and stand out. When you’re applying to a school that has 10,000 applications to sift through, good grades, a good MCAT score, and volunteering aren’t usually enough to guarantee you one of their coveted ~160 spots. Make the school remember you, and then blow them away in the interview!
Why did you choose this particular career path?
This is the question of the hour. (And you will definitely get this question when you apply to med school so make sure you know how to answer it WELL.)
I have always been fascinated with medicine. When I was 8 years old, I decided then that I wanted to be a doctor and my fascination of medicine has grown ever since. Let’s just say I had many “flirtations” with doctors offices, hospitals, etc… that turned into a long-term commitment with the world of medicine. Each injury, broken bone, and unusual sickness acted as a continual confirmation for me that this is the career path I wanted to pursue.
As a patient, I learned a lot about the process of being a doctor, diagnosing, treating, and prescribing – what life was really like. I met really amazing doctors and I met ones that weren’t so great. It was then that I really started tweaking my mindset and asking myself what is it that I can bring to the field of medicine. After exploring things from the provider side with volunteering, shadowing, and now med school, I know I have found my calling! After a decade or two of slowly shaping myself and learning from my experiences as a patient, I find out more and more what I can bring to the table as a provider.
What are some of your favorite activities outside of work? (if you have any free time)
Yes, you do occasionally have free time if you make it (laughs). I love getting to spend time with my friends inside and outside of med school. My friends and I will usually go get some sort of brunch after every exam (bottomless mimosas anyone??) and just the usual movie nights, dinners, and hangouts. I also have a sweet old black Labrador/mutt dog. So, I love going home to my parent’s house and taking her for walks. I love seeing my family and going home (that is luckily nearby) to get away from the crazy environment that med school brings, and get a nice homecooked meal (thanks, mom)!
Speaking of cooking, I also cooked a lot during undergrad and I really enjoy doing that. I don’t really have the time that I did back then to cook every night anymore, so I meal prep a lot. This summer when I don’t have exams I’m really looking to try a few new recipes!
Finally, what feature is the most important to you while choosing your scrubs?
I love scrubs with a tall length option in the pant sizes- those sizes are my saving grace! I also like fun, bright colors. I think a lot of the time when you are inside all day working your tail off, having something that is bright and happy can set the tone for a good mood. I like scrubs that have a nice fit, are comfortable to move around in, and have lots of pockets! It is all about finding the scrubs that fit you well.