Introduction

Mekinzee Elliott is a second year medical student at Kansas University School of Medicine. She answered the following questions for prospective medical students and for brand new students who are just beginning their medical journey. We hope that Mekinzee’s experiences will motivate and inspire you.

Meet Mekinzee Elliott

Hi, Mekinzee! Thank you for interviewing with us today. Here at International Medical Aid, we provide global internship opportunities and resources for prospective medical students to help them on their journeys. We write a lot of definitive guides on how to apply to medical schools. But there’s nothing quite like talking to someone who has been through the application process and is in medical school. 

Mekinzee’s Desire to Become a Doctor

Q: Tell us, how old were you when you wanted to become a doctor, and what kind of medicine did you think you wanted to practice at that time? 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A: So, I’ve wanted to become a physician for as long as I can remember. I have a few fill-in-the-blank worksheets from when I was in kindergarten. Some of those worksheets included “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as a question to fill in. All of them say “doctor.” 

Becoming a CNA and an EMT

Growing up, I was interested in a lot of different careers, but I always kept coming back to medicine. I didn’t consider specialties until high school, though. During my freshman year, I took a health class to fulfill the pre-requisite requirements for the Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) Program. One day, during that health class, we watched a video that Johns Hopkins produced about a little girl who needed brain surgery to have a shunt placed. The video explained the procedure and showed parts of it. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

Neurosurgery or Not?

At that moment, I decided I wanted to become a neurosurgeon. Since then, my perspective and preferences have changed, so I don’t think neurosurgery is for me, but that was the first time that I was really set on a particular specialty. 

Preparing for Medical School

Q: At what point did you start preparing for medical school? Was it during high school, after high school, or after you had already started your bachelor’s degree?

A: My preparation for medical school waxed and waned over the years, which I think was a good thing. Because of how long and strenuous the process is, I don’t think I would have had the stamina to solely focus on medical school preparation for that many years. 

Volunteering and Shadowing in High School

In high school, I prepared by becoming a CNA and EMT. Those programs allowed me to learn basic medical skills and work with patients. I think that was important for me to experience, and I think more high schoolers who are interested in medicine should become CNAs and EMTs, just for the experience they would gain. 

I was able to see if I was comfortable in a variety of health care settings: nursing homes; general hospital floors; emergency departments; and so forth. In addition to becoming a CNA and EMT, I spent a lot of time shadowing different specialties. One of the best things you can do is get as much exposure to medicine and health care as early on as possible. This will really help you decide if you want to go into medicine. When you apply to medical school, admissions committees really want to make sure you know what you are getting into. 

More Volunteering and More Shadowing in College

While I was in college, I took a step back from actively trying to prepare for medical school. For the first couple of years, I focused on my classes and really just enjoying college. It wasn’t until my junior year when I started actively focusing on medical school preparations. I began volunteering at the local hospital and humane society, and I started shadowing again. I went on a medical mission trip with my husband (who was in medical school). I also started building rapport with my professors. I actively sought out letters of recommendation. At that time, I also started taking many of my upper-level science courses, which helped me prepare for the MCAT. I took a gap year in between college and medical school, so I didn’t start preparing for the MCAT until my last semester of college. I continued my preparations that summer. 

Mekinzee’s Gap Year

Q: Did taking a gap year help you? 

A: I definitely think taking a gap year helped me. I should add that it was a forced gap year. I was a second-year applicant. I got rejected my first year, and I was pretty burnt out after college. I technically transferred twice throughout my undergraduate career, which really set me back. Many of my classes didn’t transfer, so I had to retake them. It took me five years to graduate. During two of those semesters, I was taking 23 credit hours so that I wouldn’t take five-and-a-half or six years to graduate. 

Having a year off allowed me to work and pay off some of my undergraduate loans. I was also able to travel. It was a really fun year. When it was time to start medical school, I was very excited and ready to once again begin school. 

Working During Her Gap Year

I also gained a lot of valuable experience during my gap year. I worked as a cardiac monitor tech and as a Shift Lead at Smoothie King. I loved both jobs! My tech position was great because I learned how to read EKGs. I was thankful to learn how to because reading EKGs can be difficult. I had an advantage over my classmates in that aspect.

I joke around that Smoothie King is what got me into medical school. My interviewer loved the fact that I worked at Smoothie King because it was different. We talked about it for almost one-third of my interview! So many medical students are cookie cutter. They either don’t have jobs or they worked in education or healthcare. I knew a lot of people who were tutors or TAs, or who worked as phlebotomists. 

Preparing for the MCAT

Q: What was it like preparing for the MCAT? 

A: Preparing for the MCAT is a marathon. I took a prep course the semester before I took the exam, which really helped me because it forced me to stay accountable to someone. I didn’t keep up with it as well as I should have, but I did a lot more than I would have done on my own. 

MCAT Study Aids

After the semester was over, I spent a good chunk of my summer studying and preparing for the MCAT. I loved using the Kaplan books for most of the subjects. I used Khan Academy to review for the Psychology and Sociology sections. Altius was the prep course I took. The Altius prep course came with a workbook/study book, and it had a ton of practice tests. Those were the most helpful. I took a practice exam every Saturday for almost three months straight. Those practice exams were the single most helpful part of my preparation. It’s a fast-paced test, so it’s important to train yourself to think quickly. It’s also a very long test, so the more full-length practice exams you take, the better. 

Practice, Practice, and More Practice

Q: Did you feel prepared when you took the exam?

A: I think there are very few people who truly feel ready to take the MCAT. Don’t get me wrong. There are people who do phenomenally on it. I would say I did fairly well. I scored above average. But I never felt truly ready. I could have studied more. I didn’t feel ready the day I took the exam, even though I had prepared by taking a ton of practice exams.

I was really comfortable with practice tests, but the actual MCAT was the hardest exam I have ever taken. I walked out of the exam thinking that there was no way I was going to get into medical school. I was pleasantly surprised when I got my score.

Getting Rejected the First Time

Q: Let’s talk about rejection because it’s something many students face. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject! What helped you apply a second time instead of giving up?

A: Getting rejected was really difficult, so going through the process of re-applying was hard at times. Getting rejected on my first try caused me to experience a lot of self-doubts. My amazing family and friends encouraged me. In a roundabout way, getting rejected actually gave me more confidence because of the jobs I worked during my gap year and because of how hard I worked to get accepted on my second try. 

Right after I was rejected, I felt pretty down for a couple of weeks. But there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to try again. I prepared by volunteering more. I loved volunteering because it helped bring back some of my self-worth. I felt like I was able to help make a small difference in the world.

Retaking the MCAT

I also stepped up my game when it came to preparing for the MCAT. I hadn’t done super well on the MCAT the first time I took it. During my gap year, I signed up to take the exam in July, and by the time I realized I wasn’t ready, it was too late to cancel. So I took the exam and chose to not have it scored so that I wouldn’t end up with a 0 in the system from not having taken it. 

I took a mental break after that. I got real with myself and asked myself if this was something I really wanted. It was a very difficult time for me. But in my heart, I knew I wanted to practice medicine. I had already come this far, and my dreams of becoming a physician outweighed my fear of getting rejected again. 

She studied hard. She did well.

I found renewed strength, and I studied very hard. There was only one more exam I could take that would qualify for the next round of applications, and it was three weeks away. I’d say I studied for 12-14 hours a day for those three weeks, only stopping to eat and shower. It was the hardest thing I have ever studied for in my life, and taking the exam was even harder. When I got my score back a month later, I was amazed to learn that I had scored in the 80th percentile. It wasn’t a crazy high test score, but it was enough to get into medical school. Because I hadn’t done well on the MCAT the first time I took it, I knew that, if I was rejected again, it wouldn’t be because of my MCAT score. 

Building Back Her Self Confidence

Q: Tell us more about how you built your self confidence back up.

A: So after I scored really well on my MCAT, I took a couple weeks to finish up all my secondary applications, and then I applied for jobs. I knew I wanted to stay busy. I mentioned earlier that I worked as a Shift Lead at Smoothie King and as a Cardiac Monitor Tech. I interviewed for and was offered both of those positions on the same day. That really boosted my confidence. 

Staying Busy

I worked at Smoothie King during the day and at the hospital in the evenings. It kept me busy, and it kept my mind off whether I would be accepted into medical school. I focused on becoming my very best at both of my jobs. At Smoothie King, I memorized all the recipes and learned about the nutritional contents for each smoothie. At the hospital, I learned as much as I could about different heart rhythms and the physiology of the heart. 

So, between my MCAT score and my two jobs, that built my confidence back up. Once I started getting my medical school interviews, I was able to confidently sit across from my interviewers because of how much work I had done to be interviewing in the first place. I realized that, even if I wasn’t accepted into medical school, my preparation for it was something to be proud of in itself. I could honestly say that I gave it everything I had, and that alone gave me the confidence I needed. 

Choosing Which School to Attend

Q: Since you had several interviews, how did you choose which medical school to attend? 

A: My husband is a medical student at Kansas University, which was one of the medical schools I applied to. I decided that if I got in, Kansas University was where I would go. 

I was also accepted into a medical school in Texas that I loved. I think that school might have been my favorite program. I just loved everything about it. It was also half the price of Kansas University because Texas subsidizes medical school tuition. 

So, I ultimately had to choose between living in a different state than my husband for four years or attending Kansas University, which was my second favorite choice. I chose to attend Kansas University because I didn’t want to live apart from my husband. I knew I would want to be with him and have his support, especially since he was already in medical school and had experience that he could use to help me. 

First Year Expectations vs. Reality

Q: What did you expect your first year of medical school to be like? And what was it really like?

A: Honestly, I’m not sure what I expected! It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I thought I knew what to expect because my husband was in his third year of medical school, and I had watched him go through his first two years. But until you’re in the program, you can’t accurately anticipate what it will be like.

I lost my energy and motivation more quickly than I realized I would, which surprised me since I had worked so hard to get in. I was able to regain my momentum by volunteering at the free clinic. Being there and helping patients reminded me of why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place. 

Advice for Prospective Students

Q: What advice would you give to medical school applicants?

Regarding Secondary Application Essays

A: Be yourself. Don’t try to answer questions with what you think the interviewer wants to hear. They are good at seeing through that. It’s very important to be genuine. On your secondary application essays, be very specific about overcoming difficult situations, but avoid anything that could be a red flag. Examples of this include anxiety, depression or eating disorders. Medical schools are not supposed to judge you based on those things, but they do. It happened to me. Please don’t give them the opportunity to do the same thing to you.

Regarding Your Future Classmates

When you are at your interviews, keep in mind that the other interviewees will be some of your future classmates. See if you vibe with them. Medical school is way too hard to get through alone, and I think it’s really important to get along with and form bonds with your classmates. Find people you who you fit in with, and find a place where you’ll be happy. 

Regarding Your Interview

If you feel like your interview went poorly because the interviewer lacked professionalism, you can ask for another interview. This also happened to me, twice. I didn’t do anything about it the first time because I didn’t realize that I could. I found that out from a friend who worked in the admissions department at a medical school. So the second time it happened to me, I asked for a do over. I actually asked the Dean of Admissions. She was running the event that day. She was very apologetic about my poor experience, and she was the one who ended up re-interviewing me. 

Regarding Discrimination

I think applicants should advocate for themselves, especially if they feel like they are not being accurately or fairly represented. Examples of this would be your interviewer focusing on your religion, sexual orientation, race, etc. It’s okay for you to offer them that information, but they themselves should never focus on that.

Regarding Letters of Recommendation

Make sure your letters of recommendation are from people who could write about you personally. I think it looks better to have a personalized letter rather than a letter from someone who might be considered more prestigious. I’m not sure how other people feel about that, but it’s what worked for me.

Advice for New Students

Q: What advice do you have for new students who were just accepted into medical school?

Make Friends.

A: Like I said, make friends! It’s important to find at least one person who can be your friend. That person should be there for you when you’re struggling and when you’re celebrating. Because, trust me, you will experience both while you’re in medical school. 

Don’t Compete.

Help your classmates. Remember that you’re not competing against them. Most of them won’t go into the same specialty as you. But even if they do, there are many different programs to choose from, so they’re still unlikely to be your competition. At most, you’ll have 200 classmates out of the thousands upon thousands who are currently enrolled in medical school. Medicine is a team sport, so it’s important to learn to work together early on, instead of competing. 

Find a Study Routine that Works for You.

Everyone is different and will have a different study routine. A lot of my friends had study routines/methods that didn’t work for me, and that’s okay. I found what works for me. 

Find the outside resources that work for you! FirstAide, Sketchy and Pathomas are standards in the medical school community, but they aren’t the only options out there. Google is your friend for finding the right resources. 

Make Time for Yourself and Time to Study.

I can’t say this enough: make time for yourself. You’ll never feel like you have time to yourself, but it’s important to make time anyway. It could be a workout or watching your favorite TV show with your best friend or husband. Just don’t do school 24/7. That’s not healthy for anyone! Don’t feel like you have to make time for yourself every single day, though. That might not be realistic. Aim for once a week.

On the other hand, make time to study. You’re in medical school, after all! You’ll need to learn to say no to things when you don’t have the time. Be honest with your friends and family about how much time you have. You might need to study for an important exam one week and need to postpone plans because of it. That’s okay! Your family and friends will need to understand that.

Q: Thank you so much for your time today, Mekinzee.

A: Thank you for having me!

Conclusion

We hope Mekinzee’s perspective helps you as you apply to medical school. 

If you have questions or need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We can help review your primary and secondary applications, help you improve your essays and help you practice for your interviews.

Also, be sure to check out our definitive guides for getting into various medical skills. 

Be sure to check back often as we regularly update our blog. Good luck as you apply to medical school! We’re cheering you on.