Short version: many good things have happened.
I took two months to study for the USMLE Step 1, a test that covers the first two years of medical school, and while in Cambodia on my 6 week tour of Southeast Asia, I found out that I scored a 240/99 (the goal I set for myself). While studying for this test, I began editing a review book (First Aid for the USMLE) just for fun and submitting my corrections and suggestions to the authors. They contacted me and asked for my CV, and now I am working for them and credited as an author on the 2008 Edition of the book. During this time, I applied for transfer to several medical schools in the US. Drexel University in Philadelphia invited me for an interview. What follows is the story of that interview and the outcome.
Forgive the writing style. For the last week, I’ve been reading The Remains of the Day which is narrated by a proper English butler.
Last Wednesday, Friday, this past Monday and this Wednesday, Drexel invited people to interview for positions in the 2nd and 3rd year. There are 5 spots available for 3rd year and 16 interviewees. There are 4 spots available for 2nd year and 21 interviewees. Of those interviewing for 3rd year, I know six very well. I chose to interview on the last possible day so that 1) I would be remembered best, 2) I would be compared to no one else on my interview day, and 3) to learn as much as I could from people that had gone earlier in the week. This worked out well.
With my little attache case filled with my updated resume, research papers, Welcome to Grenada guide, and a few other things I took the train from NY to Philly, slept the night at a Bed and Breakfast, and headed to the interview. There were eight other students interviewing this day (all for second year). I was the last to arrive before 9am and took the head of the table. I introduced myself to the room, memorized everyone’s name and school, and started the room talking (they were staring at each other when I showed up). I am now always aware that I am being evaluated from the moment I walk in the door and that certain things (like command of a room, ease with strangers) are things that are always on display. Having done this so many times in Asia, I was very comfortable.
My interview went well. I was interviewed by a woman with whom I had spoken once previously on the phone. I had heard from other students that they only had 30 minutes to interview and that it was hard to get their message across in that time. I was aware of this as I shook her hand and sat down.
She then stared at me for four seconds.
“I have some presents for you,” I offered, at which point I opened up my little case and pulled out my updated documents. “This is my updated CV, and I’m very excited about the newest edition. I can’t wait to tell you about it.”
“Ok, then tell me.” I then told her the story of the First Aid Errors, how the job was offered to me, and that I was now a Contractor for Dr. Tao Le to manage the online site for the books. I was glad to have this out in the open early. She then began to ask me pointed questions and the tone of the interview was serious. I got the strong impression that she wanted to flush out people that didn’t know what they were doing with their life as she asked, “Why Drexel? Why Medicine? When did you decide Medicine? What will you be doing in five years? What sort of projects will you do if you come here? Explain to me exactly how your research was conducted.” And so on.
Oh, and my favorite: Why not become a writer?
I did my best to maintain eye contact, avoid looking away, and to sit with back straight and forward from the chair towards her. I have read that this makes you appear more interested and interesting. At every opportunity, I would answer in such a way as to lead the next question and in this way I was able to talk enthusiastically about things for which I had real enthusiasm. This made it easy to smile and hold her attention in a way that drew a smile from her.
And with that, she asked if I had any questions. The night before, I had prepared six questions that sounded specific but were in fact broad and I figured this would cover me, but I ended up not using them. Instead, I asked about very practical things like, “Do Drexel students take advantage of international rotations?” I knew the answer to this, but asked anyway to bring up the fact that I understand the importance of being bilingual and have plans to do a rotation in Ecuador (with Aunt Lucy and Uncle Fred) and that I have already traveled and have stories to tell you that will kill some time and make you think that I am well-rounded and interesting.
I told her about Laos and how much I loved the people. I told her about filthy, filthy Cambodia and the Killing Fields. I told her about the motorcycle trip in Vietnam with Kelly’s heroics, our first stitches, and the pictures that I’d show her if only she’d accept me. The interview ended with her telling me that they would decide later that day (or possibly on Thursday) who would be accepted and that I would know either Thursday or Friday.
So the interview was split very much in two and while I handled myself as well as I could have in the first half, I think we both enjoyed the second half much more. After this, my day was over. I then went down to the bookstore, bought Drexel stationary, and wrote her the following letter.
Dear Mrs. XXX,
As a writer, I depend on stories. There is something extra and hidden between the lines of a good story that would be harder to see if stated simply. You can imagine a much more interesting version of “he went to medical school,” for example. As an applicant, I notice when others have higher scores and I worry that someone might not see my stories tucked between my A’s and B’s. I wanted to thank you for inviting me to interview; it was my chance to show you some of the extra and hidden parts of my life that otherwise might have been missed on paper.
For Drexel, I hope to become a great story.
I would have mailed it, but as I said, the decision was being made later that day. I left the envelope with her secretary and caught the train back.
After working on an ulcer all day Thursday, I was called at 6:00pm. Drexel offered me a spot in their 2009 class and I took it immediately. This weekend, I fly to Las Vegas to give a speech at an Anatomy Research Congress and to share the good news with my mentors there. I’ll be giving the speech, then flying back to New York to pack up my life in Brooklyn and move to Philly.
What a ride.
Thank you, everyone, for taking an interest in my stories over the past two years. The encouragement to continue writing is what opened up so many of the doors that I ended up walking through in medical school. I never could have guessed that they would have taken me here, and I wanted to celebrate this awesome thing with all of you.
Thank you so much,
Drexel University Class of 2009.