I am 98% sure that I have never told another living person the following: I cried during my medical school interview.
I was nervous, but prepared. I was wearing a black power suit with a bright blue collared shirt that matched my eyes. I had a sassy short haircut and the perfect kitten heels. Every detail was prepared in advance at the advice of a book that I bought. It had the obvious title, “How to Get into Medical School.”
My resume spoke for itself. I had two degrees, volunteered at an HIV clinic once a week and on weekends taught art classes to children in a homeless shelter. I worked in the Biochemistry lab at school. I also worked for a medical research company that studied new drugs in human trials. I had taken the MCAT and scored OK, not Harvard OK, but good enough that I wasn’t going to take that hellish exam again. The only thing I was missing was the ability to speak another language, participation in a sport, or any real travel experience, but my resume would have to do.
My interview was scheduled and I arrived early. There were three other applicants in the room all dressed in similar black power suits with collared shirts of varying shades of blue. They must have bought the same book that I did. My hair was still the sassiest.
I was first. I walked into a room with a large round table in the center. Seated around the table were six people that would decide my fate. We made our introductions and shook hands one after the other. I sat down in the one empty chair in the room. They each took turns asking me questions about the HIV clinic, the homeless shelter, my job at the medical research company, and the biochemistry lab. I answered their questions breezily and was quite pleased with myself. Just when I thought that the interview was coming to a close, the quietest person in the room, a woman seated farthest from me spoke up.
“Kim, I read your admission essay in your application. It seems that you were very affected by your father’s accident. I would like to ask you a question about that.”
Oh that. Where it all started. I had not prepared for this. The application for medical school requires the applicant to write an essay along the vein of “why I want to be a doctor.” Typically applicants write about wanting to help people. Why else would anyone want to do this job (money, fame, adoration)? I wrote about my dad.
She went on, “You wrote about the medical expenses, your father’s rehabilitation, the financial stress that his disabilities placed on his business. What if your family said to you, Kim, medical school is simply too expensive. Your father cannot work, you are going to have to put your education on hold, help us catch up on our bills and work. You cannot go to medical school. What would you do?”
It was like a punch to the gut. I took a deep breath and started to explain that I had no choice; I had to do this. You all know the feeling if you are sitting here in this room. When you find your purpose, your reason for existence there is nothing that can stop its realization. My family would find a way to make it work. Of course, it did not come out quite like this. Instead, I felt the corners of my mouth turn downward, a catch formed in my voice and my eyes started to burn. Soon there was no stopping the tears. This could have actually been a conversation in our home and it would have been justified. My dad had been through so much. I placed my right hand over my face and my left index finger in the air. I composed myself and someone passed a tissue box to me. That was odd. Why did they have a box of tissues? I chuckled, looked around the room and said, “This is probably a first. I bet nobody cried during their medical school interview before.”
The quiet one said, “No, they usually do it afterward.” The room erupted in nervous laughter. I was able to suppress the tears and finish my answer. It seemed to pacify the room and then it was over.
I walked out of the room to the stunned faces of the other applicants. They heard the laughter and they could see my red puffy face. They looked perplexed. I knew what they were thinking -her hair is so sassy.
I just knew that I blew it. There was no way in the world that these people would take me seriously if I lost it in the interview. What kind of doctor cries? I was humiliated.
I had a few more interviews to go, but no one else ever asked me about my essay. Too bad, because I had rehearsed my answer and it would have brought all of THEM to tears. I would have had a standing ovation when I was finished.
A few weeks went by and a letter arrived in the mail from the school of the first interview, the school that I really wanted to go to. It was moderately thick which was potentially a good sign. My heart was racing when I tore open the envelope. “Congratulations, you have been accepted…”
I cried in the interview and they still accepted me? Were those people crazy? Maybe it was a mistake. They had me confused with another applicant in a black power suit and a blue collared shirt. I checked the letter again. Nope. My name. I was going. Nothing could stop me now.
Photo credit: Livia Korandy