Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 21, 2024

Getting accepted to medical school

By SHIHUA CHEN | February 23, 2023

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COURTESY OF SHIHUA CHEN

After getting accepted to medical school, Chen discusses the challenges she continues to face and reflects on her time as an applicant.

At 3:30 p.m., I finally received the phone call.

Every Wednesday around three in the afternoon, I anticipated a phone call. I was expecting to hear back from a medical school that I interviewed at. On the day of my interview, they told me I would receive my results within six weeks. 

That Wednesday was the sixth week. 

Last year, I interviewed at this same school during the previous application cycle, but I was ultimately rejected. Because this was my second — and, in my mind, last — time applying to medical school, I was especially anxious. Today had to be the day; otherwise, I wouldn’t hear back until after the new year. I wanted to be able to relax during the holiday season with an acceptance in hand.

Just as I was beginning to lose hope, the phone rang. I picked it up and heard the word I’d been eagerly waiting for: congratulations.

The dean informed me of my acceptance and congratulated me, and I awkwardly thanked her in shock and disbelief. I felt elated and stunned, and I quickly called and messaged my friends and family to share the news. 

And yet, the anxiety and unhappiness that had persisted during the past year didn’t magically disappear like I had imagined it would in this moment. I brushed away the feeling of uneasiness, reassured myself that maybe this good news just hadn’t had the time to fully settle in yet and went out to celebrate with friends that night.

Over the next few months, my anxieties never fully disappeared, despite my only responsibilities being working my full-time job and attending other interviews. As reality settled in, my worries only grew. I felt overwhelmed with thoughts about the logistics of moving, finding an apartment, making new friends and adjusting to a full course load that people have aptly described as “trying to drink out of a fire hose.” 

During the holiday season, I started thinking about what I could do to prepare for medical school and set myself up to be a more competitive applicant for residency — all before I was even enrolled. 

Time spent on Med-Twitter further discouraged me about what I was getting myself into for the next eight years as I read about others’ frustrations with the inequities of the medical education system and resident physician burnout.

Despite achieving the goal I had worked so hard and waited so long for, I felt as if I can’t fully revel in the accomplishment. My perception of and relationship with medicine has changed so much during my gap years as I’ve been learning more about the medical school application process, applied twice and immersed myself in (often toxic) online spheres. 

The sense of accomplishment of getting into medical school and the honor of entering a rewarding and well-meaning career as a physician came at the cost of myself. Medicine meant sacrifice.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful to be in the position I am in and still very much want to pursue a career in medicine. While applying, I knew that the journey would be long and challenging. 

However, I have realized that, although medicine can be all-consuming if you allow it to be, it’s important for me to establish boundaries and learn how to balance and prioritize other things in my life that I deem important to me. 

During my gap years while applying to medical school, I often put other things like my relationships and my personal well-being on the back burner, thinking that they could wait. Many of the things I did were driven by extrinsic motivation — whether an activity would look good on my application and whether I could get a publication or a letter of recommendation out of it. 

I was confused when non-pre-med friends would join clubs and take on responsibilities that didn’t seem to benefit their careers or graduate school applications in any way. Unknowingly, I had allowed my life to center itself around optimizing my medical school application and, in turn, allowed myself to become nothing more than an ideal medical school applicant. 

I don’t want to repeat that mistake again in medical school or residency. Since the new year, I started doing more things that I want to do and have begun to rediscover who I am as a person outside of medicine — something that I had lost sight of.

My two priorities this year, especially during the months I have before medical school starts, are my relationships and my personal well-being, both of which suffered as I unintentionally isolated myself this past year. Planning trips with friends, reading books, buying a Rec Center membership and going to the gym have all been part of this process. 

Medicine is a career I want to do, but it is not all of me.

Shihua Chen is a research assistant at Hopkins from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.


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