Its summertime now and the air is filled with relief from all the college students who successfully made it through another semester. I’m right there with them; the first two days after finals I’m pretty sure I just slept and watched Netflix all day. This is a rare luxury for a pre-medical student. Since the end of the spring semester, I’ve had a solid month to reflect on this past academic year and decide which experiences meant the most to me. In hindsight, I recognize where I struggled and find myself reflecting on what I wish I had known. As I reflect on this past academic year, I will bring it to you in sections. Welcome to Part One!
A Little Background If you read my introductory post, you probably know I was active duty military for around eight years. During that time, I studied business management and marketing at an online university. However, when I transitioned from military life to being a full-time college student, I considered myself a first year student in biology and chemistry. There was a colossal difference between late night studying for online courses in my apartment after working all day and being immersed in student life as a full-time undergraduate student. In the former, work was my priority and school was something I squeezed into my little free time. Now, it’s the complete opposite, with me trying to fit work into my busy academic calendar and being surrounded by other college students rather than work colleagues. This was not a continuation of what I was doing before; therefore, these last two semesters were more like, year one of four. This past academic year was the start of a new life in medicine and a new way for me to help others. I think it’s an important takeaway for nontraditional pre-meds to realize they are not alone and for traditional pre-meds to see that there is nothing wrong with changing your direction later in life. As an adult, I realize that as you grow, your plans change in varying degrees as your interests and circumstances change. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, trust me when I say that it will someday. Life is full of unexpected detours and fortuitous situations.
Summer Preparation for College Last summer, I was living in South Korea where I was stationed for nearly a year. As summer waned, I quickly transitioned from Active Duty to being a college student. Literally in the matter of a week, I went from wearing a uniform and being worried about North Korea’s nuclear weapons to wearing jean shorts and a t-shirt, thinking about class schedules. I wasn’t able to return home from the Army until August, which meant that I missed the orientation and some welcome events at my university. Of course, I was bummed. But, when life gives you lemons you have a choice to make the best of every situation. I chose to be dedicated to becoming involved, even if that meant having to make sacrifices in other areas of my life. The same day I flew home after travelling for over 24 hours, Ryan (now my husband) drove me straight from the airport to the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) to speak with my advisor and the military liaisons concerning the education benefits that would pay for my tuition. I had not taken a shower yet or brushed my teeth and I was jetlagged beyond comprehension. Over the next week, I attended as many welcome events as I could with the hope of meeting new friends. Thankfully, for these events I didn’t feel or look like a tired potato. Less than seven days after stepping foot off the airplane I was stepping foot into the classroom, which is not an exaggeration.
Ryan and I…it felt good to be home
The Reality of My First Semester During my fall semester at UAH, I enrolled in 16 credit hours worth of courses. It was a fair amount for me and considered full time by most universities. The course load was challenging and kept me busy, but really wasn’t enough to be overwhelming most of the time. I loved all of my classes, but struggled significantly with math. On the first morning before my 8 am math class, the reality of my situation sunk in when I didn’t even know those first day ‘review’ concepts. I would love to just go back and look at my face that day; a mixture of horror, self-doubt and anxiety. Because it had been so long since I had taken a math class, even the simplest of concepts were foreign to me. I was frustrated with myself for not knowing these things, but knew it was my responsibility to learn them. Over the subsequent months, I spent endless hours of late nights and early mornings reading my math textbook and watched a plethora of Khan Academy videos. (I cannot tell you enough how much those videos saved me). There were occasions in which I watched one video five times in a row until a concept sank in. I also worked on extra problems from the book and utilized the university tutor center, which was invaluable. As the semester went on, my grades in math improved and I received an “A” in the class. This experience was a valuable lesson early on. Don’t quit when things get hard. Independent motivation is the true key to success. No one will force you to study, especially if you feel behind in a particular subject and need to study beyond the regular course material. No one will hold your hand and walk you to the tutor’s office. I know the road to becoming a doctor will have many of these speed bumps, but I feel more prepared now because I know that I have control over my own destiny, not math or any other subject.
Involvement During my first week at UAH, I joined every student organization I had any kind of interest in. This included two pre-medical organizations. I was so excited and passionate that I really just wanted to do everything. About a month into the semester, I realized I couldn’t possibly make every meeting for every club, so then I focused on a few. For my own journey, I found the pre-medical clubs to be invaluable. The Alabama Student Rural Health Association (ASRHA) showed me aspects of rural healthcare I had never considered or known about, while the Medical Career Club (MCC) focused on all types of health professions and provided many opportunities throughout the year. Through the MCC, I was fortunate enough to meet with Ms. Jennifer Kimble, the Director of Admissions at Vanderbilt Medical School in Nashville, TN. She looked over my resume, identified my strengths and discussed at length areas that needed more attention to be considered as an applicant. By participating in these great clubs, I met other pre-med students; which I love doing. We were able to learn from each other’s experiences. If I had not joined these clubs early on, I would have missed a lot of opportunities. Other activities I was involved in included working for the University and participating in community service opportunities. I volunteered weekly at a local hospital in the outpatient surgery department and even helped sign students up to become organ donors.
Support and Love When I was welcomed into Alpha Omicron Pi, or AOII, I met a strong group of women, including future engineers, scientists, artists, and doctors who are going to change the world one day. Toss out any preconceived notions you have about joining a sorority. When I joined I was greeted everywhere I went on campus by amazing sisters I didn’t even know yet. The required study hours forced me to get out of my comfort zone, which mostly consisted of studying alone in my apartment, and into a group setting, I joined an organization that brought a whole new meaning to my college experience. Going from constant community and comradery in the Army to being a fresh college student in a new city could have been lonely, but it didn’t have to be and it wasn’t for me. The transition was hard but my sisters made it so much easier. I always knew that if I had a problem, I could drop a note in our group message and have twenty answers before you can say, “AOII is awesome.”
My ‘sister’ Emily and I
In Conclusion My first semester was fast paced, challenging and a rare fresh start. I don’t think I slowed down at any point during the fall. I had to learn how to be a student again and that was hard in more ways than I can describe. I don’t think I really appreciated how difficult it would be until I actually experienced it for myself. I was learning the best way to take and organize notes and the most efficient way to use a planner. In hindsight, I should have budgeted more time for myself, even if it was for only thirty minutes a day. I also should have made more time for friends. Time passes so quickly and the days eventually become months. Ensure you walk away from your undergraduate experience with no regrets, because some day every seemingly insignificant experience will matter more than you realize now.
If you’re an incoming freshman (or anyone) and would like to learn more about my personal experience or just ask questions, please comment below or email me! I would love to hear from you and about your journey. Best wishes!