Quandary of the Magi, Part 1

Want to know where I’m going to school in the fall? Read on!

Nearly everyone in this country with a high school education is familiar with O. Henry, and, by extension, his most famous short story: The Gift of the Magi. I’ve read a few of his other stories and I find them mostly forgettable, perhaps dated beyond their relevance. Magi, however, stays with me and continues to pop up in my thoughts. There’s something about that perfectly ironic ending, poignant to the point of melodramatic, but also sincere and heartwarming. I recently picked up an old compendium of O. Henry stories and re-read the story. What caught my attention this time was not the plot but the final paragraph, in which the author takes his time to explain the title. He suggests that Jim and Della did, in fact, give each other the perfect Christmas gifts that night. The leather strap for a pawned watch, the tortoise shell combs for tresses now gone — these essentially worthless items were symbols of the priceless gifts they did bestow on each other. When O. Henry mentions the “greatest treasures of their house,” I believe he means their willingness to give up their most prized belongings and beliefs for the sake of their cherished loved one. The immaterial, invaluable spiritual gift of sacrifice is the true gift of the magi, perhaps the most important ever given.

One problem I have with Magi is that the its perfect ending is almost never duplicated in real life. The story is made all the more poignant to me because, in real life, both parties seldom share the combined joy and anguish of the “O. Henry ending.” And so would it be with the medical school decision, one that has taken far longer and consumed far more of our patience and goodwill than Kim or I expected. The question was not whether a sacrifice was necessary, but rather, who would make it? Who would compromise their personal beliefs for the sake of the other, and who would benefit from the sacrifice?

This August I will enter the Georgetown University School of Medicine, class of 2010.

I withdrew the last of my other acceptances on May 12, sliding in just under the AAMC deadline of the 15th. This means that the decision process took somewhere around seven months, blowing past the original deadline of January 1 and just about every other deadline we set after that. I had originally planned to explain what happened in those seven months at the top of this entry, but it ended up being incredibly long and perhaps too boring for people who just wanted to know the ending. I’ve decided instead to put this up now and post the second part of the story in the near future. For now, though, break out the blue and grey. Blair bleeds Hoya blue! (But not before he bleeds Big Red. Or something like that.)

Still Here, Perseverating

I don’t think it’s appropriate to post anything final at the moment, but it appears as though a decision has (mostly) been made regarding medical school. I will say this much — the benison of having a choice is not quite as perfect as I expected it to be, and decision-making at 28 is much different from doing the same at 22. I don’t really know where the appropriate compromise lies between idealism and practicality, but I hope we’ve found it.

Another Year, Another Candle

The message, “Happy Birthday Father Blair,” was carefully scribed on a cookie and perched on the cake that my parents brought to our house last Sunday. As their well-meaning Engrish announced 48 hours early, today is my 28th birthday, marking yet another year of my existence on the planet. And what a year it’s been.

I was halfway through my classes a year ago, clueless as to whether my work was going to pay off in the end. I was rightfully proud of my postbac grades up to that point, but my undergrad record was still dismal and nothing could be done about it. The MCAT was too far away to be a top priority, but too close — and too important — not to add to my list of anxieties. Yeah, I was under a lot of stress. I was also happy, so much happier than I had been in previous years. It felt good to be busy again, but I’d been busy before; the difference was that I was finally taking care of myself, had finally found what I wanted and was working full speed to reach for my dreams. It was a daily struggle with textbook, problem sets, and exams, but it was a struggle I relished. Don’t get me wrong; it’s also nice to take a break from it all, and right now I’m being kept busy for entirely different reasons. I’m still as happy as ever. But there are days when I wish I was once again waist-deep in my coursework. I’m sure I’ll wonder what the hell I was thinking in another year.

A year ago, Kim and I had talked about starting a family, but (obviously) hadn’t actually started one yet. I’d be lying if I said it was an easy choice for me to make, and I pontificated on the subject in October. I’m still a little scared and uncomfortable with parenthood. I’ve always been excited about it, though, and I’m starting to understand why it’s just so cool to be a dad. Emerson shows little flashes of herself throughout the day, and those are the moments I remember when she’s asleep or when she surprises me in the middle of a diaper change. Sometimes I look at her and imagine her as a child, adult, mother. I find myself eager to see how she develops but hoping she could stay this small and innocent for just a while longer. I’m going to have a hard time coming home and having to study with her just outside the door. As a matter of fact, I’m less worried about my workload as a medical student than my ability to be a good father while also being a medical student. She’s going to be nine months old when I start, and I predict that I’m going to be a lot more interested in teaching and playing with her than I will be in the minutiae of human anatomy. At the same time, I think I’ll be consumed with my studies and extremely motivated to be a top student. This will be a challenge, to be sure, but I’m sort of looking forward to it.

My friends would probably say that I’m far too concerned with my age, and that I’m too young to feel old. Maybe they’re right. The truth is that I don’t feel old at all, but I am rather scared at the increasing speed of time. I can’t believe that I’ll be almost 29 when I finally start medical school, that I spent so many years spinning my wheels when I could’ve swallowed my pride and changed paths much earlier. I’m happy with the way things are now but I do regret the risks I never took, the choices I chose not to make over the years. I think this past year is evidence of what can happen when I learn to merely acknowledge the fear of the unknown, to take risks and choose the paths that aren’t always safeley lighted.

Boo Hoo, no Hoo

Forgot to mention something yesterday. I received a rejection letter postmarked 11/30 from UVA. I have plenty of acceptances at this point, so I don’t have much right to be upset, but I’m still disappointed. I was hoping to interview at all of my state schools, but I guess that wasn’t meant to be.

Cleaning Up the List

I mailed a pile of letters on Monday. Two of them had deposit checks for Georgetown and Wake Forest. One of them had a withdrawal letter from Drexel. I really liked Drexel when I visited the school, but I don’t believe that it is good enough to justify moving Kim and our any-day-now baby so far away from the rest of our family. I also sent withdrawal letters to all but three of the schools that have received my complete application. That leaves two schools that haven’t received a secondary from me; I doubt that I’ll complete them. So as of today, I’m holding acceptances to four schools. I imagine the list will be narrowed down before I make my final decision, but that could take a little while.

Hoya Saxa

I came home yesterday to find a thin envelope waiting for me…with an acceptance from Georgetown inside it.

Unbelievable. I’ve been accepted to every school that has offered me an interview so far.

The Rest of the Story (so far)

Sorry for the brief delay. I’m going to wrap up the rest of my application process to date, starting with late September.

During my interviews at EVMS, we were told that decisions on our files would be made in a few weeks but that no formal acceptances/waitlists/rejections would be sent before the AAMC-requested standard date of October 15. We could, however, call the admissions office before then. I thought this was a rather nice touch; most med schools will tell you whether a decision has been made, but EVMS was willing to actually give you that decision over the phone. I had originally planned to call during the first week of October, but curiosity and pre-med anxiety took over and I made my first phone call on 9/23. “Sorry, no decision has been made yet. Try next week?” I waited very (im)patiently and tried again on 9/29.

“You will be receiving an acceptance in the mail on 10/15. Congratulations!” A smile spread over my face and my eyes crinkled up with joy. “You just made my year,” I said, before hanging up the phone and trying very hard to contain my excitement. I came home that afternoon to find that Maryland had rejected me pre-interview, but that didn’t matter so much any more.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to be a doctor after all. The crazy plan actually worked!

I was hoping my first acceptance would take the anxiety away from the rest of the process, but it didn’t and still hasn’t. I still want to hear back from the schools I’ve interviewed, and I’d really like to know where I stand with the six schools who have received all of my materials but haven’t said anything to me about an interview or rejection. (For the curious, those schools would be Cornell, UPenn, Temple, Jefferson, Hopkins, and UVA.) At the same time, I’ve learned that having to actually pick between a few schools is not as easy as I thought it would be vytorin 10 40.

Yes, I am fortunate enough to have a choice. On 10/15, VCU updated their applicant status page, and I logged in to discover that I was accepted in the first round. I received an acceptance letter from Drexel on 11/02, and I was emailed an acceptance from Wake Forest on 11/07 (last Monday). I haven’t heard from Georgetown yet (my fifth, and currently final, interview) but I expect to get something from them within the next week or two. I can’t believe it. I’ve gone from being cautiously hopeful in the spring to actually holding FOUR acceptances this fall, possibly more. It’s an incredible feeling.

So….now that I know I’ll be going to a medical school next fall, just where will I go? That question is still unanswered. I’ll get into some of the arguments for and against each of my accepted schools in a future post.

The new site is all but complete. Expect changes soon!

Back to the story. I went on three interviews in September: EVMS on 9/9, VCU on 9/15, and Drexel on 9/22. By my third interview, I’d come to the realization that medical schools are not easily ranked. While there is some variance, every one of the country’s 125 schools has to adhere to the LCME’s standards, which are understandably quite rigorous; as a result, any U.S. medical school graduate is capable of being a great doctor. However, not every school approaches the standard curriculum the same way, and not every school places the same emphases on the same topics. Furthermore, each school seems to have its own personality and character as expressed through their students.

I took some detailed notes of each school after coming home from the interview, but I’ll spare you all the boredom; perhaps I’ll put them somewhere more static for the truly curious. Suffice to say that after those three interviews, and the two that came in October, I haven’t yet found a school that receives high marks in every category. Every one of them has many characteristics I like and a few that I don’t like. In the end, if I’m fortunate enough to have a choice, I know I’m going to have a difficult time making a decision.

…Okay, so I’m being slightly coy in that last paragraph. I do, in fact, have a choice. But I’ll get into that a bit later. 😉

To me, the worst part of the application process is not the money, the essay(s), or the test(s). It’s the WAITING.

I barely spoke of it here, but the eight weeks that passed between the date I took the MCAT and the night I actually got my scores were full of obsessive agony. I went to the AAMC’s testing history site an average of once a day, even though I knew that nothing would happen until mid-June. I spent the first few days after the test trying to recall all of the sections in it, and chastising myself for a few questions that I realized I’d gotten wrong. Kim gracefully put up with all of my MCAT-related conjecture and monologue, but I’m sure she was close to just telling me to shut up and wait. It can’t be helped; the MCAT is such a large part of the admissions equation that obsession is to be expected. I’m just happy that I don’t have to take it again, even though I enjoyed the experience.

There was another waiting period after my AMCAS application was verified and before the secondaries started to come back. The rumor was that medical schools were able to access our AMCAS profiles no earlier than 7/5 or so. In my case, my first secondaries started to arrive around July 7, which made for a wait of about five weeks.

Of course, once your secondary application and reference letters are submitted, the next step is to wait for an interview. For me, these started to trickle in in late August. I was emailed about EVMS on 8/22, Georgetown on 8/24, VCU on 8/29, Wake Forest on 9/6, and Drexel on 9/12. Of course, with the exception of one recent rejection, no one else has gotten back to me. I’ve verified that my application is complete everywhere but Duke and UNC, which means that all I can do is wait. If you haven’t been in these shoes, you can only imagine the anxiety and frustration of just sitting around, waiting to hear back from an institute that might be your home for the next four years.

So this takes us through August. I’m not done waiting yet, but I did go on some interviews. I’ll go over them briefly in the near future, but I won’t go into much detail until later, in case the “right” people have stumbled across my website.

Development of my new blog is coming along. Expect the switch in the next week or two.

As far as medical school goes…when we left off, it was late night on June 1st and I’d just submitted my AMCAS application. My file was verified by AMCAS on 6/8, and secondaries started to arrive in the first week of July. Secondaries come in all sort of flavors; some asked for no more than a signature and a check, while others had multiple essays. As of today, I’ve yet to complete two secondary apps. I’ve had Duke’s secondary in front of me for a while, but it’s by far my longest and I just haven’t had the guts to sit down and work my way through it yet. UNC has yet to send me anything beyond acknowledgement that they received my primary app; this, apparently, is not unusual for UNC. The rest of my secondaries have been submitted. This process took me through most of July and August.

In related news, I got my MCAT scores on 6/15. I’m satisfied with the results: 37R total, 13 in Physical Sciences, 12 in Verbal Reasoning, R in Writing Sample, 12 in Biological Sciences. I think I could’ve done slightly better, but 37 already puts me in the 98th percentile of all MCAT test takers. I’m not complaining.

Things started to get interesting in the application process in August, but that’s a story for another day.