>July 24 2001

>After thinking about what I wrote yesterday, I wanted to clarify something about the October Sky influence on me. I don’t want it to sound like I’m some groupie who had my life turned around by a movie. My decision to quit my job and return to school was like a kid who was daring to jump off the high dive for the first time. I had already climbed up the ladder and made my way out to the edge of the board. A few practice bounces and all that was left was to close my eyes and jump. October Sky was just the last taunt from a kid down below that determined the timing of my final step off the end of the board! By the way, it’s a great movie and I recommend it if you have never seen it!
On the first day of March, 1999, I called the Dean of Admissions, Dr. Virginia Read, at UMC. Though an imposing Ph.D., she was also a grandmotherly type who was very encouraging. We made an appointment to meet a few days later. My main memory of that first meeting was her telling me that the Fall of 2001 would be the earliest I could hope to enter school. I remember being frustrated that she didn’t think I could get in for the 2000 class. I had a few things to get in order first. After reviewing my transcript she found that I needed to pick up 8 hours of Organic Chemistry and 8 hours of Zoology. In my days at Millsaps I had plenty of hard sciences – math and physics – but not much in the way of life sciences. She encouraged me to pick them up at the Junior College level to save money since all my prior course work was at Millsaps. I had to have the hours on my transcript but just as importantly I needed to know these subjects to take the MCAT – the Medical College Admissions Test – a standardized exam that every prospective medical student in the country takes. Dr. Read felt that I would not be ready to do well on this test until I had completed the course work. That meant taking the test in the Spring of 2000 and being ready to apply for 2001. Medical Schools begin taking applications for admission a year in advance!
I immediately got signed up for a summer Intro to Biology class to get my feet wet and then took two semesters of Organic and Zoo in the 1999-2000 school year. However, against Dr. Read’s advice I went ahead and signed up to take the MCAT in the August sitting. She had told me that she feared I would get depressed and frustrated if I took it before I was well prepared. I tried to explain that my decade of taking Actuarial exams had made me immune to the pain of failure, but like most people who are not familiar with the actuarial profession, she did not seem duly impressed with their difficulty.
The MCAT is made up four sections – Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences (Physics and Chemistry), Biological Sciences (Biology and Organic Chemistry) and a Writing sample. The first three sections are scored on a 15 point scale and the sum of them is what you typically hear reported as an MCAT score. The Writing sample is actually two short essays in response to given topics. It is graded on some crazy alphabetic scale and the only way to make sense of it is to look at your percentile ranking when you get your test results in. I knew I wasn’t prepared to do as well on the Biological Sciences part and I needed to review the Physical Science section more, but I was confident I could do well on the Verbal Reasoning and Writing sections. I ended up making a 27 – 12 on the Verbal, 8 on the Physical, and 7 on the Biological. I also was in the high 90s percentile on the writing. When I got my scores back, I knew I had a score in the range that would get me some consideration, though I knew I could do better with some more review work. I had a week until the application deadline and rushed one together. When I got invited in for an interview, I was ecstatic. I had visions of beating Dr. Read’s forecast by a year. Despite knowing that it is tough to get in on the first application, (particularly for older students coming back into academia) I let my hopes get up only to see them dashed in April of 2000 when I received my rejection letter. However, that got me all the more determined to get in the next year. More on that in the next installment.

About Marcus Lee

Child Neurologist
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