Jul 16, 2009
Firstly and foremost, I've read a few topics and used the search button. I do not believe I could find all the answers to my questions. This is just a "rate my situation" type post with some requests for advice...

I'm currently a rising sophomore in college (well supposed to be), but due to poor economic conditions, I'm going to take a year off. However, I'm going to stick around my university's campus and city to pursue some intellectually stimulating jobs and hopefully find some research to establish myself with. That way, I wouldn't have to worry during my actual school time looking for research.

I'm a 19 year old student interested in many things. People have told me that I sound simply like a person who doesn't really know what he wants to do. I'm currently majoring in mathematics and biochemistry/molecular biology. However, I plan to switch to biochemistry/molecular biology and chemistry. It sounds a bit redundant, but I seem to like both, and although I really love math (and it's my forte), I seem to prefer the biological and chemical sciences. In addition, I also want to be a physician... I don't get how my interests seem to correlate or have any coherence. However, I do know that my ultimate dream is to be a physician and a biomedical science (I want to enter a PhD-MD program).

Now that that's out of the way... I have a few questions.

1) Will my year off be of any disadvantage to me? I've already got over the whole "I'm falling a year behind *sob*" phase.

2) My first semester freshman grades were superb, but my second semester grades seemed to have faltered noticeably. I don't think I can blame anything or anyone but myself, but will medical schools take into account that I've had to start working during the second semester? My family hit hard times and couldn't finish paying for my second semester tuition, which resulted in many awkward and embarrassing letters from my school. For example, at one point they sent me a letter telling me that I will be asked to leave campus housing unless I pay a large fraction quickly. As a result, I started working 5 days a week at some silly cafe until late in the night (daily). If it is of any relevance, I have a huge citizenship problem as well that excludes me from financial aid, loans, and any of the major scholarships (I'm not an international student).

3) Will it hurt my chances to enter medical school if I'm an undocumented immigrant student? I moved to the U.S. when I was 2 months old, but my parents decided to not renew their visas and overstay it. I hear news about immigration reform, but that's an uneasy and unsteady thing to rely on.

4) I'm going to work as a medical assistant soon. This job includes office work, front desk work, taking vitals, reviewing patient histories, and a few other trivial medical tasks. Does this count as clinical experience?

5) I'm not 100% sure what I want to do (specialize) as a physician. Will it hurt me if I don't know what I want to do when I enter medical school? Do they really ask? I think I want to do something along the lines of surgery and part-time research (doesn't everyone), but do I have to be prepared to say "I want to be an orthopedic spine surgeon working in [insert state]"? If so, should I look for research and clinical work relevant to my future hospital ambitions?

6) I'm currently working under a chemistry professor working on computational chemistry. Does this qualify for research experience for medical school? It's not really related to medicine (besides the fact that we model proteins). How relevant does one's clinical and research experience need to be?

7) I'm also currently working under a biomedical scientists by studying effect of addictive substances on rats. Currently I've just been taught to shove catheters into their bodies and teach them how to self-administer doses of addictive junk. I've also watched him do intracranial surgeries on them. Will it give me an upper hand since I might express an interest in surgery one day or does it not matter what type of research I do?

8) Should I look for long-term involvement in my clinical/research experiences?

9) I feel as if I'm missing or forgetting something. For a stellar chance for medical school, do I simply have to rely on GPA, MCAT, clinical/research experience, and then the big "any other activities" section?

10) How early did you guys know what exactly you guys wanted to do as doctors?

I really feel lost. Sometimes, I do feel that people are right when they say that I don't know what I want to do. Sometimes I feel that they're too focused on a single goal. Is it possible in these modern times for someone to be a physician and a stellar biomedical researcher? Do doctors ever have time to pursue additional degrees and excel in other fields a bit far from medicine? My greatest love in high school was mathematics and reading about diseases. However, I'm also highly interested in all the natural sciences. It just upsets me a little, as I feel that time is so short. With the long time to finish a PhD-MD program, I also feel as if I'll grow old before I get to shove my foot in other doors. I do realize that it's sometimes better for people to be the best that they can be in one single field, but I'd like to return back to mathematics and chemistry one day after focusing on my primary interests (medicine and biomedical science). Maybe when I'm 60 years old... or maybe I'll just never have the chance to be a polymath.

Thanks for your help!

P.S. Sorry for the dull and possibly incoherent post...
Last edited:


10+ Year Member
Apr 3, 2006
Attending Physician
Wall of text crits you for 2 million verbal damage.

1.) Taking a year off won't put you at any disadvantage in the application process. Will you fall behind your friends? Yes, they'll obviously apply a year ahead of you but that's not to say their chances are any better.

2.) Yes, there are plenty of occasions to talk about any discrepancy in grades due to having to work if you want it. Particularly, it would be a really good thing to talk about during your personal statement and interviews. Further, unless you averaged C's/D's, you really haven't kill your chances of doing what you want. Everyone has a semester of school they'd prefer to forget.

3.) Not sure...maybe? Can you even apply without a SSN?

4.) Yes

5.) Not knowing what specialty you want to go into will not hurt you in the slightest. The general consensus seems to be that you should keep your mind open until 3rd/4th year rotations. Whether or not adcoms will ask you about it varies. I had 8 interviews (still crying about the cost :-() and I think I was only asked about my preferred specialty once.

6.) It qualifies as a research experience. I don't think there's a high level of importance placed upon the nature of the research (unless you're 1st-2nd author) as long as you're engaged in the process (altough I could be wrong). Personally, the only research experiences I had were tied to economic consideration (I was an econ major) and I don't feel like it was too my detrement.

7.) Most likely won't make a difference.

8.) If it's something you enjoy, yes. If it makes you hate life at the end of the day, no.

9.) They get your foot in the door. To be accepted, you have to put forth a genuine articulation of why you want to be a doctor in your PS and then follow through on what you've said at your interview.

10.) I have no idea what I want to do aside from the general "help people" thing. I feel fine about it.

Take it easy and go one step at a time. At the moment, all you should be worried about is getting a 4.0 and 45 on the MCAT. Everything else (research, clinical experiences) is dressing on an already tasty salad. After that, worry about what schools you're going to apply to (reach/hopeful/oos/is). Then, worry about where you're going to interview at. Then, worry about where you'll go. Then, worry about doing well in your first 2 years to rock the USMLE Step 1 (since it's a big part of your application towards residency). Then worry about your rotations. Then, worry about what specialty you want to go into...though I think the Phd/MD track might be a little different where you have to worry about a dissertation before residency...not sure. Hope this helps!


10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Mar 24, 2009
1) No.
2) Issues with academics is common freshman year. As long as you pull your GPA back into competitive range, you'll be fine.
3) This is the most important question for you to find the answer to. I'd call the admissions office of your preferred schools and ask this question.
4) Yes.
5) It is not necessary or desireable to know the specialty you will go into. Adcomms will prefer that you have an open mind.
6) Research ned not be medically, or even science related, as long as it is a scholarly approach to increasing human knowledge.
7) Doesn't matter.
8) Long term involvement in something is nice, to show some dedication. Choose something you love and care about to stick with.
9) Also letters of recommendation, a great personal Statement on your Primary application, and good interview skills.
10) Some know from the cradle, and others decide in college. It helps to have some clinical involvement and physician shadwoing so you can make an informed choice.
Jun 28, 2009
3. on the amcas application it asks for your SSN or SIN, so I'm not sure you can apply without having one. definitely check it out though and i hope you are able to apply. i would call amcas directly since they handle the primary apps, they should be able to answer that.

10. i only knew i wanted to be a doctor, a little over a year ago. this was after being pre-physical therapy, pre-pharmacy, and thinking about get a PhD in chemistry. I shadowied PT's, pharmacists, and did research with my organic professor which led to realizing that each one of those professions was not for me. so i started looking into medicine, and after volunteering at a clinic and a hospital and joining a pre-med organization where I was able to talk with different physicians. so only after all of that, i realized i liked medicine. so my advice, take your time making sure you actually want to be a doctor because the application AND education process is brutal.

good luck!