I always knew I wanted to become a physician, but after graduating from the University of Kansas in 2014 with a GPA and MCAT score considered “non-competitive”, I took measures to bolster my resume. With two years of employment, volunteering, shadowing and several medical school interviews under my belt, I ultimately received an envelope from the KU School of Medicine in February 2016. I Skyped my mother and sister so they could witness my life transform in real time. As I peeled back the tri-folded single sheet of paper, my eyes immediately flew to the second sentence: “Unfortunately…” I half-heartedly skimmed the rest of the letter without saying a word. My mother and sister read the shame on my face. I received several more letters just like this one in the following weeks.
The next day I returned to work as if nothing had happened. I never told any of my coworkers I was applying to med school. Months later, I received another letter from KU. This time the envelope was much thicker. “Congratulations!” read the first word. I read with haste, and to my life-altering fortune, I was invited to apply for a post-baccalaureate program. I heard about this invitation-only program as an undergrad student. It aimed to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine. On successful completion of this 14-month program, I would matriculate into medical school. After a short application process, I was accepted. I always remember my acceptance phone call as the moment my life changed forever.
I walked across the stage in July 2017 to receive my white coat. Up to this time, I had felt victorious over my previous challenges. Soon, however, my taste of success was soured as I interacted with some of my peers. Many came from generations of physicians. Others were rejected several times before being accepted. Some cited affirmative action as why their spot was given away in prior cycles. Still others mocked post-bac students for taking spots from “more qualified” students. I rationalized these views as displaced frustrations, but the comments persisted. One morning, I was asked, “Do you think you’d be here if you weren’t black? Being black probably helped, right?”
I was very proud to have completed the post-bac program. However, with time, I began to notice something. Many students and faculty seemed to lose interest the moment I mentioned my indirect path to medical school. A corrosive thought entered my mind: “Perhaps they were right. Maybe I took the spot from someone more worthy.” I felt foolish for opening up to people I had only known for a short time. I wondered if I had the ability to withstand the rigors of medical school, especially after repeatedly failing to reach my lofty expectations on exams. I wondered if I was given an opportunity I did not truly deserve.
However, the summer after my M1 year, my overall outlook changed. On becoming more clinically involved, I noticed an important theme. A large number of black and brown patients would approach and congratulate me on being a future doctor. At first, I figured they were more comfortable approaching someone who looked like them, but I soon realized we had a deeper connection. Having walked many of the same roads in life, I have an innate understanding of the underserved minority struggle. My unconventional journey to become a physician allows me to see through a lens with a wider depth to identify with challenges faced by underserved patients. Because of this lens, I have earned the trust of an ailing community and have committed to becoming their dynamic servant. Progressing through medical school, the golden voices of my patients echo much louder than the small few whom I had let dominate my thoughts. The words of one patient from my third year still resonate in my mind: “Keep working hard, because I need you to take care of me in the future.”