In 2022, there were more than 55,000 applicants to allopathic medical schools in the United States. Just 22,712 applicants were lucky enough to gain a spot, putting the acceptance rate at 41.2%. One of the most competitive medical schools is one of the newest programs: Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine (KPSOM). It enrolled its first class of medical school students in 2020 and has continued to grow in popularity. During the 2021-22 application cycle, KPSOM received more than 11,500 applications and accepted 50 students. That means just 0.4% of applicants were accepted.
1. Where did you attend undergrad? What was your major and what activities were you involved in as an undergrad?
I attended undergrad at California State University, Long Beach, and majored in Nursing. As an undergrad, I was involved in the California Nursing Student Association, Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society, and Salsa/Social Dance club. I also was selected for the Veterans Affairs (VA) Learning Opportunities Residency Program, in which during a summer break while in nursing school, I gained additional clinical experience in the medical-surgical unit of a Veterans Affairs hospital and contributed to a hospital-wide nursing policy practice change.
I took a non-traditional path to medicine. After graduating in 2015 with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing, I worked as a Registered Nurse for 7 years in multiple settings, including Interventional Radiology, Same Day Surgery, Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, Intensive Care Unit, and Community Health, prior to attending medical school. Because of this non-traditional path, I took a post-baccalaureate program through California State University, Fullerton to satisfy the pre-medical prerequisites.
2. Which extracurricular activity do you think was most influential to your medical school journey?
My experiences as a Registered Nurse were most influential to my medical school journey. I did not know I wanted to pursue medicine until I started working as an RN. I became moved by the health inequities I saw. Caring for patients at the bedside in the acute care hospital setting and getting even more exposure while working in the Federally Qualified Health Center setting gave me opportunities to hear patients and their stories. They were all too familiar. Growing up, my parents would recount stories of how life was like when they immigrated from the Philippines to the United States back in the 1980s. They told me stories of living in overcrowded households, food deserts, areas of the city with high pollution/crime rates, and difficulties with accessing healthcare. This resonated with me because the late stages of chronic diseases I saw working as a nurse, were what I was seeing in my own family. I was observing how factors beyond the hospital walls were contributing to health outcomes, even decades
later for future generations of families. I felt compelled to devote myself to discovering how I can make an impact further in the healthcare arena because of all this. This influenced me to pursue medicine.
3. What type of experiences do you encourage pre-med students to have?
I think what is most important is having experiences that you do not [have] just because somebody else told you to do it but because there is something about it that resonates with you. It may not be clear why it resonates with you right away, but I think participating in that activity, reflecting on it, and how it is helping you to grow in aspects of your life [in which] you seek growth are good ways to start. I also encourage pre-med students to seek experiences that will help them discover well-being activities or hobbies that they can especially look forward to during times of stress. For me, it has been bodybuilding. In fact, in my medical school application and during medical school interviews, I talked about my experiences preparing for bodybuilding competitions. I was able to discuss the habits,
discipline, and grit that became ingrained in me from those experiences and how I transferred that over to my professional life as a Registered Nurse and educational endeavors as a pre-medical student at the time. To this day, especially through medical school, I continue the self-care habits I learned through bodybuilding and even competed in a bodybuilding competition during my first semester.
4. Do you think your major choice adequately prepared you for medical school? Would you recommend students choose an untraditional major?
Although my major choice is considered non-traditional to the usual path to medical school, I do believe that it prepared me well. Working as a Registered Nurse, I had to learn how to manage my time very well, while balancing at some points in my career working two jobs while taking night classes and competitive bodybuilding. The discipline and perseverance I developed through that has definitely prepared me for medical school thus far.
Of course, the experiences I have gained working in the hospital and clinic setting, involving patient/family interactions, and working in multi-disciplinary teams, most definitely also prepared me. Also, in nursing school, we learned through simulation-based scenarios and in a flipped-classroom style, applying the knowledge we were learning right away to the clinical setting; so having the familiarity with that approach to learning helped prepare me for medical school.
I do believe that having an untraditional major should not deter a student from pursuing medicine. As a medical student, having that background provides a unique perspective that can truly benefit the learning environment. I have classmates who were Religious Studies, Ethnic Studies, Philosophy, and Engineering majors or had careers as K-12 teachers, musicians, and public health professionals before medical school. I appreciate how their diverse untraditional paths to medicine influence what being a doctor means to them and what kind of impact they want to make as a future physician. I have definitely been able to learn a lot through them because of that.
5. How did you approach the med school application process? How many schools did you apply to and what were you looking for in a medical school?
I approached the medical school application process in a very self-reflective manner. This involved reflecting on my vision for my future and the kind of impact I wanted to have with patients, families, and communities. I would think about patient interactions I had as a nurse that evoked certain emotions in me, whether it was happiness or sadness, and leaned into that further to question why they profoundly moved me. Rather than talking about why I think I would be a good physician because I had lots of experiences working with patients, I focused on the times of adversity I experienced working as a Registered Nurse. Then I delved into how I developed resilience and grit because of those moments. I even started to reflect more on my own heritage as a second-generation Filipino immigrant, looking back to health inequities I witnessed in my own past within my family. I also did not shy away from talking about why I was passionate about my hobbies including bodybuilding, yoga, and photography.
I applied to at least 35 medical schools. I was looking for a medical school where I can get early patient experience, as well as opportunities to expand my perspectives on the healthcare system, going into the community to also see what factors are influencing health beyond the hospital walls. Having seen the realities of working in the healthcare field, I also sought a school that emphasized and celebrated
medical student/physician wellness. I am happy to say that Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine has provided all of this for me.
6. Tell us about your experiences at Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.
I have truly enjoyed my experience at Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine thus far. Within a few weeks of starting medical school, I started to care for patients in the Internal Medicine clinic under the supervision of my preceptor. This early clinical experience is enhanced by the weekly “Doctoring” courses we have on campus. During this time, I am able to apply clinical sciences to how we would engage in patient interactions in the clinical setting. In addition to this, I am taught early on steps to think of differential diagnoses, develop skills with standardized patient experiences, and practice oral case presentations.
Since wellness is an important aspect of the medical school experience to me, I was very thrilled when elected to be part of the Well-Being Committee. I collaborate with the Office of Student Affairs, Office of Academic Support and Advising, and [the] school’s licensed psychologist to plan events that promote the well-being of my peers. This has included catered lunch socials after exams, morning yoga sessions with breakfast before lectures, and holiday-themed movie nights.
I feel so fortunate to have so many resources provided by my school to support me in my success. There is an entire Career Advising office that has been immensely resourceful in giving opportunities to shadow a wide range of specialties across many medical centers, truly encouraging me to explore my interests. The Office of Student Affairs also plans many lunch sessions with guest physician speakers or social mixers that invite socializing and networking between the various cohorts of KPSOM, further fostering a sense of community within my medical school.
I am also very grateful to have a physician coach assigned to me by KPSOM who regularly meets with me to discuss goals I have for my professional and personal life. Throughout my healthcare career as an RN, I was surrounded by great mentors including nurses, residents, and attending physicians who encouraged and guided me to my path to medicine. Having the physician coach by my side throughout medical school reassures me that I will continue to have guidance and will not be alone in the next phases of my medical school journey.
7. What advice do you have for high school and college students aspiring to be a doctor?
Remember: your story is your power. The path to becoming a doctor is filled with lots of hours devoted to studying for exams, volunteering, extracurricular activities, and balancing that with other important things we have going on in our lives. At times, it can get very stressful and overwhelming as we are constantly reminded all these things are important to have on the medical school application. They absolutely are. However, what will ultimately make you stand out are your own lived experiences as this will form your story. Try your best to not lose sight of your story. Take time to better understand your story.
What can help with that is also taking time to reflect on your own values. Ask yourself questions like: What matters most to you? What events in your life moved you? There is something there. Reflect on that. The way that event changed you is so important to the doctor you are going to be in the future, whether it’s the specialty you choose, the way you interact with patients and peers, how you spend your free time, or even how you handle stress.
8. How does the Single GME (Graduate Medical Education) Accreditation System affect you and your peers? What is your opinion on this?
The Single GME Accreditation System brings some uncertainty as to how match rates will look as the years progress, as more applicants will be entering the National Residency Match Program. It may add another element of competition to an already competitive process. I personally am just striving to do the best that I can while in medical school, learning and growing from my experiences, while also helping my peers in any way I can during the process.
9. On your journey to medicine, if you could do anything over, what would it be?
If I can do anything over, going back to my early undergrad days, I would have taken more advantage of the opportunities I had to network, establish, and continue great relations with the colleagues, professors, and advisors I met along the way. This can even entail the kind of positive impact you leave on them. I wish I realized this sooner as it was something I only became more mindful of several years into my professional career as a Registered Nurse. Not only can we learn so much from the experience of others, but many times, if your passion resonates with theirs, they may be willing to support you in your endeavors.