One of the most important characteristics in a medical school applicant is their demonstration of maturity. To delve into today’s topic, I opted to check out dictionary.com‘s definition of the word and was sadly met with: “the state of being mature; ripeness” — so apparently we’re all just fruit ready to be eaten by a ravenous being? Being unsatisfied with this definition, I moved to the next one: “full development; perfected condition” — say what?! First off, if one had to achieve this to successfully matriculate at a medical school, we’d all be, well, screwed. In my mind, no one will ever be fully developed mentally because there is always more growing and learning to be done — yet there are a number of people who I’d call mature. Second, perfected is such a limited word — it invokes images of something pristine, immaculate and incredible. While I’d happily use the terms pristine, immaculate and incredible when discussing my medical school peers, the word perfected also implies the absence of mistakes. And while there are ways to perfect one’s technique, no one person is perfect. In fact, much of maturity is built from the post-mistake-reflection-period.
So, for the first time ever, I’m going to say that dictionary.com has failed me.
During one of my medical school interviews, I was asked what I thought maturity meant. This caught me a bit off guard and I had to pause for a moment to digest the question. How does one define such a subjective term? How does one come to recognize another as mature? When in school did we have to memorize the definition!?
I crafted a beautiful answer defining the term based on experience, reflection and growth [I could not regurgitate it for the life of me — but admittedly, I impressed myself as I listened to the words tumble out of my mouth]. It’s not enough to have lived the years — I know many older students who haven’t even begun to approach maturity. It’s not enough to have 5 different degrees behind your name — I do actually know of someone who obtained something like 2 Bachelor’s degrees and 3 Master’s… but what do a couple pieces of paper with a gold seal truly mean?
Although my interviewer seemed impressed [yes, I did receive an acceptance from that institution], he made a point to mention that understanding your limits was a huge factor in growth. Recognizing when you do not know the answer, will not be able to come to it on your own, and reaching out for help. Of course, this prompted the dreaded “What is your greatest weakness?” question [I’ll save my answer to this one for another post].
This post was prompted by today’s special day — it is my day of birth! While my educational background is often impresses those that ask, the gasp always comes when the conversation moves to my age. For many years, I was plagued with the question of when to apply to medical school. During my Freshman year of college, my advisor straight out told me that younger applicants are rarely successful, but never gave me a satisfying answer to why this was the case. As I continued on, transferred institutions and the summer before Senior year rolled around, I could not help but feel completely unprepared. I just didn’t feel ready.
So, I decided on a Master’s degree to delay the application process a year.
Last summer when I was trying to solicit a positive letter of recommendation [application tip: always insert that term when asking for a letter…] from that same advisor from Freshman year, it became apparent that he had his reservations about me. While the truth caught me off-guard, I had my suspicions. Regardless, I decided to take a chance and explained what I had been up to since leaving Simon’s Rock. I described what I learned from working in a large group for my Senior design project, how my first lab experienced shaped my future ones and the impact that the 19 high school students that attended the camp that I planned alongside one other person made on me. Surprisingly, my words seemed to have made an impact and in retrospect, when I reread that email I sent and compare it with earlier emails from my first two years of college, the growth is apparent.
My important lesson for applicants? Apply when you’re ready and feel like you can define for yourself what it means to be mature.