About the Guest Author:
Mia is a third-year medical student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine. She is born and raised in Dallas and attended the University of San Diego where she received her degree in Biochemistry. She plans to apply for residency in Urology. Her hobbies include yoga and training her puppy, Lola.
As a native Texan who received her undergraduate degree in California, I am frequently asked as to why I came back to Texas for medical school. Why did I elect to fill out two separate medical school applications? I’ll share my thought process, as well as information that I learned during the application process. At the same time, I will discuss some ways to *personalize* your personal statement.
Why to apply to Texas and how to navigate TMDSAS:
So perhaps you are an upperclassman in college…. or maybe you are working to earn money during your gap years. You are getting nervous because medical school application fees are dwindling your disposable income. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the COVID-19 outbreak is hindering you from traveling and spending money at malls, restaurants and bars. When you are not online shopping, you’re trying to save all the money you can for medical school applications. So why are you paying for both AMCAS and TMDSAS?
Well firstly, Texas medical schools are at the top rankings of cheap and reputable places to get a medical degree. Most of the Texas schools have tuition that is below the national average, due to the fact that legislation exists to correct the doctor shortage. I currently attend the CHEAPEST (but not free) med school in America. Although I have a Texas residency, out of state students at certain medical schools in Texas are able to qualify for in-state tuition. Unfortunately, there are no fee waivers for TMDSAS as the application flat fee is $185.
Ties to Texas:
The Texas and Medical School Application Service (TMDSAS) is extremely similar to the AMCAS application process. However, there is a focus on explaining any ties that you may have to Texas. Whether it be family, work, or undergraduate studies, the importance of explaining why you would like to either stay or come to Texas is crucial. I grew up in Texas but received my undergraduate degree in Southern California at the University of San Diego. I love California and ultimately want to end up there eventually, but I wanted to come back to Texas for medical school as I fell in love with the collegiality of my current program when I interviewed.
Texas also has a large rural population, so many TMDSAS questions are geared at addressing interest in rural health. There are options to attend schools in larger cities where you can help the underserved urban population. Although I have always lived in well-populated cities, I was drawn to the hands-on experience that came with rural medicine. Being a partially-rural state, it is not surprise that an immense primary care physician deficit exists. Now that I am a third year, I have felt the reward of helping people who do not have health insurance, as well as seeing rare cases like recurrent ocular syphilis that you may not see in certain place. Although I am planning to go into surgery, I still witness the health care discrepancies for patients that have not been able to undergo screening or preventative medicine. Unfortunately, many of them have received a cancer diagnosis later down the line.
Texas is a border state. At the same time, attending college in San Diego opened up my eyes to the world of border health. I applied to medical schools in along the Texas-Mexico border because of the interested that San Diego sparked in me. Texas’ diversity is also an excellent chance to discuss helping the underserved and discussing imbalances in healthcare.
Cons of TMDSAS:
However, one thing that I did not like about TMDSAS was the character limit. For TMDSAS, your personal statement needs to be less than 5000 characters. The AMCAS character limit was 5300 so I had to trim down my personal statement. I believe that cutting out words and phrases resulted in a loss of personality from my personal statement, so I would advise you to rewrite certain parts of your personal statement if you feel the pressure to write concisely.
TMDSAS opens up on May 1st, whereas AMCAS opens on June 1st. My undergraduate institution did not finish classes until late May, so I received my transcript on May 31st. I ended up applying a few weeks “later” than my classmates due to this fact. Initially, I felt as though I was behind because I was just waiting on my transcript. However, my application was processed within 2-3 weeks and it did not make a difference in terms of my interviews. I submitted TMDSAS on the 31st of May, so my AMCAS application was ready to go when it opened on June 1st.
Making your personal statement personal:
It may sound cliché, but I cannot stress how important it is to start your personal statement with an eye-catching first paragraph. Programs read many personal statements daily, so it is crucial to capture the attention of the reader.
Writing your personal statement requires self-introspection. You do not need to get this done in a night! I believe that it is best to brainstorm the month before you need to start writing so that you are able to get a good number of edits. What you do need to do is think about your reasons for going into this field. Think about what activities you have done to prepare you to get to the point of applying—research, volunteering opportunities, shadowing, exposure to medicine. Some students like to write about their first-ever patient or the most memorable patient that they have seen.
What makes you the person that you are today? What made you go into medicine? What qualities do you believe that you possess, that will make you become a better doctor? Best piece of advice that I can provide is to go to a place that makes you happy and just write. No two people have the same experience. People have faced differently levels of adversity, so you may write about that if it influenced your path to the medical field. Everyone comes from different backgrounds. If you feel as though your upbringing and background have contributed to your interested in medicine, write about it. My father and my physician mother came to America as Bosnian refugees during the genocide in 1993. My mom told me to not go into medicine, but I did and to this day, she is my biggest motivator. We are still able to talk about cases despite the fact that she has been out of practice for over twenty years. I wrote about the relationship that my mother and I have, as well as the fact that my first exposure to medicine was watching her be the caregiver to my terminally-ill grandparents.
There are reports that medical school applications have increased following the pandemic. If you have witnessed the tragedy of COVID-19 firsthand or if you feel passionate about the influence that this virus has had on your life or on the lives of those around you, it may be worthy to write about it.
Ultimately, writing your personal statement will take some time. Do not compare your story and reasons for going into medicine to the stories and reasons of others. Give yourself enough time to write your thoughts down, as well as to edit and seek feedback from people that you trust. Make sure to be patient with yourself— Rome was not built in a day!