Welcome to Medical School Diaries!

This brand-new section of our site will chronicle the experiences of real, live medical school students. If you would be interested in keeping a medical school diary on our site, please email us at the address on our contact page. Tell us who you are, which school you attend, or soon will be attending, and why you would like to represent your school on our website.

Without further delay, let’s meet this year’s medical school diary keepers.

Ben Johnson, Duke Medical School Class of 2008

This past weekend I just moved into my new (and first) apartment in Durham, North Carolina. My mom, my sister, my stepfather and I all shuttled our way down here from Maryland in two cars and a rented cargo van all packed to the brim with my furniture and belongings. The exhausting process of the move sort of kept us all from thinking too much about the fact that I would be living farther from home than I ever had before, but when the time came for my family to leave, we all felt it. When my mom’s car and the van (driven by my stepfather) disappeared around the corner, the aloneness swept over me and it was several minutes before I stepped back inside the apartment. As the next few hours passed by, that feeling slowly crawled back into the subconscious part of my mind. What crept forward in its place was the realization that in one week I would actually begin orientation at the Duke University School of Medicine.

In high school and even in undergrad, there are so many moments when it feels like everything you do could have such a tremendous impact on your future. Forget a test and you could fail a class and suddenly lose about 10% of your chance to become a doctor. Go through a rough stretch at home or with a long term girlfriend or boyfriend while taking a heavy course load and you wonder if the time and energy you don’t have to do that extra volunteer project will make the difference between you and the person that gets your acceptance spot.

The thing is, I realized back in my sophomore year of high school that I wanted to be a doctor; not because I wanted to be perfect or great or recognized, but because I wanted to give people an opportunity to live life a little better or to even live at all. And if I didn’t live my life as I need and want to live it, including keeping an extra hour a week to myself or talking a friend through a problem instead of getting in the extra studying for an exam, then I’d be showing disrespect to the embrasure of life I want to work hard to help others have. None of us can be the “perfect” applicant because the most important thing for a doctor to be is just another human being. I think medical schools realize this and look to find students who, despite their own shortcomings, have shown and want to show that they are still going to press forward with their dreams.

But back to the meat of my story, I’ll give a short little résumé. I went to a public high school in Maryland. It wasn’t a magnet school or a famous public school, but it was decent school with some very great and memorable teachers that offered more than a handful of Advanced Placement courses. Then I went to the University of Maryland, College Park for four years on scholarship where I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a specialization in Physiology/Neurobiology and a minor in Spanish. I spent a summer working in an office, a summer working in a medical center at a retirement community, and a couple of breaks working in a government research laboratory. During several of those summers I also volunteered at a local hospital and during school I tutored other UMCP students. I tried my hand at some research on campus but found myself in a research project that needed a lot of time and for which I had very little enthusiasm. Unfortunately I had left one of my better experiences, serving on the campus’ Central Judicial Board, to make time for the research, but I still have great memories of my experiences with that group.

I did the fairly traditional thing and applied to medical school between my junior and senior years of college, having taken the MCAT that April. I only submitted secondary applications to thirteen schools, but that was enough to give me a very strong sense of how expensive and exhausting the application process is. I was invited on several interviews between September and January and even though I applied to schools fairly close to home, I really enjoyed the process because I got to meet so many great people and share good and bad stories and because I got to see so many great places. You won’t find me staying at any hotels though for a while; I like my own bed. And now I have one to rest me for my new adventure.