How I got accepted to Mercer University School of Medicine
This is just one in a series of blog posts that will feature medical students telling their stories of how they got accepted into medical school. Today, Callie Walraven shares with us the story of her acceptance to Mercer School of Medicine.
Callie, give us a peek into your life. What initially attracted you to pursue medicine?
Through most of my childhood, my stepmother was a pharmacist. I thought it was so interesting and I just knew I was doing something medical, so Pharmacy just had to be it! She was so friendly and wore scrubs and really enjoyed it, so I believed we were going to make this a family business. All the way through elementary school and into middle school, that was my plan! But once I got old enough to really understand and work alongside her, I thought: “This is not enough.” Counting and handing out medications was not enough, we knew many of them didn’t need the things they were being prescribed, and I felt like I should be more involved in the process of how they received those medications.
But once I got old enough to really understand and work alongside her, I thought: ‘This is not enough.’
And then on the other side, my whole family is very athletic and we've always been involved in sports. When you play football and soccer and competitive cheerleading, there are so many injuries involved! We were always around doctors, and have many family friends who were doctors and I thought: “That's what I want to be - I want to do that!”
I love helping and serving others, I love fixing things and making others life easier, and after shadowing many hours I knew this was my goal.
Why did you choose to apply to Mercer School of Medicine?
I'm from rural Georgia, I love small settings and small classes and it was just everything that I didn't know I was looking for.
I didn't really know where I wanted to go, I just knew I wanted to be a doctor and I would do anything or go anywhere to make it happen. The first year that I applied, I applied to 17 different schools and only received one interview - at Mercer. Ten minutes into my day there I immediately thought: “These are my people.”
They want to surround themselves with kind humans who are compassionate and outgoing and personable. I'm from rural Georgia, I love small settings and small classes and it was just everything that I didn't know I was looking for. I didn't get in that first year, but then when I reapplied, I made sure to re-apply early to Mercer because of all the reasons I mentioned. They are my people!
What are three reasons why you think you were accepted?
I had so many different activities during college. I participated in a couple different clubs, was an athlete, worked and volunteered. Through the Atlantis Fellowship, I spent a whole month in Székesfehérvár, Hungary. Who goes to Székesfehérvár when you can't even pronounce it until you get there? Mercer saw I was willing to put myself in situations I knew nothing about. I was willing to learn and adapt and work with other people. So I think that really helped.
They could also see I was kind and outgoing, I wasn't just a brain but a real person who could talk to real people. I could be put in a setting with people who don't have a high education and live in rural Georgia -- all they know is a farm and small town life -- and I'm going to be able to explain to them exactly what is going on with their health.
Mercer saw I was willing to put myself in situations I knew nothing about. I was willing to learn and adapt and work with other people.
Finally, Mercer’s mission is to send physicians into rural Georgia to serve the medically underserved population, and that is exactly what I want to do. I want to open a free clinic. I want to go to a place like home that is very small and close-knit and serve those kind of people.
Mercer knew I was going to fulfill their mission. I'm going to work to get it. I may not be the smartest, I may not have the best test scores, but you know I'm going to work my butt off to get where I need to be and to help others around me any way I can. I found the school that spoke to me and my personality and the kind of doctor I want to be.
How do you think the Atlantis Fellowship influenced or impacted your acceptance?
In every way, shape, and form! I was able to meet doctors of different specialties, to meet people of different walks of life and to be thrown into a scenario where people didn't speak English.
I'd only really worked with orthopedics and family practice until then, but I was able to see so many different specialties like trauma, gastroenterology and ENT.
I'd only really worked with orthopedics and family practice until then, but I was able to see so many different specialties like trauma, gastroenterology and ENT. I loved trauma and the fast-paced environment. I also really liked ENT, and I had never thought I'd want anything to do with that. But it was so interesting - so many different things can go wrong! So I determined that there were so many different paths I could take and be really good at them.
I believe that if you go in thinking there is only one thing you want to do, it's not medicine that you really like that much. I was able to say that I could be happy doing just about anything, because I love medicine. Also, I now have experience with being the minority and not being able to understand people, but being able to communicate anyway. Maybe someday, I'll be able to help people who live in smaller towns and don't speak English.
Being in the hospital setting, being willing to travel and get out of my comfort zone, my interview, my personal essay, my activities - the fellowship really rounded out my application.
How did you feel after the interview?
I'm a real human, they were real humans, we had real conversations and talked about life and all the things we have in common.
I felt like I belonged there. I was able to have a really good, genuine conversation with all the people I encountered. I think that goes along with finding the school that fits you. My interviews weren't the "let me ask you a question and you answer it" style. They were the "let's have a conversation about things that interest you and how that connects with our program” style. It was like getting to meet new people all day long. It wasn't stressful, but maybe that's because I don't get super stressed out about things like that.
You get nervous because you don't remember what you say, you just kind of blackout and afterwards you realize you have no idea what just happened. My mom asked me how it went and what I said, but I didn’t really know. I thought it had been a good conversation; it was fun, it was open, it was genuine and it was easy.
I was able to talk to the interviewers like they were real humans, not people that I'm scared of because they're judging me. I'm a real human, they were real humans, we had real conversations and talked about life and all the things we have in common.
Walk us through the moment you found out you got accepted.
I had it all planned out and it was supposed to be one certain way. We were supposed to find out on a Wednesday, probably in the evening. If you get in, you'll get a call from one of the people you interviewed with. If you didn't, you'll get an email. I wanted to find out at my favorite Mexican restaurant with my favorite cheese dip and a margarita. That way, if I got in I could celebrate and if I didn’t, I could cry into my cheese dip and it would be fine. And so we went, and we were sitting there and I was checking my phone constantly and it never came. I never got a call or an email, and I wondered: “What's going on?” So I was pretty bummed, thinking I didn't get in. The next morning I was all alone instead of being surrounded by everyone I love and I got an email that said: "Once again, congratulations!"
“I don't know what you mean by again,” I thought, “but oh my God!” So I called my mom, cried a little, called my sister, cried a little, showed up at my dad's work, because it's around the corner, cried a little more. It was awesome -- one of the best feelings that I hope I never forget. It's a really cool moment to realize something that you've worked so hard for is real. It wasn't just a dream.
Last question: How can others imitate your success?
Never give up, no matter what it takes, no matter what you have to sacrifice to do it. Nobody is going to work for your dream as hard as you will. Nobody wants it as bad as you do, because it's your dream. If that means you have to take fewer hours at work so you can go volunteer at that free clinic or study more for the MCAT, then you take less hours at work. If that means you take four extra classes your senior year because that's when you decided that you wanted to do med school instead of PA school… I don't recommend that, but I did it, and if that's what it takes, you do it.
Never give up, no matter what it takes, no matter what you have to sacrifice to do it.
Or it means you go to Hungary. If you go spend money to study in another country to round yourself out and get more experience, then that is what you do.
Never give up - even if you don't get in the first time, keep on going.
Hailing from Calhoun, Georgia, Callie Walraven graduated from the University of Georgia in 2017 with a degree in exercise science. The summer following graduation, she participated in the Atlantis Fellowship in Székesfehérvár, Hungary. Next August, she will begin medical school at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Although she is unsure about her future goals, Callie is thinking about pursuing orthopedics and knows she either wants to open a free clinic, or at least continue volunteering in one. Although it may be a distraction from her studies, Callie is also looking forward to being a frequent visitor at the beach near Mercer.
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