Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

The Truth about How I Got in to Medical School

Argh! I was aggravated. My dad kept telling me, “You’ll never know unless you try.” And I kept telling him he didn’t understand that people with transcripts like mine didn’t get into medical school.

“Well, you don’t know that for sure until you apply,” he said.

I gave up trying to convince my father, but I knew the truth.

Pigs don’t fly. Miracles don’t happen.

Here’s the honest to goodness truth. I took the first semester of organic chemistry twice. I got an impressive D- the first time and only managed a C- the second time. I had always wanted to be a doctor, but I lacked the discipline and focus of most pre-med students. I breezed through my English classes and limped/hobbled/crawled through physics and organic chemistry trying to study as little as possible. I actually had an academic counselor tell me I needed to let go of my dream of med school.

When I graduated from The University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature, I moved home and pitied myself. I was a 22-year-old college graduate living at home with my parents. I didn’t have any friends in the area and there was no Facebook! (Oh my goodness, 2001 was so long ago!) I didn’t have a job or a boyfriend. I was the epitome of the term, “failure to launch.”

After months of self-loathing, I took the MCAT “just to keep the door open.” I did well enough to brave the med school application cycle, but I had never volunteered in a medical setting. I had no research experience and I hadn’t finished all of the pre-requisite credits.

Big surprise…I didn’t get in.

“See!” I told my dad.

Then I met Mickey. He told me, “You’ve got to fill in the boxes.” (See “5 Pieces of Advice that Changed my Life”).

I didn’t apply the next year. While working full-time and planning my wedding, I was volunteering at a local hospital, helping with a small research study, and taking classes on a campus an hour away. I was busy filling in the boxes.

Our first year of marriage was the last year my MCAT scores were usable. I was still missing required credits, but I didn’t finish them because I started a new job as a pharmaceutical sales rep (which meant 6 weeks of training away from home).

Mickey was a surgery resident and moving was out of the question. So I could only apply to one school: Michigan State. I applied, got a secondary application, interviewed and got wait-listed. And then I waited. And waited. By August, the med school door was closing for me and I knew it.

It was a sunny, dripping hot day when I got the call. I was wearing a light blue suit and high heels and sure did look like a drug rep in the parking lot of that rural family medicine office.

“Hello,” I said holding the phone with my shoulder while I juggled my keys and rolling suitcase full of cardiovascular drug samples.

It was a med school admissions officer.

I stopped, dropped my keys and switched to holding my flip phone with my hand.

“I was just calling to see about your plans for this Fall,” she said.

A tiny seed of hope swelled in my chest – and I watered it with droplets of nervous sweat.

“Well, I was still kind of hoping to hear from you,” I said.

She told me that a spot had opened up in their incoming class and that she was checking in with wait-listed applicants.  She asked about the missing pre-requisites and I told her honestly that I hadn’t completed them.

I asked: “How many people are up for this spot? How many people are still on the wait-list?”

“Well,” she said, “I’ve checked with all of them and they’ve all finalized other plans for the upcoming year.” 

“So, it’s just me?  I’m the last one on the list? The ONLY ONE left on the list?”

“Yes.”

“But, I haven’t completed all of the pre-reqs…”

“I’ll have to talk to the Dean and get back to you,” she said.

And then I prayed. I called everyone I could ask to pray and asked them to pray.

I got the return call within hours. “You’re in.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I squealed and jumped up and down in my high heels.

Mickey was in shock. Everyone was in shock. Some people might call this luck, but I know it wasn’t.

The truth about how I got into medical school is: It was a miracle.

Because I was the only candidate, they had to choose between a class of 105 instead of 106 or take me as I was – missing credits and all. I got something that doesn’t exist anymore called a “Dean’s waiver.” The dean “waived” some of the requirements for me.

I put in my 2 weeks’ notice the next day and started medical school just over 2 weeks later.

Initially, I felt incredibly out-of-place. I was older, married, commuting an hour to and from campus. I knew I was missing credits and had a D- on my undergrad transcript. And perhaps most of all – I knew I was the last one (the very. last. one.) to get in. But I also knew, without a doubt, that I was where I was meant to be.

There’s more than one ‘moral of the story’:

  1. My dad was right: You never know until you try.
  2. Mickey was right: You’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to fill in the boxes. (At least some of them! *wink*)
  3. I was wrong: Miracles do happen – so don’t give up on your dreams.

But the real reason I am telling this story is because there was purpose in the journey that followed. God knew I needed to pay >$200,000 to learn how to wash feet. He knew it would take the intensity of back-to-back intern years to humble me enough to ask for help. God knew residency would open my eyes and change my heart.

And that’s what I’m going to write about next.

PS – I picked the cover photo because I’m wearing the light blue suit I was wearing the day I found out I got in. The other women in the photo are friends from medical school.

PPS – I think I could change the words to “Walkin’ in Memphis” to “Walkin’ in Med School” – – “I put on my light blue suit and walked in the door…walkin’ in med school – walkin’ with my feet 10 feet off the ground…”

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Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

Author of the viral post: 10 Things to Know Before Your Next Visit to the Emergency Department. Board certified emergency medicine physician, wife, mother, aspiring novelist.
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12 Comments

  1. Tamara

    Thank you so much for sharing! Alana also wishes to go into the medical field, although a different course. Through your stories she knows it IS POSSIBLE! Keep inspiring the future of medicine… She has a gajillion and a half questions for you… .

  2. donnainthesouth

    Kristin, thank you so much; he was endeavoring to major in civil engineering but the math was just getting to him – we have a wonderful 2 yr. (wait, hang on, keep reading) program here in aeronautical technology that he had reached the point of considering just transferring into and just forgetting the whole 4 yr. degree – which I just really hated to see him give upon – at least for something I felt he really wanted and felt would be good for him – but in researching it, which so glad for that he did instead of just jumping into it because he found they’d implemented a transfer option into another 4 yr. degree program in management of said program, which would be very close – if, maybe, not somewhat equivalent to the civil engineering – and also, there are 2 tracks in the AT program, one of which is also more comparable than the other, which is the route he’s going to go and also making sure to handle things in such a way to be able to do the transfer into the 4 yr. program – especially since he’s already taken most of the gen ed academics required anyway – might as well make us of them rather than just throw them away – can always go back if don’t need them but hard to pick up and go forward if needed and not had – so glad he has already taken those and gotten them out of the way – wasn’t sure where to go from here anyway with what else he needed but he’s got that worked out now too and feels will be able to handle that so feel relatively good about it, just hope it all works out – thank you so much

  3. padrooga

    I wish I had read this story 30 years ago. I bought into the “myth” that if I didn’t get straight A’s I’d never make it in so I didn’t even bother to try.But then.. I wish I knew many other things 30 years ago too.

  4. Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D. (Post author)

    Thank you for your warm encouragement! You are a blessing to me.

    1. padrooga

      Awww shucks.

  5. Dana

    Kristin I will never forget the day we met at Grand Valley and the day we re-met at MSU!!! So happy that medical school was the right place for us at just that time!!

    1. Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D. (Post author)

      Ah, Dana – now you know my “secret!” It’s good to hear from you again. I hope you are well!

  6. donnainthesouth

    Th is encouraging to me with my son; he’s having such a hard time with math but he said he was going to check with the tutoring service today

    1. Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D. (Post author)

      Good luck to your son!! Struggle is never without merit and very little worth having comes easily! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Bill Glasgow

    Wonderful uplifting story which can encourage others . Humbly shared showing all is possible if you try. Thanks for sharing—

    1. Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D. (Post author)

      Thanks, Bill! Although we have never met, you are one of my favorite readers!!

  8. Kassi

    Powerful. Uplifting. Hilariously self deprecating! But I knew you ‘then’ and no matter what grade you got in organic chemistry, you have always had the heart of a physician. I’ve been to many doctors who were probably straight A students. But often, they come with no people skills, poor empathy and life skills.
    This will make many people feel better. When I got my MA Degree, my downfall was Statistics. I got what would be called (in a man’s world) a ‘Gentleman’s C.’ — frankly just to get rid of me.
    But I work with children of trauma. My inability to grasp statistics never mattered at all..
    Your gift is allowing all of us to continue to aim high, to walk through disappointments and fears, and really…we all can have our own rainbows if we don’t give up.
    Beautiful post💕

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