PreHealth Spotlight: Maria DelPico
Class year: 2021
Major: BMB and Psychology/Neuroscience track
Don’t be afraid of gap years. Although gap years seem scary, I am so glad I took them. I have learned so much about healthcare in these two years and it will make me a better physician...
- Accepted to 7 DO schools and 3 MD schools : will attend UMass Chan Medical School in August 2023
While at UMass Amherst:
- Research Assistant in Isbell Lab: completed honors thesis on clinical reasoning among ER nurses
- Volunteered for Craig's Doors Shelter and Compassionate Care Hospice
- Club Soccer Team
- Worked as an EMT for 2 summers during pandemic
- Nu Rho Psi Neuroscience Honors Society Treasurer
During undergrad, I got my EMT license in the summer after my sophomore year. I began working full-time as an EMT during the summer after my junior year. This job gave me a hands-on clinical experience where I was able to work on my bedside manner. I came back to this work part time after graduation. The hours were also appealing (12-hour shifts, 3 days a week is full time) which allowed me to work full time and study for the MCAT (although I don’t recommend doing that. If you can afford to work fewer hours, that is preferred). This job helped me learn a lot about insurance and the healthcare system in the US because I was exposed to many different healthcare settings and providers. I also learned a lot of medical terminology from many different fields from reading patients’ paperwork. I have been able to grow in this role, becoming a field training officer (FTO), where I am able to train new EMTs (many of which are interested in careers in healthcare themselves) which has been rewarding. Continuing to grow in this position through being an FTO and even representing the company at a conference have allowed me to continue to get everything I possibly can out of this experience.
I also volunteered in hospice. I was fortunate to have had a great experience seeing the same patient for over a year. I was an important part of their care team. Here I also interacted with family members and other members of the healthcare team. This job allowed me to use my empathy to support patients and their families during a really hard time in their lives. I was able to learn from my patients and began to have a real interest in geriatrics. In this role, I also learned how to cope with loss. I know that in the future, as a physician I will care about my patients and it is inevitable that I won’t always get to say goodbye or have closure when I am no longer treating them. This volunteering experience has helped me learn how to cope with this reality, and will make me a better physician.
One of the most meaningful experiences I had as an undergrad was my time in Dr. Linda Isbell’s Affect and Social Cognition Lab doing research on the influence of affect and mental illness/substance use disorders on clinical reasoning among emergency medicine nurses. I was able to help a lot with one project which was also the topic of my thesis. This opportunity allowed me to write a grant proposal, get an abstract and paper published, attend multiple conferences, and understand research better. This experience set me up well for my position after graduation. After undergrad, I found a job as a Clinical Research Assistant at McLean Hospital where I worked for a year. I learned a lot about clinical research and had many meaningful interactions with patients in this role. I was able to network in this position which afforded me opportunities to shadow multiple physicians in specialties I was interested in. By now I had realized I really enjoyed developing relationships with patients and had an interest in psychiatry and primary care. I was able to shadow 2 geriatric psychiatrists (MDs), a family medicine provider (DO), and a geriatrician (MD).
I was also a member of the UMass Women’s Club Soccer team where I was able to continue a sport which I have played most of my life and learned so many life lessons from (teamwork, perseverance, leadership, etc). I tore my ACL playing my freshman year, but the recovery from this injury taught me a lot about medicine and myself, fueling my passion for entering the healthcare field.
Beginning to volunteer was also critical to my preparation. During undergrad, I volunteered at Craig’s Door Homeless Shelter mornings before classes which were incredibly meaningful. During summers, I volunteered at my local animal shelter as well. When COVID hit and I was home for the semester, I began as a hospice volunteer (mentioned above) which has been one of my most meaningful experiences. I volunteered at my local animal shelter which was something I had always wanted to do growing up. Although this isn’t directly related to healthcare, I found the work to be rewarding and a great way to spend my time (I have always had a love for animals). I have watched my grandmother care for her pets and I have seen that pets play an important role in their owner’s lives, providing them with companionship, and in my grandmother’s case, a sense of purpose.
Regarding the MCAT, if you can afford to take time away from work/other activities to study (even if just for a little while) this is beneficial. I worked full-time and found it very hard to juggle this and studying. I wish I did way more practice the first time around when studying. Spending time reviewing content is important, but more meaningful when done in the context of doing practice questions. UWorld and AAMC practice questions are invaluable resources that should without a doubt be used. If there is something you don’t understand from those questions, then review the content/material. The practice exams are reflective of how you will do on the real deal, don’t overlook this fact (within a couple of points). I scored 2 points lower than my last practice exam before taking the test.
Soccer was one of my most meaningful extra-curricular activities (see above). I learned so many lessons from my years playing the sport. Unfortunately, however, I have gotten older and injury prone and had to give it up. Although I miss it, I have started going to the gym more and taking up other activities like embroidering. When schools asked me to speak about extra-curricular activities in interviews and I no longer played soccer, despite it being a significant portion of my primary and secondary applications, I spoke about the lessons I learned from soccer (I have learned a lot from my many injuries) and the other activities I now take part in. Even though I moved away from soccer, taking part in these new activities helps me stay balanced.
I took up reading during my gap years which I found really meaningful. A lot of schools asked about a book I had read and wanted me to talk about it and I was grateful to have read things I felt comfortable talking about during interviews/in secondaries. Atul Gawande’s books are incredible and I think any pre-med could gain something from reading those (Being Mortal was my favorite as someone who is interested in geriatrics, hospice, and palliative care). I also read Still Alice by Lisa Genova which tells the story of a woman with Alzheimer’s from her perspective and would recommend that as well. I found that during undergrad I was always studying and reading textbooks which made reading for pleasure a less desirable activity to take part in, but I rekindled my love for reading during my gap years.
During the application process, coping with the uncertainty was the most challenging part for me. Despite trying to do everything in my control (getting apps submitted early, polishing off every aspect of the application, preparing for interviews, sending thank yous after, writing update letters, etc), so much of the process feels out of your control. It is so scary to not know where you will be in a year (geographically and in general). The waiting for the next thing feels like it never ends (waiting for secondaries, waiting for interview invites, waiting for decisions, waiting on the waitlist, waiting for financial aid packages, etc) but eventually, it will. Speaking to my other pre-med friends going through the cycle helped keep me grounded and made me feel less alone. Having a strong support network and extra-curricular activities also helped me stay grounded. I have learned valuable skills that help me cope with uncertainty that I will be able to use in the future.
As a Latina, seeing that schools cared about students in this community made me feel welcome and know I would be well supported at the school. This is something you can look for in the schools you have applied to (some schools have clubs like LMSA and have students and faculty from the diversity office come to speak with you about opportunities at their school during the interview etc).
I have learned that you can only prepare so much for interviews. I think having a good grasp on your own application, having looked over possible interview questions, and knowing why you want to go to that school in particular are the 3 key aspects of preparation you should focus on. Over-practicing can make you sound not genuine and rehearsed. I did best in interviews where I tried to relax and speak from my heart, they can tell when you’re passionate.
Go see schools once you get accepted/put on a waitlist! Use the interview to gauge whether or not it will be a good fit for you, but also go see the school. I could tell from visiting some schools (even ones that I thought would be close to the top of my list) that I wouldn’t be happiest there after visiting. Talking to current students also really helps.
Don’t be afraid of gap years. Although gap years seem scary, I am so glad I took them. I have learned so much about healthcare in these two years and it will make me a better physician. I have also taken time to grow as a person and spend time with family and friends which I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ve learned to worry less about the timeline and be less in a rush to get to the next thing.
Published May 2023