Cover Image - An Anxiety Self-Advocate’s School Journey

An Anxiety Self-Advocate’s School Journey

By Sarai Welch


The Journey

All my life I knew I wanted to take care of people. I wanted to help heal people and save lives. The human body has always been a vessel that fascinated me. Throughout my entire life everything I have done academically has been to ensure that I got into medical school. I had never known any doctors personally before joining Different Brains. Dr. Reitman has certainly been my saving grace since I met him. Prior to joining this organization, I made an effort to figure out the journey to med school on my own by making regular doctor’s visits a personal forum for myself. I asked them and anyone who I thought could be of help lots of questions. In undergrad, I took classes and retook classes trying to ensure ultimate success. It wasn’t until post grad life that I think I felt the whirlwind of trying to get into medical school. I spent a year studying for the MCAT. I took a prep class and studied 8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week. I consumed my life with it. 

The Hardships

Once the pandemic hit, I got a job working in a nursing home while I continued my studies. Then my test date kept getting pushed back because of the pandemic. Between working full time, trying to figure out when I was going take my test, and how to readjust my timeline to send out my applications, I got frustrated and my studies became an afterthought. I fell into an anxiety-ridden frenzy which led to extreme depression. I was not sleeping, or eating, and I lost all motivation to do just about anything. The question I kept asking myself was “what is the point?” It felt like whenever I took 5 steps forward life threw a curveball that sent me 10 steps back. Eventually, I pulled myself together just enough to resume studying for the big MCAT. I settled on a test date and the Association of American Medical Colleges sent emails saying that my test day would not be cancelled. I finally took the test, did not get the score I wanted, signed up for a retake, and began studying again. In my time of preparing myself to retake this huge exam, I began feeling unfulfilled. Like, I needed more time to explore all my options. Medical school did not look so much like it had to be the end goal. I began feeling extremely lost. The amount of time and money I invested in preparation for medical school started feel like it was all a waste.

What is Truly for Me?

I decided to focus on working to rebuild my finances and I also I wanted to immerse myself in the medical field as much as I could. I shifted my focus a bit and decided to see how I could use where I was in my life to my advantage. We were in the middle of a pandemic, and I was working in a nursing home. My position did not require me to actively care for patients but my job as a COVID screener did assist in making sure we were all safe. I learned so much from those that I worked with. One thing I learned that has helped me in my journey to the right career is that there are other options in healthcare other than just being a doctor. It’s not that I didn’t know that, but I didn’t know enough about those fields. I quickly discovered that maybe being a doctor was not the only option that could be for me. I got to know a couple Physicians, Nurse Practitioners (NP), and Physician Associates (PA) and learned the differences between each of them. I spoke to one PA that worked at the nursing home, reached out to friends that I knew were in PA school, and I spoke to Physicians and NPs to get a clear understanding on what the differences are between them. After doing my research and having meaningful conversation with those that I knew could help me, being a PA seemed like the way to go. 

Accepting the Journey

Since making the change I have had days where I felt like changing was the best decision I ever made. Like there was a weight off my shoulders and I was truly headed in the direction of my calling. I have also had days where it seemed like I made a mistake. I have asked myself, “Why did I make my life more difficult? I had everything I needed to get into med school.” PA school has several requirements that medical school did not. I have had to take more classes that I wasn’t required to take before, I have two entry exams to take instead of just one, and I have to get patient contact experience.  I still struggle with anxiety around my future and have to work extremely hard not to allow my depression to get as bad as it did. I do understand that if this journey to working in healthcare was easy everyone would do it. I have come to appreciate that every part of being a part of this field requires a little blood, sweat, and certainly tears. This journey has been difficult to navigate. It sometimes feels like I am starting all over. I am learning to accept the journey I am on and not rush myself. I know that I have an ultimate goal of helping people and saving lives and however I may end up doing that, I am happy with it, and I will do whatever it takes to get there. Maintaining this positive mindset has certainly helped with my mental health. 

Resources and Tips

Some online resources and tips that I have found to be helpful is:

  • www.myparesource.com is a site that will edit your personal statement which I have found for PA school is the most important part of your application. They also have an Instagram (IG) where they post helpful tips and encouraging words. IG handle: @myparesource
  • PA programs have developed an exam called the PA-CAT that is considered the PA entry exam. It is similar to the MCAT and only some schools require students to take it to be admitted in place of the GRE. On www.pa-cat.com they give tons of test prep for the exam that comes with you paying for and registering for the test. 
  • While studying for the MCAT I also found ‘The MCAT Podcast’ by Ryan Gray. He goes through various MCAT practice passages reading them, answering and explaining each answer choice, and then gives the correct answer. You can find it on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
  • Another great MCAT resource is Jack Westin, https://jackwestin.com. When you sign up, you subscribe to daily practice CARS passages sent to your email. The passages are very similar to the kinds of passages you will see on the CARS section of the MCAT. 

You are Not Alone

For anyone that is on the journey to becoming anything in health care I want you to know I see you and you are not alone. No matter what it seems like right now, know that all of your goals are attainable. Be not dismayed by how long it’s taking or if you have any uncertainty on how you want to reach your goals. Ask questions, put yourself out there, and keep going. Perseverance is key to success when it comes to these careers. It was never designed to be easy, but it is doable. 

Headshot of Sarai Welch

My name is Sarai and I was born in Miami, Florida and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I graduated from the University of Central Florida and received my Bachelor’s in Health Sciences Pre-Clinical with a minor in Psychology. I am currently in the process of studying for the MCAT (the admissions exam to Medical school) and I aspire to become a neurologist.