Name: Sharon Polackal
Hometown: Houston, TX
Current City: Lubbock, TX
Undergraduate University & Major: Texas Tech University, Microbiology
Medical School Attending: Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Medicine
Take me back a decade, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A decade ago, at age 12, I was just getting acclimated to living in the U.S. I had moved from England with my family, and I was excited by the opportunity to be whoever and whatever I wanted. At that time my aspirations were very superficial. My naive heart was stressed about how I would juggle being a small bakery owner, model, artist, and pilot at the same time.
Tell me about your college application process. How did you decide on a school and major?
Upon graduation, I was still very unsure about the career path I wanted to pursue. I figured I would apply to all Texas public universities and choose the school that granted me the most financial aid. However, the idea of being a Longhorn like all my friends, and living in the exciting city of Austin led me to choose UT. A month later, after I had already chosen a dorm and declared a major, a conversation with my then 8 year old sister made me realize I had chosen UT for all the wrong reasons! On a whim, I decided the next morning to attend Texas Tech instead. The Honors College appealed to me, and I figured the Early Acceptance to Medical School Program was a unique opportunity that I did not want to close doors to. I ended up having to attend the last orientation date, and I chose Biology as my major at first– also out of uncertainty for anything else. If I could go back in time, I would definitely choose Tech again!
What was the hardest part of your undergraduate studies? How did you get through it?
The hardest part for me was bouncing back from a not so academically fruitful first year. As my aspirations for medicine strengthened at the end of my first year of undergrad, I knew I would have to redress my priorities. I knew I would have to prove to medical schools that I was indeed capable and serious. As a person who was inherently very social, I struggled to say no to friends to stay in and study on a Friday night and to skip out on school events. I got through it by finding the discipline to just push through and stick to my word even when I didn’t want to. I taught myself to not be paranoid about the future, but to simply try my best in everything I set out to do.
What did you do between undergrad and graduate school?
Since, I graduated undergrad in 3.5 years, I had a semester off before beginning medical school. Boy, was I thankful for this! After studying abroad in Seville, Spain the summer before, my heart was restless for travel and adventure. I savored this time by spending it with family and friends in Houston and backpacking in Europe with my friends. I also spent a very gratifying month in India staying with my aunt.
How and when did you decide on a Medical school?
I would say I was sure on medical school at the end of the summer before starting my second year of undergrad. I shadowed incredible physicians at the M.D. Anderson Cancer center, and their character shed light on the kind of person I wanted to become. I saw medicine as a rare opportunity to give hope to someone in a very fragile state and thought that it resonated well with my own values and ambitions.
What did you do to be a good Medical School applicant?
First and foremost, I seeked mentors that were familiar with the application process for medical school and the field of medicine. Their support helped guide me in the right direction, and I will always be thankful for them. I worked diligently to get better grades in my classes and committed myself to a few community service activities that I was passionate about. Additionally, I also participated in research for over a year in the field of Microbiology and Immunology, and shadowed physicians in a variety of fields to gage my interests. Lastly, I also got involved in organizations around campus as often as often as I could.
What advice would you give to a freshman student interested in medical school?
As a Pre-Med student, explore deeply the role of physician by shadowing and volunteering as much as possible. Medicine is a lifelong commitment, and while rewarding, it requires a lot of sacrifice and isn’t for everyone. The more you know about what it means to be a physician, the stronger you will be at persevering through the challenges that entail getting into medical school, getting through it successfully, and feeling engaged 20 years later. If medicine is your passion, work hard towards it, and be relentless in your pursuit. If the path leads you elsewhere or if at any point you realize medicine is not for you, I encourage you to find the courage to change paths. Do not fall prey to sunk cost– there are a plethora of career choices that provide the same satisfaction without the turmoil.
How have you managed to balance medical school/ relationships/self care since starting medical school?
I would be lying if I say I didn’t struggle with this in the beginning of medical school. I think it’s very easy to give into the pressure during the first year and try to become a studying robot. Finding the balance was a learning process for me that required intuitively scheduling in time to do the things that I enjoy and taking off days once in awhile. Self care is so important to your well being, so always remember to take care of yourself and your classmates. Life does not stop after beginning medical school, so you need to create a lifestyle that is sustainable for you – this varies from person to person. Please, please refrain from comparing yourself to others!
Are you interested in any specific specialty?
I am currently interested in Cardiology and Pediatrics, but I plan on keeping a very open mind during clinical rotations in 3rd year, as there are so many specialties I know so little about.
What does your ideal career look like?
Since I am not exactly sure of the specialty I want to practice, all I aspire for right now is to be a good physician that listens to my patients and helps them. I also want to grow in and with medicine. My preceptorship in Houston this past summer made me realize that being a physician truly does mean a lifetime of learning and teaching. This is extremely exciting and daunting at the same time, but finding a good balance between work and family is extremely important to me.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself in the second year of a residency program in maybe Houston? 😀 I say Houston, because it’s home, but eh, what’s more exciting than having a new city to explore? I really am open to going anywhere for residency.
What sacrifices have you made for your career?
I would say my only sacrifice is time that could have otherwise been spent with family and friends. Missing out on vacations and birthdays is never fun, but having friends and family that understand and support you (& facetime you) makes all the difference. I suppose being broke and dependent on student loans can also be seen as a sacrifice.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Medicine requires a strong and sure individual. I have noticed that the more successful medical students have a deep and personal reason for choosing this career. Figure out what that is for you because when things get challenging, it is that inner fire that keeps your afloat.