This section will spotlight a student who has come through the Health Professions Advising office at CSUF on their journey to professional school, and wishes to share his or her experiences and advice with current and future students.
Mokhtar Boukhari- Future Physician
I am 28 years old, but look younger and feel much older. I love going to theme parks, playing videogames, watching TV and, above all, I love eating. I am also married to the most supportive wife on earth. I take a pride of being a father to a six-year old boy who is currently holding the purple belt in Tae Kwon Do, can speak English, Spanish, and Arabic and can beat me in just about any videogame. I was born in the oldest city in the world, Damascus, where I lived with my maternal grandmother and uncles until the age of eight, when I moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to live with my father for the next eight years before immigrating to live my mother in sunny Southern California. The dramatic transitions I endured at a young age have shaped my personality in a very profound way. I became more adaptable to change and more tolerable and understanding of people come from different backgrounds.
My interest of pursuing medicine was initiated at an early age. Witnessing the sufferings of my father due to his neurological and psychological illnesses motivated me to learn more about his conditions. Accompanying my father to countless doctor visits and observing the improvement of his health made me comprehend the extent of help physicians can provide to their patients. This experience made me realize that I wanted to become a physician so I could help improve people’s health and treat those who endured sufferings similar to the ones my father had. Therefore, my father and I thought it would be better for me to move the U.S. to continue my education.
My Academic Achievements & Extracurricular Activities
After graduating high school, due to financial issues, I had to take time off school and put my dream of pursuing medicine on hold. When I resumed college, I had some trouble reconciling school and work, so my grades were compromised. However, after acquiring better study habits and more efficient time management skills, I was able to redeem my grades.
Initially, I attended Cypress and Fullerton Colleges. After taking most of my undergraduate general education classes and lower division major courses, I transferred to CSU Fullerton. I majored in biology, with emphasis on cell and developmental biology. The summer before transferring, I was selected to participate in a paid research internship through the STEM program. I worked in Dr. Christopher Meyer’s lab on the purification and characterization of ADP-Glucose pyrophosphorylase, a key enzyme in catalyzing the rate-determining step in the synthesis of starch in bacteria. Through this research experience, I learned how to be a critical thinker, to troubleshoot, and how to be a team player.
While I was attending school full time, I was also working to provide for my family and participating in extracurricular activities. I volunteered as a Clinical Care Extender at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach for 2 years. I rotated through six different departments and got to interact with various members of the healthcare team. This experience was a confirmation for me that I enjoy clinical work and interacting with people. I also worked as a Supplemental Instruction Leader for General Chemistry, General Biology, and Anatomy and Physiology at Cypress College and CSU Fullerton. I also volunteered as a Biology Mentor and worked for one summer as a Research Peer Mentor. Through these assignments, I learned how to communicate more effectively and how to become a better leader.
During my clinical volunteering I became aware of Osteopathic Medicine. To learn more about it, I read many online articles and read the book The DO’s by Norman Gevitz. I immediately became drawn to the philosophy of holistic medicine and the osteopathic manipulative treatment. However, the stronger inspiration came when I decided to shadow Dr. Lorane Dick, a pioneer in the field. I observed Dr. Dick “doctoring” style and realized how different it was from other physicians’ I have seen. First of all, she spent a lot longer time with her patients. She knew her patients very well. She engaged in conversations with them about their families and personal stories. That was an unprecedented experience for me. Second, I was amazed at her knowledge of human anatomy and her ability to diagnose abnormalities using her hands. The idea of touch was my main draw to the field. I believe the physician touch plays role in the physician-patient relationship and in the healing process. Witnessing the level of intimacy and patient’s satisfaction was very inspirational to me and made me feel that I wanted to be like her.
I took the MCAT twice, mainly because of my low verbal score. The first attempt was in the summer before my graduation and the second one was during the fall, after my graduation. For the preparation of my first take, I studied for only 4 weeks. I used ExamKrackers materials and didn’t do enough full-length AAMC practice tests. For my second attempt, I used the Princeton Review materials and the Berkeley Review books. I also practiced all AAMC full-length tests, at least twice each. I also dedicated 12 weeks of studying while doing nothing else but a part-time tutoring job at Cypress College. I was able to improve my score by 8 points!
Medical School Application and Important Tips
I submitted my primary application through AACOMAS on the day it was opened, June 4th. However, I had the application filled out carefully few days in advance. I utilized the “Intent to Apply” service that is provided by CSU Fullerton Health Professions office. I had all my letter of recommendation writers forward their letters to the office, and, then, the office wrote me a letter of recommendation and uploaded all of the letters electronically onto VirtualEvals. This made my letters electronically accessible to all the schools I applied to.
While I was awaiting the secondary applications, I started pre-writing my responses to the prompts. These prompts can be accessed on some of the well-known medical forums. Like that, I was able to have a very quick turnaround time. Since I was working ahead, I had the luxury of taking my time to produce well-written essays with no grammatical errors.
I applied to 12 schools total with a GPA of 3.35 and an MCAT score of 28 (11 on PS, 7 on VR, and 10 on BS). I made sure I avoided schools that are known to have regional bias and schools that have higher average GPA and MCAT scores. I also made sure to apply to schools that I was willing to attend. I received secondary applications from all 12 schools. Out of the 12 schools, I eventually received 8 interview invitations, 2 rejections, and 2 schools didn’t respond. I ended up interviewing at 3 schools, 2 of which accepted me (including the school I’m heading to WesternU), and one placed me on the Waitlist.
Here are some tips I gathered for those who are intending to apply:
- Apply EARLY! Make sure you have all your ducks in row before applying. This includes your letters of recommendation, MCAT score, money, personal statement, the list of schools you want to apply to, dates and hours of your extracurricular activities, and transcripts sent to AACOMAS and accessible to you.
- The AACOMAS application is long and draining. To avoid making careless mistakes, make sure you take your time filling it out. Do it in increments. Don’t do it all at once.
- Work on your personal statement months in advance. I had my personal statement revised at least 20 times!
- As mentioned above, have the writers turn in your letters in timely manner. Since you have no complete control over this, make sure you give the writers sufficient time. This means MONTHS in advance.
- Take the MCAT no later than April of the year you are planning to apply. The scores take about a month to come out, therefore, if you take it anytime after that, your score will not come out before the application cycle starts.
- If you want assistance with your application fees, apply for AACOMAS fee waiver as soon as possible. They open the application in May.
- Turn in your secondary applications in timely manner. Also, proofread your essays. You’ve worked very hard to get to this point, so there’s no reason for not putting the extra effort to avoid making careless mistakes.
- Practice your interview skills. Make an appointment with the career center at the university. They can help you with that. Ask Dr. Goode for feedback. Most importantly, learn how to smile!
- Stay positive and never give up. If I can do it, so can you!
I would like to thank Professor Mari-Lynn Reid, Dr. Hope Johnson, and Dr. Vlasta Lyles for writing my letters of recommendation. I would also like to thank Dr. Lorane Dick for allowing me to shadow her at her clinic and for writing my letter of recommendation. Lastly, I want to thank the Health Profession office headed by Dr. Christina Goode for providing me with the MCAT preparation materials and for advising and supporting me throughout the application process.