The personal page for
Dr. Leila Rowland Zucker

Twitter: @LeilaZucker YouTube: Dr. Leila Zucker Facebook: DrLeila Google+: Leila Zucker LinkedIn: Leila Zucker

I'm one of 100 candidates selected for Round 3,
also known as the Mars100

Dr.Leila's Mars One Application

My song parody "Join Up with the Rest of Us" (based on the chorus from "Alice's Restaurant", apologies to Arlo Guthrie for the massacre of his innocent song)

Video song parody with Max Fagin,
"Suddenly Mars One"

Whether you're an applicant or just a supporter of mankind moving to Mars, you should check out the most civil place for scientific discussion on the web, Mars One - Aspiring Martians Group on Facebook, and the Aspiring Martians Forum

NPR All Things Considered Jan. 19, 2014 cover story "Mars Or Bust: Putting Humans On The Red Planet

Shameless self promotion:
CNN interview with Jason Carroll, May 2014
Popsci Oct 2014 online article (print Nov 2014)
Life on Mars 1st episode by Senior Post, Feb 2015
Washington Post Feb 2015
Howard Stern Show Tuesday March 30, 2015,
(I'm on for 15 minutes starting at 28:50, NSFW)
Mars One inspired scuptures Oct 2015

Updates from Mars100 Ryan Macdonald

What 3 things would I take with me to Mars? A deck of cards, my wedding ring, and Looney Pyramids.

Who am I?

An Emergency Medicine Attending Physician in Washington, DC

Why this website?

It's my personal playground, where I put things of interest to my family, friends, and non-traditional medical school applicants who may benefit from my experiences applying to medical school. Content on this site is my own personal opinions and observations.

What's here?

Latest Update

How I eventually got into med school

What is a non-traditional applicant?

What are your options?

Links Leila Likes


2002 Cross-country trip

Born near Disneyland, my parents drove down the Pan-American Highway in their sky-blue VW Bug to Panama when I was two years old. My favorite things to do as a little kid were to climb trees in the jungle, rollerskate, swim, and play with my little sister with space LEGO. As an older kid, I played a lot of tabletop board games and Dungeons&Dragons on any weekend I wasn't in the school theatre building sets and putting up lighting instrumnts for the next show.

I'm always happy to try and answer questions about the process of appugustng to medical school.

Feel free to send me an email.

Updated September 2015

See my video application to win a playtest party for Exploding Kittens

Latest Update

Where am I now? Howard University Hospital, Emergency Medicine Attending

Husband Ron is happily ensconced at his dream job as Senior Researcher at
Food & Water Watch

Completed residency at George Washingon Univeristy 6/30/11

Georgetown School of Medicine Class of 2007

How I eventually got into medical school

I graduated from Balboa High School in the Panama Canal Zone in 1986, with a GPA of 3.91, and a long list of extracurricular activities. I was accepted to nearly every college I applied to, but since I wanted to be a doctor (and because they offered me a scholarship), I went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.

But I did not excel at Hopkins. In retrospect, I think it was due to culture shock; the fact that I thought of myself as American did not reconcile with the fact that I had lived in Panama since I was 2 years old. I withdrew from Hopkins in 1989 with a GPA of 2.08, knowing that this type of academic performance would not get me into medical school (and because tuition increased from 11,000 to 17,000 while my scholarship remained the same).

I moved to Washington DC with my boyfriend Ron, who was working as the National Program Director at Americans for Democratic Action. While in DC, I worked at various local theaters building sets and running lights. Yet as much as I love the theater, I always knew I couldn't give up on becoming a doctor. When I told Ron I was moving to California to go back to school (my parents had moved back to California in 1989, and I was a California resident), he asked me to marry him.

So, in January of 1993 we moved to San Francisco, a place neither of us had been before and where we knew no one. He entered the fledgling high-tech industry in Silicon Valley, I enrolled at City College of San Francisco where I had a GPA of 3.51. In spring of 1995 I transferred to San Francisco State Univerisity (SFSU), where I completed my BA in Biology in June 1997 with a GPA of 4.0.

I had taken the MCAT in August 1996 and received scores of VR-09, PS-08, WS-R, BS-09 for a total of 26. I attributed this fairly low score to several things: 1) I am not the world's best multiple choice test taker, 2) I took a Kaplan review course and relied solely on class time for my review instead of completing practice tests at home, and 3) my mother died in January of 1996 after a decades-long fight with an undiagnosable and untreatable auto-immune disorder.

When I applied to medical school for the first time in 1997, through a bureaucratic snafu San Francisco State University did not send out my (and several other people's) letters of recommendation until January of 1998. While all 15 of the schools I applied to did receive the letters prior to the deadline, it was so late in the cycle that I knew I had little chance of my file being seriously reviewed by anyone. In fact, Tulane even returned my application fee of $100, with a very nice letter stating that although my application had been completed in time, they were no longer reviewing new applications.

Now I was bitter and discouraged. I decided to take some postbac classes at SFSU while I tried to find a laboratory job at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). I was fortunate to be hired by a pediatric oncology lab as a Laboratory Assistant in 1998, and worked there for three years until I was ready to take the MCAT again and reapply to medical school. This time I enrolled in the Berkeley Review course and attended all of their classes as well as completing as many practice tests on my own as I possibly could. My August 2001 MCAT score was 30 (VR-11, PS-08, WS-N, BS-11).

This time I applied to 28 schools, including one school overseas, the Ben Gurion University of the Negev MD Program in International Health and Medicine in Collaboration with Columbia University Health Sciences. I got only one interview, with Ben Gurion. The interview was in February 2002 at Columbia in New York City (they don't make you fly to Israel for your interview). While I preferred to attend a US medical school, Ben Gurion seemed like a slightly better choice than a Carribbean school, because one of the directors of the program, Dr. Richard Deckelbaum, is also on staff at Columbia. If he is not in Israel, he personally meets briefly with all applicants. I was deeply impressed by both him and the Ben Gurion Program, and I was ecstatic when I was accepted into their class of 2006. I sent in my acceptance forms and matriculation check immediately upon receiving them in March.

But then in April, after the Passover bombings in Israel, my husband looked at me and said he couldn't move to Israel. During the ten years we spent in San Francisco, he had switched from being a political science geek to a computer geek, and with the increasing violence, high-tech companies were pulling out of Israel. This meant there were no jobs for him, and he simply couldn't face giving up a second career for me, and the prospect of being unable to get a work or student visa for four years.

So, I scrambled on the newly formed internet to find something to improve my academic credentials so I could make another try at getting into medical school. Lo and behold, I found two masters programs that seemed tailor-made for me, one at Drexel and one at Georgetown (I later found out that there were others, see links below). These programs were designed specifically for students like me who had MCAT scores and/or GPA that were borderline, to let us take medical school courses to demonstrate that we can hack medical school.

I was accepted to Drexel after a phone interview, once again I sent in matriculation forms and a check, and Ron and I made plans to move to Philadelphia. We packed up all of our stuff, had the moving company pick it up and hold it in storage, and proceeded to take all of July 2002 to drive cross-country and camp our way through the Canadian Rockies. It was a fabulous trip, with only one flaw; I was still waiting to hear from Georgetown. We could check email at internet cafes and voice mail from handy pay phones. I had my phone interview at Georgetown from a pay phone at a gas station near Lake Louise in Canada's Banff National Park.

We arrived in Philadelphia the first weekend in August, with orientation at Drexel scheduled to begin on Monday, August 5. When I checked my email on Sunday night, I discovered I had been accepted to Georgetown. I called Drexel Monday morning to tell them I would not be attending their program, and we packed up and headed back to Washington DC to find a place to live (easier said than done). I was now a "physio", a member of the Georgetown University Special Masters in Physiology Class of 2003!

The SMP (aka Physio) program takes approximately 140 students, of whom approximately 60% will be accepted to medical school after one year, and another 25% (for a total of ~85%) will be accepted after two years. Georgetown University School of Medicine (GUSOM) typically accepts 20 to 25 students from the Physio Program each year, after interviewing approximately 50 people. I got an interview at GUSOM in April 2003, and I was accepted at the end of June. Amazingly, against all odds, I was now a medical student! (And as an added bonus, Ron gets to go back to the career he loves and gave up for my dream, nonprofit lobbyist.)

In putting my story up on the web, I am hoping to inspire other non-traditional premedical students to pursue their dream until they achieve it, to find a program that will make them a competitive applicant, and to keep applying until they get in. If I can get into medical school at the tender age of 35, anyone can do it, you just have to want it badly enough, to be unable to imagine yourself in any other career.

(Please note that the above was written in 2002, and current information about any of the programs mentioned can be found on their websites).

What is a non-traditional applicant?

My definition of a non-traditional premedical student or medical school applicant is someone who did not complete their undergraduate degree in the standard four years at a single institution, and who does not have an "acceptable" GPA and/or MCAT, and/or has been out of school for several years.

What are your options?

Your first stop should always be the premed advisor at your school. They should have all the resources at their fingertips to help you figure out what to do. Of course, you may have someone who doesn't know what to do with a non-traditional applicant, which is probably why you went searching on the internet and found this website.

IF YOU HAVEN'T EVER APPLIED: Go ahead and apply. Yes, it might be devastating to apply and not be accepted, but who knows, you might be accepted on your first try. However, it is an expensive process, so if you think you are not a very good candidate, pick only a few schools at which you have a reasonable chance of being accepted.

IF YOU'VE APPLIED, HAD INTERVIEWS AND BEEN REJECTED: Contact those schools and ask them to go over your file with you. If you had an interview, some schools will tell you exactly what you need to improve in order to increase the likelihood of being accepted the next time you apply. Please note that they will almost never do this if you did not get an interview as the rejected applicant pool is far too large.

IF YOU'VE APPLIED AND HAD NO INTERVIEWS: Consider a special masters program, retake the MCAT, apply to different schools more suited to your academic achievements, consider moving to another state, consider foreign medical schools, consider DO schools, consider PA schools, consider the RN/NP pathway.

Links Leila Likes


If you're ever in DC and like games or puzzles, you gotta visit Labyrinth.
Check out my personal games collection

I haven't catalogued my LEGO collection, but I have a bunch of the early space sets. If you want a fun introduction to building techniques, may I recommend the LEGO Master Builder Academy sets and website.

Artemis spaceship bridge simulator for 6 players. Have you ever wanted to control Comms, Weapons, Engineering, Helm, Science, or be Captain of a spacecraft engaging in battle with the enemy? Well now you can.

If you haven't played Fluxx, Loonacy, IceDice or any of the other great games from Looney Labs, you should. If you don't have a local game shop, Fluxx is now available in Target!

My latest obsession is climbing at Sandy Spring Adventure Park (I've always adored heights, have a great sense of balance, but need to get fit and work on upper body strength)

Yes, I too participated in the Kickstarter for Exploding Kittens. But I also have a playtest deck that I got on JoCoCruise2015 by being one of the people who helped Elan Lee and Matt Inman playtest more rules. I won a chance to run one of the final Playtest Deck#3 parties, one on April 11th at Labyrinth, the other April 13th at The Board and Brew.

DC has a new tabletop convention -- WashingCon -- and it totally rocked.


What is the single most important change we could make to improve healthcare in the United States? Have a single, unified electronic medical record system.

Must read article How Doctors Die: It’s Not Like the Rest of Us, But It Should Be

$4 generic prescription medications for everyone at Target

Syracuse University Health Professions Advisory Program--lists programs for college graduates who need to improve their academic credentials before making successful application to medical schools.

Best residency elective EVER (I skied/worked there January 2011)


My favorite folksinger, Christine Lavin and yes, her guitar has planets inlaid in the neck.

Other music I love to listen to: Weird Al Yankovic, Tom Lehrer, Michael McNevin

I didn't think it could get any better than South Park, then I saw The Book of Mormon. See it, sell your firstborn if you have to, just see it. If you are a fan of both of these, then you should immediately watch the best fan-made video ever!

How have I not known about this guy until 2014? I'm was so excited to see Jonathan Coulton on JoCo Cruise Crazy 5! These, these are my people. I can't wait to go on JoCoCruise 2016.

Singer/songwriters I fell in love with on the JoCoCruise2015:
Brian Gray nerd rock with a most excellent song Pi Day
Juliana Finch for her indie rock check out The Other Girls, for nerd rock Anti-socialize

Inspired by the incredible Jim Boggia and fellow SeaMonkeys on JoCoCruise, I bought a ukelele. Join me in learning this song for 2016. Astronomically Correct Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

If you like parodies, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cthulhu, you should check out A_Shoggoth_on_the_Roof


Like smart online comic strips geared to geeks? My favorite is xkcd "65 Years"
(be sure to read the mouseover) followed closely by "Realistic Criteria"

What I would do if I had unlimited funds for a vacation--visit Spaceport America and take a ride on SpaceshipTwo

The background image for this site is from Hubble

If you're space enthusiast and are going to be in Brooklyn, New York, consider treating yourself to Final Frontier Design's Spacesuit Experience. You can thank me later!

Fun Facts: List of astronauts by age (range is 25-61 if you don't count John Glenn at 77)