An MIT alum and 2nd year med student at Meharry Medical College, Kathryn is a testament that when it comes to pursuing your dreams, giving up is NEVER an option. I’m very excited to feature my fellow SMDEP alum! Check out Kathryn‘s journey to med school, the obstacles along the way, her advice on choosing post-bac programs, and more!
So what led you to pursue medicine?
My father is an OBGYN. From a very young age, I was extremely familiar with the hospital. On days when I would be too sick to go to school, I would often wait for my daddy to get off work in the doctor’s lounge or his personal medical office. The summer of my freshman year of high school, I became involved with volunteering at the hospital in which my mother worked. I met tons of patients through the emergency department and the gift shop. These patients and their families were flustered about where their procedure was being done in this busy hospital, and I would smile, reassure them, and help them find the correct room. Through that patient interaction, I eased their worry, and I think from that moment I knew I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare where I could make a positive impact on someone’s life in one of their most vulnerable moments.
That’s really cool. What did you decide to study in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?
In college, I studied Nuclear Engineering at MIT. In high school, I took a tour of MIT’s nuclear reactor and was fascinated by the research being done there on terminal cancer patients with Boron Neutron Capture Therapy in the 1950s. It had since been discontinued, because of cases of pneumonia and the need for an MD/PhD to oversee the project and I knew that I wanted to be that person. I went back home excited about the possibility of becoming a Nuclear Engineer and a radiation oncologist someday. I shadowed a radiation oncologist, which further solidified my passion for it.
Nuclear engineering was a great major for me. I enjoyed learning the material. The great thing about engineering is it gives you the problem solving and the thinking skills that you can apply to a wide range of future career options. The future is limitless for a great engineer. However, it was extremely stressful trying to fit in my premedical classes with the classes for my major (no overlap at all). I spent my summers learning more about medicine by doing research in medicine and SMDEP at Howard University School of Medicine. I became an EMT on campus. I tried to get all the exposure that I could to medicine. Ultimately, I still didn’t feel prepared to start medical school after graduation and so I applied and was accepted to a post-baccalaureate program at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC.
Please tell us about your Post bac program
Post baccalaureate programs are not created equal. In undergraduate I was able to take all my premedical courses, so I was looking for a post baccalaureate program that would build on my prior knowledge, I did not want to retake the prerequisites. At my post baccalaureate, 10 other minority students and I took classes in anatomy, biochemistry, problem-based learning, systems physiology and pharmacology, microbiology and neuroanatomy. This is essentially the first year of medical school. Doing well in my post baccalaureate gave me the confidence that I would to do well in medical school. We were also required to be active in SNMA at Wake Forest and do community service. I volunteered once a week at the Brenner’s Children’s Hospital in the hematology/ oncology playroom. The purpose of the program was to bring diversity to Wake Forest. I definitely benefitted immensely from the connections I made there. All of the students in my post baccalaureate class were accepted to Wake Forest School of Medicine the following year and most are attending that institution. I loved my post baccalaureate experience, and I would recommend one to you if you feel like you need some time before medical school, but be sure to do your research and pick the right one for you.
That’s great advice. So during this journey did you ever consider giving up on your dream? What obstacles or hurdles did you have to overcome in your medical school journey?
One of my biggest obstacles in my medical school journey was during my senior year of college. I chose to pledge a Sorority, play varsity basketball, do radiation oncology research, and serve as president of the Black Women’s Alliance, which is one of the organizations on campus for black women while taking the biggest course load I had ever taken at MIT. I definitely spread myself too thin. I thought by waiting a year to apply to medical school, I could bring my GPA up a few points, but instead it dropped. Not only that, I wasn’t sleeping most days and I got extremely sick during my last few months of school and almost failed a literature class that I needed in order to graduate. All that being said, my second semester of senior year had some of my worst memories of undergraduate. I remember crying in a bathroom at the end of first semester senior year after reading that I received a 12 out of 200 on my Organic Chemistry 2 final. I thought my medical school dreams were over. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I stressed myself out and put all the pressure on myself during that year. I think you have to fail a little in life to be able to survive and thrive and I am no longer afraid of failure. If I never fail, it just means that my goals aren’t high enough. So I am grateful for those experiences that I had. All things being equal, if I could do it again I would have had the courage to apply to medical school during my junior year of college.
That’s a very interesting journey. So how was the application process for you?
The application process was stressful for me. I applied later than most people, around September. When I applied I was not one hundred percent sure of my application. I think the only reason I applied when I did was that it was a requirement of my post-baccalaureate program to apply to medical schools. I chose a wide range of medical schools that were in close geographic proximity to home irregardless of the school’s ranking. I studied for and took the MCAT the summer that I was doing research before my senior year. I received a good score but I would advise you to study for the MCAT better than I did. I would also advise you to start early and have your application ready to submit for the July 1 date. I think interviews may have been the most stressful process for me because I don’t think I interview too well. But ultimately, the process was everything I expected. Just an inside tip, if you get waitlisted or don’t hear back from a school that you would really like to go to call or just show up and introduce yourself. People are likely to give you a chance if they have met you or know you are hungry for the position. A lot of medicine is about who you know.
You just completed your first year of med school. What was that like?
My first year, I really hated being in the cadaver lab. The formaldehyde smell never leaves your hair or your clothes. For an entire semester I was taking 3-4 showers a day. It was ridiculous. But it was also my most hands-on class, so it gave me a little joy. Finding a nerve or deep vein was our little accomplishment and made that class bearable. Every other class was mostly rote memorization and 9-5 classroom learning.
What do you enjoy most about medical school?
I enjoy the people. Medicine is a cooperative sport. You have to deal with personalities that are unlike your own and many people are going to be type A gunners. So, I love learning how to deal with other people. I also like some of the classes, specifically physiology and pathology. I like learning how the body works and using my problem solving skills to diagnose what could be wrong with my fictional patient.
Could you describe the activities you’re involved in at your medical school?
Currently, I am involved in the SNMA as treasurer. This national organization is founded at Meharry Medical College and focuses on the needs and concerns of students of color. I am also involved as the secretary of the Ladies of Fortitude, a group of members of my Sorority who volunteer and fellowship together. I love playing intramural sports at my school. Last year, I played softball and coached/played basketball. I am also involved with volunteering through Project Dream and Room in the Inn. Project Dream is a Meharry student-led program, which provides mentorship and raises funds for book scholarships for students at Pearl Cohn high school. Room in the Inn is a local Nashville non-profit, which supports homeless men and women. This year, I will be a TA for anatomy classes, and I am interested in getting involved with research.
Cool. It sounds like you’re busy! How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
My first year of medical school was exciting. I was in a new place, Nashville, TN with new faces. I spent a lot of time studying but I was also extremely involved in the community at Meharry and in Nashville. Don’t lose your passions in medical school, develop them. I spent my Friday nights helping to shuttle homeless men, women, and families to churches during the winters. I volunteered with members of my Sorority on a regular basis. Regular community service was a requirement of my post baccalaureate program and I think it definitely kept me grounded throughout medical school thus far. I would recommend it.
It is often hard to keep in touch with your family and friends outside of medical school. But you need them to be your support. I have a Groupme for all of my girlfriends from college, my sisters, and my line sisters so that keeps me connected with them everyday, but other than that you may need to just explain to them that you will be busy for a while. In terms of relationships, I am a fan of pursuing romantic relationships while in medical school. It can keep you grounded because your significant other is often another support system. However, a boyfriend can also be detrimental to your success and focus if he is not on board with your career in medicine, so take it with a grain of salt.
Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
My advice is to find your mentors now. They can be doctors, medical students, anyone who is doing what you would like to do. Ask them questions. Be proactive in your education.
Any questions for Kathryn? Leave a comment below and she’ll get back to you.