Med student spotlight

Meet Ric – A 2nd Year Med Student at Drexel University

IMG_0579There are different paths to medical school, as seen through my blog. One path is through a program that offers conditional acceptance, such as Drexel’s Pathway to Medical School Program (DPMS). Note: Their application deadline this year is April 24, 2015. Although having a strong science background, Ric, a 2nd year at Drexel Med, still encountered his share of obstacles on his med school journey. Check out Ric’s story as he shares his experience in Drexel’s one year program, how that prepared him for his first two years of medical school, and his words of advice on choosing post-bacs.

What led you to pursue medicine?
When I was growing up, one of my aunts worked as a nurse at a small community health center. Whenever, I went to visit her at work, I just hung around the clinic and I admired how my aunt and the other healthcare workers cared for their patients. So from an early age, I knew I wanted to go into to medicine.

What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?
I have a B.A. in Honors Liberal Arts and Science with a concentration in Biochemistry from the Wilkes Honors College in Florida. My undergrad experience gave me a strong science background. The curriculum was also rigorous and robust so it gave me stamina and focus to tackle the courses during my post-baccalaureate year. However, I would say that only actual medical school courses, whether it is during a post-bac year or during the first few months of first year can truly prepare you for medical school. It’s a different beast from undergrad in terms of structure and what you are expected to learn and should master for the exams.

Did you ever consider giving up on your dream? What obstacles or hurdles did you have to overcome in your medical school journey?
I never did…. I moved to the United States from Jamaica for high school. So in essence, this was my best opportunity to make my dream a reality. My biggest  hurdle back in undergrad was my MCAT score. My MCAT struggle is like that of other applicants; that first score report was not what I wanted or “needed” to get into medical school. I was certainly disappointed in my first score report, and I decided at the end of my junior year to take some time off after undergrad to retake the MCAT. Around that time, I started looking into Master’s and post-baccalaureate programs.

You did Drexel’s Pathway to Medical School program, can you tell us more about that? What was the experience like for you? Any advice for students considering this option?
Yes, Drexel’s Pathway to Medical School (DPMS) is one of the post-baccalaureate programs offered by Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. I applied to this program because it is a linkage/bridge program geared towards under-represented minority (URM) medical school applicants. DPMS offers a conditional medical school acceptance to a certain amount of applicants who must complete a faculty interview before being accepted. I interviewed in May and was accepted in early June. I soon moved to Philly shortly after being accepted to start their summer prep course.

We are required to take several med school and grad school courses during DPMS. At first, getting accustomed to the course schedule and frequent study sessions at the library was an adjustment. I also had to retake the MCAT to retain my acceptance. So making the time to study for the MCAT was part of the post-bac struggle. One of the unspoken stressors of my post-bac year was the grading system: getting at least a B in certain courses required matching or doing better than the MS1 class average.

Overall, I enjoyed my post-bac year as it prepared me for the med school coursework. Nevertheless, my post-bac year was also a stressful and costly venture, and I dare to call it a gamble. Even though I did well in the courses, there was still the uncertainty of my MCAT score. I had my struggles with the MCAT for sure, but at the end of the day, I made it. Thank God!

Advice for prospective applicants: not all post-bacs are the same, so please do your research! Talk to program directors and most importantly, talk to current students in the programs and those who matriculated. Also if the program is a “bridge” program, research the host medical school and be able to see yourself as a good fit for that school and area because that is hopefully where you will spend the next four years after the post-bac. Rank the things that matter to you; for example, location/environment, cost of attendance (for the post-bac and the medical school), among others. Pursue the post-bac route with the end goal of matriculating (into the host medical school or otherwise) at the end of the program.

So after DPMS, how did the med school application process go for you?
As a DPMS applicant, I did not do a traditional application cycle. The general guideline is to apply to Drexel as an early assurance candidate. However, not all post-bac programs are like that, so like I said before, please do your research.

What was your first year of medical school like?
The best metaphor I can use to describe MS1 is that it was like a train traveling across the U.S.; there were scenic times and then there were other not-so-scenic times but the train kept moving. So in terms of the course load, we had several multi-disciplinary courses throughout the year. The most important factor seem to be keeping track of where I needed to be and what was due at a particular time. My post-bac year gave me a foundation for a few of the classes but others were unfamiliar. Thankfully, I did well by seeking out the resources that the school provides such as tutoring, talking to upperclassmen, and talking to course faculty.

What do you enjoy most about medical school?
At the end of a module/block, I’m really amazed by all the knowledge I amassed about that particular topic. Sure, the process of learning it all can be truly overwhelming at times, but when it all comes together and makes sense, it’s a great feeling. Additionally, being in medical school opens up more opportunities to shadow/intern in particular fields, conduct research and/or get published.

Please describe any activities you’re involved in during medical school
At school, I’m a Co-President for the Drexel chapter of Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and I help to facilitate an early childhood reading program at a local women’s shelter. I also work in the children’s ministry at my local church as a small group facilitator.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
Finding balance is definitely hard. It all comes down to making time for the stuff that truly matter. As a second year, I feel like I have less time to understand and master all the information about each organ system for school exams as well as studying for the Step 1 exam. So, I recently started scheduling “everything” into my web calendar. My personal goal is to keep in touch with family and friends as much as I can and whenever possible. I’m also in a relationship with an amazing woman, so I make time for that as well.

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
If medicine is truly your passion and you can’t see yourself doing anything else, keep working towards that dream. Your path to medical school doesn’t have to be the traditional way directly from college so do what works best for you. Please do your own research in choosing the best-fit post-bac program, if you are considering that route. Lastly, find one or more mentors to help you along the journey.

 Thank you for sharing your story Ric. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Ric? Leave a comment below and he’ll get back to you.

Do also check out the other Med Student Spotlights!

Meet Stacy – A 2nd Year Med Student at American University of Antigua

drConsidering a Caribbean medical school? Then check out Stacy’s story. Stacy is a second year medical student at American University of Antigua (AUA). We met Summer 2010 through SMDEP (college freshmen and sophomores, I encourage you to APPLY!). She certainly had her share of curveballs on her journey to medical school. During her sophomore year of college, she fell ill with Lupus, a systemic autoimmune disease. Despite this and other challenges along the way, she refused to give up on her goal. I’m in awe of her story and very excited to share it with you all!

What led you to pursue medicine?
My parents were great motivators for me to look towards a career in medicine. At a young age, they were able to assess my characteristics and really guide me towards the field.

What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?
I majored in Biology at North Carolina A&T State University. My major assisted me with understanding the foundations during my first year of medical school. The courses such as genetics, virology and cell/molecular biology are just a few courses that I really recommend undergrads take seriously if they plan on attending medical school.

Did you ever consider giving up on your dream? What obstacles or hurdles did you have to overcome in your medical school journey?
Oh yes! After my MCAT scores remained below average, I looked at several other options within the health field. To tell you the truth, every time I considered another option a little life escaped from me.

Like many students, I had my education and career goals planned out up. I planned on graduating Summa Cum Laude, within 4 years and heading straight to medical school thereafter. During my sophomore year in undergrad, I fell ill with SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus), which was my first detour in life. Missing a semester (especially according to my education plan), threw off my course schedule which wouldn’t allow me to take the MCAT during my junior year. Therefore, I had to re-evaluate and adjust accordingly. I registered for summer classes and took a large load during the semester because I really wanted to graduate in the year 2011, even if it would be a winter graduation.

By the grace of God, I successfully obtained both my goals of graduating in the year 2011 and Summa Cum Laude.

The MCAT: I wanted to use the self-study method because I wanted to save my parents’ funds for when medical school actually approached. Unfortunately, this option didn’t allot me the scores necessary to gain acceptance into a U.S college/school of Medicine.

It’s really cool that you’re attending med school in the Caribbean, can you tell us more about that? What’s the experience like for you? Any advice for students considering this option?
Attending school in the Caribbean is a really great option for those who are still determined to pursue their medical career despite their trials. I am starting my second year at American University of Antigua (AUA) and I am extremely blessed for the opportunity to be here. One thing I enjoy about my school is that it’s comprised of students from different nationalities, all with the same goal. The classes are large (about 200 students) per semester, but the journey is worthwhile. I personally have not “enjoyed” the island because I am focused on the goal ahead of me. The culture of the local Antiguan residents is slower than most are used too, but I enjoy it.

For anyone planning on considering this option I would suggest you first pray for guidance on such a huge decision, and then find students who have attended that particular school and inquire of their particular experience. Attending a Caribbean school should never be considered an “easier route”!! One must now supersede their American counterparts board scores to be considered a spot for residency and the like.

So how was the application process for you?
Since I had all of my documents from the AMCAS system, the process was fairly easy and swift.

How is your first year of medical school going?
It is going (LOL). Or shall I say “it went” since I am entering my second year this February. It was a lot of hard work, and the pressure is always apparent. I had to find ways to relax and not stress out because medical school is a journey, not a race.

What do you enjoy most about medical school?
I love learning about how the human body functions. It intrigues me how well put together our whole body is and how we are able to self sufficiently compensate in times of stress (if all is normal).

Please describe any activities you are involved in at your school
I am actively involved in an organization called “Doctors for Christ” where last semester I was the Praise and Worship leader. We come together once a week to fellowship, pray and encourage one another through our medical school journey. I also volunteer for our campus health fairs that we hold for the local residents within the community.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
What personal time? LOL just kidding! I had to learn how to allow personal time in my schedule because I actually endured “burning out” and it was the most nonproductive experience ever. Since calling my family isn’t an easy option due to long distance charges, I have to find other things to do. Candy Crush was a very helpful remedy. I created time to attend a local church and spending time with the Lord in prayer has never failed me

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
If you really have the passion for medicine take time to pray about your decision, research your options and literally surrender yourself to the journey that God Almighty will take you on. It may not be the one you planned on but If the Lord is with you, He will definitely see you through.

Thank you for sharing your story Stacy. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Stacy? Leave a comment below and she’ll get back to you.

Do also check out the other Med Student Spotlights!

Meet Micky – A 1st Year Med Student at Icahn School of Med at Mt. Sinai

What happens when you don’t get in the first time? You DON’T give up. Instead, you reflect, change your approach, and attack it again. And that’s precisely what Micky did. Micky is a first year medical student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. After an unsuccessful medical school application cycle, he did not let that deter him. He applied a second cycle and discovered the rejections the previous year, turned out to be the best redirection! I’m very excited to share my friend and fellow Penn Alum’s story. Check out Micky’s story and his words of advice.

What led you to pursue medicine?
I was drawn to medicine because of the experiences I had with the Physician Scientist Training Program, which began in the 7th grade and continued until the summer after senior year of high school. This program is designed to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in science and medicine. In this continuous summer program, I found my passion in combining scientific knowledge with helping others.

What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?
I decided to major in health and societies, which is one of Penn’s interdisciplinary majors. This allowed me to study topics in health in a social, cultural, historical, and global context. I chose this major because of the emphasis on interdisciplinary studies relating to health in different populations.  Instead of being restricted to one area of study, I was able to approach the issues in health through a holistic lens.  I believe this approach is necessary in order to conquer the problems of access and health disparities that affect our communities.

While my major did not prepare me very well for medical school in terms of boning up my basic science knowledge (which I supplanted by taking advanced biology/chemistry courses), health & societies was essential in helping me begin to understand how many non-hard science based factors influence health, wellness, and medicine. I believe having an understanding of these factors is key to being a quality physician (as well as an initiator of positive change in general) and my major played a vital role in initiating these thought processes for me.

Did you ever consider giving up on your dream? What obstacles or hurdles did you have to overcome in your medical school journey?
My most challenging hurdle on my path to medical school was not getting into medical school on my first try! I applied to MD/PhD programs because of my love of research. By the end of the cycle, I had received interviews from four great schools, however, this resulted in only two waitlist placements, and eventually zero acceptances. My quest was undertaken with the right intentions but too much naivety. I did not properly cast my net wide enough, did not have a proper back-up plan, and did not seek out the proper support system that could cater to the needs of an MD/PhD candidate. Although I knew that this was a possibility from the beginning, I felt inadequate, due to my lack to success. “Did I not have what it takes to be a quality physician scientist or even a quality physician?” The doubts began to creep in.

To manage, I made a list of areas that I felt I had overlooked as weakness in my application and sought support from my close confidants as to the next steps to take. Primarily, I sought advice from my close friends, many of whom had already been accepted into medical school or were already in medical school, as well as some of the scientists I worked with that pursued MD/PhDs in their past.

After consolidating all off their advice and spending time in reflection, I came to realize that this episode was potentially a great learning experience. Clearly, some schools had seen my potential and that earned me an interview for their programs. It was now up to me to work to reach that potential. So I put their advice into practice and got to work on improving my portfolio and myself.

How was the application process for you the second time around?
The second time around, I ended up applying MD only and submitting my application on some of the first days of the application cycle (since I had become an AMCAS pro from the year before haha ). After doing the secondary and interview dance again, I was blessed and privileged enough to get into my top choice of medical school, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai during the winter of 2013. Once I received this acceptance, I withdrew my candidacy from other schools in order to open more spots for others.

How is your first year of medical school going?
My first year of med school at Sinai has been going well! As one can imagine, I spend a lot of my time studying but it is really a different kind of studying. For the first time in my life, I truly enjoy everything that I am learning (well, the majority haha) and feel like I am studying for myself in an effort to be the best physician I can be, instead of studying in order to beat the beat the curve. It is an extremely rewarding feeling. Mount Sinai also employs a pass-fail system, group anatomy practical exams, and online take-anywhere-you-want exams within a certain time window (all on the honor code, of course), which all contribute to a significantly decreased amount of stress.

Also, my classmates are incredible. We come from all walks of life and with tons of different experiences and it really adds to the quality of my individual and our collective experiences. Of course everyone has their closest friends but the class as a whole truly feels like one big family. It is truly incredible to be with a group of people that have the same desires and aspirations as you.

And of course living in NYC has been awesome!! There is ALWAYS something to do in New York, no matter the time, weather, temperature, or occasion. I’ve got groceries, laundry, cheap and healthy food options, CVS, a gym, basketball courts, and the subway, all within a 2-3-block radius of me! What more could I ask for?!

As would could imagine the transition to living in a big city has the potential to be hectic. Luckily, I was able to get a head start on the NYC adjustment through a summer research opportunity that I was afforded after expressing interest in doing research the summer before beginning medical school. Sinai is awesome because if you have a strong interest in something they do everything in their power to make sure it comes to fruition.

Please describe any activities you plan to get involved in or that you are already involved in at your school
Although I just started school about one month ago, I am already involved/will be soon involved in a variety of activities! I am part of First Generation Scholars, where I will be paired with a high school student who is the first person from their family to pursue college and is just about entering the process of applying to college. As a mentor, I will help them craft their personal statements. I also plan on getting involved in the Emergency Medicine Interest Group, among other things. Lastly, I am in the process of starting my own community service group that plays sports with children as a way to decrease the prevalence of obesity in East Harlem.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
To be completely forthright, balancing my personal time with medical school is not something  I can say I am an expert at yet. I think I will get better at this with time and experience.  The key for me has been to make time for the things that are important to me (i.e. Church, Family, Girlfriend,  working out) and block out the distractions when I am studying. In my opinion, achieving the perfect balance happens by being the most efficient when you are buckling down and doing work, so that you have more time when you are not. I am not there yet, but that is what I am striving towards.

In addition, the good thing about Sinai is that we have flex time every single Tuesday, meaning that classes end at noon every Tuesday! It is a great time to shadow, workout, run some errands, or just sleep!

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
My advice to all students considering a career in medicine would be three fold:

  1. Truly do some extensive introspection to make sure you are  pursuing a career in medicine for the right reasons.  Medical school is not the ideal path for someone who just wants the prestige or money. There are much easier (and cheaper) ways of making money and gaining prestige than medicine.
  2. If you determine that a career in medicine is for you, attack your dreams with a passion unknown to man! If you want it bad enough, you will put the work in to make it happen, and  hence it will happen! Speak it into existence!
  3. Seek advice from people who have done it! They know the route and are the models to follow!

Thank you for sharing your story Micky. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Micky? Leave a comment below and he’ll get back to you.

Do also check out the other Med Student Spotlights!


Meet Olivia – A 2nd Year Med Student at University of Texas Med Branch

photo 4From professional athlete to medical student, Olivia certainly had an interesting journey to med school. She ran Track professionally for a year before going into medical school. I am very excited to feature her as a med student spotlight! Check out Olivia‘s story and her words of advice. 

So what led you to pursue medicine?
Well, as a kid everyone had his or her favorite childhood superhero, I was a little different.  I remember the first time I watched the TV series ER, I couldn’t have been older than 6 years old. I was so amazed when the characters in the show came to see the doctors because they were sick and the doctors were able to fix them.  That captured my attention.  The difference between them and a “superhero” was that they were so real, like you and me.  They had a sense of humanity that I appreciated.  From that day on, I knew I wanted to be a doctor.  As I grew up, the love for medicine never left.  Even though I was a track athlete for many years, I always knew that medicine would be my final career.

What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school
My major in college was Neuroscience. I would say it prepared me for medical school in that it was a subject that gave me exposure to a higher degree of learning in its complexity and abstract views.

Did you ever consider giving up on your dream? What obstacles or hurdles did you have to overcome in your medical school journey?
As a D1 student-athlete, it was tough balancing school and Track.  I was on a full athletic scholarship at Tulane University so ultimately Track was my job and came first before my studies, in many cases.  We traveled every weekend to compete, had early morning weight sessions and afternoon practices; if we didn’t perform to the level that was needed or did not attend practices, those discrepancies were terms for a reduction of scholarship or removal from the program.  I couldn’t afford to lose my scholarship so my main focus was my bread and butter, which was track.  It was not a 50/50 deal, track was 70% and school was 30%, at least that’s how it felt.  There were many times I had to face people that would discourage me from pursuing a pre-medical degree because “there was no way, as a student-athlete, I could obtain the grades I needed to be accepted into medical school.”  I was looked at as simply a jock, all talent and strength but not the smarts to be a successful doctor.  I do admit there was a struggle with keeping grades up and there was even a few hiccups in my academic career but the more people doubted me, the more I pushed for it. I enjoyed the challenge and I enjoyed the fact that when I finally got accepted it was a surprise to others.

You went from being a professional athlete to a medical student, can you tell us more about that journey?
Going from being an athlete to a medical student was definitely rough.  My life has been surrounded by Track and Field, since the age of 11.  Everyone around me including my closest friends were athletes.  My mindset was train hard, win, gain notoriety from it, and have fun.  Professionalism in the sports world is completely different from professionalism in the medical world.  You have to be competitive and strong, as well as have a sense of cockiness and attitude as an athlete.  It just comes with the territory. So, the first couple months in medical school very uncomfortable.  I didn’t know how to act or what people would view as being acceptable, especially being a person of color.  I felt like there was a sense of inauthenticity on my part because this lifestyle and environment was not what I was used to.  I was way out of my comfort zone and in a shell for a long time.  I lost a couple of friends and people in my life that I loved or meant a lot to me because I had to go through the process of finding my new self and accepting the fact that I’m no longer the person I used to be or was known to be; medicine is going to be my life as I know it.  But, things definitely got better as time progressed.

You also obtained your masters, what was the motivation behind that?
The motivation behind obtaining my Master’s was more as an enhancer for my process of getting into medical school.

How was the medical school application process for you?
The process of the medical application was very long. There are a lot of parts to the application process.  It was costly applying to numerous amounts of medical school’s across the country but it was something that had to be done if you want to have a better chance of getting accepted somewhere.

What was your first year of medical school like? 
First year was more of an adapting year for me.  The school that I’m attending has a unique program so it was not as stressful as I thought medical school would be.  I’m only an hour away from my hometown so I went home often if I wanted to get away.  I was able to have somewhat of a life and still workout.  The classes contained a lot of info but everything was manageable.  I didn’t feel overwhelmed or unhappy about my decision of being a medical student because I loved learning about medicine, so if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.

What do you enjoy most about medical school?
I enjoy the knowledge that I’ve gained over the past year. I love the fact that you get to be exposed to a lot of common diseases and learn how to dissect them to the level of a diagnosis and then treatment.  I also found myself discovering levels to my capabilities that I either never used or knew I had.  It’s been a great journey so far.  I feel fulfilled with my decision to do medicine.

Please describe any activities you’re involved in during medical
I am currently the Chapter President of the Student National Medical Association. We are an organization that is committed to supporting minorities in medicine of all ethnic backgrounds and involved in community service projects serving underserved communities.  We also have a Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students program in our organization where we go to local universities and speak to undergrads about the process and life as a medical student.  I love the MAPS program because we are able to reach out to students and give them hope and encouragement of being part of this world of medicine.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school? 
I balance my personal time by either going home on some weekends, hanging with my friends, going to the movies or working out.  I give myself a set goal in studying and when I accomplish that or feel like it’s been enough I stop and chill out until the next day.

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine? 
If I had to give a piece of advice to students considering a career in medicine, I would say don’t give up!  You will be thrown a lot of curveballs, obstacles, doubt, negativity and discouragement but you have to ignore all of it and be strong.  Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t succeed instead let it motivate you.  Believe in yourself if no one else will.  As a minority in medicine, earn that respect from your peers and authorities by being true to yourself, working hard and being committed to what you love.

Thank you for sharing your story Olivia. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Olivia? Leave a comment below and she’ll get back to you.

Do also check out the other Med Student spotlights!

Meet Billy – A 3rd Year Med Student at Temple University

billy yates

Billy is a 3rd year medical student at Temple University School of Medicine. I met him last year at the SNMA Region VIII Conference at Temple. Side note: SNMA conferences are great avenues to meet minorities in medicine. I met Billy and other down-to-earth medical students who showed me that hey, med students are normal folks too! Read on as Billy explains his journey to med school, his NIH post-baccalaureate experience, and more. 

So what led you to pursue medicine?
I’ve always been more interested (and more competent) in math, sciences, and problem solving which initially led me towards the engineering pathway. Both my parents are doctors so medicine was always something in the back of my mind. However, I didn’t end up deciding to go to medical school until my 3rd year of college. After completing an engineering internship, I did some soul searching and realized I wanted a career with more patient contact while having a more immediate and direct impact in peoples’ lives.

What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?
I was a biomedical engineering major for 2 years but ended up switching to psychology. I think it helped me understand the human side of medicine which a lot of science majors simply aren’t exposed to until they get to medical school.

You did a post-baccalaureate program right after college, please tell us about that
After college I spent 2 years at the NIH postbac IRTA program – a research program for students planning to eventually enter medical or graduate school. I didn’t decide on med school until my 3rd year of college, so doing this program would allow me time to study for and take my MCAT, improve my resume with research, and give me time to enjoy a few years of relative freedom before medical school and the “real world.” I had a great experience that also reaffirmed my desire to go to medical school. I worked with schizophrenic patients and found that I enjoyed interacting with the patients more than I did the actual computer analyses and genetic components of the research (although also very interesting). I’d definitely recommend the program to anyone interested in research.

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?
I started my dream somewhat late in the game, but once I chose it, I stuck to it. There were definitely times in medical school I was afraid I couldn’t keep up or couldn’t pass a certain test (cough, cough, Step 1), but being around a good group of friends helps you push through when you realize other people feel the same way.

So how was the application process for you?
I actually found the application process to be fun. I’ll say that with the disclaimer that I was lucky enough that it went pretty smoothly and fairly successfully, otherwise it could have been very stressful. I worked with about 10 other students at the NIH during my 2 year gap that were also applying at the same time. We would go to coffee shops, work on our secondaries and talk about our different interviews during lunch; it was pleasant.

What was your first year of medical school like?
First year was definitely a change I could not have been prepared for. I went from working 9-5 and doing whatever I felt like doing after work, to essentially studying as hard as I could to keep pace with 200 other really bright students. I really don’t think there is any way I could have mentally prepared myself for the medical school load, but as with anything in life, you get used to it and learn to better manage your time.

What do you enjoy most about medical school?
I enjoy most being able to apply something I’ve learned. This really isn’t done until 3rd year since the first 2 years are mostly books. But finally seeing what you’ve learned in books come alive right in front of you is an awesome feeling.

What activities have you been involved in during med school?
I was webmaster/social chair for Temple SNMA. I taught neuroscience at the Penn Neuroscience Pipeline Program. I also like to keep active and played on an intramural basketball team and regularly play pickup soccer.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
Depending on the subject or rotation I’m on, I sort of learn how much free time I can get away with without sacrificing grades. I’m not particularly good at focusing my studies into one time period and my personal activities into another time period, but you have to learn what works for you.

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
Learn as much as you can about medicine to see if it’s right for you. That’s easier said than done – I’m still learning what a career in medicine is all about. However, the more you learn, the easier it’ll be something you’ll enjoy doing for the rest of your life.

 Thank you for sharing your story Billy. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Billy? Leave a comment below and he’ll get back to you.

Meet Kathryn – A 2nd year Med Student at Meharry Medical College

“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.” – Kathryn

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.

Thank you for sharing your story Kathryn. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Kathryn? Leave a comment below and she’ll get back to you.

Meet Stephen – a 3rd year Med student at Tulane and Naval Officer

20140611_045634Stephen is a 3rd year medical student at Tulane University School of Medicine. We initially met in 2010 through the Summer Medical and Dental Education program (SMDEP) at Howard University College of Medicine. As a good friend of mine, I’m very excited to have him share his story about his journey to med school and the lessons learned along the way. 

So what led you to pursue medicine?

I participated in a 3-year health sciences academy program at my high school from 2005-08. I got a lot of shadowing experience in several hospitals, saw some cool procedures and learned how to question patients.

 What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?

My major in college was Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. I had always liked the brain and the nervous system since my teen days, so this major attracted me. I felt that the difficulty of my junior and senior neuro classes were similar to some of the neuroanatomy classes I took during my 1st year of med school.

Did you ever consider giving up on your dream? What obstacles or hurdles did you have to overcome in your medical school journey?
I wouldn’t say that I ever considered giving up my dream, but I had thought about what life would be like had I pursued some of my other passions like geography, history, or the electronic industry. Hurdles that I had? My freshman year in college was quite a crazy time, and my grades weren’t hot after my 1st year. I worked hard at improving myself both in and out of the classroom and brought my grades up by the end of sophomore year.

How was the application process for you?
The application process was expensive (I applied to 30+ schools), full of paperwork (submitting and resubmitting forms from october to december 2011) and a little tiring. I applied LATE – I didn’t start submitting my mcat scores and amcas materials until early October. (Don’t do what I did! Submit your stuff during the summer!) I didn’t take the mcat until August and by the time I applied, I already missed out on the deadlines to some schools in competitive areas like California and Texas.

What was your first year of medical school like?
My first year of medical school was actually pretty enjoyable. It started with 8:30 AM anatomy classes that lasted for about 2 months. I had so much fun in anatomy, it was an interesting time. Biochemistry and genetics came next and I had never taken them up to that point but they were pretty manageable and great to learn. Soon came 3 months of physiology and then came neuro and then the first year ended with immunology (which people said was tough but really wasn’t).

What do you enjoy most about medical school?
I enjoy how helpful the instructors are and how relaxed and friendly most of my medical school class is. There is no competitive/backstabbing atmosphere at Tulane Med. Everyone works hard and enjoys their time outside of class/clinic. It’s a good balance.

Activities you’ve been involved in during med school:

  • I was an after school tutor for elementary aged kids (during 1st year)
  • I worked on a nutrition paper for a group in a public health school (during summer after 1st year)
  • Volunteered at local men’s clinic (several times during 2nd year)
  • I was mental health co-ambassador of the Tulane Med School chapter of AMSA (from Jan 2013-Feb 2014)
  • I was the secretary for the Tulane Med School chapter of SNMA (from Feb 2013- Feb 2014)
  • I participate in Volunteers of America, New Orleans chapter as a “big brother” to a kid from New Orleans (since Oct 2013)

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
I make sure to enjoy my weekends. I understand that there’s a time and place for studying (during the week) and everything else (certain weeknights, Saturdays, part of Sundays). I’ve learned to settle into a routine. Life in med school is very manageable when you take a breath and realize that you’re expected to be a well-balanced individual. (It helps to have a group of people who you can go to dinner with or go see a movie with or go to a bar with, etc.)

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
Start talking your professors in college early. Don’t be afraid to get to know them and make a good impression on them. You will need letters of recommendation from them. Also, understand that being a well balanced individual is important. Don’t just live in the classroom or lab. Get out and join a sports team, or volunteer. Play music. Jog. Dance. Do what it is that you like to help you through stressful time and always strive to do the best you can. Also- use advice you get from websites like very cautiously!

Tell us about being in the Navy
Well, I’m in the US Navy and I’m on scholarship. That means that the US Navy is paying for my entire med school tuition (no debt!) but I will owe them 4-6 years after I graduate and finish my training. Understand that this is a program for people who are generally interested in serving our country. DON’T DO IT FOR MONEY. Unless you plan to do family med, going through the military will generally pay less than just being a civilian doctor. I have always been interested in the military way of doing things and that’s why I joined the Navy.

Thank you for sharing your story Stephen. Very inspiring!
Any questions for Stephen? Leave a comment below and he’ll get back to you. 

Meet Naya – a 2nd year Med student at George Washington University

nayaNaya is a 2nd year medical student at George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences. We went to the same undergrad university together, performed in the same dance troupe (African Rhythms STAND UP!), and she like myself, was a non-traditional applicant who took a gap year. I am very excited to have Naya share her story about her journey to med school and the lessons learned along the way.

So what led you to pursue medicine?
Growing up, I aspired to become a medical writer – someone who was suitably well versed in medicine with a fiery enthusiasm for theatric screenwriting. I imagined myself being recruited to write for TV shows that required some medical context (yes – think Grey’s Anatomy). At the time, I was excited by the idea that I would be able to combine my love of writing & science.

I cannot say there was a clear-cut moment in time in which I decided I wanted to become a practicing physician.  I can say that with time and with experiences – from the passing of my Grandmother due to inadequate medical care, my shadowing and volunteering in Ghanaian hospitals, a high school biomedical research internship, a growing understanding of and interest in health disparities – I became more aware of the ways in which practicing medicine could allow me to make the type of impact I ultimately wanted to make.

I am still interested in writing (more so medical journalism) and I hope that with more experiences, I will be able to figure out how I can use the intersection of these two interests to make an effective impact.

What was your major in college and how did that prepare you for medical school?
In college I majored in Health and Societies (HSOC) and minored in Biology. Taking HSOC courses was a way for me to engage with medicine beyond the scope of science – that meant examining health practices, knowledge and systems in a sociocultural context. HSOC gave me a preliminary introduction to the history and anthropology of medicine, the effects of health disparities, the ways in which alternative medicine can be beneficial both independently and in conjunction with biomedicine, the potential sources of conflict within the doctor-patient dynamic, infectious diseases and to many other hot topics surrounding medicine. In hindsight, I think my major served me well by shaping my ability to think critically about medicine cross-culturally and about the barriers to access to medicine that exist locally and abroad.

At the beginning of my junior year, I decided to pursue a minor in biology in order to supplement the basic pre-med science requirements.

How was the application process for you?
The application process would have been more daunting had I not sought advice and assistance from people who had applied the cycle before. I HIGHLY recommend this for anyone applying to medical or osteopathic school. For me, it was incredibly beneficial hearing the different perspectives as well as the DO’s and DON’Ts of applying (beyond that of the advising committee at my school). This included everything from where to apply (I got some inside scoop on which schools truly were ‘target’ vs ‘reach’ based on these students’ own experiences and stats), to feedback on my personal statement, tips for MCAT studying, samples of essays from Secondary applications, to tips on how to patiently wait for interview invitations without pulling my hair out. And of course, they certainly provided additional moral support.

Some more nitty-gritty details of my application process: I took my MCAT six weeks after graduation and submitted my AMCAS during the 1st week of July. I received Secondary applications toward the end of August but I worked on crafting responses to secondary essay questions well before my AMCAS was fully processed six weeks later. This way once my AMCAS application was fully processed I could immediately submit my secondary essay responses (usually within 2-3 days of receipt). I do suggest this for those who submit their AMCAS a bit later so that your application process is not delayed. You don’t have to waste the 6-week time period during which your AMCAS is being processed.

For the much anticipated interview portionone of my mentors (who had applied the year before) was kind enough to send me a slew of questions to think about prior to my interviews. These were very helpful (and I am more than happy to share them if you e-mail me).  Some good advice I received before I interviewed was to think about how to condense my story/ responses into 3 bullet points. Unfortunately interviewers meet with so many people during the application process and so it is a great idea to maximize the chance that interviewers are getting some concrete takeaways after meeting with you – as opposed to a longwinded hodgepodge of many different non-cohesive points. This was something I had to work on as I was definitely guilty of this.

Play on your strengths: For me my strengths were my extracurricular activities, my leadership & international experiences and the upward trend of my grades.

Defend your weaknesses & find a way to put a cherry on top of your struggle(s): My Biology grade from 1st semester of freshman year and my verbal MCAT score were probably my 2 weakest links. I had one interviewer literally ask how I managed to score an 8 on the verbal section of the MCAT and yet manage to be so articulate during our interview…(of course I was horrified) but in the moment I smiled and explained that my verbal score was not entirely indicative of my comprehension skills and that in fact I loved reading & writing which was part of the reason I was eager to take on the HSOC major at UPenn (see question # 2 above). For my biology grade I harped on the fact that I had initially had a difficult time transitioning into taking science courses at UPenn especially since I did not have a strong background in science from high school. I then stressed that I had mastered my study skills and learned to capitalize on the resources that my school offered hence why my science grades had consistently improved. If you happen to have a trend that’s the other way around (ex a lower science grade later in your pre-med career – there are still many ways to defend this).

What was your first year of medical school like?
The first year of medical school honestly felt like a whirlwind. Particularly because while I thought I knew what to expect in my first year – I quickly realized you cannot truly know what to expect during your first year. At my school, we started off with gross- and microanatomy. It took me a while to adjust to the sheer volume & level of detail we were expected to memorize everyday. But after about 1-2 weeks (which felt like an entire semester of undergrad) I finally learned strategies that (1) helped me stay afloat and (2) embrace the learning experience.

Once I did become more comfortable with learning information in such high volume – I realized I LOVED gross anatomy. From being fortunate enough to learn from donors in lab to coming up with comical mnemonics to help my classmates and myself remember things. I particularly enjoyed coming up with facetious ones and was always amused by the more sexual ones. I would always feel forever indebted when a classmate would come up with a silly innuendo that actually proved useful in for instance – remembering all the branches of the Facial Artery. All in all it was truly an amazing opportunity to learn the anatomical structures within the human body firsthand. Of your Gross Anatomy course I say  – Treasure this experience – it doesn’t really happen again.

Our school’s curriculum was structured so that in the fall-term we would have 6 consecutive exams every 3 weeks. During the spring-term, we would have 1-2 exams every other week. There were definitely pros and cons to both. Either way, I definitely became a lot more comfortable taking tests so frequently. In fact, I would say my first year of medical school cured me of any test-taking anxiety I imagined I had.

For leisure – a few of my classmates and I would hold weekly game nights at the beginning of the school year as way of getting to know each other in a more playful and non-academic setting. This was definitely a great idea! I encourage getting to know your classmates in an environment that is comfortable for you. These will be your colleagues for a long time coming!

The spring-term felt more manageable because even though we were required to learn more information, we had all become better at soaking up information and so I generally found that I was a lot more relaxed January and onward.

All in all the great thing about medical school is this:

  • You are completely surrounded by people who share similar interests in science & medicine
  • You are all going through this equally daunting & yet exciting experience together
  • There is an inevitable sense of camaraderie that is produced as a result

That all goes to say I absolutely loved my first year. Sweat, smiles, sleepless nights and all.

What do you enjoy most about medical school?
Understanding the physiology of things…(finally) learning science in the context of health and disease…being able to make clinical correlations, working with patients…those treasured “Aha” moments in clinic when a familiar biochem concept you vaguely remember from class arises in a clinical case…gross anatomy lab…mentoring and being mentored…lamenting about how much studying you need to do…learning about other people’s journey toward medical school & their interests in medicine… being able to have an independent learning style… better access to shadowing opportunities…scrubbing in on surgeries…post-exam celebrations…

Activities you’ve been involved in during med school:

  • Co-President of Adolescent Medicine Interest Group
  • Treasurer, Student National Medical Association (SNMA)
  • Research Assistant/Project Manager for impending OB-GYN robotics curriculum studies
  • Volunteer, GWU Healing Clinic
  • GWU Big Sib
  • Organic Chemistry Tutor

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
This is definitely a dynamic process and I realize it is more difficult to achieve a balance at different points in time.

Nonetheless – I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep working on it. It’s very easy to exist within a vacuum while you’re in med school (as it is while you’re pre-med) so I try very hard to maintain relationships with people outside of school. I like to call a family member or a friend every other day just to check in on them. For me this serves a 2-fold purpose of checking in on their well being and reeling me outside of my own life and immediate concerns. I also like to go for long runs as an alternate mental and physical challenge.

During non-exam weeks, I seize the opportunity to see friends/ family that I haven’t seen in a while or to hang out with my classmates.

Do you have any advice for students considering a career in medicine?
Shadow as much as you can, explore your interests beyond medicine and within medicine to get a better sense of whether this really is the career for you!  Keep an open mind and ask questions, lots and lots of them.

If you don’t already have one, try to create a support system. For me my family – especially my mother – has been an unyielding source of love, support, inspiration and encouragement. While my journey to medical school has been difficult and rewarding all at the same time, these people have kept me fueled and amped for the next round of challenges.

Also remember to thank you support system.

Lastly, the single most valuable advice I received from a friend during undergrad was this: Brace yourself. Remember this journey is a marathon – and you simply cannot treat it as a race. That means pacing yourself, exploring your interests within and beyond medicine, working hard (always) but also remembering not to neglect your own personal health and the relationships that you value. Realize that in some ways a career in medicine means a life-long pursuit of both learning and committing to serving others. For this reason you simply cannot postpone living your life until you are done with the official training portion of the journey.  Rather – brace yourself and enjoy the journey. Play hard. Work harder.


Thank you for sharing your story Naya. Very inspiring!
If you would like to reach out to Naya, you can contact her at