health disparities

Who Moved My Cheese?! – Reminiscing on Unexpected Changes

A few weeks ago, I was reflecting on my med school journey (as I often do), but this time getting frustrated. Why was my journey so different than I imagined it would be 6 years ago? In a matter of seconds, two words came to mind – curve balls. Yes, Derin, life is always going to throw some curve balls your way and you’ve got to roll with the punches. Hence why I created this blog in the first place.

Who Moved My Cheese Quotes (4)

Image Source

I’ve certainly had my share of unexpected changes in the past, and reflecting on them, I’m amazed at how God works – those changes have always been for the BEST. Let me share a few examples with you:

Case 1:

Moving in the middle of my sophomore year of High school. I moved to another state in the middle of my 2nd semester. Besides the challenge of making new friends, the curriculum was different (semester classes vs my previous year-round classes), which was disruptive to my education. This change however turned out to be one of the GREATEST blessings. Prior to moving, I googled my new school and found a short article on a former student who was a recipient of the Questbridge National College Match Scholarship. I was amazed and promptly bookmarked it for future reference. A year and a half later, I applied to that same scholarship and not only became a finalist but a recipient! This was huge for me. As a rising high school senior, paying for college was something I was highly concerned about. I immigrated to the U.S. with my family just 7 years earlier, had no college savings/ any saving really, and was strongly considering the Army Reserve to finance my education (my parents and I even met with a recruiter!). The move and unexpected change, turned out to be a wonderful blessing.


Throwback to my acceptance: Source here

Case 2:

Fast forward to my college graduation. I was super excited as one can imagine, but also looking forward to a paid summer internship in Ghana. I would be working with high school kids at an innovation academy. Having tried for the past 2 years to attain an internship in Ghana, I was thrilled my dream was finally coming true. Even better, my flight was being paid for! Since I had this post-college plan, I stopped looking for jobs and decided to post-pone the search till my return to the U.S. Well, 2 weeks before I was set to leave the country, the internship was cancelled due to funding. My heart sunk. WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?! It was certainly an unexpected change and before I could let the disappointment fully sink in, I began applying for full-time jobs – literally less than 12 hours after receiving the news. Reality sunk in, I was a college graduate with no immediate plans. I was in panic mode. One of the jobs I applied to during that frenzy is the job I currently have. Funny enough, the position had been recently posted. When I saw the description, I was like what? Could it be? Research “capturing contextual and socio-cultural factors that contribute to health disparities” within a clinical setting and at one of the country’s top health systems. Whoa! This is exactly why I majored in Sociology of Health and Medicine! Well, I got the job and the rest as you all know is history. I love what I do!

All this to say, unexpected changes can TRULY be a good thing. Thinking about my med school journey, I’ve certainly had my share of unexpected changes. Sometimes it can be difficult to deal with, but one just has to keep chugging along. Just roll on out with the punches. As I wrote in an interview, a re-direction can be a good thing! See interview here.

For anyone that has difficulty dealing with change, do check out this book: “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D. I first read it when I was 14 years old and loved it. As someone who has dealt with quite a bit of change, I highly recommend it!


How do you deal with change? Drop a comment below!

RWJF Scholars Forum & SMDEP 25th Anniversary Alumni Luncheon

This past weekend I was in Washington, D.C. for the SMDEP Alumni Summit and 25th Anniversary Celebration. Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded program for underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged students on the medical or dental path. It offers academic enrichment, clinical exposure, career development, health policy seminars, and development of study and learning skills. It is 6 weeks long and is held at 12 different sites in the country. I participated in this program in 2010 at Howard University College of Medicine. If you are a current freshman or sophomore in college reading this, I HIGHLY encourage you to apply. It was an amazing experience and hands down one of my favorite clinical experiences. You may notice that two of the med student spotlights featured on my site are also SMDEP alumni.

Hey it’s me!

The alumni summit takes place every year, but this was my first time attending. It started out with the “RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health” on Friday Morning. The first part of the event was a “Why We’re Here” session with three speakers. One poignant point that came up with all three speakers was the importance of looking at systems that relate to social determinants of health, access to quality care, education, and more instead of health policy. In other words, focusing on health systems to address health disparities.


The highlight of the forum was “A Conversation on Health Disparities” which was moderated by the Director of Hopkins Center of Health Disparities Solution, Thomas LaVeist, PhD, and included four panelists:

It was a very stimulating and interesting discussion and I ended up live tweeting the event. Topics that came up included: the importance of data and research in effecting change; the importance of engaging the right key holders when doing research – essentially the importance of doing community participatory research; the importance of including (and possibly mandating) cultural competency courses in medical education; and the current political and social justice climate with the non-indictment of Eric Garner, and how this is relevant to the discussion on health disparities (there needs to be a focus on political determinants of health). The conversation ended with the conclusion that community resilience can be learned and modeled. The question is how can we build resilient communities to tackle/ eliminate these disparities in health care.


Next was the SMDEP 25th Anniversary Alumni Luncheon


Darrell kirch, MD, President & CEO of the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), as well as Richard Valachovic, DMD, MPH,  President & CEO of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) spoke during the luncheon. One statement particulary stood out to me from what Dr. Valachovic said:

“SMDEP doubles your chances of getting accepted into dental school..It’s a game changer for dental school.”

Again, if you are a freshman or sophomore in college, I highly encourage you to apply. With such a strong statement from the president of ADEA, and with data to back it up, SMDEP is definitely a summer program worth participating in.

Other speakers also gave their perspectives. One of them was James Gavin, MD, PhD, Founding Director of SMDEP. He took us on a journey of how SMDEP was founded and how it progressively changed over the years. It was very fascinating.


Lastly, there were reflections from two SMDEP alums, Richard Ansong, DDS and Tyeese Gaines, DO. They talked about the impact SMDEP made on their lives and the importance of the program. It was encouraging to listen to their journey and success story despite the obstacles they faced. You can read more of Dr. Gaines’s story here.

All in all, I had a great time at both events. I met some really cool people, including a physician from UTHealth at Houston. We had a long discussion on primary care mental health integration, my research, his work as a psychiatrist, and more. Furthermore, I ran into some old friends from my program – Nailah and Kathryn. Kathryn (featured as a med student spotlight) gave a poster presentation later that night on research she conducted over the summer.


In conclusion, it was definitely a packed first day. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the entire conference and had to leave the next morning. Regardless, I had a great time. FullSizeRender

Building a Culture of Health: The RWJF Vision

The gap year chronicles continue. About a month ago, I had the opportunity of listening to Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey MD, MBA speak at the University of Pennsylvania. This particular event was part of a seminar series being held by The Center for Public Health Initiatives at Penn. Who is Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey? She is the CEO and President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. When I found out she would be speaking on campus, I was more than excited to attend this event for several reasons:

1. During undergrad, I did the Summer Medical Dental Education Program (SMDEP),  a national program established by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It’s goal is to increase the representation of minorities in the medical and dental workforce to address the gaps in health disparities.

2. I LOVE what the Robert Wood Johnson foundation is about – providing grants to examine social and economic factors that can impact health, poverty, and access to health care, among other things. As I may have mentioned in the past, this is related to the work/ research I currently do full-time. I mean just awesome work in general.

3. Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey is the first woman and the first African-American to head the foundation. Um what? A black woman in power? I’m with it!

4. Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey is also a fellow alum of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton Business school) – woot woot!!

5. I’m tryna get like her – yep, she’s my career crush.

I got to chat with Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey! Clearly in the moment.

She shared the new vision of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Building a culture of health and delved into what that meant. She also shed light on some of the health issues we currently face, one being childhood obesity. Despite these stark realities, she provided hope – it is up to us, the people, to change our current trajectory. It is up to us to build a culture of health and it starts with a vision. Her talk was very inspiring and as she gave examples of everyday people and community leaders striving to change their community, I felt empowered. You can read more about these individuals here: The RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winners.

Click to enlarge and view texts.

I’m incredibly glad I went to the talk. What made it even more awesome, is when a few weeks later during my last med school interview, my faculty interviewer brought up the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She mentioned she loves the work they do and would love to get a grant for a current community project she’s working on. You can imagine how thrilled I was. I was freaking ECSTATIC! One, because I could actually talk about this topic (note: My interest in the RWJF is not mentioned anywhere in my application, it came up organically due to my interest in health disparities) and two, I was like YES! My faculty interviewer and I have similar interests.

You can learn more about the RWJF vision of building a culture of health in the video below. Ciao!