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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 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 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 nayamisa@gmail.com