Ann Tukpah

NU 2007 - BS Biochemistry; Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Class of 2015

What led to your interest in a career in medicine? Who or what inspired you? Initially, I was curious about science and medicine which led me to major in biochemistry at NU. However, over time I became exposed to so many different professions that allow one to learn and be innovative while helping to take care of others. I was also always encouraged by my family and my family’s work ethic, which really allowed me to believe that I could pursue a rigorous education. The lack of opportunities for women and girls, especially, and the high disease burden in my home country of Liberia further motivated me to commit to medicine and broaden my interest in public health.

How did you prepare yourself for medical school? The application process? It’s a bit hard for me to articulate that – things that seemed like disappointments ended up being opportunities and towards the end everything seemed to fall in place. I was surrounded by supportive friends who were going through the same process but at different times; we rallied around one another. Solidarity was important but we also gave advice and helped calm each other. I suppose I just became dedicated to the idea of the medical profession and tried to follow the guidelines delineated on what one should do during the process. I volunteered at BWH with the ambassador’s program, shadowed my PI in the clinic, read many medically-related books, some written by doctors (Abraham Verghese, Atul Gawande, Lisa Belkin, Ben Carson, Richard Preston, Michael Collins, Oliver Sacks, Tracy Kidder, Frank Vertosick…) and other books on whatever topics I liked. Reading a variety of media on different subjects is fun but also helps stimulate dialogue. Seeking advice at the NU PreHealth office and from Dr. Begley was tremendously helpful and a great source of guidance as well.

What undergraduate experiences were most instrumental to your success? I absolutely loved my undergrad experience. I really enjoyed creating the Biochemistry Club; it almost became an obsession to make sure it took root and blossomed. I enjoyed my co-op experiences and the wonderful places I was able to work at. I did bio-organic research with a faculty member almost all 4 years with CEA-Way and FURI funding and it was a way to apply some of what I was learning in class to practical situations. My classes were also really engaging, fun and robust learning experiences so I appreciate all I was exposed to and able to do.

What obstacles or hurdles did you overcome in your medical school journey? Many of my obstacles and hurdles were personal issues that had to be overcome for me to progress further at the post-graduate level. Although, at the time, the personal issues were immensely burdensome, the circumstances that they created ironically allowed for so many amazing opportunities. Financial barriers are also something that one has to consider – attempts at saving and frugality really do help. Having a plan and identifying action points really do keep on one on track and is reinforcing when you see what you’ve accomplished.

Did you did matriculate directly from NU to medical school or did you have a gap year?
If you did not matriculate directly from NU to medical school, how many gap years? What did you do during your gap year(s)?
I had 4 gap years between NU and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. I worked at the Harvard Institutes of Medicine in Boston for 3 years studying different autoimmune processes and targeted therapeutics. I learned so much from my colleagues. It was a really dynamic and fulfilling experience. I worked on my 21st Century Scholarship (from NU) project which was creation of a non-profit for HIV/AIDS awareness in Liberia and, later, women’s and girl’s empowerment. I videotaped their experiences for a documentary, which really resonated with me and helped direct my interests towards public health. I then attended Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for an MPH degree where I had another amazing experience. Everyone in our program was so experienced, down to earth, personable, and knowledgeable. The environment provided so many opportunities to get engaged at the local, state, national, and global level. I completed my thesis on adolescent pregnancy in Liberia and worked at the JHSPH Center for Clinical Global Health Education to develop a teaching collaboration with the medical education system in Liberia. I also learned a lot about global health project development and execution.

Whether you entered medical school directly from NU or had a gap year (or more), looking back, are you happy with the decision you made? Why or why not? Many circumstances out of my control impacted the number of my gap years but I could not be happier. I feel I am so much more prepared for school and parsing through the kind of future I might want because of the time I spent before entering medical school.

Is medical school what you thought it would be? Would you share your thoughts? I expected medical school to be a formative experience in many ways. I was excited about the chance to learn a lot of interesting things, meeting really inspirational and dedicated people, and get involved in activities that challenged my ideas and capacity. I find school to be just this but even better.

What are your career goals right now? Have they changed since you begin your medical school studies. I don’t think my goals have changed but they have been refined as time has elapsed. I foresee myself learning how to encompass the various experiences I’ve had into an effective professional outlook. I hope to combine public health, basic science and clinical interests towards a life-long study in an area that I can work to impact patient care, outcomes and quality of life.

What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine? I was very happy taking time off and getting the opportunity to learn new and different things and almost everyone I know who took time off was very happy with what they accomplished. I think seeking help is important, taking time to research your interests and options, being aware of the dialogue about and trends in medicine and health care delivery and recognizing that everything you learn (from science to sociology) will impact the kind of doctor you will be is really beneficial. I would say to be excited about what you want to do and keep focused.

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