What led to your interest in a career in medicine? Who or what inspired you?
My first co-op was the first time I felt certain that medicine was something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. The co-op was with an HIV/AIDS epidemiology research group at Mass. General Hospital and what really struck me was the clear distinction between the goals of my co-workers vs. those of my friends on co-ops in other majors. Our office meetings were spent discussing prevention and treatment plans for underserved patient populations in the U.S., Africa, and other HIV-prevalent areas across the globe. In contrast, the job duties of my peers in other disciplines (the majority of them, at least) always seemed to route themselves towards the reigning priority of increasing revenue for the company. The doctors I worked with on my first co-op were all very smart, gifted people and there are many ways they could have used their talents to earn a paycheck. Instead of using those talents solely to make money, they were able to do so while bettering the lives of other people and that seemed to be a pretty honorable way to earn a living.
How did you prepare yourself for medical school? The application process?
I pretty much made Snell Library a second home during classes. It’s obvious that you need a high GPA and competitive MCAT score to get into medical school and unfortunately I am not smart enough to do so without studying a lot. As far as the less objective components of my application, I strengthened them using NU’s well-established infrastructure to create experiences that targeted my own personal goals and asking a lot of advice from people more knowledgeable than myself. Whether it be school advisors, professors, co-op employers, or sometimes complete strangers, the most useful conversations I had usually began with, “I am interested in ‘x.’ I understand that you do ‘y.’ I was wondering if you knew of any opportunities or advice as to how I could get more involved with ‘z.’” As an example, for my third co-op I looked up and contacted the international health advisor at UMass Medical School stating who I was and that I was interested in completing a medically-related project in a Spanish-speaking country so that I could learn the language while gaining relevant experience. Quite sure I wouldn’t hear back (since he had no idea who I was until reading my email), I received a call the next day at which time he proposed a few ideas he thought might suit my interests and told me he’d look more into how I could get involved. He ended up putting me in contact with their Chief of Neurosurgery who later became a supervisor for my co-op and honors project, and eventually wrote me a letter of recommendation for medical school. I’ll be taking classes two floors beneath his office this coming August.
What undergraduate experiences were most instrumental to your success?
My three co-op experiences along with the help I received from all of my pre-health advisors, honors program advisors, and many of my professors all played a huge role in my success and ability to competitively apply to medical school.
Describe your academic honors and/or coop experiences.
My first co-op was with a MGH research group titled “Cost-Effectiveness of Preventing AIDS Complications (CEPAC),” for which I was basically an administrative/research-assistant and sort of got me started in the medical research world. For my second co-op I received the Matz Scholarship to conduct a study examining microbial population genetics in the laboratory of my Genetics professor, Steven Vollmer, Ph.D. The Matz Fellowship is a great opportunity that provides a regular salary to 2-3 NU science or physics majors to conduct a proposed research project in a NU-faculty laboratory. Upon completion of their projects, all students present their research findings at the Annual Matz Symposium, which I did during the semester following my co-op. For my third co-op, I traveled to Bolivia for 5 months and conducted a health-utility/cost-analysis of NGO-funded neurosurgical and pacemaker implementation for the country’s underprivileged patient populations. I was able to work in local Bolivian hospitals and travel to patients’ homes conducting interviews, observing surgeries, and analyzing the functionality of the program from a third-party perspective. The project also served as my Honors Junior/Senior Project with much help and guidance from Gail Begley, Ph.D. as my NU-faculty advisor and was funded by the Presidential Global Scholarship, Provost Research Grant, and Gladys Brooks Undergraduate Research Award (all NU grants). We later presented the project at various research expos, receiving a Socioeconomic Award from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons 2011 Annual Conference as well as the Undergraduate Research Award from the NU Annual Research & Scholarship Expo.
What obstacles or hurdles did you overcome in your medical school journey?
I entered NU as an Engineering major year and later transferred to Behavioral Neuroscience following my first year of classes. Because I was still unsure of the direction I was heading for a future career, I didn’t perform as well as I should have in classes and had to spend the last three years essentially making up for it. It was difficult and frustrating to play catch up like that, but definitely proves that not all is lost for those who make a few mistakes early on in your college career. That’s also why I really had to focus on expanding the extra-curricular portion of my application and there isn’t really a better platform to do so than NU.
Why did you apply during your senior year and not your junior year?
The process of becoming a doctor is pretty long, so you’re going to be in your late 20s, early 30s regardless, not including residency. I’ve spent 17 consecutive years of going to school, so it is nice to have some freedom while I’m still young – to work, see friends and family, and enjoy having little responsibility. It’s not like the workload will slow down once I have a M.D., so if there is anything time-consuming that I want to accomplish, my gap year might be the only time available to do so. Also, the route I chose eliminated the trouble of having to balance MCAT studying and interview preparation while taking classes and completing an honors project. I wanted to ensure my ability to focus on each of those separately because the possibility of pushing my career forward a year wasn’t worth the risk of doing poorly on the MCAT or classes.
What do you plan to do during your gap year?
I want to spend my gap year doing things I won’t have the time to do once I start medical school. I got a sales/marketing job for a small telecom company in Cambridge and hope to make enough money so that I can travel and enjoy the last summer I have before medical school. I’m also hoping to gain some knowledge and experience in the business field because I, one day, plan to run my own primary care clinic.
Are you happy with the decision you made about the choice of the year in which you did apply? Why or why not?
Yes, I couldn’t be happier with how everything turned out. It’s really nice to have some time off to spend with my family and friends before I start medical school next fall. I have a lot of things I want to accomplish while I’m still (relatively) young and didn’t want to start the commitment of medical school without giving myself some free time to do so, so the gap year is great for that.
What are your career goals right now?
After medical school I’d like to eventually open my own primary care practice in a local underserved community as well as coordinate and participate in international health missions providing care to less-developed countries. I’ve had the chance to learn Spanish and am currently learning (or attempting to learn…) Mandarin Chinese with the goal of making myself available to the world’s three major language populations. Hopefully those goals will help to facilitate each other down the road.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
Use your resources. NU has a great infrastructure for building experiences and setting yourself apart from applicants from other colleges, so ask around about opportunities. If you have an idea but aren’t sure how to implement or fund it, ask your advisors and professors. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, tell your advisors and professors a few topics you’re interested in and ask for advice of how you might be able to get more involved. They aren’t going to hold your hand and walk you through each step, but a lot of times all you need is someone with a little more experience to give you some feedback or spark a few brain cells to get you started. The school is always growing and new opportunities are constantly coming around so just because you haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And just because it doesn’t exist doesn’t mean you can’t create it.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with the NU community?
No matter what your background is or how you got there, if you’ve somehow ended up at NU than you are in a privileged position to do something that will change the world. Not many people can say that. What are you going to you think of yourself forty years from now if you let that opportunity go to waste?