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Compassionate Caregiver to Military Medic: Christiana Obioma's Path to Medical School

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“Do not rush the application process. It is okay if you do not follow the traditional application timeline as everyone’s journey is unique. The important thing is having a strong application that highlights your unique path to becoming a physician.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Christiana O, Core Competencies
Christiana O

Medical School: University of Oklahoma College of Medicine
Expected Graduation Year: Expected Graduation - 2023
College & Major: University of Central Oklahoma, Major in Biomedical Science, Minor in Chemistry

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Background

  • Christiana was born and raised in Aba, Nigeria, where she witnessed friends and family struggle to manage illnesses due to their underresourced healthcare system. 
  • At the age of 17, Christiana moved to the United States to attend The University of Central Oklahoma, where she studied biomedical science and chemistry. 
  • During her junior year of college, Christiana enlisted in the U.S. Army, becoming an emergency medical technician in the 469th ground ambulance unit.
  • Following her training as an Army medic and while completing classes at the University of Central Oklahoma, Christiana volunteered at Manos Juntas, a clinic in Oklahoma dedicated to helping underserved populations.
  • Christiana also shadowed three physicians in three different specialties: family medicine, orthopedic surgery, and cardiology following her training as an Army medic.
  • After graduation, Christiana took a glide/gap year to strengthen her application and gain additional clinical experience. During this time, she worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and a laboratory quality control specialist at a medical diagnostic manufacturer.

MCAT/GPA/Coursework

Christiana had a strong academic science record, majoring in biomedical science with a minor in chemistry. Early on, she knew she wanted to pursue medicine, so she sought the advice of Dr. Caroline Bentley, associate professor of biology and health professions advisor at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). Dr. Bentley advised Christiana on appropriate courses to take in order to fulfill common medical school pre-requisites. Christiana also took “Introduction to Health Professions,” a course taught by Dr. Bentley, designed to help students complete applications to health professions schools.

Christiana frequently met with Dr. Bentley to discuss her application to medical school. Dr. Bentley noted in her comments to the AAMC that “Christiana is one of the rare ones who embodies all the characteristics you would like to see in a doctor, but she does so with grace. She will be a strong role model and leader in the health care community.”

Christiana sat for the MCAT® exam during her last semester of undergrad, since she had planned for a glide/gap year after graduation. Since she was not confident in her score after her first sitting, she enrolled in a part-time prep course and also used 
free study resources from the AAMC to further prepare. Two months after her first test, she took the MCAT again and improved her score. Although she didn’t ultimately hit her target, her performance on the second exam, in combination with the rest of her application and experiences made her a competitive candidate.  

Anatomy of an Applicant, Christiana O, Core Competencies
Christiana with her colleagues and fellow members of the Student National Medical Association (OUHSC Chapter) at the ‘White Coat for Black Lives’ event organized last semester.

Experiences

Growing up in Aba, Nigeria, Christiana witnessed her loved ones’ struggle with illnesses, including her grandmother who battled diabetes and her childhood friend who suffered from sickle cell anemia. Unfortunately, inadequate healthcare resources made treating these conditions challenging. The local hospital had inadequate equipment, limited staff, and unreliable electricity. It had a 25% unemployment rate. Despite these limitations, the local physicians and nurses provided an immense amount of compassion and care. They went above and beyond to offer emotional support to their patients. This was the foundation of the inspiration for Christiana to pursue a medical career. She hoped one day she could give back to the community that raised her by improving access to quality care.  

Christiana moved to the United States at the age of 17 to study biomedical science at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). She chose UCO due to its diverse student body and its location in Edmond, OK, which had been ranked in a magazine she read as one of the safest cities in the U.S.

During her freshman year, Christiana attended a friend’s U.S. Air Force Academy graduation, which ignited her interest in joining the military.  She shared, “I admired the discipline and respect I observed from the graduates. I wanted to be a part of the military and serve a country that had given me an opportunity to pursue my dreams.” During her sophomore year, Christiana met with an Army recruiter on her college campus and enlisted early during her junior year. She took the next two semesters off while she trained to become an emergency medical technician with the 
469th Ground Ambulance Unit.

As an Army medic, Christiana worked with an ambulance crew to transport patients from their point of injury to a medical facility for advanced care. She learned to administer saline and oxygen, communicate with patients, and maintain medical equipment in the ambulances. She also learned how to work under pressure, sharing, “In order to graduate we had to complete tasks such as administering intravenous saline in less than five minutes or applying a combat application tourniquet under thirty seconds. Going over the time by one second was considered failing.” She also became more experienced in collaborating with diverse teams to accomplish a common goal. “Our backgrounds notwithstanding, we worked together and treated each other with respect. By putting the needs of my patients and the US Army first, I have learned what selfless service truly means,” said Christiana.

She explained, “From not taking showers for days at a time to sleeping in fox holes while being out in the field, I learned to adjust to discomfort. I appreciated the smaller things in life, such as sleeping on an actual bed. I will be forever grateful for the lessons I have learned, and the lessons I will continue to learn from serving in the Army.” Her transition from civilian to military life demonstrated to the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine’s admissions committee Christiana’s ability to build mental strength and resilience.

After completing Army medic training, Christiana returned to UCO and resumed meeting regularly with her prehealth advisor. It was through Dr. Bentley that she learned about a volunteer opportunity at Manos Juntas, a clinic that provides free healthcare to medically underserved populations in the Oklahoma City area. As a volunteer, Christiana triaged patients, packaged medications in the pharmacy, and obtained patient histories. The experience resonated with her and deepened her desire to improve healthcare inequities. “Listening to some of the patients' stories regarding the challenges (especially financial) they faced with accessing healthcare reminded me of my experiences as an adolescent in Nigeria,” she said.  “My compassion and desire to help alleviate some of the health care inadequacies deepened from my interactions with them.”

Dr. Bentley provided Christiana with a list of multiple physicians and their contact information, which led to Christiana contacting the orthopedic department for the OU College of Medicine and connecting to Dr. Betsy Nolan, an orthopedic surgeon whom Christiana then shadowed. Additionally, Christiana contacted local clinics and hospitals and asked if there were physicians open to have her shadow them. Her efforts paid off when she connected with Dr. Matthew Dowell, a family medicine physician, and Dr. Schiffedecker Branislav, a cardiologist, who both allowed her to shadow them. “Interacting with the patients at the clinics and observing as the physicians treated their patients with compassion further convinced me that becoming a physician was the right career path for me,” she said. The physicians Christiana shadowed continued to serve as mentors and offered her guidance throughout the medical school application process.

To gain more clinical experience, Christiana started working part-time as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at the 
Embark Statesman Club, a senior living facility in Oklahoma City. Her work as a CNA broadened her clinical exposure and further demonstrated competencies in science and service orientation. “There have been instances where I have assisted terminally ill or hospice patients with activities of daily living. During one encounter with a dying female patient, she made me understand the importance of 'simple things' I did such as smiling, holding her hands, listening to her, and body language,” said Christiana.

During her senior year at UCO Christiana participated in a research project on wound healing under the guidance of biology professor Dr. Melville Vaughan. This project studied the effect of near-infrared lasers and glycated chitosan used to accelerate wound healing. Christiana presented this research at The Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation conference (OK-LSAMP) and the National Conference for Undergraduate Research. She was also the primary author for the manuscript published in the 
Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) Journal of Biomedical Optics. UCO students applying to medical school are able to obtain assistance from the school’s Pre-Health Committee, which prepares students for applying to medical school. This committee wrote a letter of recommendation for Christiana and helped her to prepare for the interview process with mock interviews. During her glide/gap year, Christiana worked as a quality control specialist at a global medical diagnostic manufacturer, examining fungal testing products before approval for public distribution.

Personal Statement

Anatomy of an Applicant, Christiana O, Core Competencies
Christiana's parents and siblings

Christiana’s personal statement told the story of the evolution of her interest in medicine. She described her experience growing up in Nigeria and highlighted the various ways she was exposed to health care and how this exposure confirmed her love for medicine. Through each of these experiences, she demonstrated compassion, service, and leadership. As Dr. Bentley described it, “Through her personal statement, it was evident that she conquered a number of life challenges – such as moving to a new country, enlisting in the army, and supporting herself financially – with grace and resiliency.”

Letters of Evaluation

Christiana chose letter writers who could speak to her academic abilities and aptitude in the sciences. She chose Dr. Melville Vaughn, with whom she worked on a year-long research project, as well as two other science professors who knew her well. To help her writers, she provided her resume and personal statement.

Additionally, her school’s prehealth committee wrote a letter on her behalf and provided further context about her background, accomplishments, the challenges she’d overcome, and her motivation for pursuing medicine.

Interview

To prepare for her interviews, Christiana reviewed her application, reflected on her previous experiences and participated in mock interviews with her peers, mentors, and the premed committee. She also researched common interview formats used by medical schools.

Christiana’s advises “be yourself on interview day” and reflect on your “why” for becoming a physician. She also advises applicants to “be prepared to discuss any part of your experiences or what you included in your application during the interview.”

Christiana on Why She Chose the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine

Christiana chose the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine due to its emphasis on service, compassionate care, and diversity and inclusion. She also liked their “module system,” which organizes students into small groups (approximately 16) for each academic rotation. “I knew the module system would foster teamwork and enable me to build lifelong connections with my future classmates,” she related.

She further noted the warmth and friendliness of current medical students, sharing, “On my interview day, the current students facilitated events such as a mini suture clinic and a campus tour. The students I met at these events made me feel at home.”

Currently a second-year medical student, Christiana is involved in several different extracurricular activities and clubs that align with her values and goals. For example, she helped organize a conference called “Bridges to Access” to promote awareness about technological resources that can be used in rural communities. She is the secretary of the Global Health Club, which organizes mission trips abroad for students and raises campus awareness of global health issues.

Christiana’s commitment to diversity and inclusion inspired her to become one of the founders of her medical school’s Student National Medical Association (SNMA) Chapter. They are currently working to increase awareness of health disparities, and recently organized a “White Coats for Black Lives” event on campus.

Anatomy of an Applicant, Christiana O, Core Competencies
Christiana with two of her classmates volunteering at the Representing Oklahoma and Diversity (R.O.A.D.) Conference last year.

University of Oklahoma College of Medicine on Why They Chose Christiana

“From growing up in a small Nigerian town with limited healthcare access, to moving to the U.S. and becoming an Army medic to support herself, Christiana’s unique life experiences and passion for helping the underserved stood out,” said Dr. Sherri Baker, associate dean for admissions at OU College of Medicine. During her interview, the admissions team was impressed by her maturity, composure, and self-awareness. Dr. Baker noted, “Christiana spoke about how her past experiences would make her a better physician. She also gave mature answers to difficult questions, such as how to handle confrontation.”   

“From growing up in a small Nigerian town with limited healthcare access, to moving to the U.S. and becoming an Army medic to support herself, Christiana’s unique life experiences and passion for helping the underserved stood out,” said Dr. Sherri Baker, associate dean for admissions at OU College of Medicine. During her interview, the admissions team was impressed by her maturity, composure, and self-awareness. Dr. Baker noted, “Christiana spoke about how her past experiences would make her a better physician. She also gave mature answers to difficult questions, such as how to handle confrontation.”   

Christiana’s application demonstrated how her personal values of teamwork, service orientation, and inclusion aligned with the values and mission of OU College of Medicine.  

Anatomy of an Applicant, Christiana O, Core Competencies
Christiana with her friends following her White Coat ceremony.

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Competencies Demonstrated

Note: This section helps to illustrate how multiple competencies can be demonstrated across many experiences, activities, and parts of your application.

Service Orientation Service Orientation Service Orientation

Demonstrates a desire to help others and sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings; demonstrates a desire to alleviate others’ distress; recognizes and acts on his/her responsibilities to society; locally, nationally, and globally.

Volunteer work at Manos Juntas Clinic, military service

Social Skills Social Skills Social Skills

Demonstrates an awareness of others’ needs, goals, feelings, and the ways that social and behavioral cues affect peoples’ interactions and behaviors; adjusts behaviors appropriately in response to these cues; treats others with respect.

Built relationships with professors, physicians she shadowed, and Army colleagues

Cultural Competence Cultural Competence Cultural Competence

Demonstrates knowledge of socio-cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors; shows an appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity; recognizes and acts on the obligation to inform one’s own judgment; engages diverse and competing perspectives as a resource for learning, citizenship, and work; recognizes and appropriately addresses bias in themselves and others; interacts effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.

Lived in multiple countries, worked with diverse teams in the military, clinical experience with diverse economic populations

Teamwork Teamwork Teamwork

Works collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals; shares information and knowledge with others and provides feedback; puts team goals ahead of individual goals.

Collaboration with peers while working as an Army medic

Oral Communication Oral Communication Oral Communication

Effectively conveys information to others using spoken words and sentences; listens effectively; recognizes potential communication barriers and adjusts approach or clarifies information as needed.

Research presentations at national conferences

Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others

Behaves in an honest and ethical manner; cultivates personal and academic integrity; adheres to ethical principles and follows rules and procedures; resists peer pressure to engage in unethical behavior and encourages others to behave in honest and ethical ways; develops and demonstrates ethical and moral reasoning.

Military service, experience working with vulnerable populations at Manos Juntas Clinic

Reliability and Dependability Reliability and Dependability Reliability and Dependability

Consistently fulfills obligations in a timely and satisfactory manner; takes responsibility for personal actions and performance.

Worked part-time as a certified nursing assistant while taking classes, work as a laboratory quality control specialist

Resilience and Adaptability Resilience and Adaptability Resilience and Adaptability

Demonstrates tolerance of stressful or changing environments or situations and adapts effectively to them; is persistent, even under difficult situations; recovers from setbacks.

Life experiences, move to the US from Nigeria, military service

Capacity for Improvement Capacity for Improvement Capacity for Improvement

Sets goals for continuous improvement and for learning new concepts and skills; engages in reflective practice for improvement; solicits and responds appropriately to feedback.

Strategic approach to improving MCAT score

Critical Thinking Critical Thinking Critical Thinking

Uses logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.

Research experience, coursework

Scientific Inquiry Scientific Inquiry Scientific Inquiry

Applies knowledge of the scientific process to integrate and synthesize information, solve problems and formulate research questions and hypotheses; is facile in the language of the sciences and uses it to participate in the discourse of science and explain how scientific knowledge is discovered and validated.

Coursework, research experience, shadowing physicians,

Written Communication Written Communication Written Communication

Effectively conveys information to others using written words and sentences.

Research publications, Personal Statement

Human Behavior Human Behavior Human Behavior

Applies knowledge of the self, others, and social systems to solve problems related to the psychological, socio-cultural, and biological factors that influence health and well-being.

Healthcare experience as an Army Medic and a CNA

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Strongest Competencies

The student self-identified the following competencies as the strongest:

  • Reliability and Dependability
  • Service Orientation
  • Social Skills
Christiana's Tips
  • "Participate in different extracurricular activities that aren't just clinical. Different experiences make you a more relatable and more competitive applicant."
  • "Participate in hobbies you enjoy to help maintain your mental wellness while going through the rigorous application process."
  • "Remind yourself why you decided to become a physician whenever you feel inadequate. Do not compare yourself to other applicants. Your strengths and skills are unique."
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