Undergraduate university and year of graduation: UCLA 2013
Major: BS in Biology
Medical school and expected year of graduation: Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine, 2021
Intended Specialty: Gastroenterology
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Hands down, I wanted to be the yellow power ranger. She was brave, the color yellow reminded me of the sun, and she beat villains! I also remember doing fake surgeries with my little brother where I would clean his belly button and write in scribble/scrabble on random pieces of paper so I definitely wanted to be a doctor as well.
What led to your interest in medicine?
I have had a variety of experiences with physicians early in life as a daughter of immigrants. My father came to the US from Nigeria to go to school, and later returned to Nigeria, married my mother and moved back to the US to give his future kids a better life. Navigating the healthcare system of the US with and without health insurance allowed me to have a unique appreciation for empathetic and compassionate physicians. My grandparents didn’t have insurance and sometimes, I would spend a whole day with them in the emergency room or urgent care clinics waiting to be seen. I saw the great care physicians gave to my mother when she was battling breast cancer; and I also saw the lack of quality care that was provided to me by a physician who was unaware of his own biases. From these experiences, and my love for the art that is the human body, I felt called to pursue a career in medicine.
What experiences did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you?
I started as a volunteer in a student run organization at UCLA called the Black Hypertension Project. We would go to barbershops around the greater Los Angeles area and do blood pressure screenings and healthy heart workshops. Talking to the community members and serving them made me aware of the desire I had to be their bridge to better health outcomes. I wanted to be acutely aware of their illnesses and know how to treat them. I learned over time, through my undergraduate and graduate experiences that I need to be hands-on. I got my MPH and while the knowledge was great, and the interventions that could be done have the potential to change lives, I still wanted to be at the forefront of patient care.
What made you decide to apply to medical school?
I decided to apply to medical school because I knew it was the only career that would fulfill my calling of being a physician leader.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
My sister was definitely one of my biggest cheerleaders. I graduated from college discouraged that maybe medicine was not for me. I had not gotten the chance to take courses that were actually about the human body and I was defeated thinking that maybe I just didn’t like the sciences. The reason being, my high school advisor said that biology was the best major for premed students. In high school, biology included anatomy and other medically related topics. However, majors vary from school to school, and at UCLA, it was pure biology (plants, animals, and insects). Changing majors was difficult because of the units I amassed from the junior college classes I took during the summer throughout high school, and from not knowing where I actually fit in amongst all of the major options available. She asked me, “if you were to get into medical school today, would you go?” I said YES, and she said, “then we have to keep pushing. This is where God has called us to be.” So we kept grinding. I got into a postbac program and finally took anatomy, physiology, immunology etc. and fell in love. I was home. Now we are in medical school together!
What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam?
Give yourself time to do problems, aim for at least 8-10 weeks of passages and practices tests. That is the main thing that can make or break your score. The more questions you see, the better you understand what the questions are asking and the better you will do. Give yourself your best chance. Once you’re done. It’s over!
How did you prepare for medical school before your first day?
I took a European trip with my sister! I had already been traveling, shooting different travel groups in the spring, but I wanted to take a trip with my sister before we moved across the country, and visit some new places together. For 10 days, we hopped around Europe. We flew into London, flew to Amsterdam, took a train to Paris with a short stop in Brussels to have lunch with a friend, and ended in Barcelona where we enjoyed tapas and sangria for a few days.
Before the first day, I also thought about the things that made me happy and tried to think of ways to incorporate them throughout school to stay true to myself. That can look like having a weekly TV night with friends, lots of ice cream and brownies to sit and watch "This Is Us," taking an extra 20 minutes once a week before bed to do a face mask, or taking time to do a favorite hobby.
What memory stands out the most from your first day of medical school?
People constantly asking if my sister and I were twins. It was surprising to most that my older sister (18 months older to be exact) was in the same class as me. For me, it was a God-send.
What was your first year of medical school like?
It was a year of adjustments. My main priority was finding balance. I think after having been through college, grad school, and a postbac program, I had a different idea of what I wanted to get out of medical school. I was not trying to stress out about learning every single thing, but I wanted to be happy. Mental health and wellness are hot topics because the highest suicide rates are within this field. I was aiming to find a way early on to balance the stress and workload in a healthy way. So I was constantly adjusting how much I was sleeping, studying, working out, talking to friends and family, doing creative projects etc. in order to find that balance. I had some difficulty living in a new part of the country, especially in an area that was primarily white and conservative. Coming from LA, I experienced culture shock and had to adjust, especially because there were so many people who had never left the state let alone the country.
Did you have to change any of your study habits?
I already realized that I was an active learner and needed to draw/talk things out. In medical school, there is a huge amount of information, and I realized I didn’t have time to draw everything out, so I had to figure out more efficient ways to synthesize the information. I found that videos really helped me understand information since my curriculum did not really have any lectures. I also realized the importance of having a small study group of people you can be vulnerable with. It was so helpful to work through practice questions with my group because we would teach each other and learn from the combined knowledge in the room. It gave me accountability partners to get through the tough times while also giving me the space to teach important concepts that we needed to understand.
Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
I love to travel. I’ve been to 39 countries to date! So far in medical school, I have been able to do some volunteer work in Cuba, research and health fairs in Ecuador, and hopefully I will do a clerkship or two abroad during my fourth year. I participated in three research projects and I am currently working on getting published, which is exciting for me. I have only been able to present at various conferences, so working towards a publication is a big deal for me.
I was the president of student council the first year of medical school, an executive board member for Physician’s for Social Awareness and the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). I sit on the Dean’s Student Advisory Council and the Council for Diversity Education with other students and faculty in my institution. I am the 2021 rep to the Organization of Student Representatives to the AAMC. I am also happy to be the National President Elect of the Student National Medical Association and will be taking the role of National President in April 2020!
I have continued to work as a photographer as well to help with the cost of being an out-of-state student and to allow me to travel on breaks.
How did you balance the demands of medical school with any additional obligations or challenges?
I had to utilize a planner to balance out all the meetings that I had going on. As long as I planned for events, conference calls, freelance work obligations, and did not forgo my study sessions, I was fine. But the times I was not balanced, I felt it.
What makes your story unique?
I have worked as a photographer throughout medical school thus far. I have shot for my institution, I have shot weddings in other states, and some of my own creative projects. It was not easy to do--but as an out-of-state student and a former full-time freelance photographer, it was so much harder to drop everything I knew to go back to only studying. It made me feel unbalanced by not shooting!
Working during medical school is not usual and is typically discouraged by most medical schools. While I would not suggest that students work during the four years, my line of work gave me the unique ability to pick and choose assignments. I was an independent contractor for my school and I would only accept assignments that fit with my schedule. Doing so really helped reduce some stress as an out-of-state student. However, most jobs won’t allow you this much flexibility.
What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?
Please do not apply if it is for anyone else but yourself. Graduating from medical school and becoming a physician is difficult. It is long hours, missed family events, missed trips, etc. and the only way you will finish strong is if this is something you are passionate about. If you’re passionate about this and work hard, don’t let anything get in your way from pursuing a career in medicine.
If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?
You have time. So, take time to study. Take time to breathe and rest. Take time to have fun. Take time to reflect on how far you have come.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?
There is no cookie-cutter way of getting to where I am. I went all over the world (literally) and back and then some, and I still made it. My metrics were not anything to write home about, but the heart was there, and it showed in my application in my activities, in my personal statement, etc., because the truth shows! So tell your story when you finally decide to apply and show schools why they need you. Not the other way around.