Nicole Barainca Smith

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Nicole left her job in business to go back to school to complete her medical school prerequisites. Now as a medical student and mother of two, she wants to tell other parents it's possible.

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Undergraduate: University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2011
Major: Business Management

Graduate: University of Nevada, Reno, 2013
Major: Master’s in Business Administration
Medical school: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, 2022

Who or what inspired you?

Most recently, the people who have inspired me most are the people who have doubted my ability to complete medical school with two kids.  I know I have the tenacity and skills to achieve any goal I set for myself and my family.

Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?

When I met my husband, Andy, I was working in business and he was working on his master’s degree in mechanical engineering. From the minute we met, I knew how passionate he was about science. I remember when we were dating, after working 10 – 12 hours at the lab he’d meet me after feeling energized and excited about what he’d worked on that day.

I always enjoyed sciences classes in high school, however I had chosen a path in business when I went to college.  Although I enjoyed working in business, Andy made me realize I needed to pursue my first passion and that’s when I went back to school to finish my prerequisites.

What memory stands out the most from your first day of medical school?

When I started medical school, I felt completely overwhelmed. The first day wasn’t stressful because I was worried about meeting friends or because I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to learn the information. I felt overwhelmed because on my first day of medical school I had a 3-month-old baby at home, and I was still breastfeeding. Orientation was a full eight-hour day and there was no time to run home and feed the baby. I used my breaks and lunch to pump on the bathroom floor – that memory definitely stands out! 

What makes your story unique?

After I realized I needed to pursue my passion for science and medicine, I returned to college to complete my medical school requirements. I returned to school as I was starting a family, working full time, and also working with a scribe company to learn more about the medical community.  At the same time, I began studying for the MCAT; I listened to tapes nonstop and was at the local coffee shop studying at 5am every morning before work.

All of this effort paid off when I was accepted into medical school. However, it left me faced with a difficult decision. When we had married, we were living in Oregon while Andy completed his PhD in Robotics at Oregon State University. We had just had our first baby. I had to choose whether to either move away from my family and start medical school or postpone the start of medical school. Ultimately, I decided to defer a year to spend time with my family and have our second baby. After Andy graduated, we returned to Reno as a family and then I began medical school.  I knew I wouldn’t be a typical medical student as I was both older than the average medical student and I also was married with two children.

What did you enjoy most about medical school?  

In undergraduate, and even graduate school, sometimes the information you learn doesn’t seem applicable to your career choice. In medical school, it’s the exact opposite. Even when I don’t necessarily enjoy what we are studying, I can always place the connection to how that information will one day help me be a better physician.

What surprised you the most about medical school?

The comradery at my medical school is outstanding. Before I entered medical school, I thought my classmates were going to be all very competitive. I was completely wrong! From the first day the upperclassmen really paved the way for our medical school culture. We constantly have 2nd – 4th year students volunteering their time to help us learn. I feel very supported and thankful for my classmates.   I look forward to supporting future classes by offering the same level of support.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?

It’s possible! My path was anything but direct and I am glad it wasn’t. I am so thankful not only for my experience in business but also for my family. Sure, there are more logistics to figure out when you have a family in medical school. However, every night I get to come home to my husband and kids. I have a solid foundation and I think it makes medical school more rewarding.   

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