Alexa M. Mieses
Undergraduate: City College of the City University of New York, 2011
Medical school: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, 2016
Spring 2016 Update:
Residency Training: Duke University Medical Center
Specialty: Family Medicine
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I suppose my career trajectory was really influenced by Hollywood! When I was very young, I became obsessed with sharks after seeing the movie "Jaws" on television. Throughout my early childhood, I wanted to become a marine biologist. However, as I learned more and more about science and the human body, the more drawn to medicine I became.
What led to your interest in medicine?
Aside from my love for science overall, accompanying my mother to her doctor’s visits when I was young also influenced my decision to become a physician. I was fascinated by the teamwork and trust between a doctor and patient. The human interaction is what most interests me about medicine. Later, my aspiration was solidified when several high school classmates died from drug overdoses. These tragedies sparked my interest in the neuropsychiatry and the idea of physicians as healers.
What made you decide to go to medical school?
Many events throughout life culminated in my decision to become a physician. What started out as a childhood dream, eventually became a serious goal. As a college student, I was committed to becoming a physician. I began to explore health disparities from an academic standpoint (rather than just personal experience). I learned about the potential impact physicians can have beyond the confines of an examination room as advocates, teachers, and mentors. I was reassured that this was the right path for me.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
I definitely encountered naysayers. Some people questioned why I would want to be in school for so long and incur so much debt. Also, because many people at my undergraduate institution began college as “premed” and switched career paths, it was not until I became an upperclassman and demonstrated my commitment to medicine that certain people began to take me seriously.
Thankfully, I had wonderful and supportive mentors I relied upon for guidance and encouragement. Not everyone you encounter will be supportive, but having several people you can rely on can make all the difference!
Do you remember your first day of medical school? What memory stands out the most?
I will never forget the first day of anatomy lab! Six students were assigned to each group. We had an opportunity to meet our anatomy group during orientation. We showed up on the first day of lab in our blue smocks, dissection kits in hand, and formed a circle around our cadaver. After a brief introduction, our teacher basically said, "Okay, go." We all looked at each other blankly. No one was even going to show us how to hold a scalpel? However, we quickly learned to hold a scalpel and many, many, many other things! Maybe there’s no other way to start anatomy—at some point you just have to get started.
What was your first year of medical school like?
I thought I knew exactly what medical school was going to be like. Throughout college I spoke with numerous medical students and physicians. I read medical schools' websites, and read almost every narrative medicine book my local bookstore carried. However, you never really know what medical school is like until you actually begin!
After taking a year off to do research at the National Institutes of Health, it took me a little while to get back into study mode. Even though I love science and was a biology major in college, the courses seemed so....science-y. I was thirsty for some clinical relevance! Thankfully, I began to work at the student-run clinic and to participate in other early clinical experiences that kept me motivated! As the year progressed, our classes become more and more clinically applicable.
What makes your story unique?
I cannot say for certain that my story is unique but it is not very common. Many (not all) medical students come from a long line of physicians. Their parents, siblings, or aunts and uncles may be physicians. I am in the first in my family to become a physician. In fact, neither of my parents attended college. I am also a Hispanic woman, an underrepresented minority in medicine. I grew up in an underserved area of New York City and was raised by my mother and grandmother.
I always possessed the potential to become a doctor, but it was really my family's emphasis on the importance of education, in tandem with fantastic mentors and inspiring teachers, that allowed me to achieve my life's goal. No matter where you come from or who you are, you can be a doctor. Often the tricky part is finding the support and guidance necessary to realize your dreams.
What did you enjoy most about medical school?
The most fulfilling thing about medical school is knowing that I will be using what I’ve learned to care for people.
Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
I’m involved with several extracurricular activities, all of which directly relate to my passion. I am a clinic manager and also a trained Spanish interpreter for the student-run clinic. Our clinic serves an underserved population: uninsured residents of East Harlem. On days I’m not managing clinic, I also volunteer as a student clinician and see patients under the supervision of senior medical students and physicians. I hope to work with similar populations in the future.
Since high school, I’ve continuously mentored and taught students of all ages in various subjects. As a medical student, I am a teaching assistant for the first-year anatomy and biochemistry/genetics courses. I also teach anatomy to local junior high school students enrolled in an enrichment program at Mount Sinai. I also mentor two first-year medical students, and I assist premedical students with their med school applications.
Mentoring and teaching is intertwined with my writing as well. I recently wrote a book called, “The Heartbeat of Success” that is a guide to medical school admissions. Dr. Lynne Holden, president of Mentoring in Medicine, Inc., and Dr. Irwin Dannis, an admissions committee co-chair, wrote the foreword. I also blog weekly for Medscape in an effort to share my thoughts and experiences with other soon-to-be-physicians and premedical students. In the past, I’ve written for POZ Magazine, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Dr. Jennifer Walden, M.D., and I’m the editor-in-chief of a medical education newsletter at Mount Sinai.
Since college, I’ve conducted research related to neuroscience and psychiatry. I completed a neuroscience undergraduate thesis, and I completed a research fellowship at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. I recently completed a clinical research project on Phelan McDermid Syndrome, a genetic disorder related to autism for which no standard medical recommendations or treatment exists. This relates to my interests in health disparities and my master’s work in public health.
How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
Two things have helped me find a good work-life balance. First, I live with my significant other and our three pets. This forces me to carve out non-negotiable time for my family (I even add my dog’s walks to my schedule). My partner is also a great support and he keeps me grounded.
The other thing is that I do what I love! I don’t call a lot of what I do “work.” I love mentoring, I love teaching, and I love to write. I am also finally doing what I’ve wanted to do for years—preparing to care for patients. Early clinical experiences keep me motivated when I’m working hard, studying.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
Before committing to medicine, make sure this is what you love, what you cannot live without. If you don’t love it, the long and challenging training will take its toll on you. More importantly, if you don’t love it, your patients will notice. There is nothing wrong with creating your own path to medicine. Take classes outside of your major, study abroad, take a gap year, explore other fields—do whatever you need to do. When you finally know for certain, you will be able to articulate why medicine is the path you’ve chosen.
Do you have additional information or thoughts to share that would be helpful to prospective students?
1. Do what you love! Find your passion, stick with it and you will shine. You do not need to fit the cookie cutter mold of a premedical student.
2. Find a student-friendly job. Student-friendly jobs may or may not be directly related to medicine, but they all allow you to have a flexible schedule or a lot of downtime.
3. Seek mentorships early on in your career! Mentors can advise and support you, contributing to your success.
4. Proofread! Make sure you and at least two other people proofread every bit of your medical school application.
5. Have faith in yourself! You will undoubtedly encounter naysayers who tell you to forget about a career in medicine. During these times, rely on your mentors and trust yourself. Don't ever give up your passion!