Amber Rae Wang
Undergraduate: Arizona State University, 2009
Medical school: The University of Arizona College of Medicine–Phoenix, 2013
Residency: Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Anatomic and Neuropathology
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A mortician. Strange, but true. I have always been intrigued by life and death. In fact, when I participated in a pageant at the age of 7, my mother asked me what I would tell the judges when they asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her, “a mortician”. She was shocked, and told me I should probably just tell the judges I wanted to be a veterinarian like all the other girls.
What led to your interest in medicine?
In high school, I learned a career in forensic science could really combine all of my interests in biology, law enforcement, and death investigation. I entered undergrad not knowing exactly what area of forensic science I would pursue (toxicology, criminalistics, anthropology, psychiatry, pathology, etc). I obtained an internship at the medical examiner’s office during my sophomore year at Arizona State University. It was there that I had my first experiences in autopsy and my passion for the specialty began. All of the pathologists that I met, both locally and at national conferences, were so enthusiastic about their work and very encouraging. After realizing that I would need medical school and residency to become a forensic pathologist, I became “pre-med.”
Who or what inspired you?
I have a lot of fantastic mentors, and I would not be close to where I am today without their inspiration and encouragement. In undergrad, Dr. Laura Fulginiti, a forensic anthropologist, believed in me and helped me to obtain my first internship at the medical examiner’s office. I was also challenged by the fact that there is a lack of knowledge and awareness among both the public and even medical professionals regarding the specialty of forensic pathology. I am eager to attract future doctors to the field and educate society that it is not as glamorous as what they see on TV.
What made you decide to go to medical school?
I knew it would be a long haul to get to my final destination (practicing forensic medicine), but I could not picture myself doing anything else. In my mind, it was my only option.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
I never received discouragement during the process. I was warned that making my specific interests in one specialty known during interviews may be detrimental to my acceptance at particular programs, since most medical schools believe that applicants don’t have enough experience to make a decision regarding their specialty of choice so early. Overall, though, everyone was very encouraging.
Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?
Dr. William Stano, a forensic pathologist at the Maricopa County Forensic Science Center. He was always supportive and readily available to answer my questions during the decision process. He allowed me to observe and assist in a number of his cases and even go to court with him. If I ever doubted my decision, he made sure to remind me how incredible his job was and let me see it for myself.
How did you prepare for the medical school application process?
I started planning and organizing my application early! I think it is very important to receive good letters of recommendation. I made sure that I got involved in activities and put myself in situations that would allow someone to write highly of me on a personal level. Overall, I think having your application in early and complete is crucial. As for interviews, I practiced questions with family members and to myself in a mirror. As I mentioned above, I was told not to tell my interviewers that I was applying to medical school in order to be a forensic pathologist, since they may see that as close-minded. I did not listen to this advice, and made my interests very well known at all programs. I figured that if a program was not going to support my passion, it was not the program that I would want to train at for four years. I highly recommend being honest and not trying to be someone or something you are not.
Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT?
I was very nervous, as I’m sure most people are. I took an MCAT prep course, which may have helped a little. I study best on my own, so I think it all depends on your specific study routine and what works best for the individual person.
Do you remember your first day of medical school?
What memory stands out the most? I had already met a large portion of my classmates at a social I had organized a couple weeks prior to the first official day. That really helped ease my nerves. I remember thinking, “All of these people are so smart and have such unique experiences. I’m not sure if I can keep up with them.” I also recall being escorted to our first “patient encounter.” We were not given a lot of details, other than that we would be put in a room with a patient and had to keep a conversation going with them for 20 minutes. I thought, “Oh my gosh. I have only had experience interacting with dead patients in the autopsy suite! How on earth am I going to keep a conversation going with a living patient?” I soon realized that the “patient” was a second year medical student, and our assignment was to talk to them for 20 minutes about what they did over the summer…
What was your first year of medical school like?
A whirlwind of too many exams, late night studying, parties, and new friendships. Oh, and not to mention, I started dating the man who would become my husband. It was one of the best years of my life.
What makes your story unique?
I think the fact that I knew from day one what my specialty would be and that I never waivered from it is unique. I still enjoyed my other rotations and made sure to get the most out of them, but I was always trying to relate everything back to my chosen specialty in order to help myself stay focused.
What did you enjoy most about medical school?
The friendships and relationships that I built along the way. My classmates became my family, and I know those relationships will last a lifetime.
Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
During the summer between my first and second year of medical school, I had the unique opportunity to intern at the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. I moved to Manhattan and commuted to the Bronx every day to assist with cases. While there, I was able to complete one research project and went back the following Christmas break to complete a second project. It was by far the highlight of my medical school training and was a great topic of conversation during my residency interviews. I really recommend that med students use that summer to network, gain some experience in a field that they may have an interest in, or participate in research.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
1) Always be honest. Programs will see right through you if your answer has no passion behind it or no evidence to back it up. 2) Be on time- this goes for your application as well as showing up to your interview day, etc. 3) Choose a school that you believe will help and encourage you to achieve your dreams and not a place that produces doctor clones. 4) Be humble and get comfortable admitting “I don’t know.” It’s okay to not have all the answers, and nobody expects you to.
If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?
Once you have been accepted and have chosen a medical school, have fun and relax! Don’t over-study- you will do enough of that for the next 4 years (and the rest of your life). Take advantage of your free time and the glorious feeling that you are going to be a doctor.