Edmond Irankunda

Growing up as a refugee in Africa, Edmond was motivated by the need for health care. During nursing school, he wanted to keep learning so he decided to pursue medical school.

Edmond Irankunda

Undergraduate: Indiana University South Bend, 2014
Major: Nursing
Medical school: Indiana University School of Medicine, 2018

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an anesthesiologist when I grew up. I could hardly spell the title and did not know much about the profession except that they take pain away from people. In middle school, I did a portfolio on my career goal to be an anesthesiologist that I still have to this day.
 

What led to your interest in medicine?

Growing up as a refugee in different countries, medicine was one of the things that was needed by many and provided by few.

My parents took me to different clinics and hospitals as a child; I hoped to be able to help others as a doctor and alleviate some pain and suffering.

Who or what inspired you?

I have had a number of inspirational people in my life. My father was a great inspiration, as he wanted me to be the best I could be, regardless of what I did, and he was always behind me when it came to deciding to pursue a career in health care.

My older brother and two older sisters accomplished a lot, and as a younger sibling, I looked up to them and wanted to be able to do something unique like they did. Along the road I also got to following Eric Thomas, the motivational speaker, and his weekly T.G.I.M. videos on YouTube made me push through some very tough times.

What made you decide to go to medical school?

I decided to go to medical school after my first semester in nursing school because I wanted to gain skills and knowledge that would make me a better provider for mission trips.

I enjoyed what I was learning in nursing school but there was a lot of underlying knowledge that I felt like I was missing. I found myself studying material at a depth that was not required, and after talking to some of my instructors and mentors, I decided to pursue medical school.

Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?

I had one instructor during college tell me that I would not make it to medical school because I had done poorly on her exam. I remember sitting in her office looking over my test and seeking some encouragement and support to move forward, but I got some tough words of advice as she told me that she had a daughter in medical school and she did not think I was up to par.

From that day on, I made it a point to myself that she was not going to be right. I used her words as inspiration to make it into medical school and be successful. Sometimes negative things can be the best inspiration that one can have.

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

One of my good friends, Nda, got into Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine when I was starting the nursing program. With our common background (we both came from African countries), we shared how fortunate we felt to have left the tough environment at home to come to the United States so we had to maximize this opportunity. He encouraged me to continue on to medical school and told me his story of challenges and how he had made it where he was today.

Since he also went to IU South Bend for college, Nda gave me the advisor contacts I needed to help me through the process. He kept up with me through undergrad and the application process. Without him I am not sure if I would be writing this right now.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

I talked with my friend Nda and I met with my biochemistry instructor, who was a great resource. I also did a lot of personal research on my own and attended free webinars and test prep events held at Notre Dame. I think that using a vast array of resources helped me be very prepared.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

My biggest concern with the MCAT was that I was taking it a week after finishing Physics I and II in the summer. I felt like I was not adequately preparing for the MCAT, but based on the timeline with my nursing classes, this was the only time that I would be able to take it.

Being a health science major, and not having taken multiple biology and chemistry classes, I felt like I would need more time to study, but I was able to make it through with some dedication and strict discipline.

What kind of financial aid did you need to pay for medical school?

For medical school, I used loans to pay for everything.

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

What stood out the most was all the orientation activities and letting it sink in that I was in medical school, finally! Everything was a blur because of all the excitement and anxiety at the same time.

What was your first year of medical school like?

I am currently going through my first year of medical school.

My regional campus does block scheduling so we only do one class at a time a very fast pace. We finished gross anatomy in eight weeks. I felt like time just flew by because all I did was wake up, study, and sleep, and then repeat the same thing the next day. We were at school from around 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on most days. After a few weeks, I was able to get a hang of things and get some physical activity during the block.

The great thing about block schedules is that you get engrossed in one class so personally; it helps me retain material much better. During anatomy we also got a free weekend after every exam because there was nothing you had to study for.

Our next block was cell biology and biochemistry, which was only four hour block days so we had more time in the afternoon than during our first eight weeks of school. This class was a challenge for me, especially the cell biology, because of not having taking that many undergraduate classes in biology, but I did very well in it. When it came to biochemistry, I felt much more confident about it since I had taken it my senior year in college.

What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?

The first few days of cell biology were my worst so far in medical school. Studying techniques that I used in gross anatomy did not seem to work, and I was only getting four hours of sleep and not feeling very well.

I had to make a decision to stop attending class and start doing self-study sessions at home. This was a huge risk since I had never done this even in college. Our class is small, so people noticed my absence and I had to reassure them that I was fine and this was just what worked best for me.

We have great counselors here at the South Bend campus; mine was great in listening to me and encouraging me to continue doing what worked. She even suggested to my instructor to have the lecture recorded so that I would not miss anything important.

I started doing very well in the class, getting adequate sleep and being able to get in some physical activity. This obstacle was overcome with the help of my wife who kept me sane, a classmate who shared her online notes with me, and the counselor at school who made sure I had all I needed to be successful.

How did you balance the demands of medical school with additional obligations and challenges?

I got married four weeks into medical school right in the middle of gross anatomy. People said I was either crazy or very smart, but it was the best thing that I could have done for myself. I am blessed to have a very supportive partner. We always make it a point to have dinner together and talk about our day.

I also do not touch any of my school material from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset since it is my Sabbath. This time is set aside to spend with my wife and family, and to go to church. It gives me the opportunity to relax my mind and spend time with those who matter the most to me. So my medical schoolwork is done only six days per week, which has been a huge help to me.

What did you enjoy most about medical school?

I enjoy the learning process the most in medical school. I find that gaining new information is something that I love and it makes studying fun because I know that I am learning something new that is part of the foundation of me becoming a doctor. We have a great group of people in our class here as well, so they make life that much better.

What surprised you the most about medical school?

I heard about how much time one had to put into their studies once they got to medical school but I still was surprised how much time I had to spend with my notes and books. I felt like time was being fast-forwarded and I was playing catch up.

Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.

 I am African, as mentioned earlier, and as most children from an African household will tell you, there is a lot that is expected of you by your parents. When we moved to the United States, it was imperative that we went to school.

Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.

Our school has a community student-run outreach clinic, which is a great experience for 1st year students to get clinical exposure right away. I have volunteered at this clinic and I have enjoyed the opportunity of working with great 2nd- and 3rd-year students, as well as doctors who mentor you along the way.

It is a rewarding experience to see how much the patients, who mostly don’t have medical insurance, appreciate the care that they receive. This is something that I am looking forward to being a part of as I continue my medical education in South Bend.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

I do all my studying at home in my office. I do most of my studying in the early morning around 4 a.m. and try to get as much done as I can before my wife gets home from work so that I may have dinner with her and get to catch up on life.

During my Sabbath, I have 24 hours of non-school related time to spend with my family and friends. I go to church and sing in the choir.

What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?

To those applying to medical school, I would say do not let your dreams be destroyed by anyone or anything. There will always be a challenge and getting past that challenge is what makes it all worth it.

To those who have applied and are looking at different schools, I would make sure that you choose a place that will make you a better person overall. If possible, talk to students attending that school and find out what they like and would like to see done differently, and then make a decision about what fit that would be for you.

Remember, that everyone is different and that you should not change who you are to fit in with an environment that is not enriching to you. Do not forget to listen to the people who brought you this far as they have an outside view which I always found to be valuable.

If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?

Many people will tell you that medicine is not all it used to be because of all the regulations in the profession today, but do not let that deter you from pursuing what I believe is still a great profession, because you are here to make people better.

When you focus on the important things then you won’t be distracted when things come up, which they always will. Find out what you love and go for it.

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