Premed perspective: AAMC summer interns

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Every summer, the AAMC offers internship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to gain experience by assisting with initiatives, programs, and services. Students who intern at the AAMC are interested in a variety of careers, but each year there are several interns who are aspiring physicians. We were curious to find out what led to their interest in medicine, how they motivate themselves as they work toward their goal, and what they have learned while working at the AAMC.

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Two interns standing next to each other for picture



Alexzander Ballard, biology major at Hampton University, class of 2018 
Lily Olson, public health major at Johns Hopkins University, class of 2019

What department do you work with at the AAMC and what have you worked on this summer?

Alex: I am a member of the Human Capital Initiatives team in the Diversity Policy and Programs unit. Our work concentrates on preparing individuals as they progress from premedical students to physicians, faculty, researchers, and administrators. As a premedical student, I can draw from my past experiences and inspirations to encourage those with similar interests as we pursue medicine together. I am currently working on several projects to increase awareness about health professions, as well as character development programs.

Lily: This is my second summer working for the Medical Education department at the AAMC. Last summer, I surveyed medical school deans of curriculum about their current training offerings in pain and substance use disorders for a project trying to combat the opioid epidemic. This summer, I’m continuing that work while doing more research on medical school training in the context of the opioid epidemic.

What is something interesting you learned about the AAMC during your internship?

Alex: I had the opportunity to learn about MedEdPORTAL, which is an open-access journal that publishes peer-reviewed education and teaching tools across a variety of medical and dental specialties. Overall, I have learned that the AAMC is not only an essential resource for medical students but also for medical schools, student affairs professionals, and medical education pipeline programs as well as for assessing proactive health solutions.

Lily: This is my second summer interning at the AAMC, and I am still trying to wrap my head around all the work that goes on here. For example, the AAMC influences medical school curriculum and helps to shape what and how medical students learn. Additionally, the AAMC does policy and advocacy work on behalf of medical schools and teaching hospitals, such as securing research funding or advocating in favor of or in opposition to various rules and regulations.

What led to your interest in medicine?

Lily: When I was a senior in high school, I went to a lecture about health disparities in my hometown of Chicago. That lecture opened my eyes to the field of public health and the health disparities all around us, and I knew that I wanted to have a career in the health sector to hopefully contribute to a more equitable health system. I decided to pursue medicine because of the direct impact it has on people and their health, and from various volunteer and work opportunities, I realized that I enjoy working with people in the clinical context as it is such an impactful and fascinating way to improve health outcomes.

Is there anyone who has been a mentor or role model for you?

Alex: My older brother is a huge mentor for me. He recently finished his internal medicine residency at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. I have several people I can go to for advice and input about my process, but my brother is always able to be honest with me and encourage me at the same time. It’s important to have someone who will be consistently genuine and motivate you whether they are a family member or a friend. 

What extracurricular activities, volunteer work, or research are you involved in?

Alex: After serving as an active member in the Minority Association of Premed Scholars, I was appointed as the clinical shadowing chair. My responsibility was to provide students with shadowing opportunities at local hospitals. I also participated in a medical volunteer trip to the Dominican Republic where we provided basic health care to several underserved communities. In addition, I contributed to a qualitative study on prostate cancer at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City; the research article is currently under review for publication. Each experience was a result of my active engagement with professors and classmates who kept me informed of the opportunities available. 

Lily: I do research at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health with the Center for Drug Safety and Efficacy, where I worked on a project about opioid regulations. I also volunteer at a nonprofit in Baltimore serving as a case manager to connect people with insurance and various other health needs. On campus, I help to plan the Spring Fair, a student-run weekend that brings food trucks, musicians, and fair rides to our school — I am on the food committee bringing all the food vendors to campus.

What helps you stay motivated as you prepare to apply to medical school?

Alex: I listen to motivational speeches by Eric Thomas, a motivational speaker, and my current favorite is titled “Success in Your Routine”. The theme is find what works for you and stick with it. In those moments when you realize it is really hard and it is going to take more than you planned for; your routine will do the work for you. Of course, there’s going to be days when you drop the ball or don’t follow the routine, but having the routine in the first place will help you stay on course.

Lily: Where I volunteer, I’ve worked with people who have had very difficult times navigating the health care system, including negative experiences with health care providers. Hearing about those situations reminds me of why I want to go into medicine and motivates me to keep working so that I can one day be in a better position to help. That being said, there have been times when I reconsidered a career in medicine. But then eventually I would come across a YouTube video of medical students or talk to one in real life and get excited again to one day be able to devote four years to learning about proteins and diseases and health, and the work now is worth that opportunity.

What’s the best advice you have received so far as you prepare to apply for medical school?

Alex: To remind myself that it’s possible. It is very important to say that – sometimes out loud – when you have doubts, when you want to change careers, or when you want to give up. The fact that it’s possible helps me remember that I can do it.

Lily: Some good advice I’ve received for preparing for medical school is to plan out how you fit in your major and premed requirements into your schedule in advance and make sure you save space to take classes just because they seem interesting and fun.

Congratulations to these two interns on their accomplishments and hard work. It has been wonderful having them on board at the AAMC, and we wish them well on their paths to becoming doctors. To learn more about other students’ paths to medical school and their advice for aspiring physicians, visit Inspiring Stories.

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