Medical School: Charles Drew University of Science and Medicine
Dr. Rodriguez, associate dean for student affairs and diversity at Drexel University College of Medicine, talks about his early influences, his motivations to become a doctor, and offers guidance for aspiring doctors.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up with a single mother, and she knew that she couldn't afford for us to get sick. There was no such thing as preventive care in the 1960s. So every August before the start of the school year, we would go to the doctors to get our shots and make sure we were healthy for school. I can still see myself at age 6 standing on the white exam table talking with my pediatrician. My physician, Dr. Marvin Strick, was incredible! From then on I wanted to be a doctor.
Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?
I have had the privilege of more than one role model to listen to me and give me guidance: Mr. Lassiter in freshman high school English; Sister Baptist, my high school physics teacher; Brother Smulders, my biology professor at Loyola Marymount University (LMU); Father Merrifield, the president and chancellor emeritus at LMU and Dr. Charles Marks, my advisor and an African-American cardiologist at Charles Drew University of Science and Medicine. Each one of these teachers and advisors were there at many crucial points of my life and I honor them by being there for my students today.
Were you worried about taking the MCAT exam?
Not particularly. Fortunately I've performed well on standardized tests. Needless to say, good preparation is vital to success.
Did you need financial aid to pay for undergraduate and medical school?
I got through my undergraduate college almost entirely on academic and need based scholarships. The $4000 in loans I accrued, I paid off working during and after college, before medical school. So, I started medical school debt free, but then went into debt to pay for my medical education. The loans were well worth borrowing!
Do you remember your first day of medical school? What memory stands out the most?
I remember the dean of student affairs talking about how we, the medical students were a very important investment for the institution. He discussed how we had passed a lot of the barriers to get to medical school and had demonstrated great ability by being accepted. He emphasized that it was no longer about competition, or a weeding out process, but rather about hard work and dedication. The faculty's job from that point forward was to help us learn and finish successfully. That is advice that I share with my students to this day.
If you had not become a doctor, what other career would you have considered?
Honestly, I have no clue. There wasn't a second choice. If I had not been accepted into medical school after the first try, I would have applied again.
If you could do it over again, would you?
Absolutely! It's the best job in the world. But you should do it because it's what you want to do and because medicine is your passion. If you are in it for the fame or the money, you may want to rethink the choice
How do you balance your time between medical practice and work in academic medicine?
When I first took the position of associate dean for student affairs and diversity, my patients were very worried I would not continue as their physician. So I scaled back my hours to part-time. With the world of electronic medical records and e-mails, I was able to remain a practicing physician. Even with these aids, it is challenging. I spend 60 percent of my time at the practice and 60 percent at the university! I know that adds up to more than 100 percent. But I love it. I feel that my clinical experience gives me credibility in the academic and curricular discussions at the medical school.
Talk for a second about your work on the underrepresentation of minorities in medicine?
One project I have taken on at Drexel is the AAMC's Holistic Review Pilot Project. This project will give guidance to schools as they look beyond the standardized test scores (MCAT) and grades when deciding on admission to medical schools. Another project I am working on is The Batts Dinner, honoring graduating students from the traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.
How about turning the tables. If there is one person that you could sit down and interview for inspiration, who would it be?
President Jimmy Carter. His post-presidential life has been fascinating.
Offer one piece of advice to aspiring doctors.
Talk to people along the way, get advice, and get good mentors and advisors. Be proactive, go out and find the answers you need to be successful, find the support of people that have been there and done it, or are in the process of doing it. Sometimes people who get stuck along the way have not had the benefit of good guidance in their life. A good mentor can make a great deal of difference in the path to success.
What word would you use to describe yourself?
Who is your favorite musician/band?
The B52's. I'd see them live whenever I could.
What is your favorite book/what was the last book that you read?
"The Sandman" series by Neil Gaiman.
Who is your favorite medical doctor on TV?
Hawk Eye Pierce from the M*A*S*H sitcom.