Britt DeRuyter

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A former nurse, and mother of four young children, Britt wants other non-traditional students to know that determination and motivation are more important in determining success than the time in your life that you start medical school.

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Undergraduate: St. Olaf College, 2007
Major: Biology
Medical school: Medical College of Wisconsin – Central Wisconsin

What led to your interest in medicine?

I was greatly inspired by all the physicians I knew and their incredible knowledge of health, disease and community. 

What experiences did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you? 

I was a nurse on a critical care unit for three years, and my position allowed me the opportunity to interact with patients and families during some of their most trying times.  As part of the front-line of intervention for these patients, I worked with many exceptional physicians and observed the impact that their knowledge and expertise had on improving the functionality and quality of life of many of our patients.  I believed my passion for caring for patients would only be maximized by obtaining a medical education, and I would be serving my community to the fullest of my ability. 

Who or what inspired you? 

My father is a well-respected primary care physician, and growing up it was very influential for me to see the positive reactions from his patients out in the community.  Hearing their gracious words about my father really helped personalize his work and help me understand the impact of what he did every day at the office.  I grew up believing the work of the physician to be admirable and honorable, and I always aspired to achieve that level of fulfillment. 

What made you decide to apply to medical school? 

As a nurse, I always had plans to further my education; however, as a mother of four young children, I found it difficult to decide on the best course for myself as well as my family.  After considering many different angles, my desire always returned to doing what I believed would achieve my fullest potential.  With healthcare experience and life experience to guide me, I decided to apply to medical school and have never doubted my decision since.

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

As a mother of four young children, there was inevitable surprise, skepticism and speculation surrounding my decision to apply to medical school.  Admittedly, many of those fears came from within myself.  With physicians in my family, I was very aware of the demands of medical school, residency and a career as a physician.  Even more demanding is the responsibility of raising a family.  Despite the many challenges, I have tremendous faith that my family’s sacrifices will be well worth the reward.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

 As a non-traditional student, my path to medical school had more forks and curves than is typical.  I needed time to grow and develop my interests in health care and spend time at home with my children before I felt truly ready to pursue this endeavor.  My experience as a nurse enhanced my motivation to purse medicine, and I took several prerequisite courses at a local community college and gathered solid letters of recommendation before I was ready to apply. 

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

I was very concerned about taking the MCAT.  I was over five years out from earning my undergraduate degree, there were no local pre-medicine advisors that could guide me in preparing for the exam, and I would be among the first individuals taking the newest version of the MCAT, so there was little information available regarding the best sources to prepare for it.  I felt very much like I was taking a stab in the dark, but fortunately it turned out well. 

What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam? 

Outline a month before your exam date to dedicate your efforts to what you need to study the most.  I purchased a series of review books and went through each of them.  For material I struggled to understand, I would search for animations to complement the text.  I felt the visual mode of learning added to my ability to both understand and recall the information effectively. 

Did you have any fears going into medical school?

I had to ask my husband to quit his job and stay home to help care for our young family.  We were giving up our income and living off loans.  I worried about how my children were going to be affected by my competing priorities.  There were many sacrifices being made by people around me so that I could pursue a medical education, and I couldn’t afford to let anyone down. 

How did you prepare for medical school before your first day?

I quit my nursing job and spent time with my children.  I knew there were about to be many times where I couldn’t always be there for them.  I spent a lot of fruitless time coaching my husband on tips for handling four boys under 6 by himself, knowing full well we would just have to figure it out as it came!  I tried not to worry about fitting in with the more traditional students in the class as I knew we all shared a common goal. 

What made your medical school the right fit for you?  

The convenience of the Central Wisconsin campus opening its doors to its first matriculating class in my city at the same time I was ready to apply cannot be overstated.  I did not have to uproot my family, sell our home, and move away from our support system. Additionally, my campus offers a three-year accelerated program, so I could save an entire year of tuition and enter the workforce a year sooner.  The decision was a simple one. 

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

I applied for federal loans, a loan from the Wisconsin Medical Society, and I was awarded a scholarship from the Friends of MCW for academic achievement after my first year. 

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

I met another student with a young family and similar goals.  Our families have been a source of support for each other throughout our journey through medical school. 

What was your first year of medical school like? 

The first year is a dramatic life change for anyone attending medical school.  I like to believe my experience as a parent and a nurse taught me a lot about multi-tasking and prioritizing when one feels pulled in all directions.  Our children at home didn’t become any less busy and the demands of school never lessened, but I discovered just how much I enjoyed what I was working towards.  My family learned to adapt, and not long after school began, the intensity and fast-paced nature of life became the new norm.  Despite the obvious challenges of raising a family while attending medical school in an accelerated program, I completed my first year rated number one academically in my class.  It speaks volumes of the sacrifices made by all those around me who had been working equally as hard to make the most of this opportunity.   

Did you have to change any of your study habits?

Surprisingly, I haven’t changed the way I study since I was in high school.  What changed over time was my motivation and interest in what I was learning.  I believe my success in medical school thus far is in large part due to my passion for what I am learning.  It is truly a privilege to learn how to identify, treat, and prevent disease when you have first-hand knowledge the impact it has on patients and entire communities.

Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school.

I enjoy volunteering in a broad variety of activities, including participating in activities sponsored through my children’s school, the Special Olympics, and many others that provide a fun outlet from school while benefiting the community.  Together with a local neurosurgeon, I helped initiate a spinal cord clinic to be a resource to individuals living with spinal cord injuries in Central Wisconsin and surrounding rural communities. 

I have revisited my passion for drawing and recently submitted a drawing that was accepted for publication in an MCW-edited magazine.  Additionally, photography is one of my greatest self-indulgences.  I love to capture family moments at home in stills, knowing that this unique point in our lives is traveling by faster than I can fully appreciate.  A photograph of one such moments was also accepted for publication in the magazine.    

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?  

Though it may seem counterintuitive, I am so thankful that I am able to attend medical school with a family.  My children bring so much joy and necessary distraction from medical school, and I believe they have kept me happier and certainly more motivated than I would have been without them.  Kids certainly don’t care whether I have an exam to study for when they come into my room to inform me it’s time to read a story or talk about a goal scored during recess at school that day.  

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?  

I work hard to make myself available to my family.  As an independent learner, I prefer to study and watch most lectures from home.  While my husband takes care of most of the business end of managing the family, I am present to help with the kids and maintain some sense of normalcy as a mother at home.  The struggle for balance will persist throughout my career; however, I find making a little time to enjoy the life that I am working so hard to build recharges me for the challenges ahead.  

What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey? 

The hardest part of getting to medical school was overcoming my own fears.  I spent many years self-doubting my ability to be a physician.  I feared I would not live up to my own expectations of a great physician.  I was especially skeptical after I started a family and could not recall one mother I knew personally who had gone to medical school with multiple children and was successful.  It was only after having more life experience that I realized I would never be satisfied unless I at least tried to go after my dreams.  No one was more surprised than myself at my successes thus far in medical school.  

What makes your story unique?

I like to think I can demonstrate to prospective non-traditional students that determination and motivation are more important in determining success than the time in your life that you start medical school.  For me, all the parts of my life that I was concerned would stand in the way of my success in medical school have been the most significant motivators for me to do well.   

What have you enjoyed most about medical school?  

I discovered how much I truly enjoy learning medicine.  I do not underestimate the responsibility of using the knowledge I’ve gained to educate and improve the lives of others.  This is a powerful motivator for me to study hard and learn from the physicians I follow.  Additionally, sharing this experience with my fellow students has provided me opportunities for friendship that I would not have expected to make otherwise. 

What surprised you the most about medical school?  

As much as I felt I understood that medical school would be fast-paced prior to applying, I was still amazed at the volume of information that is required to be absorbed in any given day.  In this way, medical school not only tests one’s comprehension, but also one’s stamina, adaptability, and mental toughness.  

What specialties are your current top choices?  

I am interested in dermatology and internal medicine.  I enjoy outpatient care with the opportunity to perform minor procedures.  I enjoy building relationships with patients and having the opportunity to manage complex disease. 

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

Take time to evaluate your goals.  Apply when your dedication to medicine and focus on learning is optimal.  This will ensure you perform well in medical school and offer a better chance of achieving your goal.  

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

Congratulations on your accomplishments thus far that have led to this point!  Every step to medical school requires hard work, but this is just the beginning.  Explore your interests early and utilize people in the field for advice.  This will help you make more insightful decisions about your future.  

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?

Medicine is an incredible field.  The ability to understand the workings of the human body is incredibly satisfying within itself.  The ability to use that knowledge to treat others is a privilege.  Make your well-being a priority as you work hard to become a physician and care for others.  Continue to cultivate your other passions as you work towards your goal, as these will be the sources of comfort and release when stress is high.  

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