Undergraduate: University of Chicago, 2007
Major: BS in biological chemistry and BA in chemistry
Medical school: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 2013
Residency: Johns Hopkins Bayview; Internal Medicine, 2016
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had never planned on being a physician. I honestly thought I’d be a research scientist working in a lab full-time. My mother even distinctly recalls me saying as a child that I did not want to be a physician because I was worried about malpractice (I was quite precocious).
What led to your interest in medicine?
I first began to move away from the physical sciences when I started studying the social sciences. I later spent a period of time living in Spain where I focused on language and cultural studies. Then I did an internship in community based participatory action research. This all led me to value human interaction more than bench research.
The most salient experience that pointed me directly towards a career in medicine was when I chose to become an HIV/STI test counselor for a youth shelter. It was my first experience of having a direct impact on a stranger’s life, being a comfort during sad news, and providing reassurance when the news was good. It was a very rewarding time.
Who or what inspired you?
The nurse practitioners and HIV/STI test counselors at the youth shelter really were some of the most impressive people I had worked with.
What made you decide to go to medical school?
I had had several unfavorable experiences with physicians and became so frustrated that I resolved to become a physician and to treat my patients better than I had been treated.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
I did not have robust support or discouragement when I was applying to medical school.
I do recall that many of the physicians I knew were happy to hear I was applying to medical school but they all said, “Make sure it’s what you want to do.” They saw a career in medicine as rewarding but also challenging in ways that can tax a lot of people.
How did you prepare for the medical school application process?
I was very detail oriented when it came to the application process: checklists, calendar reminders, and working many hours to pay for the process.
Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?
I was a little concerned about taking a standardized test as I had not taken one in over four years. Consequently, I took a test-prep course.
Did you need financial aid to pay for medical school?
Absolutely. When I first opened my financial aid package I thought, “Guess I won’t be going to medical school.” I had to find many other avenues to financially support my medical training.
Do you remember your first day of medical school? What memory stands out the most?
I had a gap of two years before going to medical school, so I remember my first memory of walking into class and feeling overwhelmed with joy at getting started in my career aspiration.
What was your first year of medical school like?
It was challenging yet rewarding. The year is a blur of studying, lab work, and extracurricular activities.
What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?
I have a career interest in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) health. However, in my opinion medical training is woefully deficient in LGBT health. On top of this, there were a few homophobic/discriminatory comments made by my student peers and one faculty member. I felt that I had to dedicate a substantial amount of my time to address these obstacles.
For example, I led a student/faculty group that focused on providing a forum for LGBT members of the community to meet to discuss ways of improving the climate at Hopkins and how to address disparities in LGBT health. Our efforts in recruitment, curriculum reform, and educational programming have been recognized by many students and administrators as improving the climate at Hopkins and making it a more welcoming environment where LGBT students and faculty are valued members of the Hopkins community.
What makes your story unique?
It’s difficult to say. We all think we’re unique. I would say I’m unique in being an out medical student; there aren’t many out LGBT medical students, especially ones that have been involved in the national policy scene.
How did you balance the demands of medical school with these additional obligations and challenges?
It is all about priorities. You must make (not find) the time for what matters to you. I made certain to set aside time for family and friends and stuck to that. I also was meticulous and rigid in managing my time; my schedule is organized down to 15 minute intervals.
What did you enjoy most about medical school?
The intensity of learning is amazing. You don’t realize how much you know until the end and then you realize you know a lot (and have a lot more to learn).
What surprised you the most about medical school?
Having working in a community health center, I was used to a fairly egalitarian approach to team work, and everyone was known by their first name from CEO to PA to MD. However, medical school was very hierarchical and there is a clear chain of command/communication that must be followed. Also, a student must never call a physician by their first name (as I learned after a visit to the dean’s office). Students and interns are tasked with performing scut work and I found that attendings and fellows could be aloof. I do not find this system a welcoming one and it can be surprisingly frustrating.
Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.
As noted above, I am an out gay physician, which is not entirely unique but not common; there is still a large number of closeted physicians. Consequently, I became an LGBT expert and advocate within medical training.
Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
I’ve been very involved in national level organizations and non-profits, most notably the American Medical Student Association, Doctors for America, American Medical Association, and GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Health. Within AMSA and DFA, I advocated for LGBT issues and the ACA (I was most involved in the early parts of the passage of the ACA with DFA); I wrote policy, organized grassroots responses to political challenges to the ACA, and spoke with legislators on LGBT issues. Within the AMA and GLMA, I served on LGBT-specific committees to improve LGBT health training in medical schools.
How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
I think it takes time to find the right balance - I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
I think it is especially important to have more to life than just a career in medicine. To that effect, I highly encourage anyone considering applying to medical school to take time “off” before going back to school (at least 1 to 2 years). In my experience, those who take time “off” are more emotionally mature, able to manage the demands of medical training, and tend to interact better with patients.
Do you have additional information or thoughts to share that would be helpful to prospective students?
Studying the humanities, reading outside of the sciences, and exploring ethics will enrich medical training and challenge your self to think about the entire person, not just the disease. This is a paramount perspective to have and develop to be a successful physician.
What advice would you give to medical students interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?
Get involved in policy work early on, familiarize yourself with what other organizations are doing to advance your causes/issues, and be familiar with all the social determinants of health that affect the well-being of patients and communities.