Edem Abotsi

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Edem's first medical school application wasn't successful, but he was accepted after gaining research experience and improving his MCAT® score.

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Undergraduate: Stanford University, 2006
Major: International Relations
Medical school: Howard Medical College, 2018

What led to your interest in medicine?

My parents were lifelong educators, and for as far back as I can remember, they emphasized the importance of education and serving others. My father was a scientist and chemistry professor who would often teach me how science applies to life. This early and frequent exposure to science was key to stimulating my initial interest and foundation. Additionally, learning about the science behind our health decisions, and the outcomes that result, is immensely gratifying to me. This informs the rationale for which health habits are promoted and enables me to more deeply grasp the impact of the decisions that we make. These are some of the reasons that led to my initial interest and current passion for how, through science, I can positively impact fellow women and men.

Who or what inspired you?

My parents’ grit and determination to succeed through education has been my deepest inspiration. My mom and dad came to the United States from Ghana as grant recipients seeking to further their education.

They arrived separately in the late 1970s at State College, Pennsylvania, forgoing the familiarity of home and of their native culture, determined to excel and pay it forward as educators. Despite the challenges of immigrating to a new country alone with little money or support, both went on to earn doctoral degrees and become U.S. citizens. Since the untimely death of my dad when I was thirteen, I have been galvanized by my mother’s unrelenting faith and strength to raise three children.

These experiences and stories have shaped how I appreciate opportunity and confront challenges in life. I am grateful for the values my parents have instilled in me and humbled by the path they’ve taken to help me realize my own dreams of making a positive impact on others through medicine.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT® exam?

Like many students, I developed great anxiety around the MCAT exam. While it is just one component of the medical school application, I clearly understood its importance in my candidacy. I can now look back and say that the preparation process taught me a great deal of basic science and strengthened my discipline, focus, and resilience.

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

Taking practice exams from prior years was key to my preparation, as they helped me develop familiarity with the test content and improve my performance measurably. Initially, I did not achieve the scores I desired despite intense study, so I incorporated taking practice tests, which helped immensely.

For applicants, I recommend learning basic sciences covered on the MCAT exam and taking several practice tests. This process taught me how to translate knowledge of the sciences into what the test seeks to measure.

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

The wonder, excitement, and anticipation of the first day of school has never ceased to amaze me. From first grade through college, the first day of school for me has always been filled with excitement, and medical school was no different. That being said, rest, prayer, and academic preparation were my keys to having a good first day.

What was your first year of medical school like?

At Howard Medical College, I am fortunate to have incredibly passionate, talented, and supportive students and instructors. The commitment to teamwork and service to our community demonstrates the values I seek in my medical school environment.

Even in such a supportive environment, my first year of medical school was very challenging. The stress was high, and I struggled to cope with the highs and lows that come with performing well or poorly on exams. I overcame these initial challenges by being organized, exercising discipline, and leveraging the great support system that Howard offers. Through study groups, and learning to study more effectively, I improved my performance.

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

After my first year of medical school, I participated in Nth Dimensions, a phenomenal program founded by Dr. Bonnie Simpson-Mason that focuses on increasing the number of underrepresented doctors in the field of orthopedic surgery. I was placed in a summer internship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) with pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lawrence Wells, who also serves as a mentor. Under the guidance of Dr. Wells, I conducted research, observed surgeries — including the first bilateral hand transplant on a child — and regularly engaged with patients and their families. The mentorship from these two talented physicians, along with this invaluable opportunity to learn, practice medicine, and serve others, affirmed my belief that medicine is the right field for me.

What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?

Medical school has been a journey of tremendous persistence and determination as I applied to medical school more than once. I improved my candidacy by retaking the MCAT exam after tailoring my exam preparation towards using practice exams, and gaining invaluable research experience at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and other research entities.

What do you enjoy most about medical school?

There are several things I enjoy about medical school. Anatomy lab opens your eyes to the trust and responsibility that exists between the doctor and patient. When you find people who are selfless and donate their bodies to science, I feel an immense debt to their kindness. I want to translate this gratitude into making sure I learn well and apply this knowledge to help those that can benefit from their sacrifice. I also enjoy the elegant, surreal complexity of the human body; I find it humbling and marvel at what it takes to promote a healthy human. Additionally, interacting with patients is deeply satisfying. I feel a deep sense of fulfilment in helping people and seeing their lives improve as a result.

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

As an African American male, I am constantly reminded of the obligation I have to make a return on the investments many teachers, family, and mentors have put forth to ensure my success. Jackie Robinson stated, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." In my personal life, I have benefitted from mentors that go above and beyond to ensure the successful matriculation of African American medical students.

One such mentor is Dr. Bonnie Simpson-Mason, an orthopedic surgeon, who has been a trailblazer in creating opportunities for students such as myself to successfully match in their residency. Through her program, Nth Dimensions Educational Solutions Inc., I was able to find the mentorship of Dr. Lawrence Wells, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — an invaluable experience. Through working with him, I am able to see how one can balance life as a person devoted towards helping their community, a great father and husband, and an individual devoted towards providing exceptional care for their patients. These experiences remind me that there is much that can be done in the realm of health, especially for the African American community. Especially since certain diseases, such as cardiovascular health, disproportionately affect my community. I want to draw upon my skills to help create solutions to problems unique to my community and many others, because good health is something that everyone, no matter their background, wants and deserves. These experiences are factors that shape my outlook on medicine as a result of my unique demographic.

What specialties are your current top choices?

Currently, my top choices involve surgery and pediatrics. With more clinical experience in my third year, I will be able to make a more informed decision. I am amazed by children’s incredible capacity to heal, and I’m inspired to help them become healthy enough to regularly participate in the joys of life at a young age.

I’m drawn to surgery because during my first year in medical school, I tore my Achilles’ tendon and had to learn to re-establish movement with a cast, a boot, crutches, and a scooter-like device designed to increase mobility for those with one functional leg. This was my first long-term experience as a patient. One of the greatest obstacles in my injury was not the physical limitation, but the psychological paradigm shift that accompanies lost mobility. My personal experience with injury enables me to empathize with patients and better understand the field of surgery and recovery.

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

Mentors are some of the most important people in your journey. Seek them out early and often, and engage them as a primary resource to intently research the field that most interests you.

My mentor, Dean David Taylor, helped me realize that being a successful medical student involves not only focusing and excelling in the classroom, but also balancing other areas of your life to be able to devote a large part of yourself to learning. This insight underscores why I believe mentors are a key asset, given their experience and ability to provide advice beyond the classroom.

Additionally, applicants should spend time shadowing doctors. Ask doctors how they manage to spend time with family, interests outside of medicine, and an outlook on the future of their particular field. Additionally, research how physicians manage the costs of malpractice insurance, repay loans, and save for their children’s college education. The more information you have, the more you can have a grounded, fact-based justification of what you are committing to, and how your happiness will be enhanced with these decisions. I’ve found that there is no one right answer, and various perspectives have helped and will continue to shape my career in medicine.

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