Jasmine Johnson

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How one medical student balances life as a newlywed and a mother.

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Medical School: Indiana University School of Medicine, 2014

What led to your interest in a career in medicine? Who or what inspired you?

My early interest in medicine is credited to my father, and tagging along with him during his rounds.

The nurses in our hometown hospital probably wished they could have given to me "HIPAA for Nine-Year-Olds" as I peeked in patients’ charts to pass the time until my dad was finished. Of course, to them I was just a nosy little girl who had no idea what she was looking at, but as I read my first History and Physical, I became drawn to the profession.

After my first trip behind the scenes at the hospital, something sparked within me and fueled me to learn everything I could. It was as though the more I learned about illness the more I was fascinated with cures, and how I could ease the pain of suffering by becoming a healthcare provider. 

How did you prepare for the application process?

First I contacted a pre-medical advisor at my undergraduate campus around my sophomore year, and spoke with her about the coursework that I would need to complete and how to do that within my target graduation date. I would follow up with her periodically to make sure that I was still on track.

In addition, I was active in many campus organizationsholding leadership positions in manyand I also did a semester of research. To prepare for the MCAT, I took a prep course in the summer I was scheduled to take the exam. 

If you participated in a special program, such as a combined degree, fellowship, or research work please describe your experience:

Sophomore year I participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. I was granted one of my most rewarding academic experiencesa research position in the plastination lab of the University of Michigan Medical School. The purpose of the lab was to enrich gross anatomy education for medical students around the country by supplying facilities with anatomical learning tools.

I independently dissected a number of human organs to prepare them to be plastinated. Not only did I become familiar with a number of surgical tools and techniques, but I also learned a tremendous amount about human organs and systems from a perspective that could not be equaled by any textbook.

After graduation, I matriculated into the Masters of Science in Medical Science program. The M.S.M.S. program is a two-year masters program that was developed to better prepare students for admission to medical school. The curriculum mimics the first and second years of medical school at IUSM. In addition, there is a 10-week MCAT prep to help you increase your score.

Some students apply straight to the program and other students are recommended for the program because they are not accepted into the medical school, like I was. Students can either complete the two years of the program for their masters or they can leave the program after the first year and enter medical school if accepted. Students have gotten into schools all over the country, not just IUSM. 

Please describe related volunteer work or military experience that relates to your career:

My desire to relate to others has significantly molded me into the person I am today. For this reason I am drawn to people and the diversity of human experience.

Early on, I found my niche in the form of advising, providing mentorship, and promoting education for my peers. I have held a number of leadership positions in volunteer organizations and continuously seek to work with younger students who share similar dreams.

To share my research experience with other students, I became a biomedical peer advisor for the undergraduate research opportunity program. Every year, I guided thirty students in their own introduction to the research community at the university and helped expose them to the diversity of the medical field.

In addition, as the president of the Black Volunteer Network on my campus, I worked to bridge the ever-increasing resource gap for all youth in our education system. Through these experiences I increased my interest in using my education to help improve my community's quality of life. 

What obstacles or hurdles did you overcome in your medical school journey?  

The summer before my senior year of college, I found out that I was pregnant and it definitely knocked me off my feet. Although I initially had no idea how I could get through medical school with a child, I decided to move forward in my application process. The following January, I had my son, and two weeks later I had to go to my first medical school interviews.

Ultimately, I received 14 rejections and was placed on one waitlist for medical school, but I was still further along than anyone thought I would be.

May was a hard month because after the excitement died down from graduation, I realized I had no contingency plan if I didn’t go to medical school. In their rejection letter, Indiana University recommended me for a graduate program to prepare me for the next application process.

That program started two weeks after the date on the letter. Although rushed, I packed up the baby and we moved to Indianapolismy fiancé was unable to leave his job and had to stay in Michigan. 

Are you a member of a unique demographic? Please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.

When anyone hears about what I am doing (newlywed, newly med, and a mommy) I get this look of surprise followed by, “I don’t know how you do it. You are awesome.” Honestly, although I feel like I am managing quite well (with God and the help of an amazing support system), the real accolades go to my classmates with more than one kidsome of them have four or five! Those of us who are parents (there aren’t a ton of us, but there are a lot more than you would think) are like a little secret societyswapping multi-tasking successes and milestone stories.  

It definitely has its challenges, but I think that the best thing you can do is decide what your priorities are and stick to them. Having our lectures recorded is a HUGE help, because if I ever do have to stay home with the little one, I don’t have to fall behind. 

In order to balance you have to be VERY organized, be willing to ask for help, accept the fact that you can’t do everything, and have strict priorities. For example, family will always come before school for me. When my son is sick and needs me, I will be there for him. I am also very blessed to have a supportive husband, my mom, and his mom always there to lend a hand, especially during exam blocks. 

I consider myself a very independent person, so at first it was hard for me to not be able to do everythingsuch as cook dinner more or always be there to tuck in my sonbut I have realized that the quality of time with him is more important than the quantity of time. I try and make my free time memorable and meaningfulinstead of just sitting around watching TV or something.

As my son gets older he is more vocal about being upset when I have to leave to go study, which can be heartbreaking at times. I try to include him as much as I canwhen I study at home, he is usually right beside me with his own “notes” and crayons…. but really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is a unique sense of grounding that comes with having to put all the craziness of med school aside when you get home to dance around with a toddler and his Hokey Pokey Elmo. It reminds me that life is still going on beyond class and exams, and it helps to take the time to stop and enjoy it. 

What has surprised you the most about medical school?

The biggest surprise has been the workload. Everyone tells you that you are going to barely survive because medical school courses are so intense. To some extent that is true, because it is difficult, but it’s a lot better than how I expected it to be.

Also, everyone makes it seem like when you get into medical school you are going to be disconnected from civilization for the next four years. Many of my classmates still indulge in their social life and extracurricular activities, and I am still able to be the mom I want to be.

It’s just a matter of maintaining balance and doing what works best for you. 

What one thing would you want to change about the way medicine is currently practiced?

Although I haven’t really gotten into the clinical aspects of practicing medicine, I have been able to talk to many patients about their experiences with their health. I would change the plight that many individuals face when they are in need of healthcare and either do not have access to a healthcare provider, or do not have the money to receive the treatment they need.

At times we don’t realize how these growing disparities ultimately affect everyone. Eliminating these disparities in healthcare should be as much the physician's responsibility as the government's. 

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

When you study for the MCAT, make sure that you are able to effectively concentrate just on the task of studying for at least a couple months before the exam. Even though you can always take it again if you aren’t happy with your score, it’s great when you get it right the first time, and don’t have to.

Second, APPLY EARLY! This is especially important if you don’t have as competitive as an application as you would like. It doesn’t hurt to get it in well before the deadlineas deadlines start to approach even some of the greatest applicants may get turned away.

Finally, be yourself. If there is a hobby, activity, or skill that you have or love to do, don’t be afraid to talk about it in your interview. The best doctors are the ones that are down to earth and have genuine personalities. 

Do you have additional information or thoughts to share that would be helpful to prospective students?

For the women who find themselves in the same situation as I was, I advise you to never stop. If this is something that you really feel you are called to do, then go for it, and God will find a way. Don’t let anyone tell you that what you are doing is impossible or cannot be done.

There are women doing this and way more, so keep pushing. It has its difficult days, but I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s situation.

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