Kofi Mensah

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Kofi's work with children with terminal illnesses led him to pursue an MD and a PhD

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Kofi Mensah

Medical School: University of Rochester School of Medicine, 2011

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

I've had a long-standing interest in how the human body works and in science in general. In high school, I learned the importance of community service and leaving my community greater than I found it. I felt that becoming a physician would be the best way to develop and cultivate my interest in human biology and contribute to enhancing society.

While in college, I was struck by the disconnect between the discoveries being made in biomedical science and the abilities of medical practice to cure or effectively treat many diseases. I saw this firsthand, for example, while doing interviews with Alzheimer's disease patients' families to see if the latest available treatments which could stall cognitive decline were being prescribed early enough in the disease course. I found that there was a considerable gap between the time a physician made the diagnosis and when treatment was initiated, which allowed further cognitive decline to occur. These families had a tremendous amount of suffering and adjustment to go through with this mind-robbing disease and knowing that treatment was available but not getting to the patients troubled me. Later on in my college years, the human genome had been fully sequenced yet while we had molecular biology tools available to make such groundbreaking discoveries, we were still decades away from using these technologies routinely to rapidly diagnose and treat diseases.

Working as a volunteer at the local children's hospital galvanized this feeling that more could be done. I worked with children suffering from debilitating and sometimes terminal illnesses in which biomedical research had increased our understanding of the cause of the disease and offered new ways to study ways of treating the conditions, but the translation to the clinic was still yet to come. This fostered a desire to want to bridge the gap between our understanding of human biology and the application of this knowledge in treating patients. As a result, I decided to pursue both an M.D. and a Ph.D. with the thought that solid training in both research and clinical medicine would equip me with the tools to be able to contribute to bridging the gap between the bench and bedside for the betterment of human health.

How did you prepare for the application process?

To prepare for the application process, I spoke with the pre-health advisor at my college as well as biomedical researchers and physicians. I also read the MSAR and looked up more about what was needed to prepare adequately for medical school and M.D.-Ph.D. training. I compared the programs I was applying to by looking at their websites as well as other resources that compiled statistics and reviews on schools.

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

I am in the Medical Scientist Training Program at my medical school, and I have found it to be the best choice for my intended career goals. In the program, I have learned how to effectively combine clinical and research medicine. I have also had exposure to several model physician-scientists and advice from various faculty and more senior students.

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

My advice to new applicants would be to spend time with people in the field. Applicants should really get to know what daily life as a physician is like and determine if that is how they see themselves in the future. If you can only get a chance to volunteer at a hospital/clinic and not a chance to shadow a physician directly, try to get the contact information of some physicians at the hospital/clinic and ask them if they would have some time to sit and talk with you.

Equally important is to determine if the rigors of medical school are something you are ready/want to handle. The path to becoming a physician is a long and often taxing one, so you must be sure that you will not be disillusioned by the necessary long hours and late nights of studying and minimal sleep with the adjustments that may be necessary in your social life. I would strongly suggest talking with current medical students or alumni from your college who have gone through medical school and get a sense of what it is like to go through the medical school curriculum, what exams will be required along the way and what clinical rotations will be like.

Do not be discouraged, but know what to expect so you can prepare adequately ahead of time and the adjustment will not be as difficult/surprising. When evaluating schools, it is important to know what you want from a school and its surrounding environment. Sometimes, asking why current students like the school may not give you as much information as directly asking if the school has the things you personally like.

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