Michael On'Gele

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Witnessing the health disparities in his community motivates Michael to want to practice in urban areas.

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Undergraduate: Howard University, 2014
Major: Biology
Medical school: Duke University School of Medicine, 2018

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Growing up, I always wanted to be a circuit court judge because I found the study of criminal law fascinating. I would frequently watch criminal justice shows such as Law and Order, CSI, and the First 48. During my years of adolescence, I witnessed the youth in my community becoming a part of the criminal justice system.  I had a desire to make a change, and rectify the problematic criminal justice system.

What led to your interest in medicine?

Even though the influence of the street life surrounded and shaped me, my family nurtured me and gave me a bright outlook on life. As I grew older, I started to hear terms such as HIV, AIDS, and STDs. It seemed as though these diseases were reoccurring themes in the discussion of health in Prince George’s County, Maryland. My first memory of the words hypertension and diabetes came from overhearing my parents’ conversations. My community has been suffering from health disparities for a long time. Even to this day, it is hard to talk about the disparities affecting the urban inner city of D.C. without mentioning Prince George’s County.

My personal history has instilled in me a deep concern for the overall health of my community and those around me. Coming from an environment where I was on the verge of becoming a lost soul swept up in the street life, confronting the challenges of growing pains, together with the pain from the loss of my father, has reaffirmed my commitment to medicine. I hope to dedicate my life to those who are dealing with sickness and disease in the urban areas across America and give back to the two intertwined worlds that have shaped me.

Who or what inspired you?

My late father was my inspiration growing up. He was my role model, and replicated the true definition of a man. At the age of 21, my dad immigrated to the U.S. from Kisumu, Kenya, becoming the only person in his entire family to ever travel to the U.S. My father was able to enter a country where he had no relatives, persevere through cultural differences and pursue higher education. As I grew up and fully understood the totality of the life my father endured to be the man he was, this inspired me to strive for greatness. Although I have been blessed with many mentors along the journey, my dad will always be my hero.

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

I was never explicitly discouraged from applying to medical school, but I do believe that most people I knew growing up were completely shocked to see that I was able to turn my life around and make it into what it is today. I graduated from high school with a 1.99 GPA, and could not get accepted into any college or university upon graduating because my GPA was below average. During my junior year in high school, I almost got kicked out of school and became tired of consistently disappointing my parents. This is when I finally decided to turn my life around.  I let go of all the distractions, and focused on becoming the man God intended me to be.  I eventually attended Howard University, and the rest is history.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

My main goal upon starting the 2013 application cycle was to apply as early as possible. All of my letters of recommendation were requested months in advance. I had a team of editors ready to look over all of my essays, and most importantly I utilized the Center for Pre-professional Education on campus; they played a pivotal role in my success at applying early. 

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT Exam?

The MCAT was a beast! I took the MCAT twice and the retake put excessive fear and doubt in mind because I was so worried about how well I would do the second time around. I always had confidence in my ability, but at times the MCAT seemed so daunting. I learned how to look at the MCAT as an opportunity to show schools that academically I can succeed at their institution, rather than looking at it as an obstacle.

Did you need financial aid to pay for medical school?

Yes, Duke was very generous with their financial aid package. I have grants and loans to cover the costs.

Do you remember your first day of medical school? What memory stands out the most?

My first day of medical school seemed surreal. I remember sitting in the lecture hall and having the realization that my medical school journey has begun.

What makes your story unique?

My story is unique because it shows how one can defy the odds and pursue their dreams, while overcoming those roadblocks that life sets out in front of you. I want people in the generations to come to be able to look back on my experiences and realize that it is possible to chase your wildest dream and attain it. 

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

APPLY EARLY. So many qualified individuals will miss out on their chance to get accepted the year they would like to or attend the institution of their dreams solely because they applied to late. Be proactive at all times!

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

The journey to obtain a Doctor of Medicine degree is tough; I like to call it the road less traveled by. This journey will test you and make you shed blood, sweat and tears. If obtaining a medical degree is truly what you desire, then pursue it. Do not lose sight of your end goal, but it’s important that you live in the moment.

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