Nicholas Beam

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Nicholas encourages pre-meds to explore interests outside of medicine because they will make you a better doctor and person in the long run.

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Undergraduate: Kalamazoo College, 2014
Major: Biology (minor: Music)
Medical school: Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, 2018

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

I remember really seriously starting to think about medicine in middle school and early high school as something I was strongly drawn to. I thought about becoming an astronaut, but my idea was to become a doctor and then serve as the medical officer on the shuttle mission team. So even with my non-medical interests being a doctor was at the center of them.

What led to your interest in medicine?

My mom is a pediatric nurse, so I was exposed to medicine early in life. My real interest began in 5th grade when I had my first exposure to human biology. We started learning the organ systems and immediately I was hooked. I would come home from school every day and recount to my mom the things we had learned that day in our health class. The biology behind the human body and health fascinated me from my first exposure.

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

In undergrad, I was lucky to be able to spend 6 months studying abroad in Thailand. While there, I interned at an organization, Free Burma Rangers, which provided medical care to rural hill tribe villages in the mountains of Burma. The villagers they worked with were suffering from quite debilitating conditions, often related to problems like malnutrition. In conversations with the medics who worked with these villagers, it was apparent how a simple vitamin to fill a nutritional deficit could completely change someone’s life.

The villagers were unbelievably appreciative of this, but what blew me away was how the medics themselves were changed so dramatically by these experiences. I don’t have the words to explain how humbling of an experience it was for me to see that, and I can only hope that one day I am able to experience something similar to what the medics shared with me.

Who or what inspired you?

One of my earlier exposures to how a doctor works was with my pediatrician, Dr. Randall Dyk. While I was still figuring out that I definitely wanted to become a doctor, I was able to spend some time working with him and just talking to him about life as a doctor, and the way he talked about trying to help families and children with their health was inspiring. He really cared deeply about his patients. This statement of caring was 100% backed-up by the way he worked with his patients to ensure they were being cared for in the best possible way and provided me with an excellent model of what a great physician can be.

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

When I first told my parents I wanted to be a doctor, my mom shared with me how challenging life as a doctor was: the training is difficult, the hours are long, and the expectations are high. She emphasized that medicine is not what it appears to be on television. However, this challenge was actually very formative for me because it challenged me to evaluate why I wanted to become a doctor. I realized that nothing else has ever made me want to work as hard as medicine, let alone enjoy working so hard.

Once I had really evaluated my motivations and knew for certain that medicine was for me, my parents were unbelievably supportive, helping me with my application, preparing for interviews, and being a support network when I needed to talk through things. I am truly lucky to have them.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

At Kalamazoo College, our pre-med advisor runs a short seminar series that all students applying to medical school have to go to. She goes through the application process and how to effectively complete the various components of the application. On top of that, I submitted a draft of my personal statement so that my advisor could provide feedback to make sure I was writing something that would effectively share my story. We also went through a mock interview process as a final piece of preparation for the application cycle. It made me feel more at ease and prepared for the long cycle and I appreciated the support.

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

Honestly, aside from the paperwork I had to fill out prior to starting school, I prepared by trying not to do medical school related things. My perspective was that I would spend more that enough time studying once I was in medical school, so there was no need to take on that stress any sooner.

Having now been in medical school a year, I would absolutely give that advice to anyone getting ready to start medical school in the fall. Take the time to enjoy your summer, because once you start medical school you start a career and you won’t have the same freedom for quite some time.

What made your medical school the right fit for you?

I chose to go to a new school, WMed, over more established medical schools for several reasons, the first being that I love Kalamazoo. The overwhelming support of community members for the medical school really excited me. I was drawn to the idea of being a member of an inaugural class and having the chance to get involved with shaping the school for the future from day one. Probably the biggest factor was the size of the school. I went to a small high school and Kalamazoo College is a small college, so I have always connected with being in a smaller community. I have loved being in a class where I know everyone--students, faculty, and administrators alike--and everyone is really involved and working to make WMed a great place. I have always felt like I’m a valued member of the community, and I’ve never felt as though I’m just another number in a class. 

What memory stands out the most from your first day of medical school?

Being at a new school, there was a lot of publicity and excitement when we started, so I remember being followed around by cameras for the whole first week. However, one of my best memories from the first day was an icebreaker that we did as a class. Over the summer before we started, each of us sent in a “fun fact” about ourselves. On our first day we were given a sheet with each “fun fact” listed. The goal was to find out what classmate fit with the “fun fact”. It was such a great way for us to learn about each other and discover little things like the fact that one of my classmates was a professional musician prior to medical school. That is just one of the great memories I have of getting to know the people I learn with every single day.

What was your first year of medical school like?

I can say with confidence that medical school has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You spend all day in class and then most of your night studying. It definitely wears on you. However, in that struggle you really build connections to the people in your class. I have made great friends in my class through trips to the beach, a weeknight soccer league, going to events around Kalamazoo, and just studying together. Despite the challenge of having to dedicate myself so much to classwork, the connections I built my first year of medical school really made the year so great.

Did you have to change any of your study habits?

Absolutely. My study habits in undergrad were not at all adequate for medical school, so I was definitely forced to change them. However, I also know that my study habits change dramatically with each course we go through.

So far, my experience has been that you never really figure out a “perfect” way to study. You just find a way that works “right now” and use it until you need to find something else.

Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.

I do volunteer work at a local day shelter called Ministry with Community. It is also an organization that I am doing community research through as part of my coursework. My group is working on a survey to assess the chronic health needs of the individuals who use the services they provide. Many of these individuals are homeless or perilously housed, and as part of that they often struggle to manage their health. Our project will hopefully provide insight into ways Ministry with Community can help these individuals with their health.

In the realm of just plain fun activities, I play soccer on a medical student team in a community evening league.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

Honestly, finding good balance between studying and your personal sanity is a huge struggle. I have found that consistently setting aside time for things other than studying is a huge help. Whether that is watching some TV or going for a run, just taking 30 minutes or an hour each day has helped me to find more balance.

I also make time for my friends, especially those outside of medical school. It is easy to lose track of those people because you are so focused, but spending some time every couple weeks with my close friends helps me keep the stress mostly at bay.

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

Take time to get non-medical experiences. Find things that sound interesting and try them. You will probably find a passion you wouldn’t have otherwise that will make you a better doctor, and more importantly, person in the long run.

Get experience in a variety of medical areas. Medicine is an extremely broad field and who knows what will capture your interest. However, medicine is also not for everyone, and knowing how challenging and long the road to being a doctor is, I would definitely make sure you are willing to go through that before applying.

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