Undergraduate: University of Georgia, 2008
Medical School: Mercer University School of Medicine Class, 2013
What led to your interest in medicine?
At age 7, I was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. I received chemotherapy, radiation, and the surgical removal of one-third of my tongue.
I remember spending my days dry-heaving in the hospital bed and cringing every time a nurse entered the room for fear of receiving a shot. I wanted to be as far away from medicine as possible.
During my hospital stay, I made many friends my age who were also battling cancer. We would sit side by side, receiving our chemotherapy while playing video games. While in the hospital, I did not feel isolated because I was surrounded by other children fighting similar battles.
However, after returning to school I soon realized I was different. I had scars on my neck, no hair, and I talked funny. My classmates made fun of me and I dreaded school.
Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with cancer, came to my rescue. For the first time, I did not feel singled out and I had a sense of normalcy.
I attended camp from when I was 8 years old until I was 18, and formed lifelong friendships there. I could not help but be inspired to do great things after meeting such amazing individuals.
Camp Sunshine restored my confidence and instilled my desire to help others, particularly those in poor health.
Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
During my first year of medical school I started volunteering at the children’s hospital.
I spoke with the families of children newly diagnosed with cancer and shared my story. I also educated them about different support programs, such as Camp Sunshine.
Each summer, I return to Camp Sunshine as a cabin counselor and work with a group of young boys who have been affected by childhood cancer.
What makes your story unique?
One day, while volunteering at the children’s hospital, I met this extraordinary young lady who had rhabdomyosarcoma.
We immediately formed a special bond and I visited her every day. Her optimism and huge heart amazed me. Together we came up with a plan to do something thoughtful for the other patients, a project called Mercer Bears Truly Care.
MBTC had medical students design teddy bears at the local Build-a-Bear store each week and deliver them to children in the hospital. MBTC ended up delivering well over 200 bears.
Sadly, during my second year of medical school, this young lady lost her battle to cancer. I remember asking myself why such a beautiful person had to leave this world prematurely. Standing at her funeral, I reflected on the fragility of life and how each day is both a privilege and an opportunity.
After that experience, I became determined to live an extraordinary life and to chase after one of my biggest dreams: to volunteer as a medical missionary in a third world country. And so, after completing USMLE Step 1, I took a one-year sabbatical from medical school in order to travel to Bolivia.
It was the best decision I ever made. I worked with communities that had never seen a doctor before, taught basic hygiene to countless orphans, and worked in many different hospital settings. It was the most empowering period of my life (plus, I met my amazing fiancée there!).
I plan to return to Bolivia within the next 20 years and open a clinic for children who live on the street.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
When selecting a school, make sure it fits your personality, study methods, and life goals. Try to map out what is important in your life and determine which program complements you best.
You want to choose the school that will best equip you to succeed.
I chose a smaller program because I learn best in small group settings. I faced some criticism for my decision but I honestly believe it has prepared me to be a better physician.
I doubt larger programs would have allowed me to work one-on-one with patients in the hospital during the first year. In addition, my school supported all of my endeavors to help the surrounding community.