Stephanie Hope Smith

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A member of the Cherokee Nation, Stephanie became interested in medicine at a young age when her father was shot in the line of duty and became a quadriplegic patient.

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Undergraduate: University of Oklahoma, 2011
Major: Multidisciplinary Studies
Medical school: University of Minnesota Medical School, 2016

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

Like many young children, I wanted to be a veterinarian.  Rescuing animals was my thing, and maybe (a strong maybe) my parents have fostered one too many strays that I rescued/obtained during my childhood. 

What led to your interest in medicine?

A lot of my interest began at the young age of eleven when my father was shot in the line of duty and became a quadriplegic patient.  I had the unique opportunity to learn about many medical devices and procedures first-hand.  Not every fifth grader gets to watch a stoma being cleaned while also learning (or at least hearing the terms) about why the stoma was there in the fist place.  While clinical medicine ultimately won, for a long time I wanted to do medical research on stem cells so my father could walk again.

What made you decide to go to medical school?

It was probably around my sophomore year of high school when I realized the WNBA may not in my future and I would soon need to think about my college plans.  I cannot remember ever thinking I would try to pursue anything else other than becoming a physician.  My father’s injuries ultimately led to his death during my senior year of high school, but in reality he survived and lived much longer than most people excepted.  Maybe it is fair to say subconsciously I had a desire to give back or somehow pay the medical field for those seven years we had together after the incident.  Nevertheless, medical school was always where I saw myself, so I just worked and followed that path.

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

No one was ever discouraging during any part of the application process.  My family, friends, and mentors always had plenty of encouragement to give. Some of the most powerful encouragement came from patients I encountered while shadowing and volunteering.  They gave me an “I love doing this. I want to do this. I CAN do this.” feeling that I used many times during my application process to remind myself to keep working hard.

Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?

My mother is one of the strongest and most determined people in my life. She would never tell me how many, but I know she made plenty of sacrifices during my childhood so I could participate in any sporting, academic, or social activity I wanted. Her work ethic and commitment to her career continues to inspire me, daily, to ‘be better tomorrow than I was today’.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

I spent a lot of time in my undergraduate pre-med advising office! Being a Type A person, the advising office seemed like the best place to keep getting my progress checked.  The office also had great MCAT study books to borrow for free, which I took full advantage of during the semester I took the MCAT.  I worked hard in all my classes, but I tried harder (just a wee bit) to really grasp the course that I knew where on the MCAT.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT?

Is this a trick question? Ha-ha!  Of course I did!  I was concerned I might oversleep my alarm that day, go to the wrong test site, have my test computer crash, get sick the day before the test, or have my score lost.  Okay, so maybe that is a little extreme!  The only real concern I had was trying to plan my test around my undergrad courses, and that was solved my taking the test in January –after studying over all of winter break.

Did you need financial aid to pay for medical school?

Yes.  My financial aid comes from a service-repayment scholarship.  I will work to repay each year covered by the scholarship. 

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

The first day was mostly a blur of “Hello.  Welcome to medical school, and congratulations on making it this far.” However, I do remember the last two hours of that day very well because the school gave us iPads!! It was like the best present, minus the gift-wrapping. 

What was your first year of medical school like?

Fast.  It was hard and demanding, but it was also filled with a ton fun, lots of new friends, and too many inside jokes to count!

What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was and is being so far away from my family and friends.  Medical school requires oodles of support, and I find a lot of encouragement in loved-ones.  However, Skype and FaceTime have allowed me to never feel like I am too far from my main support group. 

Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.

Yes, I am an Okie from Muskogee and enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation.  My background has mostly affected the program I chose and how I am paying for school.  I chose the University of Minnesota because the program’s mission includes a strong focus on American Indian communities.  The University of Minnesota also is the home of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health, which has many programs and activities geared toward Native health.

I am paying for medical school through a Department of Health and Human Services scholarship that is focused on service repayment in the Indian Health Service system.  The commitment I have made includes working for four years after residency in an area that serves American Indian and Alaskan Native patients.

Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.

During the summer between my first and second year, I participated in the Summer Internship in Medicine (SIM) program though the University of Minnesota.  I chose my SIM site to be a Navajo reservation in Arizona where I was able to learn about healthcare, culture, and how to combine to two.  That experience was the highlight of my first two years of medical school, mostly because it was very hands-on and holistic.

My summer experience resulted in my application and future participation in my school’s Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP), which is highly focused on primary care.  Through RPAP, I will spend nine months doing core rotations (Family Med, OBGYN, Peds, etc) in a community hospital instead of a larger facility in the Twin Cities. The RPAP program will give me the opputuntity to learn from one preceptor, in a more one-on-one setting.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school? 

I make it part of my normal routine to have at least one hour per day of “me” time.  Some days I get more, but I never have less than an hour to do something I enjoy, aside from medical school. I find it very important to put medical school into my life, not trying to fit my life into the medical school schedule.

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

Shadow and get as much hands-on time in as in as many specialties as you can.  This gives you a way to connect with future mentors, while also allowing you to learn more about others’ paths (including hardships) into medicine.  Hands-on experience is by far the best way to really know if the medical field is right for you, and it is always encouraging to learn that not everyone went straight through kindergarten to medical school without some type of trial or failure.

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

Do not be afraid to try new things, including new courses in your undergraduate work – if it appeals to you, try it!  Do not be afraid to ask questions even when you think you are certain of the answer.  Do not focus on how to pay for medical school because the funding will be there, in one form or another.  Finally, once you are accepted into a program you need to relax a little.  Yes, you should continue to work hard in your final courses, but you should also enjoy yourself and reward yourself for all the effort you put into the entire process.  Oh, and of course you need to not forget to thank the people in your life that helped you reach your goal of getting accepted.

If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head? 

Be nice to people. ALL people, that is.  People may not remember your honors or awards, but they will never forget how you treated them.  A person will be more willing to help you if you are nice to them as well.  Some of the best connections and experiences will happen solely because you were kind to someone, not because you were the smartest or best dressed.

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