Medical School: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 2012
What led to your interest in a career in medicine? Who or what inspired you? Why medicine?
Growing up I thought medicine was a career I could satisfy my curiosity about the human body and the world, as I asked my parents countless questions. Later in my education I was interested in more of science and technology aspects of academia still in biological context. Studying undergraduate biomedical and electrical engineering, I was fortunate to build excellent foundations in problem solving and analytical reasoning, but I soon realized I wanted to take those skills further by healing people and promoting health. It became clear to me after summers in medical and surgical research that practicing medicine was the best way I could make a profound and significant impact on society. Today I still ask numerous questions, and medicine allows me to ask the tough questions, challenging myself and others. From bench to bedside to policy in Washington, studying medicine becomes relevant no matter where I find myself in the world.
I have been inspired by my own doctors, my professors and the faculty I've worked for to pursue medicine. I was most inspired, however, by my parents. Even though nobody in my family is in medicine or even science, they always told me that attitude is everything, anything worth doing is worth doing well, and medicine has been an obvious choice since I decided to apply.
How did you prepare for the application process?
Medical school was not something I had on my mind entering university life as a freshman. After getting acquainted to my new academic environs, mid-sophomore year I attended pre-medical information sessions with the academic advising office. There I learned the nuts and bolts of applying: AMCAS, letters of recommendation, MCAT, and class requirements.
The best advice I received, however, was to do my own research. Pre-medical students sift through a great deal of biased information about medical schools from third party publications, rumor, online message boards and from medical schools themselves. While these sources can be useful in their own right, it is important to use the one true, unbiased source that covers all 126 U.S. medical schools.
I can honestly say that MSAR kept all of the details straight for me, so that I was applying to the right schools, had my facts straight for the interview, and to made a smart decision. The MSAR provided a common playing field to compare and a springboard to other more specific sources on individual schools, their features, class makeup and requirements.
Other important advice for preparing to apply—and beyond—is to follow your passions. It may sound simple, but I was guilty of the occasional "resume building" in high school, doing things I thought I should for college but not necessarily feeling strongly about them.
In college, I discovered so many activities, causes and opportunities that I found intrinsic value in, it was fascinating discovering new interests of my own. It's clear that medical schools look for genuine passion in your activities, your writing and what motivates you. So, pick activities and studies that truly interest you and that you will excel in, science or not. I have a cabinet maker by trade and entomology and poetry majors in my medical school class, and they bring an important perspective to the class and medical study.
For the MCAT exam (which I took twice), I also prepared on my own. I was not impressed with the classes that seemed to push quick fixes rather than a more global way of thinking about the exam. I purchased a number of preparation books from several companies, each with its own techniques. The best MCAT preparation: practice, practice, practice. I don't do well on standardized tests that I don't thoroughly practice to get the feel down. Take as many practice tests as possible. For those applicants who need structure for MCAT preparation, a class may be beneficial.
For the personal statement, I made sure I spoke from the heart with diction that would draw attention and interest from people in and out of medicine. There were no fancy tricks; it was just a polished essay that had been proofread by several people that I trusted. I would never submit anything that had not been proofread by others. There is not much space, so stick to your high-impact points.
If you participated in a special program, such as a combined degree, fellowship, or research work please describe your experience.
I have the blessing and curse of having multidisciplinary interests. This often makes me indecisive, but I'm able to relate to health care issues in many different contexts. Next year I will be applying to the MD/MBA joint program here at Penn, so I can explore bigger picture health issues that doctors face. This adds only an extra year to my studies at Penn, and Penn's curriculum encourages exploration beyond the basic science and clinical curriculum.
The summer after my first year I worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in Washington, D.C. There I was part of the effort to bring interoperable electronic health records to all Americans by 2015. I worked on a number of policy and outreach issues affecting patients and physicians, promoting this key part of health reform. I still assist the office part-time while in school. This has kicked off research interests back at medical school as well, as I helped kick off a chapter of AcademyHealth to promote health services research and policy among students here at Penn. I also am investigating new ways to use electronic health data to help physicians make decisions.
Please describe related volunteer work or military experience that relates to your career.
I enjoy working in the free, student-run, community clinics. I can practice my Spanish and take on clinical roles even in the first year. I also started a non-profit called the World Health Imaging, Telemedicine and Informatics Alliance. Now as a volunteer director, I travel to Guatemala to help set up cost-effective digital X-ray services in communities who have no access to imaging. These clinics will be part of a larger international network of digital X-ray radiologists.
What obstacles or hurdles did you overcome in your medical school journey?
I struggled with when or if to attend medical school after being burnt out of five years of undergraduate engineering academics. I chose to work in health care management consulting for two years and deferred my medical school admission, while building my non-profit. It was the best decision I made, as I was able to bring a better real-world perspective to my medical education and class, and the admissions committee recognized this. After two fascinating years in corporate America, though, I was ready to return to academics and study medicine.
Are you a member of a unique demographic? Please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.
I suppose I was technically a "non-traditional applicant"; however, it seems most of my class took some time between undergrad and medical school. This proportion depends on the school, but I appreciate the generally more professional feel of our class. It adds realism to our idealism.
What makes your story unique?
I'm an integrator, problem solver and communicator: coupling my engineering training, interest in treating the patient and innovative curiosity. I take a three-pronged approach to my education: my medical school studies, my research in advancing medicine, and remaining active in policymaking in Washington. I try to keep my medical school bubble in perspective and in context with all of the changes happening in our health care system. I also volunteer in aspects of global health and development, an important strength of Penn Med. I see myself as unique because, while I'm not the best memorizer, I'm a strong problem-solver, which I think is most relevant to being a fine physicians.
My technology and IT background has allowed me to play a big part of health IT aspects of health reform. I've been able to implement and work on policy affecting the use of Electronic Health Records, and often advocate for their meaningful use.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
Use the resources aamc.org offers for some of these topics. Top medical schools today are looking for renaissance scientists: scholars who can solve problems but also will appreciate the art of medicine, the people, the team and the larger healthcare system. Find other interests outside of academics in undergrad while you find yourself, because it's more than just the numbers.
Develop a set of genuine interests inside and outside of health care. Find a medical school that will allow you to explore and appreciate all of your interests.