Tufts Pre-Health

Anecdotes and advice about preparing for a career in health

Category: Postbac (page 1 of 3)

Broadening My Curriculum in the Postbac Program: Behavioral Determinants of Health

Before beginning Tufts’ Postbac Program, I’ll admit that I was concerned about the coursework. Although I was apprehensive of the steep learning curve of transitioning into the hard sciences after having studied religion in college, my biggest concern was finding ways to stay motivated by the material. As I settled into my first term, I struggled to justify all the hours I devoted to making sense of atomic orbitals and osmotic gradients in plant tissue. I tried to appreciate that this information theoretically formed a necessary foundation for understanding more complex physiological concepts, but it was hard to shake the feeling that I was just being asked to jump through hoops.

In the years between finishing undergrad and beginning my Postbac, I’d been privileged to work with patients across the socio-economic spectrum. This ranged from providing massage to clients dedicated to self-care in Southern Oregon to offering tear gas treatment to Eritrean refugees in France’s Calais Jungle. My drive to healthcare was firmly rooted in getting to work with people directly and, to be honest, the premed coursework often felt irrelevant to the type of work that I hoped to do.

Moreover, most of my experiences in healthcare had been disparate and decontextualized, and I felt hungry for a deeper understanding of them. Having seen similar ailments and concerns cluster among individuals of the same population, I had the deep feeling that far less of one’s own health is in the hands of the individual, let alone their physician, than the modern medical field has led us to believe. However, without any academic background in this area, I had a difficult time articulating these feelings and seeing the larger picture in which my patients were situated. To this end, the premed requirements just didn’t seem to provide me with any actual insight into health.

Professor Knoepfler’s Behavioral Determinants of Health course was an absolute breath of fresh air. It provided me with population data to corroborate my suspicions and biopsychosocial theories that explained my experiences far more eloquently than I ever could. Every week I learned something that directly applied to my work and how I aspired to practice. By depicting the real yet unseen forces that shape individuals’ health and well-being, the course provided a valuable corollary to the individual-oriented approach that our current medical model highlights. Rather than undermining this approach, the biopsychosocial perspective enriches it, allowing us as future physicians to re-examine what might be most useful to offer our future patients.

Delving into the behavioral determinants of health not only allowed me to make better sense of my past experiences in healthcare, but also provided a valuable framework for understanding the new ones that I was having working with survivors of torture at Boston Medical Center. My coursework shed light on exactly why most of the health problems that plagued our patients seemed to be more effectively treated by a social worker than they could be in the doctor’s office. Although patients’ difficulty accessing food and shelter generally goes beyond the scope of any individual provider, understanding the role that these difficulties play in shaping health outcomes not only provides an extra dose of compassion for a patient, but can also broaden the scope of potential treatments.

I especially appreciated Professor Knoepfler’s approach to ensuring that the course’s lessons were translated into actionable treatment plans. We were asked to construct a personal narrative and health history for an imaginary individual and to develop a treatment plan based on the lessons of the course. Given all the direct patient contact I was afforded at the Refugee Center, I drew from common themes that I heard, and developed a comprehensive care plan that not only addressed physical health, but that also sought to buffer the impact that low socioeconomic status, racism, and cultural barriers have on refugees’ health. The immediacy of these projects to my work was striking, and it was often hard for me to tear myself away from them. While this approach to treatment may be less glamorous or dramatic than the depictions of doctors we are typically treated to in the media, Professor Knoepfler’s class has convinced me that this perspective is instrumental to caring for a patient. Although it is hard to say where my work will take me in the future, I have no doubt that the lessons that I learned in Behavioral Determinants of Health will continue to inform my approach to care.

Alec Terrana

University of California, San Diego School of Medicine

Join a “You” Club

I believe that one of the most worthwhile decisions I have made was to join the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) club here at Tufts. When I was a sophomore, my BIO13 professor presented a quick slide about ASBMB, saying that some students were hosting an organizational meeting in order to form the club. At the time, I was looking for a group of people that I could “celebrate my nerdy side” with and talk about breakthroughs in science. After going to a few meetings, I found a friendly group of students that loved research, were always excited about science, and were eager to mentor other students. Whether it was giving tips about how to study for a certain class, how to shape a path in a certain major, or what internship opportunities there were available, the upperclassmen always had invaluable experiences. I found an endless wealth of resources just by going to the meetings and talking to them. There were also fun events such as lecture series, where I was exposed to the groundbreaking research done here at Tufts. Because I could identify with everyone there, I felt comfortable opening up and reaffirming my joy of science, which ultimately helped me choose a career path that involved research.

When I joined the club, there was no ulterior motive. I did not join ASBMB because I was pre-med and by joining this club it was going to help me get into medical school. In fact, there were virtually no pre-med students in the club. I joined the club because I knew I enjoyed talking about science and research, and I wanted to seek out other people who were the same. I encourage students to have the same goal in mind. Everything you do should not be medical school oriented, but “you” oriented. You may find that clubs you join or activities you do may help with medical school, but that should simply be a byproduct. You will find that joining a club that aligns with your passions will serve as an outlet for any pre-med stress.

Jasper Du, Biochemistry ’17


From Shaker Alumni to Tufts Postbacs: Eden

Shaker Heights, my hometown, is a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. It is also one of very few naturally integrated suburbs in America.  This means that the school district was integrated, not by mandated busing, but through a grassroots organizing initiative started by the residents. The town continues to be committed to racial and class integration and high quality schools.

Shaker is also the home to many of the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and MetroHealth healthcare providers. As a result, inequality and healthcare were subjects of lunch table conversations throughout high school.

I left Shaker for Wesleyan University in 2008. During my time at Wesleyan I became interested in research on healthcare issues in under-served communities. Most of my research at Wesleyan and since graduating has focused on veterans but I also worked to examine the role of race in healthcare disparities in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Race and inequality were common threads that ran through my work experiences after leaving home. My time in Shaker inspired both my decision to go back to school to attend the Tufts Postbac and my desire to provide healthcare to under-served urban communities—maybe even back home in Cleveland.

Eli, a fellow Shaker alum, also attended the Tufts Postbac a year before I did. In a small program it was so great to find another Shaker alum, eight years after leaving home! For Eli, Shaker was also important in his decision to go back to medical school and in his commitment to serving under-served populations. Here is what Eli had to say to me about Shaker:

Shaker Heights (or “Shaker” as it’s affectionately referred to) is a community of multitudes. From its early racial integration initiatives, to its renowned public school education with classes and extracurriculars that gave voices to marginalized groups, to its proximity to the city of Cleveland which has for a while walked the line between prosperity and poverty. The Shaker I grew up in embraced the need for responsible citizenship in a world of heterogeneity.  How could I not use my medical career for treating the under-served growing up in a community like that?

Although I don’t want to call the suburbs my home (Shaker is a textbook suburb after all), I’ve found my calling to become a doctor in rural communities which are disproportionately plagued by poor health education and limited access to health care providers.  Growing up in Shaker Heights planted that seed of serving others that guide me in my pursuit of medicine, and I’m sure guide countless others no matter what their calling is.



Year-End Celebrations

It’s a busy time of year for a university. Classes ended, finals came and went, and the seniors are having one last hurrah before commencement. We found a little bit of time to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating Health Careers Fellows and the students completing our Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program. Check out some photos from the events.

HCF Dessert Party

Students hug at HCF party

Underclassman introduces graduating senior

Postbac Premed Breakfast

Postbacs at breakfast

The director hugs the tutor

Congratulations to everyone!

Working at the Museum of Science

There are many ways to gain relevant experience before you apply to health professions school. Today’s post will help you to think a bit more creatively about what you can do with your love of science, human biology and working with people. Postbac Stephanie Tin talks about working at the Museum of Science:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the post-bac program, it’s that being pre-health doesn’t mean being a bio major. The path to being a clinician can start anywhere – from journalism in New York City, or teaching in South Africa – and it can include more than just taking classes, shadowing doctors, and working in research labs.

So when I started looking for medically-relevant extracurriculars, I didn’t limit my search to the clinical setting. I built off of my early education background and ended up at the Museum of Science in an exhibit dedicated to human health, biology, and behavior.

At the Museum of Science, I give an array of interactive educational presentations, like sheep eye dissections, bonobo skeleton reconstructions, and pig heart/lung demonstrations. I work with and learn from real anatomy every day, and I have picked up so much information that I wasn’t taught in class. (Did you know that a child’s heart rate is faster than an adult’s? Or that you can taste salt, but not smell it?)

The visitor interactions are fantastic. I have learned so much by helping others learn and exploring their curiosities. And my co-workers are a great resource! I work with about a dozen volunteers who give presentations with me, many of whom are retired physicians or professors of science, and every single one of them is there because they love working with people and sharing their experiences.

In the meantime, I am also designing a new presentation to bring into the exhibit, which requires research into biology (What should we teach?) as well as two different levels of education (How should we teach it to presenters? How should we teach it to visitors?).

You can learn without being in a classroom, you can study the human body without being in a hospital, and you can do research without being in a lab. My advice: make your pre-med path your own and you’ll enjoy every step.

Museum of Science

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