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

Reflecting on My Lahey Clinic Preceptorship Experience

In the fall as I began my second year of postbaccalaureate studies at Tufts, I was eager to expand my clinical experience.  Living so close to Boston, there is an incredibly wide range of opportunities in the healthcare field that a postbac student can participate in, with unique lessons to be learned from each.  I was drawn to the Lahey Clinical Research Preceptorship program offered to Tufts Postbac students in particular because I was excited to have the opportunity to work closely with a physician and to engage with clinical research.

As I began my preceptorship in September, I was thrilled to be working with a general surgeon and I eagerly anticipated the first surgery I would observe.  In the operating room, though my face was largely concealed beneath a surgical mask, the scrub nurses quickly noticed my excitement and apprehension.  “Just make sure you faint away from the sterile field,” one joked.  I solemnly nodded, terrified that my physiologic response would forsake me.  “So are you going to be a surgeon?” the other teased.  I froze like a mouse.  Before I could force out a faint, “maybe”, the surgeon for whom I work declared, “Of course she will be” and proceeded to point out the anatomical landmarks that he was exposing.

One of the most valuable components of any pre-medical clinical experience is the opportunity to be mentored by a physician who is excited to be teaching you.  The Tufts preceptor program, affiliated with Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, MA, has given me exactly that.  Every preceptorship is proposed by a physician at Lahey who has a specific research project in mind and who is motivated to have a student shadowing and working for them.  While observing in both the clinic and operating room, I am encouraged to ask questions and each is met by a thoughtful and enthusiastic response.

Research is another valued component of my experience at Lahey.  As a pre-medical student, it is a truly unique opportunity to collaborate on the design and implementation of a clinical feasibility trial.  Intra-operative thermal imaging of cancerous lesions is an exciting area of research where little published data exists.  The interdisciplinary nature of the subject has allowed me to apply concepts that I have learned in isolation in my premedical classes to solve a complex problem, applying the principles of electromagnetic radiation that I learned in physics to my understanding of the metabolic states of tumors from biochemistry.  While conducting a literature review, writing a study protocol, and now beginning data collection and analysis, I am proud of the my contributions to this project and I am excited to continue working on it this spring.

Since I began my postbaccalaureate studies at Tufts, I highly value the opportunities that I have had for clinical experience.  Working with patients as a health coach at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, gaining exposure to a fast-paced clinical environment as a volunteer in emergency radiology at MGH and beginning research and shadowing at Lahey have all been an important part of focusing my motivation for a career in medicine.  The mentorship and opportunity for clinical research experience that I gained through participating in the Lahey program has been an exceptionally rewarding experience.

Stephanie Vaughn
Tufts Postbac Premed student
Completing 2018


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!

« Older posts

© 2023 Tufts Pre-Health

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Switch to our desktop site