Tufts Pre-Health

Anecdotes and advice about preparing for a career in health

Category: Postbac (page 3 of 3)

The Path to Postbac: Amy Zoller

The deadline to apply for the summer start date of the Postbac Premed Program is coming up on March 1. If you’re trying to decide whether or not you should switch careers and pursue medicine, check out how postbac Amy Zoller came to her decision:

My decision to pursue medicine has certainly been a long process of self-reflection, intuition, and intellectual discovery.

I have been asked many times by my friends and family prior to starting the Tufts Postbac program, “Do you REALLY want to go to medical school? That is a REALLY big time commitment and career goal. You haven’t taken any core science courses since HIGH SCHOOL.”

My immediate response to these questions was to doubt myself and wonder if in fact I was thinking clearly. Yes, the road to becoming a physician is long, but isn’t it only long if you aren’t enjoying what you’re studying nor excited about the end goal?

If I think about the first time I was captivated by science, it was definitely in my high school chemistry class taught by a very quirky, yet strict, teacher. I thought her explanations about topics such as molecular bonding and geometries were conceptually challenging, but once grasped, clarified how everyday processes work on a molecular level.

During one class, she assigned me a project on Marie Curie. I loved learning about her life, the fact that she was the first to conduct research on radioactivity, and most importantly, that she was the first female chemist to win a Nobel Prize. Go women! I look back on my high school chemistry days and remember how excited I was to come to class and how the door to my future in science had just slightly opened.

As an undergraduate at Brandeis University, I turned to psychology and neuroscience as my areas of focus. I, for some reason, never considered a pre-med path and was quite frankly super intimidated by the pre-med science course requirements. One neuroscience course in particular, my Behavioral Neuroscience course, was a pivotal event in igniting my interest in medicine though. I was fascinated by the interplay of neuro-anatomy, physiology, and behavior.

After completing this course I sought out a Research Assistant position in the Memory and Cognition Laboratory at Brandeis and was later invited to conduct a Senior Honors Thesis with the Principal Investigator. I loved working with our mostly elderly participants one-on-one during experiments, and my overall experience in the lab taught me the value of careful investigative techniques. After graduating, I wanted to see how that knowledge could directly impact the care of individual patients within a healthcare environment.

I began working as a Clinical Research Coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). My position was unique in that I operated in a collaborative research unit within a strong healthcare community; I worked directly with neurologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, speech therapists, and radiologists, and had the opportunity to appreciate the role that each contributed to patient care.

During one notable multidisciplinary conference at MGH, a patient with frontotemporal dementia that I had worked closely with was being discussed. Gathered around a boardroom table sat a team of highly trained specialists. In turn, each contributed their evaluation of the patient based on their specific field of knowledge. Looking around the room, I asked myself: “Who do I want to be?”

When the neurologist spoke, she first summarized the clinical course and how it correlated with the MRI and PET imaging, cognitive and neurological assessments, and eventual pathological findings. I realized I also wanted the scientific training and knowledge to synthesize the underlying anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry, the pathological disease process, resultant clinical manifestations, and ultimately the prognosis and treatment plan. I wanted to be the neurologist – the physician – in the room.

My MGH experience provided me with the insight into the daily work of physician clinicians and researchers, and I enthusiastically wanted the opportunity to join their ranks. Looking back on my path that led me to pursue a career in medicine – from my role model, Marie Curie, in high school chemistry class, to my fascination with neuroscience and clinical research, to my collaborative and interactive work within a healthcare community, I was finally confident that my path pointed to a career in medicine.

It is easy to let others’ opinions get caught up in my own, but when I stop and think about what I want to be and what I’m passionate about, there is no doubt that medicine is right for me. Ultimately, I want to wake up every morning with the passion to continue learning and the drive to reach my goals, and I believe I’m on the right road to achieve just that.

Postbac student Amy Zoller

Postbac Amy Zoller

A Case for Taking Chem 171

For postbac students and undergraduates who are wondering which biochemistry class to take, postbac Isaac Gendelman offers his positive experience taking Chemistry 171:

Tufts offers two biochem courses, 152 offered in the bio department and 171 in the chemistry department. I had a really great experience in 171 and I hope no one misses out on a chance to take it! I’ve felt 171 is the reward for slogging through everything else and also that it results in some pretty concrete skills by the end of the course. 171 is mechanism focused, so instead of memorizing inputs and outputs the way a metabolic step is presented Prof. Kritzer shows us the enzyme structure, the active site pocket, and we do arrow pushing (!) for the mechanism.

The thermodynamics of a reaction are also stressed (whether it is favorable and why). Although this is arrow pushing it is not orgo arrow pushing – it is more about the logic of the mechanism than comparing sn1 to sn2 in a certain solvent. By the end of the course you will be able to propose a mechanism for a reaction and think through the logic of what step might need to happen next and probably also be able to come up with a name for the enzyme. I found it to be very satisfying to feel like I ‘got’ glycolysis and the Krebs cycle as opposed to memorizing it for the umpteenth time.

We also did two very clinically relevant class projects using primary biochem lit: one on researching a protein and another detailing a metabolic disease. I hope this is a useful window into the biochemistry taught in 171. And if you really like it, there’s more! You can take 172!

Hemoglobin protein

You will be able to look at this amazing hemoglobin protein and know how it works!

The Postbac Lahey Preceptorship

The Lahey Clinical Research Preceptorship Program is a highlight of the Postbac Premed program. Each year six part-time, credited and paid research opportunities are available. Students apply and are selected and then spend 10 hours per week at Lahey Health (a teaching hospital of Tufts University School of Medicine.) Doug Johnston speaks about his experience working in Colon and Rectal Surgery:

Before beginning my preceptorship at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, my only experience in medicine was in psychiatry. Needless to say, the transition from learning about adolescent psychiatric care to observing colorectal surgery was about as drastic a change as one could encounter in medicine. As it turns out, instead of being overwhelmingly intimidating, the entirely new environment of an operating room with foreign (to me) conditions being treated is exhilarating, and only further piques my fascination with medicine.

My time at Lahey is only half over, but already I have gained an appreciation for the multitude of factors taken into account in surgical practice. While I would hesitate to say any colorectal surgical intervention is typical, it has been amazing to see the variation between “simple” 30-minute procedures, and 5-6 hour procedures where major changes to the planned course of treatment have become necessary only after the surgeons have been able to open the patient and assess the viability of their plans. Individual differences in anatomy, altered anatomy resulting from previous procedures, and severity of disease have all become frequent determinants of the course of treatment. Seeing these factors affect how surgeons physically manage each case intraoperatively could not be more exciting.

The value of my time at Lahey is largely due to welcoming and instructive climate fostered by the staff. I have yet to encounter a surgeon, fellow, resident, or nurse who hasn’t been eager to point out things my untrained eyes might miss, or explain the logic behind what they’re doing.

As different as colorectal surgery and adolescent psychiatric care are, I’m pleasantly surprised when I’m reminded that the aspects of patient care that seemed so important to me before are equally as important in such a different specialty. Relaying information tactfully and informatively, both good and bad, to worried relatives after an operation is not so different from meeting with concerned parents of a teenager hospitalized for psychiatric care. Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, explaining treatment options empathetically to an elderly patient who is on his fifth round of surgery is not so different from meeting with a scared, and maybe confused teenager who is completely new to mental health care.

A realization of the universality of these relationships is an adjunct benefit to my time at Lahey that I didn’t necessarily expect, but now value just as much as my experience in the operating room. I couldn’t imagine a better extracurricular premedical experience than the one I’m having at Lahey.

Doug Johnston, Postbac Lahey Preceptor

Doug Johnston, Postbac Lahey Preceptor

Happy holidays!

Lest you think that pre-health is all work and no play, here are some bits of holiday cheer from Health Professions Advising:

  • During reading period (the time between classes ending and finals beginning), the Health Careers Fellows and Minority Association of Pre-Health Students teamed up for a study break complete with snacks and a gingerbread house-building competition. The prize was a stethoscope.
Graham crackers under construction, courtesy of MAPS

Graham crackers under construction, courtesy of MAPS

Check out the MAPS blog for more photos of the sugary structures.

  • Remember Hermey, the elf from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” who wanted to become a dentist? As a career-changer, he probably would have been interested in our postbac program, possibly even the joint acceptance program with the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. He certainly has informed motivation and related experience from fixing those dolls’ teeth.

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