Tufts Pre-Health

Anecdotes and advice about preparing for a career in health

Page 3 of 18

The Journey of Medicine is Never “Done”

M.D. Those two highly sought-after initials that refer to the completion of medical school carry a special sort of weight. The title becomes part of one’s name, representing a shift from student to doctor – but even in all its glory, earning an M.D is just a speck in the timeline of one’s journey throughout medicine. The journey of medicine is never “done,” and this is sort of a grapple for pre-meds who spend every waking moment checking off things on a list, always fighting to get to the next step. This sort of miserable and unmindful existence is something that afflicted me, and I want to share my experience on how the light of passion and purpose shined into my  life.

Human health has always been a deep-rooted fascination of mine. Learning about human health helped me understand how my cousin, Reza, someone who never touched a cigarette in his life, could develop metastatic oral cancer and die at just 32 years of age. Even though I have genuinely always loved medicine, as I am sure you all do as well,  the constant anticipation and anxiety associated with jumping through the hoops leading to a career in medicine can act as a negative feedback loop where pre-meds may feel the need to compare themselves with one another. If you are looking exclusively at the next step, and only see the present as a stepping stone towards the next time you can check something off a list, you are going to miss out on exposing yourself to everyday pockets of beauty and new perspectives that can make you a stronger physician and a more fulfilled individual.

Paul Kalanithi, the late neurosurgeon and author of When Breath Becomes Air once said, “You can’t see [medicine] as a job, because if it’s a job, it’s one of the worst jobs there is.” I think that people often see medicine as a sort of guarantee of stability, prestige, and meaning. And the cloudy irony of all this is that the field of medicine and the paths that lead to it are chock-full of uncertainty. First off, the great majority of college freshmen who identify as pre-meds never go on to become physicians (for a multitude of reasons). In the day-to-day life, physicians are faced with a stream of challenging decisions that often have no “right” or “wrong” answers. Physicians are no strangers to the many grey areas associated with life and its preservation, perhaps explaining why they are often eloquent writers who can beautifully tackle the big questions of our time. I think Paul Kalanithi epitomizes that sort of excellence, but at the same time he represents the very uncertain reality that we all occupy. Being diagnosed with lung cancer at age 36, nearly at the end of his neurosurgical residency, Dr. Kalanithi’s decades of working towards that end goal of becoming a neurosurgeon withered away when he was given the news of his illness. Undoubtedly, the concept of delayed gratification helps to justify the stepping-stone-to- stepping-stone lifestyle, but the instability of reality and our place in the world has since dawned on me.

A highlight of my naiveté freshman year was coming in dead set on the double majors of biology and computer science along with an almost aggressive goal of going to medical school. I didn’t see it at the time, but this was a grave mistake for me; the unstable binary associated with this situation arose from the fact that it all looked terrific on paper.  I did have a deep fascination with life sciences and technology, but by scheming to take as few classes unrelated as possible, I was setting myself up for a rather narrow undergraduate education. The lingering pleasure of knowing I was going down a “safe” path was very quickly shattered by a lifestyle that was more about strategic campaigning to get to the next step rather than about living, learning, and the beautiful struggle for meaning that I now embrace.

I quickly began to realize that my relationship with computer science was more of a short-lived courtship. I saw tech as a medium through which I could make a global impact and secure my future. But the hours spent behind blinding screens, endlessly typing code in a language that is more understandable to machines than humans proved to be toxic for me. In addition to still being under the impression that the only road to medicine is through being a robot, I saw my cousin, Kaveh, pass away after a lifelong battle with addiction. My campus’ bubble was not impenetrable to the outside pressures of my family falling apart back home. Death has this remarkable ability to distill life; it vaporizes the insignificant, leaving behind what truly matters. And so, one day I sat behind my computer and looked at the Intro to Comp Sci class on my transcript and committed one of the greatest sins in the proverbial pre-med holy book: I withdrew from the class. Almost immediately after, several questions suddenly darted through my psyche. What were medical schools going to think of this? How will I explain this to my parents? How could someone who has published four applications on the Android app store not be able to complete an introductory coding course? Yet like a rubber band being stretched beyond the point of no return, I felt a snap of relief. This is the first time in my life the almost-chaotic reality of uncertainty and instability felt okay.

I really began to fly as I completely stopped treating school as a chore. I had l glimpses into the beauty of the enlightenment provided by a liberal arts education, such as when my anthropology class fascinated me with the indefinite nature of aspects of everyday life that humans like to put into categories.. After shadowing a physician soon after, I was exposed to the everyday uphill battles and frustrations that are inseparable from treating patients. There were patients who did not trust the doctor’s word. There were patients who refused to take their medicine. There were patients who would yell in the waiting room if they were not given their Percocet prescription. Oddly enough, practicing medicine is very similar to farming. Dusk till dawn is spent maintaining delicate balances needed for crops and animal inhabitants of the farm to thrive. Sometimes irrepressible catastrophes happen, whether a tornado or a disease that clears acres of hard-won crop families. But it’s the grit and deep connection for the farm that makes a farmer, and there is no finish line. In the same vein, medicine is a lifestyle, and it is unforgiving to those who seek consistency, security, and comfort. Now, I treat every day as a rewarding time to make meaning out of the significant and the insignificant, and hope to go to medical school to continue to answer the big questions. I have never been happier.

Nick Kamkari

Class of 2020

Reflecting on my drive to become a physician – An Alum Story

Since graduating Tufts in May of 2015 I have worked as a medical scribe for a primary care doctor, continued my personal fitness training practice (testimonials can be found at leahloveslife.weebly.com), and obtained my Certification in Sustainable Health & Nutrition. In this past year, I have continued expanding my role as a medical scribe, pursuing clinical research, working as a personal fitness trainer, and furthering my nutrition and botanical medicine education.

Since implementing a mindfulness based intervention (MBI) in children with and without emotional behavioral disorders during my senior year, I have conducted a MBI literature review and submitted my paper to the Advances in School Mental Health Promotion Journal. I have also directed Belmont Medical’s 1st clinical trials exploring the role of integrative medicine in primary care and will submit my formal write up to an alternative and complementary journal before August.
Throughout my work, I have applied to 26 medical schools (MD and DO), interviewed at 7 schools, been granted acceptance to 5, am waiting on 2, and have withdrawn the rest of my applications. While it has been a long and seemingly never ending process, applying to medical school while working directly with patients has been very rewarding. I have enjoyed reflecting on my drive to become a physician and the experiences that have shaped me as I continue to take part in the many intimate patient encounters so deeply ingrained in primary care.
My work as a medical scribe has sharpened my direction in the health care world and confirmed my dedication to helping people in a primary care setting. I have been very fortunate to work with a compassionate doctor who has involved me in every step of the process and encouraged the deep relationships I have formed with his patients. I am forever grateful for my experiences in his practice and am excited to attend medical school in the fall.

Jackson Jills

I became a member of the Jackson Jills within my first week at Tufts—before I had my first Bio 13 lab, before I ever identified as “Maya, from Berkeley, California, majoring in Biology and Community Health and taking the pre-med requirements.” Singing a cappella is not a “typical pre-med” extracurricular activity, but it gave me incredible experience that I needed to grow and to fully enjoy my time at Tufts.

It is an honor, and a ton of work, to be a member of the Jills. We rehearse 7.5 hours a week, not including gigs on and off campus. We release an album every other year, and go on a tour during the alternate spring break. We devote ourselves to producing impressive music, to hard work, and to being role models of what all-female groups can accomplish. Though being in the Jills takes constant effort and all that one has to give, rehearsals are also an incredible relief from the world of classes, labs, and tests, a chance to feel accomplished based on something other than a score. I often find that my entire day is spent on academic endeavors until 10pm, when I go to Jills rehearsal and am able to leave the stress of projects and tests and grades behind me and make beautiful music with phenomenal women.

The fact that Jills is somewhat of a stress relief from classes has often caused me to view it as completely separate from my passion for pursuing a career in medicine, and this separation feels amplified by the fact that singing is not one’s first thought in terms of health-based extracurricular activities. And yet, when I truly consider the two, my passion for singing a caJackson Jillsppella has a lot in common with my passion for medicine. Music is all about communication. In a fifteen person a cappella group, communication with each other must be impeccable. We must communicate how we feel in order to be able to get along for hours on end, and we must communicate with our voices to ensure proper tuning within each and every harmony. As an entire group, we have a job to communicate with an audience—to convey emotion and enjoyment. Medicine, too, is all about communication. To be a successful physician, one must be willing to consistently discuss with and learn from fellow health care workers, from other specialties and from within one’s own clinic or department. Arguably more importantly, one must be able to communicate with patients in a culturally competent, compassionate, and emotionally understanding manner. I find that within the Jills, when we work on our performances, or on our introductions, we are honing these communication skills each day. Music and medicine are also both centered on sharing. It is of my opinion that everyone has the right to equal access to health care, and also has the right to share in art and music. The Jackson Jills make sure to perform in places like homeless shelters and retirement homes, places where people may have less access to art like a cappella music. I have found that many of these populations have overlapped with marginalized populations that I work with in hospital and clinic settings, and that compassion and willingness to share parts of oneself is necessary in both settings.

I have found it exciting to realize over time that a part of my life that I consider so separate from my interest in pursuing medicine actually contains a lot of the same passions that drive me towards medical school. That is not to say, of course, that I am not forever grateful to the Jills for providing an outlet to relieve stress that piles on from the academic rigor of Tufts. I could not have asked for a better group of women to cry with,  to laugh with, and to sing with. I look forward to continuing to consider both medicine and music important parts of my identity, and I will always be grateful that I was able to engage in both during my time at Tufts.


Maya Ball-Burack  Class of ‘17

More Than a Pre-Med

As a pre-health student it is quite easy to fall into the trappings of the “pre-health only” mentality. Such a mentality places emphasis on activities that are medical in nature or only serve the purpose of strengthening your resume. While such activities are important, a sense of fulfillment is an often forgotten but important aspect of any activity we dedicate our valuable time and energy to as pre-health students. That is not to say medical activities are always boring or unfulfilling, but rather, that any activity has the potential to be so if you’re not enjoying yourself. As a freshman, I had known that I was pre-med and was already well-aware of the importance of “building up your pre-health resume”.

Personally, football was an activity that brought me a great sense of fulfillment even though it was not health-related.  I learned that through perseverance and resiliencSkellye a team or an individual can accomplish anything. However, fulfillment can be achieved off the field as well and as a community health major I was required to complete an internship in the greater Boston area. When choosing the internship I was presented with a choice between positions that were clinical versus those that were behavioral. I ultimately chose the position focused on behavioral public health research and as a result was able to have one of my most rewarding research experiences. I spent part of that summer working on the Tufts Responds to the Epidemics of Addiction and Hepatitis C Together (Tufts REACTs) project. The goals of the study were to identify factors related to Hepatitis C (HCV) transmission among young people who inject drugs (PWID), and interest in, acceptance of, and potential adherence to HCV treatment. Through recruitment and interviews with participants, I learned about stigma around substance use disorder and how pervasive this stigma is, even in medical practice. I also learned that cultural competence and a commitment to doing justice are important characteristics of a health professional.

Although my internship experience was devoid of “medical experience” per se, I certainly learned a lot about myself, why medicine is my chosen career path, and what it takes to be a health professional. I can certainly say this experience made me better as both pre-health student and as a person. Being a pre-health student at Tufts can be as rewarding an experience as you make it, so don’t be afraid to do what you enjoy because it can teach you more about yourself and help you become a well-rounded person and future health professional. Finally, remember that undergrad is a time to grow as a person, not just a pre-health student, so don’t be afraid to do activities that you enjoy and leave you with a sense of fulfillment because you are more than just a pre-med.

Osemwengie Skelly Enabulele Jr.
Tufts University – Class of 2017
Community Health Major

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

Six students shared their experiences from their summer health-related opportunities at our annual panel in early December.

Wilna Paulemon (Child Development, ’18) spent her summer at the University of Michigan Summer Enrichment Program (UMSEP) in Health Management and Policy.  Her tip is to read the Health- E Newsletter because this is where she saw this internship posted.

Andy Nguyen (Cognitive and Brain Science ’19) went to Rwanda with Tufts Hillel for ten days after the end of spring semester.  He then returned to the camp for children with developmental, social, and learning disabilities in Upstate New York called Ramapo For Children where he had worked the previous summer.  Andy’s tip is to be open-minded as you look for opportunities since you might be surprised at how valuable an experience can be.

Madeleine Gene (Biopsych, ’17) worked in staff support in a paid position at Memorial Sloan Kettering  in NYC.  She knew that they hired from a neighbor who worked there.  Her tip is to start looking early during Winter Break so you have time to research and apply.

Sean Boyden (Biology and Community Health, ’17) did research in the Starks lab last summer.  He had experience in the lab earlier and applied with Professor Starks for a Summer Scholars position which he received. Sean’s tip is to not to be afraid to reach out to faculty for research/internship experiences, and to foster a good relationship with your mentors/supervisors as they will be the people you’ll rely on to write your letters of recommendation.

Melanie Ramirez (Biology and Community Health, ’19) did a six week internship known as SMDEP now SHPEP link at UCLA medical school. When she returned home she also worked at a pediatric oncology summer camp http://okizu.org .  Her tip is start early and apply to a wide variety of internships so that  you can have more options.

Nellie Agosta (Biology, ’17) developed an opportunity for herself and applied for the Career Center grant  to get paid for it.  She again called a contact that could not help her the previous summer.  This time the contact could help her and referred her to a researcher at Mass General Hospital. Her tip is to be persistent and don’t give up just because you get a no the first time.

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