I’m a Non-Traditional Student, and I’m OK with It
Back in early June with my last blog post (I want to be a Doctor…and a Researcher…and an Educator…and a Magician!), I mentioned that I did not venture directly into medicine from my undergrad years. From an early age, I knew I loved working with other people. I found out that I was pretty good at explaining things to my friends in a way where they did better in classes. Many of them would say I wasn’t just tutoring but that I was actually teaching them the material they didn’t learn in the first place. However, as I moved into high school and college, I began to realize how fascinated I was with medicine, and in particular, the musculoskeletal system.
So throughout college, I did your normal pre-med student things: excelled (or occasionally just passed) my pre-requisite classes, volunteered with health fairs, shadowed in clinical settings, earned an EMT certification, participated in an AWESOME program for minority students interested in medicine (the AAMC’s Summer Medical Dental Education Program (SMDEP)), received a decent MCAT score. However, the other thing I realized I loved was education. Even though I had those experiences in high school, there was something about the programs I volunteered/ worked for that made it very clear about my love of the classroom. On top of my full class schedules, there were points during my sophomore-senior years where I was working 30-40 hours a week as a coordinator with an amazing tutoring/ mentoring program that worked directly with the elementary school teachers.
It came to a point early in my senior year, though, when I had to decide is medicine the right fit for me. And after interacting with the medical students at my undergrad institution, I realized I wanted to explore stuff before completely deciding that this (i.e. medicine) was the right path. So I opted to not apply to medical school (“such blasphemy”, I thought at times), and I applied for a national teaching program (“He couldn’t hack it,” I was sure others were thinking with this decision).
Those two years in the classroom were the highest of highs in my life and the lowest of lows. Without going on a soapbox, we tend to forget (or do not recognize) how truly difficult it is to be an effective teacher, especially at the start. However, despite all of the challenges, I would not change a thing about my path. I met some amazing people through the college program and in teaching who thought they might go the same path to medical school, but decided to stay in the classroom. Those people are amazing for their dedication (and remain some of my closest friends and heroes). At any rate, that experience has guided many of the activities I am currently involved with in my MD/PhD time. I am heavily involved with my medical school’s pipeline programming for minority high school students and undergrads. My experience teaching and with this has led to a great opportunity to be a resource nationally for medical student chapters of Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and of Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA). Additionally, my love of education and teaching has allowed me amazing access to our medical school curriculum, getting involved with the transition from lectures and classes to small group/ problem-based and system blocks. I even get to teach clinicians about teaching, providing feedback and criticism as not only a student but an educator. Like I said, I would not change a thing about my path (although, I do occasionally miss being in a K-12 classroom on a regular basis).
As you have seen from other blog posts here (especially with the new series “My Path”), there is no one right and perfect way to get to where we are at. You will have twists and turns (both positive and negative) that will force you to navigate and readjust plans if this is where you want to be. But there is always a path to be taken, even though it sometimes must be forged for the first time. If you decide that medicine is the career for you (and you should be pretty sure due to the costs and time), then you can make it work. Coming to the Tour for Diversity in Medicine and reading others’ stories is a good start. Finding a mentor is another key piece when you take alternative journeys; it always helps to have someone who knows how to generally navigate the waters, even if they didn’t take the exact same path. (And for more on mentoring, use the tags on the right to read our posts about that or any topic). Good night and good luck!