My Path: Valerie Pierre
It’s been a while since our last segment. We revive our MyPath series as we highlight Student Doctor Valerie Pierre’s story of determination and for a lack of better words – serendipity. She currently is a second-year medical student at Creighton University School of Medicine. Valerie did not attend the Tour for Diversity, however, her chance meeting six years ago with mentors Drs Landry and Winters helped to put her on the right path to success.
Location: Montgomery Village, MD
High School: Gaithersburg High School
Undergraduate: Xavier University of Louisiana
Medical School: Creighton University School of Medicine
When did you decide that you wanted to go to medical school?
I would say that I decided that I truly wanted to pursue a career in medicine in the beginning of my freshman year in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina left its devastating effects on the city, and I vividly remember being on the I-10 bridge in the aftermath of the storm with some of my classmates and seeing widespread suffering all around me. It really bothered me that there was nothing that I could do to help those who were in much worse predicaments than me. After that life-changing experience, I vowed to myself that no matter what, I was going to go to medical school one day and devote my life and career to alleviating the suffering of others.In high school, I had dreams of becoming a sports medicine physician and opening up my own health and wellness spa. Growing up, I was always what my mother liked to call a “hypochondriac,” because I always had some kind of ailment and wanted to go to a doctor’s office. I always have had great relationships with all of my physicians, so as I got older, naturally I thought that I would become a physician too.
How did your family/significant other react to your decision?
My family, especially my parents have always and continue to be my biggest supporters. I like to joke that I grew up in a “typical strict West Indian household,” but honestly my parents love hard, support me tremendously, and always push me to expect more from myself. Even when I have doubted myself and my abilities, my parents never let me buy into that mentality. I remember at the Student National Medical Association’s (SNMA) National Convention in 2008, Dr. Barbara Ross Lee (Vice President for Health Sciences and Medical Affairs at New York Institute of Technology) said, “Every story has its successes and failures, its obstacles and triumphs.” In line with that thought, my parents have been there (and continue to be there) through all of mine.
Being the baby of my family, my older sister and brother are like a second set of parents and have been there for me too. They have been very supportive of me and are excited for me to become the first physician in the family – along with my Granny of course ! 🙂
Did you do any enrichment programs or shadowing during college?
Yes, I participated in the Summer Medical and Dental Enrichment Program at the University of Virginia in the summer of 2007. It was a great experience and I gained a lifelong mentor in one of my resident assistants from the program. She was truly a God send because she would meet with me often throughout the years to go over my curriculum vitae, personal statement, transcripts and tell me what I needed to tighten up and improve upon to gain entrance into medical school. Since I have been in medical school, she has continued to be a voice of reason and support no matter what I am going through and reminds me that although the road may be long, hard, and difficult – I can do it.
Did you face any adversity during your attempt to apply to medical school?
Yes, definitely. In the beginning of my undergrad experience, I struggled with core classes of my major and received discouragement from some professors within my department on my wish to attend medical school. Thankfully, I didn’t allow that to deter me but I did struggle academically at various points in my undergraduate career. I also had trouble with my MCAT initially too. Humanities subjects always came easier to me and one of the reasons that I wanted to major in science in undergrad was because science was the only subject that really challenged me growing up – everything else seemed to come to me pretty easily. I know that that may sound crazy because people tend to gravitate towards things that are easier for them but I guess I am the complete opposite.
Also, I had some medical issues that I had to overcome but they didn’t really seem like too much of an adversity to me so much. Looking back, it was probably a lot but being that medicine has always interested me, I thought it was kind of fun being able to look at it from a patient’s perspective as opposed to a provider. And my experiences have allowed me to connect with, serve as a mentor, and develop some lasting friendships with some premedical students who are going through things that I have went through in the past.
Did you use any MCAT preparation?
Yes, I used the Kaplan Qbank, ExamKrackers series, and the Princeton Review Physics books. I found the MCAT pretty difficult initially, but as I switched to a questions-based study style, I saw a tremendous improvement in my score.
How did you choose which medical schools to apply to?
I did a post-baccalaureate program at my school and decided to stay here because I enjoyed my experience in the program and the people that I had met.
How many letters of recommendation did you ask for/use?
Through my pre-medical office, I had numerous letters on file that I had requested from professors throughout my undergraduate years – so I am not sure exactly how many letters I had on file. Whenever I finished a course that I did well in and had developed a good relationship with the professor, I would ask for a letter of recommendation. By the time it came to apply to medical school, I chose the three professors who I thought I had the strongest relationships with, and asked them to update the letters they had written years earlier.
What’s the best advice you can give to people applying to medical school?
If a career in medicine is something that you really want – do NOT give up! There will be many doubters along the way, but as a Christian, I sincerely believe that what GOD has for you, no man can stop. I have had and continue to have numerous stumbling blocks as I continue along this course, but I honestly feel like I have been called to do this. I know that I have become stronger by everything that I have had to go through. My faith, family, and friends are what keep me going when the times are tough. Surround yourself with positive people and “forget your haters because your haters can’t do nothing for you,” (God Favored Me by Hezekiah Walker). I have been fortunate enough to learn early on in my training that the loftier the goal, the harder it is to obtain. Now I truly understand what many of mentors and friends in medicine mean, when they told me, “If I can do it, you can too.” I feel like I have been knocked down so many times on my road to medical school, but honestly, if I can do it, so can you.
Also, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Be proactive. Find mentors. Attend conferences, look online and find doctors to shadow, reach out to people who are in positions that you want to be in and ask them how they got there. I have many mentors that I have met at various stages in my training – and they all serve different purposes for me. And if they don’t know something or cannot help me in certain areas, they have been instrumental in putting me in contact with potentially new mentors who can help. Remember, your mentors don’t always need to look like you – that is one mistake that some people make. Do not be discouraged when someone that you look up to or see as a potential mentor says that they don’t have time to help you or doesn’t seem as though they are willing to truly help you. I see that as God’s way of showing you that they are not meant to help you – and that is okay. Take it as a lesson learned, move on, and find someone else who IS willing to help you. Finally, make sure to always show your mentors gratitude and thanks – no one has to do anything for you and it is a privilege for them to help you. And it is always nice to let people know how much their words, kindness, and belief in you has helped you along your way.
Describe the feeling when you found out you got accepted into medical school?
I was ecstatic! In order to get acceptance in medical school through my program, you needed to have a certain GPA and MCAT score. When I got my MCAT score, I knew that I had surpassed the minimum requirements so I called my parents and told them and just let it sink in. I think I went out to eat that night with a friend to celebrate and that was about it!
I always thought that I would burst out crying and make a big scene, but I didn’t. It had been a long time coming because I took some time off after undergrad. I feel like everything in my life up until that point had led me to a place now where I knew that a medical school acceptance was coming.
Tell us about how you first met Drs Landry and Winters?
As a member of the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS; http://bit.ly/1lmFPHp) at Xavier University of Louisiana, a group of us went to the SNMA National Convention in 2008. My friend and I attended one of the mentoring sessions where premedical students were being paired up with physicians. We showed up a little late to the session and there weren’t any more physicians left. Drs. Landry and Winters were still in the room and had lunch in their hands but said that if we didn’t mind talking to them while they ate, they would be more than happy to talk with us.
We were just happy that we were able to participate. My friend and I were in different stages of the application process; she was just getting ready to take her MCAT and I had just made the decision that I didn’t want to apply to medical school straight out of undergrad. Drs. Landry and Winters talked to both of us about their paths to medicine and gave us encouragement in the different paths that we were choosing and really let us know that if this career was for us, it was all going to work out.
They were very positive, warm, and really down to earth. They made medicine seem real to both of us and we walked away feeling appreciative they shared their experiences, leaving us feeling okay that we were on the right track. Fast forward six years, it was crazy getting to see and speak with them again at the SNMA National Convention in Washington, D.C. Seeing them again, brought me back to that place in 2008 when I was so unsure of everything and had decided to take the ‘road less taken’ of deciding not to apply to medical straight out of undergrad. I was a little emotional because it also reminded me of how far I have come. I let them know that even though they probably didn’t think much of their talk with my friend and me, their words did make a difference and I hope that I can one day leave an impact like that on my future mentees too.