Is there one clear path to take to med school? WWU biology major, Nicole DeRaimo interviewed two other WWU students about their path and plan to go to medical school.
Nicole created this podcast in Science Communication 497 taught by Spark Science Host Dr. Barber DeGraaff.
Each student has opinions of what kept them on the path and what changed their plans.
Image Credit: Michigan Medicine
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(Dr. Regina) Welcome to Spark Science, this is Regina Barber DeGraaff. This episode of Spark Science is the second of a two episode series featuring student made podcasts. As many of you know I teach physics and astronomy at Western Washington University but I have also begun teaching science communication. I am really proud of what my students have created and I hope you enjoy listening to their work.
>> Here we go.
[♪ Blackalicious rapping Chemical Calisthenics ♪]
♪ Neutron, proton, mass defect, lyrical oxidation, yo irrelevant
♪ Mass spectrograph, pure electron volt, atomic energy erupting
♪ As I get all open on betatron, gamma rays thermo cracking
♪ Cyclotron and any and every mic
♪ You’re on trans iridium, if you’re always uranium
♪ Molecules, spontaneous combustion, pow
♪ Law of de-fi-nite pro-por-tion, gain-ing weight
♪ I’m every element around
(Nicole) Hello, I’m Nicole DeRaimo and today I’m here to talk about different paths a student can take to reach the medical field. So, I was able to speak to two Western Washington University students that both participated in the pre-medicine track and talk about their different stories. First I’d like to talk to Sarah Strivenburg [Sp?] who is currently a Western Washington University student and has yet to graduate. Why don’t you tell us about your college schooling up to this point?
(Sarah) So, post high school graduation I attended Montana State University for two years perusing a cell/molec degree. I decided that Montana was not the best fit for me. I ended up transferring to Western. I was stuck with the same major and the same goals of going to medical school but switched my major to biology/anthropology at Western.
(Nicole) Which of these programs in your schooling have been the most rewarding or informative for you?
(Sarah) Probably the lab courses have been the most useful. I also think that, I’ve told people this before, research classes really shape people and prepare them for a career in medicine or a career research. The ability to take a lot of extraneous information and summarize it into a formulaic research project versus just expelling the information you learn onto a paper for an exam. I think lab work combined with writing your own research papers is extremely useful. At least it has been for me.
(Nicole). I think research can be really important. How has this research and lab work changed your overall plans for future studies?
(Sarah) [Laughs] Well, when I came to Western I thought I would just graduate and apply straight to med school. The jokes on me. I ended up really enjoying biochemistry way more than I thought I would. I just signed on for grad school, also at Western, working in the same lab I’m in now. I’m going to be my professor’s first grad student that she’s ever had. I’m still planning on pursuing medicine.
(Nicole). Have there been any events or opportunities outside of university during your time as a student that have changed your plans or helped build on what you are doing?
(Sarah) I guess it’s kind of related. I did an internship in the Philippines two summers ago in 2016. I worked in a rural medical clinic for about two months. I had direct interaction with physicians and patients. I think it was extremely rewarding and it definitely helped me realize that I do really want to pursue medicine. It also gave me the idea that I want to pursue rural medicine, especially helping in need people. That’s a whole other thing about how screwed up our health care system is. [Laughing] I definitely think it was a really good opportunity that didn’t really change my plan but more solidified that I do want to be a physician eventually.
(Nicole) It seems that you find hands on practice really important. What do you recommend for people coming in, doing medicine, because what if they don’t necessarily have time to pursue all of these research opportunities or internships during their schooling? Would you recommend them take a break between?
(Sarah) Yeah I really recommend that. I think for the general medical school applications you have to have three hours of physician interaction. I think taking opportunities as they come at you, you’re not going to not get offered opportunities, there’s always something that’s going to pop up. It’s just the matter, even if it’s just an hour or two per week, just getting that hands on experience, or if that means taking a year off, I think that’s a very valid option. I’m even doing that between grad school and med school I’m going to take a year or two off to work and be in the industry. I think just taking any opportunity that may come your way and just being really annoying and asking people again and again and again until they give you a job.
(Nicole) Have you received any support through Western’s staff to help you further these plans?
(Sarah) A lot actually, it’s a lot of support. Western has been the most supportive place ever. For my internship in the Philippines, my old Bio 204 professor Mike Williams got me that internship. He knew someone that was sitting on the board and was able to write me a really nice letter of recommendation. Jennifer Griffith in the chem department has been an absolute delight. She’s definitely written me great letters and been super helpful by giving me a lot of insight. And then my PI Jeannine Amacher has also been great. She employs me so it’s pretty great. [Laughing] she’s been really helpful.
(Nicole) You’re choosing to pursue a graduate program outside of medical school to take the intermediate step and get your master’s. It’s not the same degree you are getting as an undergraduate. What was the meaning behind that? Why pursue a separate degree between?
(Sarah) I originally did my biology/anthropology degree because anthropology is like my guilty pleasure. I think that it was going to be really useful, especially in the idea of pursuing rural medicine. I think it’s really important for physicians to have a cultural and medical anthropology understanding, especially in a melting pot kind of country such as America. But, I also have a love of stem. I truly thought I was going to hate biochemistry I thought I was going to suffer through it like everyone else. It was kind of a split second decision to do a grad program, I was like, that doesn’t seem like the worst thing. So, I got the offer and I just said yes without thinking about it. Now I’m here.
(Nicole) Taking some of the classes that are required for either the medical program or your major has kind of changed your passions? Or did you already have these passions and taking the classes was kind of re-sparked it?
(Sarah) I hated chemistry up until about 2.5 years ago. That was the worst thing ever. I never want to take a chem class for the rest of my life. I had really good professors, honestly, Jennifer Griffith and a few other of my professors really sparked my love for chemistry. I realized that I’ve always really liked it and I think getting the option to pursue research first is just giving up research for the rest of my life because I really don’t want to do that. My eventual goal is to do an MB PhD program and still pursue research while I’m going to medical school. I think it was a really nice Segway into that.
(Nicole) So, both your biological and your bio-chem include biology. Do you think biology, clearly it’s important to medicine, but why choose to not just do a general biology and kind of have those other …
(Sarah) I didn’t do just a gen bio. With advisement from my premed advisor. By major you are grouped into a lot of medical schools. I kind of wanted to, A. Stand out, and B. I like bio and it’s a huge part of medicine. I also didn’t want to do just straight bio. I think it actually was general bio when I came to Western. I think I switched when I declared.
(Nicole) Do you believe that medical schools have an ideal plan of study? Or do you think there’s some more flexibility than they let on when you are an undergraduate?
(Sarah) I think that’s kind of a double edged sword there. I feel like a lot of medical schools definitely have their ideal student. Just going based off of what my advisors have said, I think taking a non-traditional rout to medical school is not the most time smart. I think it does set you apart from other people versus just the 4.0 undergrad with a chemistry degree. It’s not the path that I expected to take but I think all in all, I feel like I’m a better person that I took it. I think encouraging people to not follow that one page, how to get into medical school 101, because in all realty it’s going to stress you out. I’m able to live my life and just be a person not just matriculate into medical school and not have the rest of my life.
(Nicole) Everybody is a human being. We don’t fit into these cookie cutters.
(Sarah) I thank there is definitely something to say for following, there are classes you sould have volunteer hours you should constantly be engaged in what’s going on in the medical field. There’s definitely things that you need to be a part of but I think there’s a lot more flexibility than people let on.
(Nicole) Yeah, I agree with that. Education is really important and as we’re doing this we kind of discussed how you came in with a plan. Now, it’s changed not once but multiple times. This doesn’t only pertain to pre-professional students. Do you think it’s OK for students of varying majors and focuses to kind of change their plan? Or do you think it’s easier or better for people to just kind of stay the path? Is finishing college more important than . . .
(Sarah) Don’t stay on the path. You’ll be unhappy. Don’t stay on the path. Truly, don’t stay on the path.
[♪ Janelle Monae singing Wondaland ♪]
♪ Early late at night
♪ I wander off into a land
♪ You can go, but you mustn’t tell a soul
♪ There’s a world inside
♪ Where dreamers meet each other
(Nicole) Serena Hill recently graduated Western Washington University. She shared with me her stories and experiences in the pre-med field and how her experiences changed and her plan changed.
(Serena) I started out going into college wanting to be a forensic anthropologist. This did change, though, to the medical field within the first couple of months because I liked the patient aspect of the medical field which is something you can’t really get in anthropology as much, especially not forensic anthropology. I originally started in college researching bio-chem and neuroscience and that was my primary major. This did change after a transfer of schools though, because I found that the chemistry department at Western had a very negative environment. It wasn’t one where there was support among peers and I found it to be a very damaging environment to be in.
I switched over to biology and anthropology. I had just recently this year gotten my degree in biology and anthropology and I’m looking into going to get my master’s degree as physician’s assistant. My primary focus originally was to go to medical school having studied and done the MCAT and all that. However, through talking to peers going into medical school and also those within medical school as well, I realized that I didn’t really see myself along with my peers. They weren’t as compassionate towards patients as I was hoping. They tended to be very high and mighty.
One of the ones that was a major influencer on me is one who was a pre-med student at Western who was speaking to a friend of mine who was going into nursing, made the comment of, “Oh, it’s because you’re not smart enough to be a doctor.” Really, I ran into a lot of people who had that kind of perspective and I couldn’t see myself being their peers. However, with the physician’s assistants that I met, I really found that I could see myself among them. They were very compassionate towards their patients and really respected the idea of patient care as a whole which is something that is very close to my heart, especially with the work I’m doing as a nursing assistant as that’s a primary focus.
Such an important part of the medical field is understanding the patient as a whole in order to treat them. I’m going to be going back to school next year hopefully to get my masters. There have been experiences along the way that have changed my mind. Primarily interacting with peers and really understanding where people feel welcome and not has been an influencing factor in my decisions towards my career in the medical field.
(Nicole) I want to thank Sarah Strivenburg and Serena Hill for sharing their stories with me. Although the path to medical field seems like it can be one path, it’s greater than that. An individual’s experience with classes and peers can change the plan. But in the end the result is the same. It’s important to do what best suits you and to find the path that works best. There’s not one right way to get to medical school, just similar steps and experiences. Although there are classes you have to take and experiences that you’ll probably have, your path is your own. Don’t stick to one thing. I’m Nicole DeRaimo and thank you so much for listening. Music, So Far Away by Riot. In partnership with Western Washington University.
[♪ Janelle Monae singing Wondaland ♪]
♪ Take me back to Wondaland
♪ I think me left me underpants
♪ The grass grows inside
♪The music floats you gently on your toes
♪ Touch the nose, he’ll change your clothes to tuxedos
♪ Don’t freak and hide
♪ I’ll be your secret santa, do you mind?
♪ Don’t resist
♪ The fairygods will have a fit
♪ We should dance♪
♪ Dance in the trees
♪ Paint mysteries
♪ The magnificent droid plays there
♪ Your magic mind
♪ Makes love to mine
♪ I think I’m in love, angel
♪ Take me back to Wondaland
♪ I gotta get back to Wondaland
>> Thanks for listening to Spark Science. If you missed any of the show, go to our website, sparksciencenow.com. If there’s a science idea you’re curious about, send us a message on Twitter or Facebook at Spark Science Now.
Spark Science is produced in collaboration with KMRE, Spark Radio, and Western Washington University. Our producer is Regina Barber DeGraaff. Our audio engineers are Natalie Moore and Julia Thorpe. Production was also done by Anna Marie Yanny, Lyla Nay [sp?], and Nicole Deramo [sp?]. Our theme music is “Chemical Calisthenics” by Blackalicious and “Wondaland” by Janelle Monae.
[♪Blackalicious rapping Chemical Calisthenics ♪]
♪ Lead, gold, tin, iron, platinum, zinc, when I rap you think
♪ Iodine nitrate activate
♪ Red geranium, the only difference is I transmit sound
♪ Balance was unbalanced then you add a little talent in
♪ Careful, careful with those ingredients
♪ They could explode and blow up if you drop them
♪ And they hit the ground
[End of podcast.]