Featured Students: Allopathic
Raquel Cornejo, FUTURE PHYSICIAN
I am not your traditional medical school applicant. I majored in psychology with never the intention of going into medicine. I just wanted to understand people and help in any way I could. I was not directed toward that path until my senior year here at Cal State Fullerton. I had integrated neuroscience classes during what was supposed to be my last year and it is there where the light bulb lit. I knew then what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and that was to be a doctor. I could combine my love of learning and my desire of helping my community. The fact that I discovered my passion for medicine that late into my academic career added challenges to an already challenging path.
I decided to delay my graduation in order to take all pre-med courses as an undergrad. This was not only a more economical route, but it also allowed me first priority in picking classes. I quickly sought out resources and was directed toward the Health Professions Office. Dr. Goode and her staff helped in directing me towards what needed to be done and what was expected of me. I quickly began an internship with St. Francis Medical and volunteered there for three years. I involved myself in countless shadowing opportunities, research programs, and mentorships.
I was new to the world of science. I was not accustomed to having classes with labs and activities. I found it extremely difficult my first year and in order to help combat the issues, I made sure to always seek help. The supplemental classes truly helped me grasp the material better. Also, visiting professors during their office hours had a great impact on my grades. I know some professors may seem unapproachable, but no one can help you as much as they can. Not only do you get what you need to know for the exam, but you also establish relationships that are useful once those letters of recommendation are needed.
I decided not to apply the year I graduated in 2013. Instead, I opted to take time off and study for the MCAT. I was involved in many activities and filled to capacity with units during my undergrad. Taking the time to solely study for the MCAT was extremely useful and helped lower the stress a bit. I studied on my own and also saved up to take a prep course. I applied to medical school the year after graduation and am proud to say I have been accepted to Indiana University School of Medicine. I will be starting my first year in the fall of 2015.
I am not your traditional applicant. I am older than most students, but I knew what I wanted and stuck with it despite how difficult it was at times. This path is financially, mentally, and physically exhausting. However, if you don’t see yourself being happy doing anything else, then do it. It is not an easy career path, but it is the most rewarding. Just to know that you’ve helped someone’s quality of life is an amazing feeling. I know more challenges wait for me, but I am excited to face them. I am ready.
David Eng, FUTURE PHYSICIAN
My name is David Eng and I am a spring 2015 graduate from CSUF with a degree in molecular biology and biotechnology major. I am the oldest of 10 home-schooled children, and I was home-schooled until I began college at age 16. Since my siblings and I all stayed home each day, we had a lot of time during our growing-up years to learn together, play, and especially serve our community. To this day, I never tire of playing board games or sports with my younger siblings. I still help tutor my younger siblings and we all still serve our community together through our bell music ministry to local churches and nursing homes (check this link out for more info on both our bell ministry and my medical missions experiences https://sites.google.com/site/engfamilyringers/). Growing up, we read a lot of books, especially biographies of missionaries such as David Livingstone, Ida Scudder, and Hudson Taylor.
I transferred to CSUF from Fullerton College, and I have not regretted coming here. The professors here at CSUF do a great job preparing us as future health care professionals, in terms of both teaching the material in a clear and interesting way and giving us the resources (i.e. problem sets, PowerPoints, readings) to ensure mastery of both the main concepts and the details for each class. I actually based much of my MCAT preparation off of the knowledge and materials I received from my basic science classes. CSUF also provided me multiple opportunities to get involved in on-campus activities. I served as Allopathic Chair for the Student Health Professions Association (SHPA), a member of the Natural Science & Mathematics Inter-Club Council, and a tutor at the NSM Opportunity Center. I also conducted molecular biology research with Dr. Esther Chen. These experiences gave me great opportunities to develop my leadership and critical thinking skills.
I cannot overemphasize how important the Health Professions Advising Office has been to helping me achieve my dream of going to medical school. I began seeing Dr. Goode for advising even while I was attending community college before I transferred to CSUF. The Health Professions Advising Office has been a huge help to me in finding physicians to shadow, getting me connected with organizations such as SHPA, helping me with the intent to apply process and compiling my letters of recommendation, giving me resources for my MCAT prep, and reviewing my personal statement and secondary applications. The Health Professions Office helped me with virtually every part of my medical school application, and I strongly encourage everyone interested in health professions to take advantage of all of the great resources they have to offer.
As we began going to college, my siblings and I all still wanted to serve together as a family, and we saw medicine and especially medical missions as a way we could utilize our skills toward serving others together as a family. After my second year of college, one of my sisters and I got our first opportunity to go on 2-week medical missionary trip to southern Mexico. Although the weather there was hot and humid with a heat index of 120, I fell in love with medical missions. We were able to visit rural villages nestled in the jungle delivering free healthcare to those without it. The outpatient surgery clinic that Chosen IMA (the organization we went with) operates is able to provide needed surgeries to people who often wait years in great pain for needed procedures. I enjoyed this experience so much that I have returned to southern Mexico every June for the past 3 years to serve the Mayan people living in the Yucatan.
After this initial introduction to medical missions, I began looking for additional mission opportunities. I found a local church that goes on medical mission trips to Tijuana every 3 months. These trips were more local and provided me with additional experiences closer to home. In the summer of 2013, I took an extended 5-week medical mission trip without my family to the mountains of Honduras, and this trip proved to be the “over-the-cliff” experience that confirmed that medical missions is what I want to with my life. In Honduras, I lived in and worked in villages that had not seen a medical doctor in over a year. Many of the rural villages tucked away in the mountains were completely dependent on medical mission teams for health care, as many of the villagers were too poor to even travel to free government hospitals in the cities. I was able to work at a hospital with surgical teams assisting in surgeries, autoclaving instruments, and helping patients recover from surgeries.
My mission trips have also exposed me to heartbreaking cases of people with dire needs dying of health issues that could be easily treated in the US (for one of these stories, check out this link https://mercertohonduras.wordpress.com/ While in Honduras as I thought about these terrible situations playing about before me, I read 1 John 3:17-18, where it states “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” As I pondered this passage, my eyes were opened to how rich I was back in the US compared to people I was helping. The poor were no longer anonymous stories I read about in books or in the news. They were suffering right in front of me, and the Bible clearly states that those who are rich are to open up with compassion towards the poor and we show our love for God by our loving actions toward the poor. I saw that being a medical missionary is a way I can use medicine to physically care for the poor and reach them with the love of God. Witnessing the sheer joy in people’s faces when they receive treatment and medications they otherwise never would have obtained is one of the greatest satisfactions in my career so far. It allows you to see firsthand that you too can make a difference and improve people’s lives in this broken world.
By the time I was 19, I fully knew that I wanted to pursue medical missions as a physician. My family and I began researching medical schools that are faith-based and are medical-mission focused. We found out about the Loma Linda School of Medicine, one of only 2 faith-based medical schools in America, and began attending their annual open houses. Their mission statement “To continue the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus Christ to make man whole” fits in perfectly with my personal goals for what I want to spend my life doing. Talking to the students and faculty at this institution confirmed with me that this school is the one I wanted to attend to learn to become a compassionate Christian medical missionary, and I promised myself that I would attend Loma Linda if I received an acceptance from them.
I still enjoy reading books about missionaries, and I recently read an autobiography called Kisses from Katie written by Katie Davis. As an 18 year-old, she left her family and comfortable life in America to found a ministry in Uganda reaching out to the poor. As I read through the author’s incredible experiences, where she states that every day your heart will be broken by the poverty and need of people who need help, I find parallels between her work and things I have experienced. She states that words do not fully describe what she has experienced in the poor villages she works in, and I can honestly state that my written descriptions (including the one above) in no case fully describes the sights, sounds, and smells of things I have experienced on my mission trips. She goes on to say that missions is not an easy life, but it is one where you will experience joy every day in helping the poor and bringing healing to the broken. Medicine and missions is a career I have chosen to go into not because of the glamour or money involved, but because it is a personal calling to help our fellow mankind and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in bringing healing to a broken world.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Davis’s book, where she writes “Opportunities to make someone else’s life better [are] so much more attractive to me than the thought of the comforts I once knew.” I have personally experienced the deep satisfaction that comes from using my talents and skills to serve others, especially the poor. I can think of nothing else in this life such going to Disneyland, following sports, or partying that I would rather do than serving the poor and making a difference in people’s lives. The attraction of medical missions is not that it provides a comfortable career; rather, it’s a career whose attraction is that you will be heartbroken at people’s needs but joyful and satisfied in making a difference in this world and knowing that the poor who have no other option for health care have entrusted their lives to you. I consider the opportunity to be called and used by God to make a positive difference in someone else’s life one of the greatest privileges and responsibilities one can be entrusted with.
I am very grateful to have found a career that I am passionate about and one that I want to dedicate my life and my career to. I am also very thankful to be attending my dream medical school this fall at Loma Linda, and I am excited to continue my training in using medicine as a way to show God’s love to the poor. I still do not know exactly what the future holds. I may be a medical missionary in the middle of Africa, a physician in an inner-city areas or rural America, or I may be a doctor who practices medicine at a Southern California hospital and simply takes medical mission trips every few months to different areas of the world. But I know that God has guided me this far and I am ready to go wherever I am needed.
I have several pieces of advice for successfully applying to medical school. First, make sure you maintain a balance in your life so that you can maintain your GPA and still participate in research, volunteer activities, and extracurriculars. Utilize the health professions office regularly, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your advisors and professors if you have questions or problems. If you are struggling in a class or can’t find shadowing opportunities, make sure you utilize the resources available to you and ask the right people for help. When it comes time to apply to schools, make sure you take the time to really get to know the schools you want to go to. In my case, I attended Loma Linda’s annual open houses for 3 years and got to know the school really well. So when I filled out the school’s secondary application and interviewed there, I was able to talk in depth about the school and why I absolutely wanted to go there. I ended up receiving one of the first interview invites granted by the school and received my acceptance on the first day of the CSUF spring 2015 semester.
Finally, make sure you are truly passionate about medicine and that you participate in activities you enjoy. Don’t feel pressured to do things simply because others are doing them. I for one did not do the Clinical Care Extender internship, participate in summer research, or use an expensive MCAT prep course. Yes, these types of activities are important, but I found other ways to get the experiences needed to successfully apply to medical schools. I was passionate about medical missions, so I went on as many trips as I could go on. I volunteered at a GI Lab at a hospital for 3 years and participated in a lot of community work with my family. I believe each one of us has our own unique journey into medicine and that unique activities and life journeys can help set you apart from other applicants. You simply need to be pursuing medicine for the right reasons and participating in activities you enjoy that will help you become a better physician and develop skills that will serve you well in your future career. Whatever you do in preparation for a medical career, do it with the idea in mind that you want to become the best physician possible and deliver the best care to your future patients. Never stop trying to improve yourself, and let everything you do be done with all your energy.
I wish you all the best in your college career and beyond. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or need assistance.
Richard Cervantes, FUTURE PHYSICIAN
As a freshman in 2008, I recall vividly the pangs in my stomach that would arise when people would ask me what I wanted to do with my major after graduation. Not only was I utterly clueless, but entering medical school was a completely foreign thought to me. I was downright intimidated. Years of grueling coursework, the MCAT, competitive students, research, the MCAT, and managing a work schedule were enough to send me running in the other direction. Not to mention the INSUFFERABLE MCAT! The idea, however, did eventually come, and CSUF provided the ideal environment for it to rapidly flourish into a relentless pursuit.
My initial decision was to simply explore the possibility of medical school. I did not want to be someone who put all of their eggs in the pre-med basket, only to find out days before graduation that I was not cut out for 4 more years of intense schooling. I figured a good starting point was to declare a biology major. I met with Dr. Koch, the biology department dean at the time, toward the end of my freshman year. Leaving no stone unturned, he outlined every requirement of a successful pre-med. He also pointed my attention toward Dr. Goode at the Health Professions Office, who was soon to become my personal coach through every step of this process.
Over the years that followed, I took their advice and pursued opportunities that cultivated my passion for medicine. I completed the CCE program with over 400 hours at St. Francis Medical Center, and gained international clinical experience in Costa Rica and Bolivia. With every step, I was completely surrounded with support by the people here at CSUF. My classmates quickly became my closest friends as we shared in the same journey. My professors were equally as amazing, and absolutely dedicated to my success. No other professor of mine better exemplified such dedication than my research professor, Dr. Miyamoto. Working in her lab was where I truly learned to become the critical, analytical learner that I needed to become in order to ensure success in medical school.
My time here at CSUF was nothing short of incredible. I can’t say that it was easy, but I am thankful for the bumpy road looking back. I am thankful for the times I came up short on important exams, and for the struggles associated with juggling school, research, internships, and waiting tables to make financial ends meet. I am convinced that God used these elements and placed supportive people in my life to refine a strong persevering nature in me for the more arduous road ahead.
I currently hold 3 M.D. acceptances and am waitlisted at 3 others. I am not 100% certain what my life may look like after medical school, and I’m okay with that. One thing I’ve certainly learned is that with years, comes growth. I do not have the same outlooks on life as I did entering college, and will likely have entirely new outlooks as I approach my residency. For me, it is important to be open to new ideas and to continually explore new opportunities as they come.
I’m going to change gears here as I wrap this up. I now wish to focus on you, the future doctor reading this. I will briefly sum up three of the most important lessons I have learned. First, don’t give up. You probably don’t need me to explain how difficult the road ahead will likely be. The fact is, you are going to encounter setbacks. Everyone does. But if this is the only profession you envision for your life, you will get through it. Just remember, you have the right people in your corner here at Fullerton.
Second, pursue diversity. Numbers aren’t everything. While a good GPA and MCAT score will certainly make this process easier, what will really set you apart is having a well-rounded resume. Pursue research opportunities, shadow different doctors, work with patients, build a network. You’ll also learn a great deal about yourself through the process.
Finally, RELAX!!! I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. The road ahead is cluttered with enough obstacles. The last thing you need is yourself as your own enemy. Keep your priorities in order, but definitely make time for yourself. Join a club, exercise regularly, travel, just do you!
I would like to offer one last bit of advice that may mean little to some, but everything to others as it does for me.Trust in God. This concept has carried me to this point in ways that I would only be able to touch on if I were writing a novel. The rigorous studying, sleepless nights, and demanding work schedule would have gotten me nowhere had it not been for the Lord’s faithfulness and grace in my life. He has a plan for you, and if He has given you the drive and determination to pursue this demanding field, He will not fail you, and nothing will stop you from getting there. Philippians 4:13.
Please email me if I can help in any way.
Matthew Schroeder, FUTURE PHYSICIAN
He describes his experience at CSUF as one of exploration. “When I started at Cal State Fullerton, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Schroeder. “I just decided to take a biology class one semester and ended up really enjoying it.”
Schroeder, who graduated cum laude with a 3.74 GPA, will be attending medical school in the Fall of 2015.
During his time at Cal State Fullerton, Schroeder, under the guidance of Dr. Sean Walker, worked as a supplemental instruction leader for an introductory cell biology class. He describes the experience as, “a great opportunity to reinforce biological concepts, gain valuable leadership experience, and help my peers succeed.”
Schroeder was thoroughly involved with research at Cal State Fullerton. As a Bridges to Stem Cell Research (BSCR) scholar, under the guidance of Dr. Alison Miyamoto, he investigated the role of MAGP-2, a protein relevant to ovarian cancer, in cell signaling.
He continued to perform research as a BSCR scholar at Stanford University in the lab of Dr. Thomas Rando. Here, he developed a pharmacologic approach to improve the potential of adult muscle stem cells in repairing muscle injury.
“The experiences I had during the BSCR program were helpful in developing my critical thinking skills and my abilities as a scientist,” said Schroeder. Since graduating, he has continued his research at Stanford University, focusing on the therapeutic approaches to improve regenerative medicine.
Schroeder’s interest in the field of medicine began with his certification as an emergency medical technician. “The excitement of helping someone in an emergency situation motivated me to learn more,” said Schroeder. Matthew Schroeder
He solidified his decision to become a physician after shadowing Dr. Gregg DeNicola and several other physicians at Caduceus Medical Group in Yorba Linda. “The interactions between physician and patient and the long term, sometimes multigenerational, professional relationships, were something that I saw as incredibly fulfilling.”
He recognized Dr. Christina Goode and the entire Health Professions office. “The guidance and assistance they provided throughout my application cycle were crucial to my admittance,” said Schroeder. “They truly were a blessing.”
Currently, he holds acceptances at ACOM, COMP-Northwest, and University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Schroeder is also waitlisted at Keck School of Medicine at USC.
When asked to give advice for future premed students, Schroeder responded. “The first thing you need to do is figure out if this career path is right for you. Shadowing a physician, in my opinion, is the best way to do this. After that, you have to focus on your studies. Medical school admissions are very competitive, that means getting good grades and doing well on your MCAT.”
Schroeder is eager to begin medical school. “The experiences I had at Cal State Fullerton were fulfilling and I believe they have prepared me for success as a medical student and as a future physician.”
Terrence Montallana, Current Medical Student
I graduated CSUF in 2012 with my BS degree in Health Science with a concentration in Health Promotion, Disease Prevention. I have always been interested in medicine and wanted to pursue a career in it, however, was unsure of the route to take. After changing my major several times, I finally declared and chose Health Science. The Health Science discipline gave me a holistic approach entering medicine and a greater appreciation to medicine’s subdivisions such as public health and epidemiology. Shortly after graduating in the summer of 2012, I applied to, and was accepted the CSUF’s PHPPB program. In the fall of 2012, I officially began the program and have never looked back…
Currently I am in a dual degree program seeking to obtain my MD/MBA degree. Being a medical student is the most humbling feeling in the world. To be surrounded by a group of peers who have the same mission in helping others allows you to put life back into perspective. The work is hard – there is no way around that. My daily grind begins at 6AM to review for class. The day is then packed with class, meetings, and clinic preparations. I study for a couple hours thereafter and end the day around midnight. It really is easy to lose focus with the amount of work that quickly piles up – but it is imperative to remember why you are here and what you are doing this for. Upon graduating medical school and completing my MBA, I would like to obtain and complete my residency in internal medicine, specialize in cardiology, and hopefully open my own urgent care/clinic. It has been a long dream of mine to do so and I hope to accomplish this goal.
My advice for incoming M1’s: Maintain focus and HAVE A ROUTINE. You’ve heard the adage “drinking out of a fire hose?” That’s because it is true. In medical school, they teach a month’s long lecture in undergrad in 2 hours. Adding more detail, clinic preparations, and 4 other lectures on top – It definitely is easy to fall behind and NEVER catch up. It definitely is important to have a routine and stick with it. Allow yourself a day off once a week to avoid insanity – it definitely will happen being at school 12+hrs/day, everyday [yes weekends included]. There’s a reason why you were accepted to medical school – never doubt yourself and keep your faith strong. Good luck to you all!
Joel Johnson, M.D./Masters
I started out in community college before transferring and completing a BA in Psychology with minors in Spanish and Religion. After graduating in 2008, I obtained a job as a night manager at a homeless shelter in Fullerton. The amount of ailments I witnessed in the underserved drove me to return to school. I attended CSUF earning an MA in Psychology focusing on neuroscience. During this time several events, such as witnessing the birth of my daughter as well as the death and diseases of several other family members, put me in a specific mindset. When a student of mine, who was planning for medical school, asked me why I wasn’t applying to medical school this mindset led me to respond with “That is a very good question.” I decided to prolong my stay in the Masters program to complete all the pre-med classes.
While completing my pre-med courses here at CSUF, I participated in AMSA and SHPA, which were helpful in getting introduced to the application process. I also completed the CCE program at St. Mary’s in Long Beach. This is something I would highly recommend as it is a good introduction to any area you may be interested in working in. Flying Sams and LIGA International are both excellent clinical opportunities, particularly if you speak Spanish. If you don’t speak Spanish and want to go into the health professions start learning it even if only the basics. Having any Spanish speaking ability and multicultural experiences can be important selling points on your application (for medical school/residency/whatever), especially if you want to stay in California.
On top of these experiences I got good grades, very good grades. Although numbers are not everything and numbers alone won’t get you anywhere, your GPA and the MCAT are very important. A low GPA in freshman year will not mortally wound you if they can see improvement, but a low GPA overall can get you knocked off the list. A medical school does not want to accept anyone they are not absolutely sure can succeed in medical school. GPA is one indicator they use for that. MCAT is important because it validates your education and GPA. Take all the practice MCAT tests you can get under real conditions, take a prep course, do all the practice problems, and don’t take it until you’re ready. My advice on the MCAT and the application process is this: Do it once and do it right. Even if you have to postpone applying another round, do it.
General advice, first for the traditional applicant: Don’t rush, it’s not a sprint. Taking a year to do something you love after undergrad (as long as you actually do it) can strengthen your application, refresh yourself, and is not something you will regret. Join a program to enhance your research experience and skills (and selling power). For example, Bridges to Stem Cell Research (BSCR) is excellent if you have interest in that area, but there are many other programs available at CSUF. Find the one for you. You’ll be 40 years old eventually regardless of what you do. Make sure when you turn 40 you’re doing something you love. For the non-traditional applicant such as myself, think outside the traditional box. Married with a child, I didn’t have the luxury of going into something without being sure I would succeed, it was where I should be, and knowing what it entailed. Be careful with this method, but contact people. Find a teaching physician and see if you can go on rounds with his/her residents. Ask a medical student at a school of interest if you can join them to see what a day-in-the-life of a medical student is. Most medical students are very friendly and excited to help if you are genuinely interested in their school. Lastly, don’t check the boxes. True for everyone, but especially for non-trads. Unique real-life experiences are much better than a short-duration stereotypical experience of the type they will read in twenty other applications that same day.
For interviews and applications, do your research. Find exactly what you like about that school and say so. I just started the PRIME-LC program at the UCI School of Medicine. It is a five-year dual degree program with specialized training for those who want to be leaders in healthcare for the Latino community. I loved the program and it showed. If you can find an area you love, work that seems like play, something that makes you think “I can’t believe people are paying me to do this”, do it even if it takes longer. For me it is research in Parkinson’s disease, healthcare for the underserved, and the Latino community (my family). Don’t worry about time, it will always pass by. However, I guarantee it passes by in a much more pleasant manner when you’re doing something right.
Hannah Endicott, FUTURE PHYSICIAN
My name is Hannah Endicott, and I’ll be moving to Brisbane, Australia in January of 2015 to earn my MD from The University of Queensland School of Medicine and Ochsner Clinical School. Before committing to medicine I pursued a variety of other paths, among them performing as a dancer and actor, working for a private investigation firm, and teaching in various capacities. Growing up I loved to read fiction and write, perform and play music, and talk. The talking thing is important, because over time I’ve realized that this was indicative of my interest in other people. Making connections with others has always been a key part of my personality, and why I chose psychology as my undergraduate major at the University of California, Davis. I enjoyed what I learned as an undergraduate, but found a certain amount of it, for me, to be unsatisfying. As I learned the principles of cognition, human development, personality, and pathology, I was constantly thinking about the deeper physiological and biochemical processes at work that contributed to behavior and development. In other words, I could see a relationship between two facets of what makes human beings who they are, and felt frustrated that I only had a clear view of one. After earning my bachelor’s degree I started reaching out to advisors at different schools and eventually learned about the post-baccalaureate pre-medical program at CSU Fullerton. I applied and was able to get a spot in the program for the upcoming fall.
My time at CSUF was, in a word, transformative. I completely changed the way that I studied, developed better focus and stamina, and learned to be comfortable with the necessary solitude that comes with fully committing one’s self to a single goal. I used my time at Fullerton to strengthen parts of my resume that were weak. While I had a good amount of research experience and involvement in campus organizations as an undergrad, I had no clinical volunteer experience. When I wasn’t studying (the most important objective, never forget) I spent my time volunteering at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County and American Red Cross, as well as shadowing a pediatric hospitalist. Shadowing was incredibly helpful for two reasons. First, I was able to observe not only her day-to-day responsibilities, but also those of the residents, interns, med students, and other personnel under her supervision. It gave me a realistic view of the hours I’d be keeping, and the volume of work that would be expected of me. Second, I was able to talk to multiple people who had been through everything I had yet to face, and had emerged loving their jobs, believing in the work they were doing, and willing to tell a green pre-med like myself that all of the ridiculously hard work is worth it. By the time I completed the CSUF program and MCAT, I was stronger, more patient, and more confident in my abilities than before. Staring down Dr. Goode’s biochem class or the verbal section of the MCAT is scary, but the good news is, if you give it everything you have, you will emerge on the other side completely fearless. Someone once told me that after he made himself go skydiving, he was able to look at everything else a little differently because he had already jumped out of an airplane. It’s a little like that, except with more books.
I decided to go international for med school because I have lived in California my entire life, and see global education experience as an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone. After sending some applications to US MD programs, I wasn't feeling particularly drawn to any of them, and began to consider what my options would be for going abroad. I took several factors into consideration when deciding where to apply: location, the type of degree offered, the structure of the program, USMLE pass rates, residency match statistics, and financial aid available. I chose the MD program at UQ because of their students' impressive overall performance on the USMLE and matching with first choice residencies, the reputations of both UQ and Ochsner as research and teaching institutions, my ability to apply for US Federal Student Loans, but most of all, how and where I will be learning. I will complete years 1 and 2 of my program in Australia at UQ, and then years 3 and 4 in New Orleans, Louisiana at Ochsner Clinical School. The program has a diverse range of remote and rural medicine opportunities, both in Australia and back in the US. I can learn what it's like to practice medicine in a large city hospital, but also what it's like to work in the Australian outback and the Louisiana bayou. UQ also begins training its medical students in hospitals from day 1. Many of their students highlighted their comfort and familiarity with basic clinical exam procedures as a huge help when starting their clinical rotations in years 3 and 4. Finally, I am excited to be a part of a program that is relatively new. The UQ Ochsner program is only a few years old, much like the CSUF post-bacc program was when I joined cohort 4 in 2011. It’s exciting to be on the ground floor.
So before I close, I was asked to impart any advice I have for students at CSUF who are preparing for med school. The only advice I have is advice you more than likely first got in kindergarten, but if you’re anything like me, you often have trouble following it. Shakespeare (not surprisingly) worded it best when he said, “this above all, to thine own self be true,” but I’ve had the most success with three simple words: do your thing. It’s difficult not to compare yourself to your peers, it’s even more difficult when your peers are also trying to get into med school. Your colleagues are impressive people, they are smart people, they are disciplined, and you’ll never be better at doing it their way than they are. Observe the strategies of others, listen to advice, but at the end of the day do what you need to do to have the kind of medical career you feel passion for. Of course you won’t always do this, and I’d be lying if I said this isn’t a competition. Of course it is. Some of your professors will grade on a curve, your MCAT score reflects how you performed compared to everyone else who took the same test, and medical schools will absolutely compare you to other applicants to decide who gets a spot, but try to remember that of all the races you’re running, the most important is the race with yourself. You don’t have to study like other people do, you don’t have to gun for the program everyone else wants, and you needn’t have what other people have to be a huge asset to the right school. You just have to do your thing the way that only you can do it.
Also, a little yoga never hurt anyone. Good luck.
Joseph Guerrero, FUTURE PHYSICIAN
I remember as a young child visiting my dad at an urgent care during his late night shifts. My siblings and I would pile into the car, Mom at the helm, and head to the clinic for wheelchair rides, practice on the crutches, and so many laughs. My favorite part of these visits, however, was looking at old X-rays with my dad. He would explain the location of the bones, show me where the fracture was, tell the story about how it happened, and it was all fascinating to me. It was around this time that I began to realize how much medicine and the human body in general appealed to me. As I approached college, however, I faced the reality that school was not enough of a priority for me, and at the time I was certain that I could not ever become a doctor. I began to pursue other interests.
For over 10 years I was involved in the hospitality industry. I am crazy about food, and there was a lot of it. My favorite aspect of being in restaurants and hotels, however, was the people—my coworkers and the guests. Although I enjoyed the work that I was doing, I felt that with my love of working with people and my long-standing interest in medicine, I could do something more personally rewarding than serving meals. I wanted to stop merely thinking about becoming a medical doctor and finally do it. With the support and encouragement of my loved ones, I made the decision to diverge from my culinary career path and begin an entirely new one. For this transition, I was so thankful to come into contact with the Health Professions Advising Office (HPAO), and Dr. Goode, at CSUF. A few months later, I was admitted to the CSUF pre-health post-bacc program.
The HPAO and Dr. Goode gave me all of the resources and guidance necessary to have the mindset of a competitive candidate—all that was needed from me was the effort. Initially it was a surprising amount of effort. The pace and workload of the post-bacc program was like nothing I had ever experienced. Meanwhile, I was volunteering at a community outreach organization (SOS) and an emergency room (CCE program at Hoag, Newport), while still holding down a job. As the semester progressed, I left my job and decided not to join student premedical associations; this way I could focus on my fantastic volunteer opportunities and my grades (As I had mentioned, school had not been a priority for me in the past, so now I had to really prove that I was a capable student. Regarding volunteering versus joining associations: I began to realize as I interviewed that what an applicant is committed to in his or her free time may not be as important as the impact it has and what he or she can talk about gaining from the experience). I learned how to properly study, manage my time, and academically excel.
When it came time to study for MCATs, I took prep courses and as many practice tests as I could find. I cannot stress the practice tests enough. Not only does the exam require nearly as much strategy as it does information recall, it is a long and tiring exam. For me, each test was an opportunity for me to experiment with a different breakfast, different snacks, different caffeine sources/intake, different break routines... these things matter, and will be reflected in the score. I even called the testing center to ask what temperature the room is kept at, so I could have the most comfortable outfit on testing day. The test came and went, and so did application season. The day I received the ‘congratulations’ letter was the happiest day of my adult life. It was finally real—my dream was real.
As I write this, I am excited to think about what medical school will be like. I start orientation at Chicago Medical School, RFUMS, tomorrow, and it seems like only yesterday that I was cooking, waiting tables, and longing for something more substantial. I have no regrets about the path I took. The long, scenic route. I now have the dedication and maturity necessary to devote my life to learning and practicing medicine. I was also fortunate to have this time to work, spend time with friends and family, travel, and enjoy life—all things that there will be a lot less of for a while… starting tomorrow. Bon voyage.
Joseph M. Guerrero
Nadia Musavvir, FUTURE PHYSICIAN
I graduated from CSUF 4 years ago; when I started my undergraduate educational career I had no idea, nor any desire to pursue a career in medicine. I actually started out as a business major and then switched my major yet again before finally finding what I resonated with most in the kinesiology department. By that time, my interest and passion for nutrition and the body had been sparked. I was fascinated with nutrition and took whatever nutrition courses were available at the time. I also loved the sport psychology classes which delineated the connection between mind and body. Upon graduating, I considered perhaps pursuing an advanced degree in nutrition; my other option was a master’s in sport psychology however considering I never played sports, I figured I should explore the former ;)
At this point, I still was not considering a career in medicine and due to this, I had not been preparing accordingly. I was not very involved with any organizations at CSUF and my volunteering/clinical experience was little to none. Due to my interest in nutrition, I started researching nutrition-related careers and I learned about naturopathic medicine during my last semester at CSUF. I immediately knew that was what I wanted to do. There was the emphasis on nutrition as well as mind/body among other things that were of interest to me. At this time, I started to look into all the prerequisite science classes, see what doctors I could shadow and essentially start building an ideal resume. Since I figured this out quite late in my academic career, I was not able to start right away, I had to finish my basic sciences (which I spent so much time trying to avoid!) and find doctors that would allow me to gain some clinical experience. It seemed impossible at the time but little by little I got it all done and now I am about to start my 4th and last year of naturopathic medical school.
I know many students know from a young age that they would like to pursue medicine and consider the conventional route, which is fine, but for those who want to go about it in the less conventional ways or who figure it out later on; don’t be discouraged and do it! I faced a lot of opposition and attempts and dissuasion but I stuck with it and could not be happier with my decision. I encourage anyone who is considering the naturopathic route or anyone who wants to learn more about the profession to visit http://aanmc.org/events/ and see when there is a local event. I attended one of their events held in Long Beach while I was a student; there were representatives from the different schools and students who spoke about their experience. It was very informative and it gave me a better idea of how to proceed with applying. You can also visit http://www.naturopathic.org to learn more and to see if there’s an ND near you to possibly shadow. Make use of your academic advisors and department advisors to make the best class choices for your interests.
I hope this is encouraging to those wishing to branch out or go down the less-traveled route. Best of luck in all endeavors and I’m happy to answer any questions.
Grant Ognibene, Future Physician
I was associated with the CSUF Rugby Club, Golden Key International Honour Society, and the Flying Samaritans. I was also fortunate to be a part of SI (Supplemental Instruction) for two semesters teaching organic and general chemistry. I highly recommend obtaining one of these positions if possible; it helped strengthen my understanding of the material as well as provide leadership experience.
My path to medicine was rather “non-traditional”. I think the foundation was laid during my third year of college when I realized a desire to hold a job that would provide some sort of purpose and fulfillment, particularly one that would afford the opportunity to invest in others. Initially, I sought to become a firefighter/paramedic and began working as an emergency medical technician. It was during this time when I discovered an enjoyment for science, particularly chemistry, through an unplanned chemistry course. As a result, I decided to combine my clinical experience with my newfound interest in science by pursuing medical school.
I worked for 1 year as an emergency medical technician at a private ambulance company and another year and a half at the Glendale Fire Department as an Ambulance Operator (EMT). I also traveled to Mexico twice to assist with health clinics and volunteered as part of the medical team at the annual Cross Fit Games. I also volunteered to assist a health clinic for the uninsured and worked in a fuel cell research laboratory.
I applied about a month into the cycle due to last minute changes to my personal statement. I applied to 15 schools, interviewed at four, and was accepted to one and waitlisted to the remaining three. One of the schools was an MMI, which I enjoyed, and the other three were traditional (one-on-one).
My advice to current students is to apply early and to do well on the MCAT. Many schools prefer students who do well on the MCAT, because it is indicator for how well they can perform on standardized tests, particularly the STEP 1 and 2 tests. A school’s reputation is indirectly impacted by how well their students do on these tests so a high MCAT score will do wonders for you. I would also recommend obtaining a research assistant position at an academic institution during your gap year. These types of position are becoming more common and can allow you to gain invaluable research experience, amazing contacts, and significant professional development. Some of these positions are clinical or computer-based so you may not even have to be in the lab if you so prefer. Also, if you get rejected from your dream school, don’t be afraid to write a letter of appeal.
I grew up in Guatemala without any dreams or aspirations, but when I arrived in California at the age of eight, I was taught to “reach for the stars.” My passion for math and science led me to seek a career in the medical field. At the age of sixteen, I was working for an office with six doctors; two of them have continued to be my mentors. They taught me the ins and outs of a medical office, which led to my decision to pursue a medical career.
As a CSUF student, I was associated with the Golden Key International Honour Society. They provided me with many opportunities to volunteer. Besides volunteering, I must admit I was the typical average student that disappears in a crowd. I was too busy juggling work and school to get involved in student activities. However, I did intern as a Clinical Care Extender at St. Francis Medical Center for a year to get more hands-on experience. The clinical exposure and patient interaction I gained from this truly reinforced my decision to apply to medical school to become a physician. I would highly recommend students to apply to this or similar internships.
One of the biggest advices I can give students is to develop a friendship with your professors because you will need their help when it is time to submit letters of recommendation. Believe it or not, your professors want you to succeed! I am very thankful to Dr. Paula Hudson and Dr. Sean Walker for writing my letters. It had been years since I had been in their classes, but they still took the time out of their busy schedule to write them.
Remember to start the application process early and apply for the Fee Assistance Program (FAP). With FAP, I was able to apply to 14 schools for free!!! If you don’t qualify, apply to as many schools that you can afford. For me, the application process was very stressful because I applied in October. I took the MCAT in September, which didn’t allow time for a retake, so I chose to apply with that score. I applied to 15 schools, had 3 interviews, and received 2 acceptances.
It is very difficult to say, “don’t be nervous” during your interview because I was very nervous, but honestly the admissions committee just want to get to know you as a person. They want to match your personality to the one they developed of you from reading your personal statement. Out of the thousands of applicants, they chose to meet and get to know you. Therefore, just be honest, be yourself, and smile!
Beginning a career in the medical field is no simple task, and becoming professionally responsible for the health and well-being of another person is not something that should be taken lightly. Along the way you’ll have to master a seemingly endless amount of difficult material, submit to a lengthy and rigorous application process, and conduct yourself in an impeccably professional manner…all while somehow remaining human. It may seem like a Herculean challenge, but it’s far from impossible if only you have the drive and desire to make it happen.
Without exception, all of the classmates and colleagues I meet in medical school possess this personal drive, myself included. We all claim different backgrounds, aptitudes and skill-sets, but what unites us is our shared motivation to join the ranks of healthcare professionals and put on the white coat. My path to med school, for instance, was very nontraditional with a few moments along the way where I wondered whether taking the Hippocratic Oath was in my future at all. And yet my drive—the specific calling I feel towards medicine—kept me going against every obstacle or challenge I encountered. I persevered, I sacrificed and I managed to keep the dream alive.
That drive is what any aspiring pre-med needs to tap into. The demanding course of entry into the health professions will test both your mettle and determination, but things worth doing are rarely easy, and if you are truly driven towards medicine no amount of obstacles will deter you. There are several ways to flesh out whether you have such a drive, but I personally recommend being proactive and finding out first hand. For example, at the outset of my journey I was a Political Science and Psychology double-major uncertain of my career ambitions. So, I performed research with the Department of Psychology, I picked up an English minor and edited a publication for the Writing Department, I became involved with several student organizations and let these experiences guide me as I grew along the way. However, It wasn’t until after I graduated and moved on from college that I tapped into the drive that would sustain my entry into the world of medicine. What finally set everything in motion was the time I spent volunteering at a local free clinic, an experience that left me profoundly inspired. I’m not saying everyone has to be able to point back to one experience or moment that ignited their life’s passion, but that was it for me.
To emphasize, if you are considering a career in medicine it behooves you to have significant experience in that environment. This is why health-professions schools stress shadowing and related experiences—they want to know you’ve done the homework to determine for yourself whether you really want to devote your life to this. I did this by finding a job at a hospital working full-time assisting the nursing staff. I figured if I really intended to be a doctor, I had better see what the world of healthcare was about from any angle I could. So, I continued to volunteer, I shadowed doctors, all the while wide-eyed and learning from real-life experiences. You can accomplish this in an almost limitless number of ways, but all that really matters is that you take the time to discover what you’re passionate about—what drives you—and that you exude it. Maybe this course of discovery will take you in a completely different direction—that’s fine. Maybe it’ll send you back to the drawing board—again, everyone has to take their own path. But I guarantee if you hit on what you’re passionate about, be it medicine or something else entirely, those around you will take notice and good things will happen.
Just remember along the way that nobody does this alone. My path basically took me back to the drawing board, which made for a lot of additional obstacles in starting over as a post-bacc, but I had so much help in making it to where I am, especially after I came to CSUF. And apart from tackling the pre-medical curriculum, there are many other demanding steps in preparing yourself for professional school. Take your application seriously; complete it early, edit it carefully, and show it to as many people as you can to get suggestions on how to improve it. For me, the greatest challenge outside of the basic admissions and application requirements was determining how to afford the cost of a medical education, which is another of the many things you should fully consider while embarking on this journey. Again, I wouldn’t have been able to make it here without a determined drive and an invaluable support system, so be sure to carefully consider the important decisions you have to make and take advice and assistance from those around you, be they family and friends or mentors and advisors. They’ve been there and can offer you perspective, which can be a priceless gift if you’re smart enough to utilize it. And if you’re fortunate, maybe one day you’ll even be in the same position to offer advice for those just beginning their own journey along this extraordinary path. I wish you all the best.