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Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Program Meet Rachel Allison
IHS Program Class of 2023

Meet Rachel Allison, Drexel Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Class of 2023

Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Undergraduate: BS - University of California, Riverside
Fall 2022 IHS Rising Star

Can you tell me a little about yourself before you came to Drexel?

I am the first in my family to graduate from college, and the first to pursue becoming a physician. After getting my Bachelors’ degree in Neuroscience, I worked in the healthcare field as a Medical Scribe in Internal Medicine, and then worked in a Family Medicine clinic. As a proud Filipino-American, I loved connecting to my roots by staying involved in Filipino organizations throughout high school, undergraduate, and post-graduation. Some of my fondest memories revolved around the sense of community produced from performing traditional Filipino folk dances in front of an audience.

When did you know that you wanted to go into medicine?

It's difficult for me to choose one defining moment that helped me decide to go into medicine. However, I can still remember when my perception of medicine changed. When I was working as a medical scribe, the doctor I was working with showed me a chest x-ray with pulmonary infiltrates complicated by a malignant tumor. The doctor was worried, and the prognosis was poor. This same chest x-ray was for an elderly woman with a grandchild sitting not too far away from us in a hospital room. I remember the doctor saying, “I’ve been doing this for so many years now, but I am still learning how to give this [end of life] talk to loved ones, to family. It’s still hard.”

My perception of medicine shifted from beyond the scope of diagnosis and treatment, and I could see then how a physician practiced through their vulnerability and compassion.

Why did you choose to apply to Drexel’s Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (IHS) program?

After working on my own post-baccalaureate classes at a community college while working full-time at a clinic, I decided I needed a more structured program that would continue to challenge me academically as a full-time student. I was interested in not only getting involved in scientific research, I also wanted to continue volunteering to give back to the community. Lastly, it was important for me to be in a program with a strong support system.

I believe that I found that exactly at Drexel’s IHS program. It was easy to get in contact with the academic advisor, Matt, to discuss the program in detail and flexibility with the courses I could take. I also appreciated that the IHS program places a huge emphasis on involvement in community service and research, with a volunteer and research project built into the program the first and second year respectively.

How is the program going so far?

While the coursework has been rigorous to prepare students for medical school, the support and guidance I’ve received from my peers and faculty has been the most invaluable to me in my personal and academic growth. In one year, I have become a better learner, gotten to know my advisors and professors on a level I did not have in my undergraduate years, and received advice unique to my own personal struggles that have helped me succeed in my coursework and exams. Had it not been for my IHS mentor and the faculty here at Drexel, I would not have been connected to work at the research lab I am currently at.

I am incredibly grateful to the people I have met that have advocated for me, recognized the effort and care I put into my work, and have given me the opportunity to occupy spaces I had not been in before. I look forward to see what else I can accomplish as the end of my second year approaches in 2023.

Have you been involved with any organizations or in any community service experiences since entering the program?

This past year, I volunteered as a Clinic Operations Chair with Mabuhay Health Center (MHC) based in San Francisco, California. I began volunteering with the free community health clinic back in 2021 at the height of the COVID pandemic. As part of the Clinic Operations Committee, we facilitated and standardized a completely new protocol to transition our services virtually to telehealth. In my personal project, I created a Scribe Program for volunteers to dictate notes into an After-Visit Summary given to the patient following their telehealth appointments. I saw an opportunity to not only give our pre-health volunteers the opportunity to become more involved in direct patient contact, but to also ultimately, increase patient adherence to medical advice by receiving a physical summary. Today, my project has grown to become an integral part of Clinic Operations at MHC, and will be transitioning into an in-person protocol as MHC safely returns back to services in-person.

On Drexel campus, I serve as the current Vice President of the Graduate Student Association for the Pre-medical & Pre-health programs division, a teaching assistant for a first-year Career Development Seminar course, and a mentor for first year students in the mentorship program.

Can you tell me about the research you have been doing?

I work at the Gao Lab, which is within the Neurobiology and Anatomy department here at Drexel College of Medicine. The project I am currently involved in will be investigating the GluNR2B subunit in NMDA receptors, specifically localized in the adult medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of mice, and their role in cocaine-mediated working memory retrieval and long-term memory consolidation. This study will help us to better understand and identify the underlying mechanisms by which cocaine use disorder behaviors, such as withdrawal, manifest in respect to memory.

What are you planning to do after you graduate?

After graduation, I plan to apply to medical schools for the upcoming 2023 cycle while continuing to work in either scientific research or healthcare. I would also like to use this time before medical school starts, to spend more time with my family and loved ones and make up for the lost time spent apart living in different states, with most of them residing in California.

What advice do you have for students who are considering coming to Drexel’s IHS program?

My advice for prospective students is to first assess what your goals and needs are. Be honest with yourself. Second, be prepared to work hard to meet them. Third, ask a lot of questions and advocate for yourself. And finally, but most importantly, find your support system in good people to keep you motivated and focused. In the IHS program, you get what you put in. Approach all that this program has to offer with an open mind and willingness to grow, and you will discover new opportunities and foster relationships that will help you in your future career.

Graduate students in a Interdisciplinary Health Sciences lecture at Drexel University College of Medicine.

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