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Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Program Meet Yesenia Aguilar
IHS Program Class of 2020

Yesenia Aguilar, Drexel Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Program Class of 2020

Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Undergraduate: Kalamazoo College
Student's next step: Matriculating into medical school summer 2022

Can you tell me a little about yourself, and what brought you to Drexel?

I am a proud first-generation college student. I was raised in Los Angeles but completed my undergrad at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. After undergrad, I was the volunteer coordinator for AIDS Walk Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. Although I had the opportunity to help raise thousands of dollars for those living with HIV/AIDS, my volunteer coordinator position did not offer the patient interactions or scientific experiences that I was seeking. So, I left to pursue a clinical research associate position at UCLA in a neuropsychiatric lab. While at UCLA, I began looking for post-bacc and master's programs that would enable me to become a successful medical school applicant, which is when a college mentor suggested that I look into Drexel's master's program. After some research, I knew it would be the perfect fit.

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

Growing up in a monolingual Spanish-speaking household, I often served as a translator/interpreter for my family members in various settings, one of which was within medical exam rooms. Through interpreting for ill family members, my initial spark to pursue medicine was ignited. Interpreting for my family also exposed me to health care inequities faced by underserved communities. I decided to further explore medicine in college by becoming a formal Spanish medical interpreter and volunteering in a NICU. Both of these experiences solidified my interest in medicine and reaffirmed my commitment to improving the health and well-being of underserved communities.

What was the best part of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program at Drexel?

The best part of the IHS program was the mentorship and guidance that I received from faculty and staff. As a first-generation Latina, pre-med mentorship had been hard to come by. Still, at Drexel, I truly felt like the faculty and staff understood my journey and desire to continue pursuing medicine. The faculty and staff's willingness to help me and other IHS students become the most competitive medical school applicants we could be is unmatched. I owe a huge part of my medical school application cycle success to the mentorship and guidance that IHS provided – from help with writing my personal statement to letters of recommendation and providing tips on the best timeline for taking the MCAT and hitting submit on my primary applications. I would not have been accepted to medical school without IHS, so I am eternally grateful.

What was your relationship like with other students and faculty/staff in the program?

I formed great relationships with classmates and with faculty/staff – everyone was kind and welcoming. I really appreciated how much faculty and staff were willing to go the extra mile to help students succeed. I was pleasantly surprised that IHS was a collaborative rather than competitive environment. The second-year IHS students were always so willing to provide advice and guidance on succeeding. It was honestly a breath of fresh air as my undergrad had a very competitive pre-med culture. I still keep in touch with my IHS friends, and it's great to hear about their journeys in medical school thus far and to hear about others' new endeavors outside of medicine.

Did the program’s curriculum meet your personal needs?

I really liked the flexibility in the program's curriculum. We had the opportunity to choose our classes from a wide range of options. This flexibility allows all pre-health students to tailor their class choices to their desired health profession. Alongside this flexibility, there are a few courses that are mandatory for all IHS students. These required courses are unique but will genuinely enhance your experience and prepare you to become a well-rounded health care professional. For example, Dr. Baird's Community Dimensions in Medicine course enabled us to go out to the community and witness the importance and benefits of community-centered medicine. Additionally, the curriculum helped me become a better student and learn new study skills, which will undoubtedly become useful in medical school.

What organizations, extracurriculars, research or community service experiences have you been involved in at the College of Medicine? How have they impacted your experience here?

After learning of the opioid crisis in Philadelphia, I was compelled to volunteer at Prevention Point Philadelphia (PPP), a nonprofit providing harm reduction services for people unable or unwilling to stop drug use. As a volunteer at PPP, I participated in overdose reversal training and helped prepare and serve lunch. Through this experience, I gained a deeper understanding of the opioid epidemic and its effects on communities of color, while also being exposed to the complexities of addiction. Ultimately, it enabled me to comprehend the lived experiences of PPP clients and more compassionately communicate with them.

Regarding research, I opted to complete the independent literature analysis project because I believed that I had sufficient clinical research experience before beginning IHS. At that point, I had spent two years at UCLA as a clinical research associate before IHS, where I learned a lot about psychiatric conditions, medications and neuroimaging. Additionally, I already had wet lab research experience from completing my undergrad thesis on spinal cord injuries at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. However, Drexel does have great research opportunities.

Overall, both volunteering at PPP and completing the independent literature analysis have enhanced my readiness for medical school.

What have you been doing since graduating from Drexel?

Upon completing IHS, I rejoined the UCLA neuropsychiatric lab that I was previously working in. Over the last year and a half, I have learned so much about treatment-resistant depression and the long-haul effects of COVID-19 by coordinating the Ketamine Pilot for Treatment-Resistant Depression and the Brain Imaging in COVID study. This post-COVID research will explore the neurophysiological manifestations in long-haul COVID participants and lead to identifying brain circuits for targeted therapeutic interventions. Aside from study management and coordination, I've also contributed to two new publications.

Lastly, a lot of my time has been spent on the medical school application cycle – from writing my personal statement to interviewing and now narrowing down my acceptances to make a final decision as to where I will spend the next four years.

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

Invest in yourself and your goals! If you're looking for a collaborative environment that provides research opportunities and community engagement, and that will overall enhance your medical school application, this is your program! The two years spent in IHS will be challenging and rewarding, but most importantly, they will serve as a steppingstone to your next endeavor. Everyone at IHS wants to see you succeed, and they provide the necessary tools to get you one step closer to your dream career.

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

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