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Medical Science Meet Student Michael Brinton

Michael Brinton, Drexel Medical Science Program Student


Hometown: Lewistown, Pennsylvania
Undergraduate: Pennsylvania State University, BS in Mechanical Engineering, Minor in Bioengineering
Graduate: Drexel University College of Medicine, MS in Medical Science


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

I grew up in central Pennsylvania. I went to Penn State for undergrad. I was a mechanical and biomedical engineering major. I decided partway through my studies that I wanted to go to medical school. I found the premed, pre-health programs here at Drexel and pursued that. Now, I'm in my second year here.

How did you find out about the Master's of Medical Science program?

I had applied to medical school once before with an unfortunate outcome. I got an email from the College of Medicine that said, "These are some other programs that you might be interested in to help your application." I read about it, and I realized this was exactly what I needed. I had all the prerequisites. I just needed a little bit of an academic boost and research experience. This program has given me both of those things.

What has your experience been like in the program so far?

It's a challenging program. There's stress, but there's also a tremendous amount of joy from the accomplishment of getting through it. The second year of the program is especially interesting. In the first year, it is pretty much all classes, but the second year is all research with a class or two. In addition, I am a teaching assistant, and I tutor, so the second year has been a very different type of busy. It's taught me how to manage my time in very different ways.

What has your experience been like with the faculty?

I've been really impressed. I was actually speaking earlier today with Dr. Larson. She teaches the immunology course for the Interdepartmental Medical Science (IMS) curriculum. She is absolutely phenomenal. She and I were talking about the things that they've done this year to enhance the course to make it better for the students and things that they might be able to do in the future.

The faculty definitely care about the premed, pre-health programs. They've been nothing but supportive. They want to see all of their students succeed.

What is your relationship with your classmates like?

There's definitely good camaraderie. There's only eight students in the Master's of Medical Science program. This year, because we're all scattered in our own research labs, we don't necessarily work together as much as we did during the first year, but we can still connect with each other.

Can you tell me about your research?

I'm working at Jefferson in Angelo Lepore's lab, where we're doing spinal cord injury (SCI) research. For my particular project, we're working on a gene therapy approach to help regrow injured axons and allow for functional recovery of the diaphragm, or breathing function, after an injury. About half a million spinal cord injuries occur every year worldwide, and half of those happen in the cervical region, which is where the mechanisms for breathing are housed. It's very clinically relevant, especially since breathing dysfunction actually leads to some of the most consequential morbidities and mortalities associated with SCI. Hopefully, we'll get to the point where we can eventually, years down the road, make this an actual treatment.

Why were you interested in researching this?

I wasn't sure what kind of research I wanted to do because I didn't really have any research experience. There was a student who graduated from the program last year who recommended the lab to me. When I looked into it, I became interested for a couple reasons. First, the clinical applications were really interesting. Being a future physician, that was important to me. Also, Dr. Lepore was very open to working with someone like me who didn't have lot of research experience. I've learned so much from him and from the other members of the lab, all of whom have been really welcoming and have helped me progress as a researcher. It was both the subject material and the environment. Having a good lab environment is essential to having a good project.

What are some of the skills that you have developed in the lab?

The very first thing is time management and planning. When working with animal models, the results are prolonged. From the time we do our first surgery to the time that we get any type of data is two months, so you really have to take that into consideration. After we do our first surgery, we have to do our second surgery ten days later. Planning that out and learning to examine what data you have, what data you need, and what you need to do to get there was really big.

Of course, I also picked up general lab skills, from using the cryostat to immunohistochemistry to performing surgeries. You have to learn these things, but they don't help a lot unless you can actually plan out and put them to use properly.

Do you know what kind of medicine you want to focus on?

I am interested in orthopedics, sports medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation. Since working in a neuroscience lab, my interest in that has grown. However, I want to keep my options open and evaluate things as I continue in my education.

Can you tell me briefly about your experience as a teaching assistant?

Absolutely. While I don't know what subspecialty I want to go into eventually in medicine, I do know that I want to work in academic medicine. I want to teach, so being a teaching assistant has been a great opportunity for me to take on an instructional role. I work mainly with the labs for microanatomy and neuroanatomy. It's been great to work with the students. I try to engage them and be present for them. I've found that the more of a relationship I can build with my students, the more willing they are to ask questions and to put themselves out there, which helps them better learn the material.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering the Master's in Medical Science program here at Drexel?

My very first recommendation, for this program or for any of our premedical programs, is to know yourself. The medical school application process is very much introspective, but on top of that, it's graduate school. People talk about the vast difference between high school and college. Well, there's also a vast difference between undergrad and graduate work. Knowing your history of what went well, what didn't, and taking personal responsibility for some of those things that didn't go well can really help you evaluate how you're doing, what's working, what isn't, and how to change to get better.

On that note, the second thing is to never be afraid to ask for help, whether it's scholastic, such as needing tutoring or working with a study group to figure things out, or if it's with research, such as not knowing where to go next. People are here to help you. No one does anything completely by themselves.

Drexel University College of Medicine Medical Science program graduate students participating in a group discussion.