Hometown: Reading, Pennsylvania
Undergraduate: Pennsylvania State University, BS in biochemistry and molecular biology, minor in psychology
Graduate: Drexel University College of Medicine, MS in Biomedical Sciences (DPMS)
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself before you came to Drexel?
I grew up in the greater Reading area and graduated from Wilson High School in West Lawn, Pa. in 2011. Before I came to the College of Medicine, I was a bioenvironmental engineering technician in the United States Air Force. While on active duty, I sustained a service-connected injury that resulted in my medical retirement. I decided to return home to pursue my studies at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), graduating in 2020 with a BS in biochemistry and molecular biology and a minor in psychology. Afterward, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to the Drexel Pathway to Medical School (DPMS) program in June 2020. I was able to graduate with my MS in May 2021 and acquire my acceptance to Drexel University College of Medicine!
How did your undergraduate experiences prepare you for medical school?
Studying at a satellite campus of Penn State (Berks Campus), I was able to have a personalized experience with my education and benefit from mentoring by several professors. Those educators were able to connect me with health care providers and volunteer directors at Penn State-affiliated hospitals, which allowed me to shadow several providers and volunteer in a clinical environment.
What drew you to medicine?
As a child, my answer to the infamous question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was more-or-less equivalent to my peers. At age 7, I thought I could be one of the movie stars that graced my television screen. At age 8, I was confident that I was made to be a famous singer. My parents allowed me to believe I was invincible, and I could not be influenced by any negativity. It wasn’t until my father’s cancer diagnosis that I inadvertently came face to face with the vulnerability of human life. My father deteriorated in the span of 4 months. I watched the strongest man in my life become emaciated and riddled with pain. In this short time frame, my innocence died with him. I was 9 years old.
The support of my extended family was the glue that held my mother, my brother and myself intact. However, like any home, an unstable foundation can cause the home to crumble. My grandfather – our newly-appointed patriarch – also passed away after a cancer diagnosis. Over the next few years, several other close family members passed away due to cancer or stroke. Ever since, I found myself drawn to medicine. The questions, “What caused this?” and, “How can I prevent this?” continue to circle my mind; specifically stemming from my family's history of cancer and my disabilities sustained in the military, I believe I have the passion to become one of the doctors who could aid in finding the cure for cancer, or to help prevent patients’ suffering. Being given the privilege to learn and practice medicine is much more than a career to me. From all of the heartache and tragedy I have experienced in my life, I have since become a firm advocate in preventing others from feeling the pain I have become accustomed to. In saving others, I experience a joy that validates my life's purpose.
How did you hear about the Drexel Pathway to Medical School (DPMS) program, and what made you want to apply?
I came upon DPMS on Drexel’s website. During the summer of 2019, I applied for the 2020 AMCAS cycle with the hope of interviewing and being accepted to a medical school. Although I had several interviews, I wanted to make sure I explored every option possible to further my education to achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a doctor. After learning that the DPMS program awarded their students with a MS and provisional acceptance to the College of Medicine should they meet the standards set forth in the contract, I was completely set on applying. Furthermore, it was comforting to know that I had the potential to stay in the area where I grew up with the new medical campus opening in West Reading. I wouldn’t have to uproot my family to move for medical school.
What were the DPMS faculty like? What were your relationships with your classmates like?
It was clear that the DPMS faculty had the same goal in wanting the cohort to succeed and fulfill contracts. Although our classes met virtually due to the pandemic, which made learning a bit more challenging than in the traditional class environment, our instructors were resilient in that they “rolled with the punches” of technical difficulties and the like. They offered office hours and one-on-one meetings over Zoom, allowing for easy accessibility for material review. This made the intensive DPMS program easier to traverse.
What is great about DPMS is that it eliminates the tension and competition between students who are enrolled in the program. After being accepted into the DPMS program, there is a guaranteed seat waiting for you in the following year’s College of Medicine class, provided you meet the GPA and MCAT requirements. My peers and I developed a close-knit relationship that was similar to family. Everyone wanted their peers to succeed, so there was no hesitation in lending a hand to those that needed help understanding the material or sharing strategies that may be helpful when it came to exam time.
Do you feel like DPMS helped prepare you for medical school?
DPMS gave us a taste of what the pace is like in medical school. Our DPMS instructors often said that medical education feels like trying to take a drink from a fire hose. However, I believe that the support and advice from our instructors and teaching assistants gave me the tools to develop the study strategies necessary to understand the material taught in medical school.
What advice would you give to someone considering DPMS as part of their path to becoming a physician?
The DPMS program is not a race — it is a marathon. At times, it may seem like it can be too much and you may begin to question whether the stress is worth it or if you have the ability to succeed in the field of medicine. However, I urge those that are considering DPMS to remember all their accomplishments that got them where they are in the first place, and to recall why you want to become a physician – let that be your motivation to continue! Furthermore, accept that you may need assistance in navigating the material, and that it is completely understandable. Utilize the plentiful resources that are at your disposal and remember that everyone involved in the program wants you to succeed.
What was your first year of medical school like? What are you looking forward to about your second year studying in West Reading?
My first year of medical school was not without its challenges. However, I am so grateful that in the DPMS program, I was exposed to very similar content to that of the College of Medicine’s first-year medical students. Not only was I able to use my study strategies from my time during DPMS, but I gained the ability to adapt to new strategies that I found useful in understanding the content. All in all, I truly enjoyed my first year.
First year mostly covered the mechanisms of normal human physiology, biochemistry and anatomy. What I’m looking forward to this year is learning about the pathophysiology of disease states and learning different clinical skills while working with standardized patients.
Students in West Reading have done a great deal of community service in their first year at the campus. What kinds of service projects have you been involved in, and what have you learned in the process?
As part of our Health Advocacy Practicum (HAP) course, we were tasked to get involved at various institutions and programs in the community. I was assigned to the Reading Science Center’s Sisters in STEM program, where we teach a variety of disciplines in STEM fields to fourth- and fifth-grade girls in the Reading School District. This has become one of the great joys of my life, and I am continuing to volunteer with Sisters in STEM during my second year of medical school, as well. My experience with the program and developing a relationship with the girls has really demonstrated for me the factors that contribute to health and well-being outside of the doctor’s office.
You participated in a summer research fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in summer 2022. What type of research were you working on, and what did you do day to day?
My experience as a summer research fellow at Mayo Clinic was incredible! I was fortunate enough to be placed in the basic and translational science lab of Dr. Gary C. Sieck, the Vernon F. and Earline D. Dale Professor at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. I worked alongside Dr. Debanjali Dasgupta in discovering TNFα’s impact on human airway smooth muscle, specifically on the mitochondria. We spent our days running several experiments such as treating human airway smooth muscle cells with TNFα, running sodium dodecyl-sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) and subsequent western blots to determine the levels of target proteins that can be attributed to mitochondrial biogenesis. With my mentors’ permission, I was also able to shadow physicians of different specialties and observe surgical procedures.
How did your first year of medical education prepare you for this summer experience? What lessons from your time at the Mayo Clinic will you take into the rest of your medical education?
Having graduated from Penn State with a degree in biochemistry, I was already familiar with the techniques of protein extraction. During my first year of medical education, however, I was exposed to the different lab techniques through our biochemistry thread and that served as a great refresher. Additionally, through specialty interest student organizations, I was able to pick a few specialties that I liked so I could better focus on networking with physicians in those areas of interest while at the Mayo Clinic.
You grew up in the West Reading area. How does it feel to be studying medicine so close to home? From your perspective as a student, what makes West Reading a good place to study medicine?
This is such an exciting time in my life, knowing that I will be so close to home while pursuing the career of my dreams. Being born and raised in the Reading area, I personally understand and know the community and its people. Having a medical school here will absolutely change the lives of those that may not be able to see a physician due to cost, and it gives the younger population a clear view that they have the option to pursue a career in medicine that they may not have been exposed to before. It touches my heart that I will be able to give back to a community that I love and have a deep connection to.
I believe students should look forward to the experience of learning medicine in a close-knit, easily accessible location. West Reading is an up-and-coming environment that holds frequent festivals and allows those living there to become immersed in different cultures. It gives a small-town feel with the option of seeing urban and rural communities with a short drive.
Additionally, being enrolled at the College of Medicine’s West Reading campus allows students to experience the evolution of the city. I believe the act of giving back to the city of Reading will be one of the most rewarding experiences in one’s career.