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Meet Noe Cabello and Cassandra Mitchell

Med students who met in DPMS prepare for couples match, residency

By Lisa Ryan

Noe Cabello and Cassandra Mitchell, Drexel Med Students

Noe Cabello (left)
Hometown: Reading, Pennsylvania
Undergraduate: Johns Hopkins University, BA in Biology
Graduate: Drexel University College of Medicine, MS in Biomedical Sciences (DPMS)

Cassandra Mitchell (right)
Hometown: West Palm Beach, Florida
Undergraduate: Washington University in St. Louis, BA in Anthropology
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?

NC: I was born in Huanimaro, Guanajuato, Mexico, and moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, when I was in the second grade. Growing up I focused on excelling in both academics and soccer. I graduated from Reading High School in 2011 and Johns Hopkins University in 2015. After graduating from Hopkins, I spent one year doing basic science research at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania, investigating the sex difference in lung immunologic responses to ozone exposure. With a plan to attend medical school close to home, I enrolled in the Drexel Pathway to Medical School (DPMS) program for the 2016-2017 academic year. After successfully completing the program, I accepted a position in the College of Medicine’s MD program Class of 2021.

CM: I grew up in South Florida, where I went to magnet art schools from kindergarten until my senior year of high school; I was a dance major at A.W. Dreyfoos High School of the Arts. In high school, I felt inspired to pursue a career in medicine. I chose to go to Washington University because I could be a pre-med student while also exploring the humanities and maintaining my love for dance. After graduating, I spent a year living in St. Louis, where I worked as an emergency room scribe and performed with a contemporary dance company. After my gap year, I made my way to Philly to start DPMS, from which I matriculated into the College of Medicine.

What drew you to medicine, and to the College of Medicine specifically?

NC: In Mexico and in the U.S., I lived through and also saw family members struggle with barriers that affect access to health care. I pursued a career in medicine because 1) it is a career in which Hispanics are severely underrepresented, and 2) I want to be an advocate for underserved and underrepresented people while providing culturally competent care for all patients.

I chose the College of Medicine because of its civic engagement and commitment to serving the Philadelphia community. Drexel’s curriculum aligns with my goals because it focuses on cultivating clinically and culturally competent medical students by incorporating coursework in population health, patient safety, health care economics and service projects along with the clinical and basic sciences training.

CM: I was drawn to medicine because I wanted a career where I could directly make a positive impact on people in my community. The first cycle I applied to medical school, I had very little luck. I started searching for master’s programs that were linkages to medical school. I chose to apply to DPMS because I identified with the College of Medicine’s commitment to the Philadelphia community. DPMS program seemed like the perfect fit for me: a program to build my biomedical science knowledge while also providing linkage to medical school.

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

NC: At Drexel, I have served as treasurer of the LabakCare Student Organization, worked with MedScholars, and was a biochemistry, physiology and anatomy tutor. I also completed the Robert L. Mayock Research Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania in summer 2018.

I’ve been involved with the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), an organization that is dedicated to raising awareness of Latino health issues, providing leadership opportunities to Latino medical students, and promoting service to the Latino community. For two years, I helped lead the College of Medicine’s LMSA chapter as its secretary, and then as its co-president. In the latter role, I focused on educating fellow medical students about Latino culture and the barriers Latino patients face when accessing health care. I achieved my goals by organizing student and physician panels and school-wide events to educate my peers about various Latino cultures, and with student-run clinics in Northeast Philadelphia. I also attended regional LMSA conferences and oversaw the organization of free community health fairs in Northeast Philadelphia to advocate for preventive health in the Philadelphia Latino community.

I also was a member of the 2018 Diversity Week Committee that oversaw the inception of the inaugural Drexel University College of Medicine Diversity Week. We hosted events such as the "First Generation Med Students Panel Discussion," "Culture and Medicine Panel Discussion," and "Around the World: Cultural Experience Event." Diversity Week was created by students with help of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to help MD program students enrich our classmates with information about our world cultures, languages, heritages and a greater understanding of the barriers underrepresented groups face in accessing health care.

CM: I’ve been involved in organizations dedicated to enhancing diversity and inclusion in medicine: the American Women’s Medical Association (AMWA), the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), and the Drexel Black Doctor’s Network. I was a part of amazing teams that planned events aiming to increase networking and mentorship opportunities for women and underrepresented medical students. I am proud that as I continued to go through medical school, I was able to reach back and help others succeed – that is something I plan on continuing to do as I go through the rest of my career in medicine.

Noe Cabello and Cassandra Mitchell, Drexel Med Students

What specialty do you plan to go into? What influenced that choice?

NC: I will be matching into anesthesiology residency. I was drawn to anesthesiology because it is a unique specialty that requires robust knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, as well as pharmacology. It is also a field that requires a strong and trusting patient-physician relationship that must be created within minutes.

CM: I am going into OB/GYN. I have known I wanted to pursue OB/GYN since I was a sophomore in college. I took a class called “Anthropology of Human Birth” (taught by Dr. Lewis Wall, an OB/GYN and anthropologist) and I absolutely fell in love with every aspect of the field, from labor itself to the significance of pregnancy and labor in different cultures. My experiences on my OB/GYN clerkship and sub-I’s further solidified my passion for obstetrics and gynecology. I truly love both the diversity of the field (L&D, GYN surgery, primary care, etc.) and working with this special patient population.

What are some of your favorite medical school memories? What lessons have you learned here that you'll carry on into residency?

NC: Some of my favorite memories include: playing with the MD program soccer team and winning the Philly Med School League, attending school-wide social events after exams, the Pediatric AIDS Benefit Concert, Winter Formal, and of course celebrating the Eagles' Super Bowl win on Broad Street.

The biggest lesson I learned at Drexel was to always keep in mind the community that I am serving. During med school, it is easy to get lost in the books aiming to get certain test scores, but at the end of the day, we are on this journey to provide the best care for the community we’re serving.

CM: Looking back, I have many fond memories from medical school: struggling through gross anatomy lab, going to 76ers games, performing at PABC and Lift Every Voice, our weekly hangouts at Beer Wall during third year, and celebrating the Eagles winning the Super Bowl. My classmates are all incredible people and they made medical school an enjoyable four years.

The main lesson I will take away from my time at the College of Medicine is that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Our curriculum focuses so heavily on wellness for a reason! It’s so easy to be wrapped up in the intense stress associated with being in medical school. However, to be the best provider to my future patients, I need to take care of myself by maintaining balance.

What has it been like going through medical school together? What was the couples match process like?

NC: There’s no other person I would have wanted to spend the last five years with; Cassandra and I actually met during DPMS, before we both matriculated into the College of Medicine’s MD program. We have supported and helped one another through DPMS and med school. We have different personalities, different learning styles, and different hobbies outside of the classroom, but at the end of the day we hold similar values and goals, so all of our traits complement one another.

The couples match process has been stressful. As a couple, we have to apply to a lot more programs than we would have applied to individually, and during the interview process we had to contact programs on behalf of the other person in order to get as many interviews in similar locations as possible. Once it came to ranking our list, we had to compromise a lot, like creating a rank list that was fair to the both of us and unfortunately not being able to rank some programs because the other person did not get an interview in the same area. But at the end of the process, we just want to be able to live together in the same location.

CM: I feel so lucky that Noe and I have been able to go through medical school together. We have a very supportive relationship where we are both committed to celebrating each other’s successes. Competition has absolutely no place in our relationship. Medical school is such a challenging time, and Noe’s unconditional support helped me thrive.

The couples match process felt daunting because people seem to only talk about how difficult it is. Our advisor, Marie Hartman, helped us strategize and go into interview season as confident as possible. To increase the chances of us matching together, we mainly applied to big cities with a large number of programs. We were both very pleased with how our interview season played out and we were able to create many options for our rank list. We are very excited to see where we match!

How are you feeling ahead of Match Day? What are you looking forward to about the next step in your medical careers?

NC: I am feeling very confident about it. We had a great resource in our advisor, Marie Hartman, who was able to guide us through this process and answered any questions we had. We both received a similar number of interviews at similar locations. We also interviewed well and received great feedback during our interviews, so I think we will be able to match programs that we both highly ranked. I am looking forward to finally being able to focus on anesthesiology and making that leap from student to resident.

CM: Match Day is a source of much anxiety and excitement. All of my hard work comes to this day, and where I match for residency will shape who I become as a physician. Even though this is all pretty stressful, I am very excited to transition into being a resident after being a student for so long.

What advice would you give other couples who will go through the match process together?

NC: It’s important for the couple to know what each other’s priorities are going into the match. Ask yourselves questions like: ‘What type of program are you both interested in? How far are you willing to travel? Are you both considering a fellowship? Must you be close to family?’ Those types of questions should be answered before the application cycle. Also, matching as a couple, you have to remember that you are a team. Help each other out during your study period, proofread each other’s applications, and call programs on behalf of one another. There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to the couples match, but the best you can do is help each other out to put the two best applications out there.

CM: If your goal is to match close to each other, my advice is to plan ahead, work closely with your advisor, and apply broadly. Long before application time rolls around, you and your partner need to have honest conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of your applications and about your priorities (location, academic versus community, fellowship, etc). Meet with your advisor to get objective information about your application and potential programs to apply to. To increase your odds of matching together, you will need to apply to more programs than most other applicants will. Pick cities that you and your partner can see yourselves living in, but also be open to new places because you can always be pleasantly surprised.

What was your DPMS experience like, and how did it prepare you for med school?

NC: DPMS was a great experience. It allowed me to transition back into schoolwork after spending a year doing research after college. The curriculum is rigorous, with medical school-level courses that allowed me to assimilate quickly to the demands of an MD program. I was able to work with bright individuals who were, like myself, from underrepresented backgrounds. A lot of the DPMS graduates from my class are some of the most accomplished College of Medicine seniors; I am certain they will match into very competitive specialties at prestigious programs.

CM: DPMS helped me develop a strong foundation for medical school. There is a huge difference between being a learner at the undergraduate level versus the medical school level. DPMS helped bridge that gap so I was confident when I started medical school. It is also where I met my soon-to-be husband!

Noe, how did it feel to have some of your clinical experiences close to your hometown in West Reading? What was your experience like working with Tower Health physicians?

NC: It was an unbelievable experience to be able to spend over a year at Tower Health’s Reading Hospital as a regional campus student. It was like coming full circle for me. I have been there as a patient struggling with the same barriers (language, transportation, inadequate health insurance), and now I had the opportunity to train as a provider. It was amazing to be able to learn from and serve the community in which I was raised.

The teaching physicians at Tower Health are one of the system’s biggest assets. In all of my rotations, I encountered physicians who love their jobs and love to teach medical students. They allowed me to take ownership of my patients’ wellbeing and of my learning, and when they noticed a gap in my knowledge, they provided me with resources to seek that knowledge myself.

What should incoming medical students look forward to about studying at the College of Medicine’s West Reading campus?

NC: Future College of Medicine and Tower Health students are fortunate to be able to learn at the West Reading campus. The location itself is within walking distance to the hospital, as well as to Penn Ave. with its many small shops and restaurants. There are many outdoor activities available: hiking trails, rivers, lakes and more; in typical years there are also festivals held throughout Berks County year-round, recreational sports leagues, and many other things to look forward to once the pandemic is over. Ultimately, the biggest asset to the campus and its location is the patient population. At Reading Hospital, you will learn from medically complicated patients from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Reading and Berks County have a very unique population not found in many other places, with racial and ethnic diversity as well as religious diversity. Your patients could come from nearby Amish, Mennonite, or Pennsylvania Dutch communities, or they could be recent immigrants. As a medical student you’re learning in an urban environment with a rural designation, at a hospital with a Midwestern feel.

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