As an undergraduate pre-medical student, Class of 2024 Larner College of Medicine medical student Kiana Heredia slogged through basic science courses in physics, chemistry, and more and found herself questioning her career choice. In this blog post, Heredia describes that experience and what eventually led her back to pursuing a career in medicine.
To help students like her “see the forest for the trees,” Heredia and University of Vermont pediatric pulmonologist L.E. Faricy, M.D., have developed an in-person day-long program for undergraduate college students from historically under-represented and under-served backgrounds who are thinking about a career in medicine. Find out more about The URiM Pathway to Pediatrics (UPP) at the end of this post.
What am I doing here?
I remember thinking to myself, “This can’t be something I want to do for the rest of my life. Kinetic energy? Magnetic fields? What am I doing here?”
An Intro to Physics course was my first taste of what it meant to be a pre-med student and as a newly minted first-year undergraduate college student, it was nothing like I expected. High school physics seemed more digestible and less abstract—was physics in college harder because it wasn’t just a class anymore but rather a career choice? This Intro to Physics course shaped my first academic relationship to medicine and with no family members or friends in the healthcare field, I was convinced that these pre-med requirements and medicine were synonymous, in meaning and experience, without any room for expansion.
I spent two weeks in the course trying to convince myself that I truly wanted to study medicine, but I just couldn’t extract the actual practice of medicine from the scientific theory. I ultimately dropped the course and spent the next three years wondering about the path in life I wanted to take. I tried every course available, from philosophy to political science to romance languages; and ultimately, I landed on a major in psychology.
Psychology is such an all-encompassing field and it reminded me of how beautiful the human mind is. It reminded me of how intertwined our mind-body experiences are and what that means on a more scientific level. In this field, I was able to apply the scientific method to the everyday person and this major helped me gain and refine skills relating to critical thinking, problem solving and communication. Everything in these psychology courses kept reminding me of medicine, not only about the science in medicine but also the people we treat.
Searching for Meaning
After graduation, I moved to Spain, where I volunteered at a geriatric facility and at a fertility clinic. Every day when I left these clinics, I was in awe. In the geriatric clinic, I saw how a simple conversation with a patient about his diabetes journey could spark so much connection and joy, not only for the patient but also for myself. In the fertility clinic, when an embryo would successfully implant after an in-vitro fertilization procedure, the journey of emotions that we would go through trying to help a family conceive was immensely gratifying. The experiences were undeniably transformative because it was through these clinical practices that I finally understood that medicine, and the science that facilitates its practice, are undeniably intertwined with humanism. It was clear to me at that point, that no matter how many times I convinced myself that medicine wasn’t for me, I undoubtedly had an appreciation for working with patients in a clinical setting.
These experiences pushed me to apply to a post-baccalaureate program where I would complete my pre-medical requirements. It was really an interesting experience because instead of going into these pre-med courses blindly, I now had meaningful clinical experiences to help me remember what medicine really means. Medicine is not just learning about covalent bond and photosynthesis, it’s also about understanding how these fundamental sciences are marked by metamorphosis when applying them to the human body.
Balancing Art, Science, and Humanism
When I re-enrolled in a physics course during my post-bacc program, I knew I had to build the connection between the hard science and clinical medicine. This time, instead of looking at electromagnetic fields as an isolated phenomena, I saw electrical fields as the human heart and how with each beat, this electric field vitalizes us. In my chemistry courses, instead of just memorizing the definition of surface tension, I explicitly looked for clinical applications. By doing this, I could see how our lungs and the molecules within them reduce surface tension and that the interactions between these properties of life are what allow us to take in a breath each day and live a life full of richness. With these clinical experiences under my belt, medicine was no longer just a science; it also served as a bridge through which I could understand what our health actually means through a humanistic approach.
What kept me going through these seemingly abstract pre-medical courses was a sustained appreciation for the human interactions we have in clinical medicine. Throughout my courses, I made sure that I was consistently interacting with patients so that I could find meaning in my pre-medical classes.
What we often don’t learn as pre-med students is that medicine is both an art and a science. The foundations of science facilitate the practice of medicine. As much as medicine is about learning the foundational scientific processes, medicine is also about learning about your patient and working with them in the most fundamental of ways, which is through the humanistic lens of appreciation, trust, and connection.
A Final Piece of Advice
If I had one piece of advice to share with anyone struggling as a pre-med student, it would be to find meaning in what you do.
When you find meaning, you remember what brought you on this path and what keeps you going. Finding meaning reminds you of your strengths and of all of the wonderful things you contribute to this field. When you’re able to find meaning in your work, taking your pre-med courses no longer just feels like classes that you have to fulfill, but rather, like a fruitful journey that you have embarked on.
Apply to be a participant of UVM Larner Med’s URiM Pathway to Pediatrics
It can be hard to imagine yourself wearing a white coat with a stethoscope draped around your neck and taking care of patients when you’re working through basic science courses and learning about Newton’s laws of motion, molar mass, Avogadro’s number, and the difference between covalent and ionic bonds.
On April 30, 2022, the UVM Department of Pediatrics and the UVM Larner College of Medicine chapters of the Latino Medical Student Association and Student National Medical Association are hosting URiM Pathway to Pediatrics – a day-long program designed for undergraduate college students from historically under-represented and under-served backgrounds in Vermont, New Hampshire, and up-state New York who are thinking about a career in medicine.
Learn more and register now at https://go.uvm.edu/pathwaytopeds.
View the URiM informational flyer.