Road To MD Without A Map
My name is Kelly and I’m a third-year MD student at the VCU School of Medicine. First, I want to thank Angela for having me! It’s a privilege to be part of her Diversity In Medicine Initiative. I strongly identify with the initiative’s mission and it aligns closely with my personal goals.
I come from a family of immigrants (Vietnam, but we’re ethnically Chinese) and became the first in my family to graduate from college. I was inspired to pursue medicine by my grandparents, who were my primary guardians. As they aged, I became more and more involved with their care, especially my grandpa’s. But I struggled with the transition to college. Even though my family put me in a college-prep high school, I learned NOTHING about stress and time management. Navigating through college while also having to work to pay for my tuition put me under stress that I didn’t know how to handle. For these reasons, I decided to switch my path to pharmacy. Why? Because my family had friends who were pharmacists. At least if I pursued pharmacy, I could have SOME form of mentorship or guidance. And honestly, because it would be easier than getting into medical school.
Academically, I continued to decline. During my third year, I realized that I needed to learn how to manage my stress and time better. I joined a pre-health fraternity and that became my strongest support system. From there on, I began excelling academically, even though I was studying LESS. I learned to prioritize self-care and study efficiently. But I still didn’t think I could get in to medical school because of my GPA.
In preparation for applying for pharmacy school, I began brainstorming for my personal statement a couple months before graduating. That was the moment I realized I had zero genuine reasons for pursuing pharmacy. I shocked everyone, including myself, when I decided to pursue medicine. I had been hell bent on pharmacy for so many years.
Terrified is one word to describe how I felt. My family had no one in the health care field. No one! Pharmacy school is such a different ball game than applying to medical school. I quickly reached out to my friends in my health fraternity and hunted down every piece of advice I could. But mostly, I had to create my own map of getting to medical school. I spent hours googling and reading up on everything: MCAT, GPA, application timeline. I realized I would need to take two gap years.
But they were the best years I had! I started working as an MA at an addiction clinic and LOVED it. I scribed for a mobile geriatric practice and LOVED it. I started working as an MA at a family practice in an underserved area (Fullerton, CA) and LOVED it. I transferred to an FQHC to work as a bilingual MA and LOVED it. All my experiences prior to medical school have been related to primary care, geriatrics, and underserved populations, which is why that’s where I want to end up. I can’t see myself in any other field.
Fast forward to today, I am the first health care professional in my family as well as the first physician. I feel so lucky to be where I am!
So back to the original question. What are my personal goals? Although hardship builds character and work ethic, I want to change the narrative of first-generation students from one of hardship to one of empowerment. I want to change the narrative of what it means to be raised by immigrants. To do that, I will need to connect with as many first-gens as I can, share the map I charted out for medicine, and empower them to succeed.
Despite my struggles, I still believe I have more privilege than my fellow friends who are black or Latinx. I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic community. My neighbors and friends are Hispanic. That’s why my second goal is to advocate for underrepresented students in medicine as well, and help change their narrative.
My third goal is to inspire future medical students to pursue primary care and serve underserved populations. It’s cliché to describe it as a “calling”, but that’s the easiest explanation. Part of it is also because of my extensive exposure to underprivileged patients. I think my interactions with them affected me on such an emotional level that it influenced the kind of physician I want to be.
Last year, I was lucky to be one of the recipients of the NHSC Scholarship. It’s awarded to students who are interested in primary care in underserved communities. It pays for your tuition and provides you with a monthly stipend in exchange for practicing in underserved area once you are a physician. I want to invite anyone who is interested to get in touch with me if you are genuinely interested. I would be happy to guide you through the application process & beyond! I share everything you need to know about the NHSC Scholarship on my blog, TalesofTingTing.com (Ting Ting is my Chinese name).
Lack of mentors is the reason why I didn’t pursue medicine earlier. I don’t ever want that to be the case for you! On my blog, I also document my experiences in medicine and share some guidance for medical school. I’m using my website and Instagram as a platform for student outreach (first-gens and all medical students). I write for you all so if there’s anything you want to read about, feel free to contact me!
Sorry for the long post, I hope you were able to get something out of it. Thank you again Angela for having me! I’m looking forward to seeing the Diversity Initiative grow!