Learn how real students navigate their way through the medical school admissions process and med school itself with our What is Medical School Really Like? series.
Meet Molly, a medical student on a mission to “do good for the greatest number.”
Molly, thank you for sharing your story with us!
Where do you attend medical school? Any favorite classes so far?
Molly: I am a rising second year medical student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami, Florida. My first year covered all of the basic clinical science material, from anatomy and immunology to microbiology and histology; we finished off the year with two systems modules: cardiovascular and neuroscience/behavioral science.
Of all the courses, I enjoyed our cardiovascular module the most! In addition to savoring the logic of a closed loop system, I was able to see significant opportunities in future practice for preventive medicine and public health initiatives.
I understand you hold a master’s degree in public health. What do you love about that field?
Molly: I pursued a Master of Public Health with a desire to influence the childhood obesity crisis, which I quickly realized was far more complicated than access to healthy foods and spaces to engage in physical activity. Public health attempts to address social determinants of health at a systemic, community level as a means to improve individual health. I love that public health has the potential to impact an entire community or group of people.
The greatest lesson I learned while pursuing my MPH was that health insurance does not equal access to care; however, health insurance (even with its flaws) is a necessary partner to quality, affordable, and accessible health care.
Can you share a bit about your time in Washington, D.C., working in legislative affairs?
Molly: I have always been fascinated by history and politics, which caused me to gravitate towards an undergraduate degree in political science. During college, I spent two summers interning in Washington, D.C. (one for a Member of Congress and one at a nonprofit) which further solidified my love of the city, public policy, and the potential to do “the most good for the greatest number.” That remains my ultimate goal, even in the more individualized field of medicine.
After I graduated from college, I moved to D.C. for a one-year fellowship as a legislative assistant at a nonprofit organization. I was assigned an issue portfolio and was responsible for tracking legislation moving through Congress, attending Congressional hearings and coalition meetings, writing press releases, fact sheets, and issue briefs, and generally being in charge of anything that came up for my issue area.
I ended up staying at the same organization for two more years after my fellowship to work in their programming, education, and communications departments. I was still managing some legislative responsibilities but spent more time translating the nuances of public policy for general lay audiences.
What prompted you to pursue medicine?
Molly: While I love public health and health policy, I realized early on in graduate school that it was not going to be enough for me professionally. I was most interested in the policy side of public health, which could mean years working on a single policy issue with stakeholders and policy makers, with no guarantee of success. I never intend to leave that part of me behind — I still want to do good for the greatest number — but I wanted a career in the health world that could have a more immediate impact.
During graduate school, I worked for a research group in the school of medicine focused on disseminating innovation in clinical practice, with particular emphasis on emergency medicine. I was suddenly introduced to the world of medicine and how it could help people at their most scared and vulnerable moments. I had never even considered medicine as a career, in part due to an excessive fear of needles and blood, and less than stellar performance in science courses. But I decided to volunteer at the local children’s hospital to see if the clinical side of medicine was appealing and exciting.
I fell in love with being in the hospital and interacting with the patients and families. Of course, that is not all there is to practicing medicine, but every time I left my volunteer shift I wanted to know more — what was the patient’s diagnosis, what was the treatment plan, how did the physician communicate with the family. My curiosity of the pathology and physiology is what made me truly start to consider my career change.
On a practical level, how did you make your career change happen?
Molly: Once I made the decision to attend medical school, I knew I had to complete all of the prerequisite classes. I took Chemistry 101 in college (and did not do well) but wanted to retake it along with the other required classes. I applied to a number of one year post-baccalaureate pre-medical programs to complete all of the prerequisites and ultimately moved from D.C. to Philadelphia to enroll in the postbac program at Thomas Jefferson University. I was looking for a structured postbac program, as opposed to a more DIY effort at a community college, and wanted a strong advising element in the program.
There are no physicians in my family and the medical school application process seemed mysterious and frankly, rather impossible to navigate on my own. Thankfully, my postbac program director had every answer I needed and was instrumental in helping me craft a successful application.
In eleven months, I completed two semesters of general chemistry, two semesters of biology, two semesters of physics, two semesters of organic chemistry, and one semester of biochemistry. I started studying for the MCAT while in my last semester of classes and took it one month after completing my postbac year.
Once medical school started, what surprised you the most about your program?
Molly: While I shadowed prior to medical school, I did not have time or contacts to experience a wide variety. In part, I chose my medical school based on the breadth of clinical opportunities available during the third and fourth years. Between the largest public hospital in the country, a private hospital, a Veterans Administration facility, and the #1 eye hospital in the country, the specialties and subspecialties I can interact with seem endless.
I was surprised to learn how frequently first-year students were able to shadow in the various clinics and hospitals; we are actually required to complete a certain number of clinical shadowing hours each semester. Over the course of this year, I have been in the pediatric kidney transplant clinic, the ophthalmology emergency room, the trauma hospital, and a primary care clinic, among others.
One other surprise that is not unique to my program is just the sheer volume of material to learn. I don’t think there’s any way to truly prepare – it’s a constant struggle to stay on top of the material, review old material, and juggle all the other things going on in my life. But somehow, I’ve managed through a year successfully and I think it’s partially due to seeing things I learn about in the classroom in the clinic when I shadow. It helps to reinforce the material with real people; it’s a good reminder that one day I will use this knowledge every day to help people.
As a med student, have you become involved in any extracurricular activities or clubs?
Molly: If anything, I have become over-involved in extracurriculars, which is a hallmark of my personality. I was mildly appalled to learn how little my classmates knew about the basics of health insurance (especially since it’s how we will all get paid one day!) and decided to get involved in our American Medical Association chapter as the outreach leader. In addition to encouraging AMA membership, I get to talk with my classmates about health policy and the importance of medical student and physician engagement in advocacy. I also serve as our AMA Alternate Delegate, which afforded me the opportunity to travel to Chicago for our annual meeting, and am a member of the national AMA-Medical Student Section Committee on Legislation and Advocacy.
I also hold a leadership position for the upcoming year for campus organizations engaged in supporting women in medicine. In addition to leadership positions, I have been fortunate enough to volunteer at many of our student-run health fairs.
How do you find time to pursue hobbies and maintain important relationships?
Molly: Medical school is emotionally and physically draining and I would not have survived the year without my family. I moved back to Florida for medical school in part to be closer to my family — I knew I would need their support more than ever to navigate these four years. I try to talk to my mom, dad, or sister once a day; hearing that the world outside of medical school still exists is grounding and gives me a break from thinking about bacteria and ion channels.
If I didn’t pursue hobbies outside of school, I truly do not think I could focus on my studies. I have always been a multitasker, interested in one million things, and ready to say yes to new opportunities. I have been able to combine my love of health policy, medicine, and self care working with Beautycounter, a company committed to creating safer skincare and cosmetics while also advocating for increased federal regulation of the personal care product industry (I was horrified to learn that the FDA does not have the authority to recall personal care products, even those tainted with asbestos and other toxic chemicals!).
I also took up bread baking, which has hilariously turned into the best hobby for studying. Not only do I get up every hour or so to check on the progress of the bread, but then I get a delicious snack at the end!
So how do I do all of this? Because I’m honestly exhausted just writing about it. I’d be nowhere without my weekly to-do list. I use a regular old notebook and keep track of all the lectures I need to get through each week (one checkmark for watched, one checkmark for handwritten notes taken), which lectures I need to review, deadlines for organization projects, meetings, mandatory class sessions, homework assignments, blog post ideas, etc. Sometimes I’ll add in something special I want to watch on TV or a friend I want to call just so I don’t forget. It’s not very high tech, but it’s how I got through my semester juggling postbac classes and MCAT studying, so I know it works!
Tell us about your blog, MollyMPHtoMD! When did you start it and who is your target audience?
Molly: I actually started the blog about a year ago with a friend from graduate school who is also in medical school, but over time we realized it was more of a passion project for me than her. So, I changed the name and here we are today!
My goal is to make health policy accessible to medical students in digestible amounts. If we want to be innovators and problem solvers, we must know some basics of how an idea progresses from legislation to law to regulation to implementation. Why didn’t your patient in the ICU seek care earlier for a pesky cough that has become a dangerous pneumonia? Well, maybe they fall in the gap between Medicaid expansion eligibility and ACA subsidy eligibility and did not have insurance or had an expensive co-pay, so they ended up in the ER. But wait, do you even know what Medicaid expansion is? Or an ACA subsidy? Maybe our primary job is to help that patient while they’re in the ICU, but if we truly want to be an advocate for our patients, we must understand the system we practice within.
Do you expect your background in public health to inform how you practice medicine after graduation?
Molly: Yes, I absolutely expect public health to inform how I practice medicine! Simply being aware of barriers to care can have an immense impact on how we interact and treat patients. Patients do not want to come to the emergency room with an asthma attack, just like they do not want to live in a home with mold that exacerbates their asthma and have insurance that does not cover the inhaler they need to control it. Medical care is intertwined with so many aspects of public policy that it is impossible, and truthfully neglectful, to view medicine in a vacuum.
I plan to continue my involvement in health policy advocacy, working with legislators and advocacy organizations at the state and federal levels to improve access to quality and affordable health care and built support for a “health in all policies” mentality.
Do you know what type of medicine you’d like to specialize in?
Molly: I am most interested in pediatrics or family medicine, but hope to remain open to all experiences during third and fourth years!
Any words of advice for new med applicants?
Molly: Apply smart — meaning know the strengths in your application and apply to schools that will value those areas of your story. Do not underestimate the value of non-medical experiences, as they can set you apart from other applicants! Be confident in any interviews, no matter what is on your application; they have chosen to meet you even if you think your test scores or grades aren’t “good enough.” So be confident that the school sees something amazing in you! And never forget: “Failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result.” Michelle Obama.
Do you have questions for Molly? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Medical School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
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