This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with medical school applicants and students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top medical schools and the med school application process. And now, introducing Joshua Niforatos…
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Do you hold other degrees?
Joshua: I’m originally from the suburbs of Chicago where I was born and raised. In grade school and throughout high school, I wanted to study archaeology in the Southwest and Latin/South America. Two aspects of the archaeological record fascinate me: (1) how ancient cultures interpreted the night sky, and (2) how people in antiquity conceptualized diseases. So, the best place to study Southwestern and Latin/South American archaeology is University of New Mexico, and that’s where I decided to go to for undergraduate studies.
I became a bit disenchanted with the necessary, though onerous, politics of archaeological excavation, and decided to focus on cultural anthropology, biology, and humanities. After studying cultural anthropology for a bit, I once again became disenchanted by what seemed to be the chronicling aspect of suffering rather than the amelioration of suffering within the discipline.
To make a long story very short, it was around this time period that I decided to pursue medicine. I graduated with a B.A. in anthropology (Ethnology/Linguistics), and then decided to stick around for two more years and earn another B.A. (biology major, chemistry minor).
During my second B.A., I realized I lacked a coherent philosophical system by which to base my desire to engage in social justice. One thing led to another, and I found myself at Boston University School of Theology where I studied anthropology, ritual, and theologies of liberation. I earned a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University.
Accepted: What year are you at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine?
Joshua: I’m currently a first year at CCLCM, and I’ve been in the program for about 7 months now.
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about the program so far? And if you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?
Joshua: I really like having no tests/exams and no grades, not even pass/fail. Yep, you read that correctly! But more importantly, I appreciate the family-like atmosphere of the program. On interview day, Dr. Franco, Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs, was showing us some of the classrooms and I was very impressed by the fact that every student we passed she knew (1) their names, (2) where they went to college, (3) what field of medicine they want to pursue, and (4) what research they’re interested in. How cool is that!?
Also, the faculty at CCLCM and Cleveland Clinic are incredibly kind. There are almost too many opportunities for research and shadowing at CCLCM and the Cleveland Clinic!
If I could change one thing about the program I would probably rely less on Medical Physiology by Boron and Boulpaep as our primary normal physiology textbook during first year. It is a bit too dense, and it’s sometimes difficult to know what is really necessary from the reading.
Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming first year students, to help make their adjustment to med school easier?
Joshua: In terms of coursework, I think it’s really helpful to have some physiology and biochemistry in your repertoire before starting medical school. But to be completely honest, medical school is not conceptually difficult; it’s not like quantum mechanics or theoretical math. The concepts in medicine, so far, are pretty basic, but there’s a LOT of concepts. It’s the volume of information that makes medical school challenging.
Other than that, take courses that you enjoy during college so that you don’t feel burnt out by the time you start medical school. And make sure that you do nothing but relax during the summer before you start class!
Accepted: Can you talk more about your unique route to med school? What inspired you to pursue a degree in medicine after completing your Master’s in Theological Studies?
Joshua: I’m interested in health advocacy and social justice, and you don’t learn enough about these topics as a science major or medical student. You just don’t. There’s too much literature out there to read, too many seminars, lectures, and conferences to attend, and too many on-the-ground experiences to “experience” in order to understand the unique perspectives of those who are marginalized in society.
Medical/cultural anthropology gave me the theory by which to understand how ideologies and social structures become embodied as sickness, and theology gave me the ability to both hear and understand the voices of those who are marginalized in society. All of these readings became concrete when I did a 1.5 year public health project working with immigrants at risk for Type II diabetes.
Ultimately, I’ll probably get another master’s degree (a 1 year degree), either in medical anthropology or advanced theology since I need more formal education in LGBTQIA, feminist, black, and womanist studies.
Anyway, I wanted to pursue medicine before completing my Master in Theological Studies. I took the MCAT before I started seminary. Theology and medicine go hand-in-hand: physicians are healers of the body, while seminarians are healers of society and the soul.
Accepted: Do you have any foresight into the residency application process? What do you plan on specializing in?
Joshua: The residency process is about 3-4 years away for me right now since the CCLCM curriculum takes 5 years, so I cannot really comment on this. Currently, I’m interested in infectious disease medicine or psychiatry, but that might change in the future. Infectious disease medicine interests me from a public health standpoint, and psychiatry interests me from an anthropological standpoint.
Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the med school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Joshua: The most challenging aspect of the medical school admissions process is waiting to hear back. After you submit your primary and secondary applications, it’s a waiting game. If you get an interview, it can often be weeks to months before you hear back. Waiting is difficult, and patience is something I need to continually work on. I’ll be honest: I’m not someone to emulate when it comes to advice concerning how to practice patience. I made sure I was extremely busy during the 6-7 months of waiting, so between graduate school, working a part-time job, running, and working on my master’s thesis, there wasn’t a lot of free time to worry about acceptances or rejections. Though I’d imagine my housemates in Boston would beg to differ. ☺
Accepted: Can you tell us about Vagabond Running?
Joshua: I started Vagabond Running Blog in 2012 as way for me to write on a passion of mine. I started running frequently when I moved to New Mexico, and I primarily ran in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico. I am really fascinated by the biomechanics of running, as well as the running shoe market. So, I decided to start blogging about running! I was sponsored by the outdoor company Merrell summer 2012 to represent them at the Outdoor Nation 2012 Summit in Boston, and since then companies ranging from The North Face and Arc’teryx to Mizuno and Skechers periodically send me running shoes and gear to review for my blog. We’ll see how long I keep the blog going, but it’s been a great outlet so far. My most popular post, interestingly enough, is How Running Improved My MCAT Score. Pre-meds, check it out!
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You can follow Joshua’s adventure by checking out his blog, Vagabond Running. Thank you Joshua for sharing your story with us!
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