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 J. Kai, a medical student with a passion for inspiring members of underrepresented groups to pursue a healthcare career.
Kai, thank you for sharing your story with us!
Where do you attend medical school? What do you love most about being an M3?
Kai: I am a third year medical student at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. I love being a third year medical student because of the active learning opportunities. It’s great to finally reinforce the knowledge that I’ve accumulated in the first two years of medical school in such a practical way. Not to mention, it is very fulfilling to finally be an active member on a patient care team. So far, I have done my internal medicine, OBGYN, and family medicine rotations. I have always been drawn to the OR, but these rotations confirmed my suspicions! OBGYN gave me the chance to see several operations, and I loved them. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for my surgery rotation.
Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to pursue a career as a doctor?
Kai: I’ve wanted to be a doctor since before I can really remember. I’ve always had a love for science and engineering. There was one point when I was younger, when I thought that I wanted to become a mechanical engineer instead of a physician, but at some point along the way, before starting college, I committed to the idea of becoming a physician.
If I had to dig deep and come up with a source of inspiration, I really think the technical aspects of surgeries are what inspired me most. I have always had a knack for working or playing with my hands. When I was a child, I used to love playing with action figures, legos and making origami.
How did you determine which med schools to apply to? Did you apply outside your home state?
Kai: Although my state of residence has a fantastic medical school, receiving in-state tuition was a big motivating factor. I moved to Kansas from California as I was finishing up high school so by the time I was ready to start college, I was no longer a California resident, but a Kansas resident. At the time, I did not have any outside help to pay for college. I knew that in-state tuition in California was pretty expensive, but out-of-state was just unreasonable!
What has surprised you most about life as a medical student?
Kai: Receiving so much respect from my friends and the community in general was a big surprise to me. I knew that being a physician was a prestigious career, but to me it was just something that I loved and wanted to pursue.
Being trusted by the faculty to be a credible member of the patient care team has also been a surprise. Prior to third year, I was under the assumption that my primary role as a medical student was to stay out of the way. But, there have been several occasions when a patient received a treatment plan that I came up with on my own.
What do you think your classmates would be most surprised to know about you?
Kai: I think that my classmates would be most surprised to learn that before reaching the 10th grade, I never attended the same school for more than one year. We moved around from city to city when I was younger for one reason or another. One of those reasons being that my mom decided to go back to school to finish her undergrad degree and eventually pursue her PhD.
What extracurricular activities did you participate in prior to applying to med school? What hobbies or activities do you currently do?
Kai: Before medical school, I was involved in many different clubs on campus, including my university’s pre-medical society, where I held a leadership position.
After graduating college, but still before medical school, I volunteered in hospice. I knew that I would be taking a few gap years, so I decided to gain some volunteer experience in a field that I knew would be relatively unique among med school applicants. That turned out to be a great decision! Not only was volunteering in hospice care extremely rewarding, but it was one of the items on my application that I was asked about most.
Beyond that, I worked a lot throughout college and afterward just because I didn’t have much financial support at the time. I think that my work experience was also one of the highlights of my application.
Currently, I am involved in several activities including research projects, community initiatives, and independent social media campaigns. My research projects have to do with tissue engineering and patients’ pain perception. Research has been an amazing experience, because I truly feel like I am helping change the future of medicine!
In the community, I am fortunate to be a leader in an organization called the Critical Mass Gathering, where we help connect underrepresented minorities in medicine with mentors. Medical school can be a very isolating experience, especially for minority students. For example, at my institution, African American students make up <5% of my class! It’s important for students to have someone to reach out to in times of uncertainty. This is a subject that I am very passionate about, which is why I have started a podcast dedicated to addressing issues of minority health and wellness, as well as providing a voice for those underrepresented in medicine with the ultimate goal of inspiring future generations of healthcare providers.
Can you tell us more about Critical Mass Gathering, and your role in the organization?
Kai: The Critical Mass Gathering at its core is a mentorship event for underrepresented minorities in medicine.
Fun fact: A survey of 64 hospitals across America done by the National Public Health and Hospital Institute showed that up to 29% of the patients at the surveyed hospitals and clinics were black patients. However, only 2% of practicing academic physicians are black men, and 4% of total practicing physicians are black women.
The Critical Mass Gathering is working to solve this problem. For the fourteenth year, the CMG is bringing students and physicians together for a mentorship event. The goal is to inspire young underrepresented minority medical and pre-medical students to excel as they pursue a career in medicine and to help address our community’s health disparities.
To accomplish this mission, we work with a team of about 15 students and physicians to plan our yearly event. My role as the lead student coordinator is to work out the logistics of the event (including event location, keynote speaker, catering, event workshops, etc.), as well as develop the marketing and advertising plan for the event. The Critical Mass Gathering was started as a grassroots effort to decrease the minority medical student attrition rate. Today, it has grown into an entire organization that is on the cusp of national recognition! We can be found on facebook @CriticalMassGathering, we are working on building a website soon!
Can you tell us about your podcasts? What topics are addressed, and who is your intended audience? Where can we find these?
Kai: So my podcast was actually inspired by the work that I do with the Critical Mass Gathering. We realized that many young minority students are not entering into medicine because many of them have no exposure to the field before high school or college.
My goal with the podcast is to bring to light the issues affecting minority health and wellness as well as provide a voice for those underrepresented in medicine with the ultimate goal of inspiring future generations of healthcare professionals. On each episode of the podcast, I feature guests who are committed to pursuing social and healthcare equity. I have featured classmates, community healthcare workers, community activists, and even friends of mine. The podcast will launch in January 2020, so follow me on Instagram @jkaisimmons for updates!
I understand that Critical Mass Gathering XIV took place earlier this fall! The itinerary as detailed on the flier looked incredibly informative. How did it go?
Kai: The CMG event this year went very well. We had close to 80 pre-medical + medical students and 20 physicians from around Kansas City in attendance. We are currently in the process of accepting survey responses from attendees to measure the long-term impacts of the CMG on a student’s wellness while in medical school and career path thereafter.
Looks like you’re juggling a lot! Can you share your top organization tips?
Kai: So, organization and productivity are definitely mutually exclusive! Organization to me means keeping my environment clean; that means making my bed, keeping my apartment tidy, keeping dishes out of the sink, updating my calendar weekly, etc. However, productivity is a matter of sitting down and DOING THE WORK!! There have been periods of time where I’ve been profoundly organized, but would still procrastinate. I’ve actually used “staying organized” as an excuse to procrastinate. Nevertheless, being organized does also facilitate being productive. A well laid out schedule can direct your workflow if you can avoid becoming distracted. One of my favorite quotes is by theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, “you have to have ‘butt-power’…” Butt-power is the ability to sit down for long periods of time and do work without getting up and attending to distractions (snacks, phone, naps, random fridge checks, and so on). Routine can help you stay organized, but you’ll need grit and mental fortitude to remain productive.
As someone interested in health and fitness, how do you find time for self-care as a busy med student?
Kai: One of the ideas that I live by is that people tend to make time for the things that they really want. Health and fitness is a top priority to me; its my primary form of self-care. There are many things in life that I am willing to sacrifice in order to maintain an adequate fitness routine. If we sat down and really analyzed our day to day lives, there’s a solid 30 minutes to an hours worth of time that we waste on non-fruitful tasks (often more!). Watching TV, scrolling on social media, online shopping, and the list goes on. In my eyes, “I don’t have time” more closely equates to “It’s not a priority” when it comes to self-care. However, self-care can come in many different forms. To many, self-care is catching up on the latest season of their favorite show, to others, self-care is retail therapy.
In my opinion, you get the most bang for you buck when your self-care is intentional. That means scheduling your study breaks and telling yourself “ok, for the next hour, I’m going to focus on this TV show/finding new boots/getting a great workout and I’m not going to be thinking about studying.”
Where do you see yourself in ten years, professionally?
Kai: In ten years, I see myself working hard as an attending physician surgeon. One of my goals in life is to inspire people and help them realize that if there is something they want in life, they are more than able to get it! That being said, I cannot wait for the opportunity to work with students as an attending. Similarly, I am very interested in partnering with other physicians to start a scholarship foundation for underrepresented minority students.
What advice do you have for premeds at the start of their med school journeys?
Kai: Use this journey to learn about who you are and what you want out of life. I realize that statement is unsatisfyingly vague, but it’s one of the most important things that you will ever do! Self-discovery will help you develop confidence and certainty which will allow you to excel in the medical field. Once day people will look to you for answers to their most personal questions.
Spend your time investigating which field you might be interested in. There is an abundance of information online, via youtube, reddit, or Instagram that can help you learn the ins-and-outs of every specialty. Knowing what you are interested in – even if you change your mind later – will give you a tremendous advantage from day 1 in medical school. It’s better to pick a direction and move forward now than it is to stay stagnant and rush later.
Do you have questions for Kai? 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!
You can learn more about Kai by following him on Instagram.
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• Medical School Admissions Action Plan: 6 Steps to Acceptance, a free guide
• Writing for Medical School: Personal Statements, Activities, and Secondaries, a podcast episode
• What Do the Medical School Admissions Teams Say About Admissions?