Get ready to read about our next med school blogger, Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam who blogs at Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam: Medical Journalist & Physician-in-Training and is passionate about “Narrative Medicine.” Not sure what that is? Read on!
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself – where are you from, where and what did you study as an undergraduate, and do you hold any other degrees?
Jennifer: My name is Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam. I’m currently a second year student at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, but I’m originally from Albany, New York. I attended Harvard College where I concentrated in Film Studies (Visual and Environmental Studies) and received a secondary degree in Health Policy.
After graduating from Harvard in 2010, I attended Columbia University, where I received a Master of Science degree in Narrative Medicine.
Accepted: What is Narrative Medicine?
Jennifer: Narrative Medicine is the multidisciplinary study of the interpersonal aspects of medicine and health care. Narrative Medicine aims to counter many systematic failures in health care because it “addresses the need of patients and caregivers to voice their experience, to be heard and to be valued, and it acknowledges the power of narrative to change the way care is given and received.” Medicine is a fundamentally social endeavor where narratives of illness and healing are the lifeblood of each clinical encounter. As an undergraduate, I found myself drawn to the stories that people of different cultures and eras tell and the various mediums in which they are told –that’s why I choose to study film. Narrative Medicine not only allowed me to explore the interpersonal dynamics that occur in clinical settings, but also to forge stronger connections between my interests in medicine and the humanities.
Narrative Medicine is a relatively new frontier in medicine. As such, I didn’t know my seemingly disconnected interests fell in line with the work several brilliant scholars were doing in the emerging field. This article I stumbled upon in the New York Times prompted me to explore the work of Dr. Rita Charon, and ultimately inspired me apply to the masters program! Since graduating I founded The Intima, a Journal of Narrative Medicine. I think it provides some good examples of Narrative work in action. I encourage you all to check it out!
Accepted: Can you talk a bit about the intersection of medicine and media? What steps do you plan on taking in this area?
Jennifer: I plan on pursuing a career in both medicine and medical journalism, which draws strength from the symbiotic relationship between the two. I think the media is a powerful tool that physicians can use to empower their patients to make informed decisions about their health care. Every day we are influenced by things we see on TV, read online, or hear on the radio. I want to harness the potential for influence to educate people – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds or underserved communities – about bettering their health and well-being. Pursing a dual career is certainly challenging, but I want to do all that I can be excellent in both fields. Even though I’m a full-time medical student, I’m passionate about developing the skills I need as a journalist in order to fulfill my mission.
As an undergraduate I spent a summer interning for CNN’s medical unit. I asked Dr. Sanjay Gupta what I needed to do in order to achieve my goals. He advised me to start writing – and that’s exactly what I did. Since the summer of 2009 I’ve owned two blogs and published other articles in a number of media outlets from NBC’s the Grio to the Huffington Post. Writing has really opened a number of doors for me and allowed me to pursue a variety of other opportunities in media. I currently work as a health reporter/producer for WTJU, local radio station in Charlottesville, VA and a health reporter for WUVA online. To learn about my other experiences in medicine and media, you can visit my blog, www.JenniferAdaeze.com.
Accepted: Which other med schools did you consider in addition to UVA? What tipped the scales to favor UVA?
Jennifer: I considered a number of schools, but I was ultimately drawn to UVA because I thought that I would be the happiest there. I really liked the fact that all the students I met were proud to be at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and not just happy to have “made it” to medical school in general. I also believed that UVA’s new curriculum and collaborative environment would complement the way that I learned and allow me to excel as a medical student. When I interviewed, I also got the impression that students and faculty were excited about my interests outside of medicine – it was important to me find a school where all my intellectual interests would be supported.
Accepted: As a second year med student, can you offer some advice to students who will start med school in the fall?
Jennifer: There is no single path to succeeding in medical school. Everyone is different and you really need to understand yourself, your values and your future goal in order to make the best decisions. Your goals can also change over time! Be open to that change and take in as many experiences as you can. I’ve learned A LOT about myself over the past year and a half, so I suppose these are my pearls of wisdom:
1. Unless prestige is your sole source of happiness, do not choose a school based on its name! Medical school is really hard, and it’s going to be difficult no matter where you go. Unless you are a colossal hot mess, you are going to be a doctor – take comfort in that. Don’t forget however, that life doesn’t start when we reach the end goal of receiving that MD. The journey getting there is important! Don’t neglect it. If you have the privilege to choose between several schools, here are two factors you should keep in mind: (1) Grading Systems – You should choose a school that supports your learning style – Pass/Fail grading systems allow students to collaborate and teach each other in ways rendered impossible by “competitive” grading systems. (2) Location – If you have the choice, choose a school in location you love! 80% of your time will be spent being a medical student. How will you spend the remaining 20% of your time? Can you live a fulfilling life outside of the classroom?
2. Go to as many social orientation events as you can – especially if you plan on living alone! I didn’t attend many events because my moving situation was somewhat complicated, but I do wish that I was able to meet more of my classmates earlier on and maximize my chances of finding the people I genuinely connected with sooner rather than later.
3. Medical school can be all encompassing. Some people become so consumed that they forget what it’s like to be a civilian and talk about regular things. Diversify your world! Make friends with law school students, business school students or even people in town. I’m thankful that my social circle extends beyond the medical school – I think it helps keep me sane!
4. Medical school is hard and it can get really lonely sometimes. Some people are quick to give you the impression that their lives are perfect, and that you are the only one struggling. Don’t buy it and don’t let anyone make you feel like you are alone in feeling this way. It’s okay to cry sometimes! Just try not to wallow in your sorrow, because at some point it will become counterproductive. Breathe, stretch, shake and let it go. You aren’t the first to experience the hardships of medical school and you certainly won’t be the last. I find that talking to my friends in the classes above me always helps. The FIRST thing they always say is “I remember feeling that way.”
5. It’s hard, but don’t compare yourself to others! People are always buying extra books and reading supplementary resources. You, in turn, may feel pressured to do the same. I certainly did and as a result I’m probably Amazon’s favorite customer. Part of the challenge of medical school is finding what resources work for you. It’s difficult because you move through the material so quickly and the resources that helped you learn biochemistry may not be helpful in immunology. I know it’s the most unhelpful advice ever, but you will hear it over and over again – find what works for you. No one can tell you how to learn – they can only tell you how THEY learn. I adjusted my learning strategies a million times. Don’t be afraid to change how you study. As Albert Einstein once said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Accepted: Can you share some application/MCAT tips with us?
Jennifer: In terms of the MCAT, practice, practice, practice! Do MCAT-style practice questions from the very beginning of your preparation. I made the mistake of trying to read everything first and then doing practice questions later, as a result I had to take the exam twice. It basically ruined my senior spring. Furthermore, don’t waste your time doing questions that are not multiple choice and written like the exam. Half of the MCAT battle is understanding how to work through the questions. I really recommend ExamKrackers for Biology, Organic Chemistry and the English/Verbal section. There are 1001 practice questions in each book and I did them all. For Chemistry and Physics I did a mix of Kaplan and Princeton review. I’m not sure which one helped me more, but I just think the volume of questions I exposed myself to really boosted my confidence in the subject matter.
Don’t be afraid of practice tests! You should NEVER go into the exam unsure of where you stand. My practice tests were pretty accurate predictors of my official score. You will never be 100% prepared, but if you don’t feel like your practice test scores represent your full potential, consider postponing the exam. These tests are expensive and time-consuming, but a bad score can be really detrimental to your application. Sometimes we need to make sacrifices to pursue the career of our dreams. I had to sacrifice going to Las Vegas with a group of my best friends during my senior spring. Would I sacrifice the trip again? YES. Medicine is competitive profession, so you need to be competitive applicant! A good MCAT score will not get you in, but a bad score can certainly keep you out.
In terms of applying to medical school…the process begins LONG before you start the AMCAS application. As soon as you think you may want to become a physician you need to expose yourself to as much of the field as you can. Shadow local doctors, volunteer in hospitals, find mentors and invest time in long-term activities, either clinical or research oriented – depending on your interests. Most importantly, you need to do what you love. The written portion of the medical school application is all about the experiences you have had, what you have learned from them, and how they will help you become the best physician you can be. There will be thousands of biology majors applying to medical school with similar test scores and resumes. There is however, only ONE of you! You are the only person who has lived your life, seen what you have seen, and learned what you have learned. Find what makes you a special and unique and capitalize on that! I love giving premeds advice so you can always tweet me @JenniferAdaeze!
Accepted: Can you recommend a nice coffee shop in the area – a place where you can either study or relax and hang out with friends?
Jennifer: I know it’s boring and predictable, but I have to say I’m a huge fan of Starbucks! Maybe it’s because I’m from New York, but something about the corporate coldness feels like home! No one talks to you, and its wonderfully productive! I completed most of my medical school applications at Starbucks. I prepared for the MCAT and USMLE Step 1 there too. Venti White Chocolate Mocha all day every day!
In Charlottesville, I’ve been to a few cute cafes called Feast, Para Coffee and Mudhouse. Those are also popular amongst students the here!
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