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 Dorothy Charles…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Can you share 3 fun facts about yourself with us?
Dorothy: I was born and raised on Guam, moved to Oregon just before starting high school, and then attended Princeton University, where I majored in molecular biology and minored in neuroscience. As for three fun facts: 1) I have one younger sister, and everyone swears we’re twins. That, or they assume she’s the older one. 2) I managed to avoid pumping my own gas for 7 years because I moved from one state that doesn’t let you pump your own gas to the only other state that has the same restriction. It’s actually a bit embarrassing. 3) My fingers are hypermobile/double-jointed, and it usually creeps people (anatomy TA’s included!) out when I show them.
Accepted: Where are you in med school? What year?
Dorothy: I’m a first year at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Accepted: What’s your favorite thing about Penn Med so far? Why was this the best program for you? And if you could change anything about the program, what would it be?
Dorothy: If I had to choose just one thing, it would be the people, both students and physicians. I’ve made pretty great friends here–people whose passion to use medicine to enact social change inspires me and reminds me why I’ve chosen this career path and who also help me keep perspective and stay balanced, relaxed, and happy when things get stressful. I’ve also found some amazing physician mentors who’ve been really instrumental in supporting me as I explore my interests in health policy and advocacy and are just generally the kind of people that make me go, “How do I become you??”
I think clicking with the people in the program and making sure the school had the right vibe for me was one of the key factors in my choosing to link here. Apart from that, I really love that Penn Med is part of the larger University of Pennsylvania system because it gives me the opportunity for a lot more interdisciplinary learning and collaboration. When I first started out here, I was really interested in the MD/Master’s programs, which would give me the opportunity to get another degree from one of the other schools. I’m don’t think that’s the path for me right now, but I do appreciate that I still have that option and that, at the very least, it’s really easy to take courses in other departments.
As for changing the program, I think what I would like to see most is to see a greater emphasis placed on teaching the concept of privilege in our social medicine course because many of the topics we talk about like race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status require that framework to inform our discussions.
Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming first year students, to help make their adjustment to med school easier?
Dorothy: I think that med school culture makes it difficult for us to admit we need help, whether that be academic, mental, emotional, or otherwise, and that’s a real problem. So if you find yourself falling behind on work or struggling with anxiety or depression or something like that, don’t be afraid to admit it and use the resources available at your school or in your community to get help.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your unique path to med school?
Dorothy: During my sophomore and junior years of college, I participated in a pretty small summer program at Penn that gave me an option to link to the med school at the completion of the program, given that I met certain requirements. I was very blessed to have that opportunity, and I’m glad I was able to get to know the school, as well as Philly, through that before applying.
Accepted: What is intersectional feminism? What role does it play in your life as an individual and as a future physician?
Dorothy: Intersectional feminism is the idea that people’s experiences and the privilege they have in society will differ on the basis of their identities other than gender, particularly their race but also their socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability status, etc. Having that lens to view society and medicine has made me approach questions of equity from multiple points of view. I’m not only thinking about how the women I meet have inherently different experiences than men but also how a poor woman’s experience differs from a rich woman’s, or a woman of color’s vs. a white woman’s, or a lesbian’s vs. straight woman’s, etc. And then on top of that, I’m thinking about multiple identities at once and how those identities do or do not provide access to certain resources such as education, employment, housing, and health care, or may lead to direct harms, as is the case with police brutality toward people of color. As an individual, intersectional feminism has taught me to look at people more holistically and think about how societal structures have created and perpetuate inequities for anyone who isn’t a rich, able-bodied, white, cis-gender, heterosexual man. As a future physician, intersectional feminism, I think, will help me think of the sorts of challenges my patients will face living in an inequitable system–challenges that will essentially be assaults on their health–and will hopefully also allow me to think of and advocate for broader solutions, such as policy changes, to address those problems.
Accepted: Can you talk about your involvement with White Coats for Black Lives and your passion for social justice in general?
Dorothy: I was involved with coordinating the National White Coat Die-Ins that happened this past December, along with amazing students from UCSF, Mount Sinai, and of course, Penn. Nowadays, I serve on the National Working Group for White Coats for Black Lives with 8 other med students from across the country and continue to work with my classmates at the Penn chapter.
I started learning about social justice about halfway through college, and that gave me the framework for thinking about a lot of societal problems, but I wasn’t sure how to fit that in with a career in medicine. My passion for social justice stems from my desire to help people–it’s the same thing that drew me into medicine in the first place. I think the difference, though, is that the former more strongly emphasizes systemic change to help those who have been marginalized by a society that prioritizes some groups over others, some lives over others. In medicine, we are often taught to help the individual, and I think we sometimes lose sight of the broader societal structures that cause illness. So to some degree, medicine has become a vehicle for social justice to me. I think medicine is a powerful way to create social change, and knowing that I can do both now has been really motivating for me.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog/Twitter/About.me page? Who is your target audience? What have you gained from your involvement in these various social media outlets? (And we’ll add whatever links you want to share.)
Dorothy: I only recently started a blog, so there’s not much content up at the moment. (I’m hoping to start posting more regularly soon. We just got out of our toughest organ block yet, so I’ll have more time to write!) I tend to have a lot of conversations with my classmates about social justice, so my blog is essentially my processing those conversations in written form, but really anyone interested in medicine, health care, social justice, and/or feminism might enjoy reading it. At the moment, I’m a bit more active on Twitter, where I tweet mostly about medical education (#meded) and racial justice since it’s most on my mind. I’ve been able to connect with quite a few med students through social media (especially when we were organizing the die-ins on Facebook) as well as follow a bunch of social justice-minded physicians. It’s actually been inspiring to know that I’m going into a field with a lot of people who are passionate about both medicine and justice, and I’m really excited that so many of the friends I’m making through social media are going to be leaders in medicine.