DO Alumna Interview

Thanks for sharing, Julia!

1. What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?

I majored in Physics with a pre-health concentration and also received minors in Chemistry and French during my time at Virginia Tech.  The two minors were easy for me to tack on, as I was only a class or two away from getting my minor in Chemistry and I enjoyed the extra classes I needed to take.  My French minor was something I pursued as a break from the science-heavy courses, and it has been a unique skill that I’ve been able to use on occasion to talk with those I’ve interacted with through clinical experiences and volunteering.  As for my major, I had enjoyed my physics courses while I was in high school and have always loved solving puzzles.  For me, physics provided a number of puzzles and challenges to solve, which is what initially drew me to the field.  While some of the classes challenged me in ways I’d never thought possible, the critical thinking skills that I learned have already greatly helped me in consolidating information and working to create links between different topics in medicine.  While the subject matter isn’t something that I am actively using my knowledge of in my medical studies, the way that I learned how to think and approach a problem is a skill I use every day during medical school.

What made the medical school you chose the right fit for you?

I applied to a wide variety of medical schools during my application cycle. I applied to both MD and DO programs, as while I was leaning towards a few DO programs, I wasn’t 100% sure when I originally submitted my applications and wanted to cast my net wide.  I was accepted to multiple schools and ended up being lucky enough to choose between them.  While I struggled slightly deciding which school to pick in the end, I ultimately went with my gut feeling.  During the interview process and acceptance process, there are little moments in your interactions with each school that help you see how you would fit in at their school, not just if you like the way they portray themselves in their interviews and advertising.  Personally, I found interacting with current students and other prospective students to be the most helpful way of determining where I would be happiest.  Don’t be afraid to ask the uncomfortable questions to students.  One of the best distinguishing questions that I asked was: “What are your favorite and least favorite parts about your school?”  How each student chose to answer that told me a lot about the school and the environment I would be potentially learning in. VCOM made me feel welcome from the start of the interview process.  I was the most comfortable in my interviews for their program and had great interactions with students and staff alike.  That, combined with my interactions with other prospective students helped me realize that the environment VCOM provides would be the best place for me to learn and grow during my medical education and I couldn’t be happier that I ended up pursuing my medical degree at VCOM-Virginia.

3. Did you have to change any of your study habits when you entered medical school?

I definitely had to change how I studied when I entered medical school.  Since my undergraduate degree was in physics, except for my pre-requisite courses for medical school, most of my courses required me to constantly do practice problems as our exams and assessments required us to solve problems similar to those we learned how to do in class or on our homework.  However, I immediately realized that medical school would require a very different way of studying.  I first employed methods that had helped me succeed in my undergraduate pre-requisite courses for medical school.  While this worked for the first few exams, it wasn’t a sustainable method as there wasn’t enough time to approach studying in that manner and get through all the material I needed to.  Figuring out how to study in medical school is a constant process where you assess how your current methods are working and tinker with them to make them fit each individual course.  I’ve developed different methods for each course, and I continue to refine them, so I am maximizing my effective study time.  Personally, I mainly use active recall and spaced repetition methods and tend to integrate practice questions towards the end of my preparations for an exam; however, it varies based on each course.  For example, there are some courses where I find that studying with a friend and quizzing each other or diagramming out processes works better.  Ultimately, you have to figure out what is going to allow you to succeed in your courses.  It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, or how they are studying, as long as you have something that works for you.  It can be difficult to ignore all of the different methods that everyone employs, but catering your studying to your personal strengths and weaknesses allows you to not only succeed in your classes but also have a balance between school and your personal life.

4. What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?

Be passionate about medicine.  You won’t be happy going into this field if you don’t genuinely enjoy the subject matter and the future job.  If you aren’t sure, go shadow different health professionals.  There is such a wide variety, and every profession has its own niche in the healthcare community.  Going to medical school and becoming a physician may be your path, which is wonderful.  But don’t force yourself to head down this path because you think others expect you to or because you don’t know what else there is that you might be interested in.  Explore all of your opportunities and make an informed decision.  It isn’t an easy path.  Medical school pushes you and challenges you, unlike anything you experienced in your undergraduate studies.  You have to really want to become a physician to make it.  If you do have that desire and drive, it is definitely possible to accomplish, if you put the work in.

If you already know that you want to become a physician, do everything you can to experience the healthcare field, while still enjoying some downtime.  Take advantage of the opportunities you have through Virginia Tech and outside the university to learn and grow as you navigate the process of applying for and getting into medical school.  Take advantage of the medical-related ones, but also make sure to pursue your passions.  Don’t shove yourself into a box for the application process and only do activities that would look good on a resume.  Pursue different opportunities because they genuinely interest you.  If you do, when you talk about them on your application, the admissions committee will immediately be able to see your passion and drive in your application.  Make sure to keep your passions, both for medicine and things outside medicine alive during this process.  It will be difficult, but it is worth it in the end.



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MD/PhD Alumnus Interview

Ben Epstein is a 2018 graduate of Virginia Tech who is currently in an MD-PhD program at The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS). Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom, Ben!

1. What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?

 I didn’t know when I started undergrad that I was interested in being a doctor, just that I was interested in helping people get and stay healthy (and that engineering was boring). I majored in Human Nutrition, Food, and Exercise. I loved helping friends develop exercise programs, learn how to cook their own food, and develop confidence/self-efficacy. By choosing HNFE, I gained access to a toolkit to investigate keeping people healthier longer, i.e. healthspan prolongation. I met professors who exposed me to research at VT that could improve lives. HNFE was a degree that had a more applied perspective on health than perhaps a degree in biology might. At the end of the day it was an excuse to study something I love.

2. What are some words of wisdom about the application process? What would you have liked to know ahead of time? What do you wish someone would have told you before you began applying?

One thing that helped me was to overexpose myself to experiences that would fulfill application recommendations. For example, say a “competitive applicant” has 250 hours of clinical experience, 150 hours of research experience, and 50 hours of volunteer experience. After graduating from undergrad, I worked for one year as a scribe, one year in the Peace Corps (interrupted by COVID-19), and one year in a research lab after graduating. Because of this, I had accrued close to 1000 hours each in clinical, research, and volunteer experiences. Take as much time as you need to feel ready for your application. Medical school will always be there, and you want to put forth the best possible version of yourself.

3. Is there any advice or feedback that you received regarding personal statements that you would like to share? 

Start your personal statement early. Share it with friends and family. Share it with the Health Professions Advisors. Share it with anyone you feel comfortable knowing about you as a person. Anyone who reads it should be able to get a sense of who you are and why you want to study medicine. Unfortunately, the application process can be very spiritually exhausting. Paradoxically, you have to balance a confident explanation of how qualified you are to enter medical school with a need to serve others in a selfless field of work. This is a difficult balance to strike in a personal statement, and you can show your strengths through experiences that prove selflessness. Again, the more people, especially laymen, who can review your statement, the more you can be sure what you wrote connects with people.

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Public Health/Clinical Research Alumnus Interview

Drew Weko is a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech and is currently working as a Clinical Research Coordinator with the University of Virginia’s Department of Neurology Stroke Division.  Prior to beginning this role, he completed an MPH in Public Health Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh.  Below is his interview:

1. Who or what inspired you to pursue clinical research?

My biggest inspiration truly was learning. I have this almost unhealthy obsession with digging deeper in all topics, continually asking questions, and simply trying to make better sense of the world. This led me to working in various research labs at Virginia Tech and William & Mary, but I always felt something was missing. I enjoyed contributing to research in rodent labs and assisting with data entry for cognitive studies, but it was missing human interaction. I then spent a summer as a Teaching Assistant at a gifted student program, where I also fell in love with teaching others, particularly those with minimal knowledge of the topic at hand. Getting to build the foundational framework of knowledge is challenging but fun, and getting to learn alongside those students was its own adventure.
With these factors considered, I wanted to find a path in which I could further research, interact with the patients/population being impacted, and educate others. This all drew me towards clinical research, which also includes the added benefit of coordinating with varying levels of students, doctors, and interdisciplinary care professionals.

2. What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?

I double majored in Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychology. It was not a direct process, as I began solely as a Psychology major, then added CBNU as my second major, eventually making it my primary degree before graduation. Falling in love with the molecular components of psychology drove me into neuroscience, eventually leading me towards a desire to dive even deeper. The challenge was my lack of interest in pursuing a PhD, and surely not an MD. My passion lied within research and patient interactions, so I pursued my Master of Public Health degree in Public Health Genetics. This degree allowed me to explore the population level metrics while affirming my passion for research and making an impact in the lives of others. All of my time within neuroscience, psychology, genetics, and public health equipped me with countless tools to interact with patients, various levels of health care providers, and continue researching novel interventions and treatments. Today, I work for the University of Virginia’s Department of Neurology Stroke Division as a Clinical Research Coordinator.

3. Were you successful on your first application attempt and if not, would you like to share your story with the students on how you recovered/planned for the reapplication?

As I mentioned I did not take a direct path. I actually debated studying exterior to the College of Science coming into Virginia Tech, but I could not imagine studying anything else looking back. Fortunately I was accepted to all undergraduate institutions I applied to, but it was a different story for graduate school. My original plan was to pursue Genetic Counseling, which is an incredibly challenging application process that takes many people up to four years to be accepted. One institution offered an interview, three immediately declined me, and the fifth never provided a response. It was defeating, but University of Pittsburgh felt I would instead be a good fit for their MPH in Public Health Genetics program. Given it was only one of two such programs in the nation and they are an incredibly well-regarded school in the field, I had to evaluate the path I would take. They did permit student in the MPH program to apply to the Genetic Counseling program to extend the 2-year MPH into a 3-year MPH/MS-GC program, but I deferred that option when I was enrolled and loving what I studied.

My biggest recommendation is to not consider it outright defeat. All paths taken are different; it takes some people one cycle to get accepted, some people many more. Consider every path because they may be more illuminating or valuable than you initially considered. My own path has likely changed 10 times since starting at Virginia Tech, and I anticipate it will continue to change as I continue forward.

4. Do you feel that you were prepared for your interview? What preparation advice would you give?

My own preparation for graduate school was admittedly not enough. The inability to decide which path I wanted to pursue hindered me from diving deep enough to get the experiences and coursework desired by many programs. However, my application to my profession was incredibly different. I treated applying to jobs as a full-time 3-credit class, combing through job posting sites and applying for any job I remotely qualified for. With my somewhat broad experience between neuroscience, psychology, genetics, and public health, it allowed me to submit around 20 job applications only within Virginia, with 5 being at UVA for clinical research. I received multiple interviews for different departments, but the Department of Neurology just happened to fall into my lap. With the division head being a genetics and population-health driven physician, it was a perfect opportunity to not only read his publications and discuss them with him, but also permitted me to let my own excitement about those topics shine through. It felt incredibly natural because I was excited, and worked out incredibly well in my favor.

Ultimately, I would advise others to let themselves show their excitement when it truly is something they care about. Do not be afraid to ask questions when you know less about a topic, as it shows you are willing to learn and are willing to reach out for help in learning. In my own experience, most physicians are happy to educate others when they sense that share excitement in topics.

5. What surprised you the most about clinical research?

The biggest shock was the amount of trust placed in me in such a rapid timeframe. My hiring took place in March of 2021 while I was in my final semester of graduate school in Pittsburgh, so I had to relocate to Charlottesville to begin work while completing my degree. My manager worked with me to ensure I was adequately trained and comfortable, but I was able to take on the full workload within my first 3 weeks. This involved doing comprehensive chart reviews of admitted patients, screening for study eligibility (with some studies having 20+ criteria), communicating any orders to be placed to the attending physician/clinical care team, and many other time-sensitive tasks. The biggest shock of all, however, was being on-call for the stroke team pager within my first month. Given some studies require a full process of potential participant identification, eligibility review, consenting, randomization, and preparation/administration of study drug within a 2-hour timeframe, it was a lot to take on so quickly. Regardless, I was able to do it and many of the physicians I interface with trust in my own perspective enough to help direct decision making when it comes to research. It admittedly is a lot of trust to place on somebody who has been at the job for only a few weeks, but it has only helped us be more effective as a team.

6. What memory stands out the most from your first few weeks of working in clinical research?

My academic background prepared me for a good portion of the information at my job, but I did not realize how little I knew until I stepped foot into the hospital. It was its own world of communication, with verbiage that I had not been previously exposed to. I spent an hour every night after work simply googling terminology, acronyms, anything I could think of when reviewing patient charts. This extra effort in educating myself has allowed me to help the other newly hired researchers, but also communicate better with all other professionals in the department. It has also allowed me to spend more time asking direct, specific questions when the physicians are able to take time to help me with many nuances in the clinical side of the research tasks.

7. Did you have any fears going into clinical research?

My biggest fear was one of impostor syndrome given my daily interactions with individuals who have decades in practicing medicine and/or research. Being a recent graduate who is willing to listen and learn is great but only gets you so far. Ultimately this was quickly alleviated as all professionals recognized that I at least was trying, which was the best situation possible. Furthermore, they understood my lack of knowledge in some matters but breadth in others, and persistently asked my perspective on potential candidates for research. This open dialogue has allowed for us to work effectively as a team while having tons of fun doing it!

8. What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

My biggest motivation is the impact we are making on a daily basis. Working with stroke patients is incredibly challenging due to the cognitive deficits many people endure, the vast unknown of how/if the patient will recover, and how life changing the event is. By offering opportunities to contribute to research many patients feel empowered by the opportunity to help others down the road rather than just sit idly by. Not only that, but many of the patients are just happy to talk to somebody who is not entirely a clinician. We get to serve them by being somebody to listen to the challenges they are facing and also give them opportunities to learn while we learn from them. It is incredibly rewarding, even in the stress of balancing 13 studies and coordinating with so many stakeholders.

9. If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential health professional student, what would you tell them off the top of your head?

Anybody considering entering a health profession, whether it be to pursue medical licensure, clinical research, or anything in between, must be prepared to rely upon their peers. It is imperative for individuals to be adequately trained in a broad spectrum of topics, but also be cognizant of when to defer to somebody who has more specified knowledge. Physicians must be willing to defer to specialists (e.g., Respiratory Therapists, Speech-Language Pathologists, etc.). Researchers must know when their skills and knowledge end, and defer to the clinical team when questions are raised about a patient’s standard of care or well-being. This is not to belittle anybody’s knowledge, but being aware of what is within your realm and when a question can be better answered by somebody else is key not only to not stepping on toes, but optimizing care for patients at all levels.

In my short time in this field I have already witnessed medical students who are prepared to only rely on their opinion because of their licensure. When telling this to physicians who oversee their education, they simply mention that it’s not how the field works, and that the student has a long way to go until they realize the value of all team members. I have witnessed skilled professionals make significant ethical and legal blunders because they decided to follow their gut instinct rather than ask a researcher the proper protocol. These instances of being individualistic hurts the patient and the team, so being a cooperative member of an interdisciplinary team is vital to this field, no matter the specific path you venture down.

In short, be confident in what you do and do not know. It’s always better to consult others when necessary, especially when it enters a specified topic or field.

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Physical Therapy Alumna Interview

Thanks for sharing your story, Dr. McCrady!

Jenn McCrady is a VT alumna who is currently working as a Physical Therapist. She graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS degree in Biology and Minor in Chemistry in 2002, before receiving a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of Iowa in 2005. She currently works prn as a Physical Therapist for VT Sports Medicine as well as University Physical Therapy in the NRV.

How did you know that your profession was the right one for you?

I always knew that I wanted to work in the medical field. I started volunteering at the hospital when I was a junior in high school and was placed in the Rehabilitation Department (PT/OT/SLP). I was instantly drawn to the field and loved the idea of spending quality time with patients to help enhance their quality of life, improve their sports performance,  or recover from an injury.

When did you figure it out?

I was very fortunate to decide on Physical Therapy during my junior year of high school.  I continued to volunteer/job shadow whenever possible in the PT/OT department, as well as the orthopedic department and even had the opportunity to observe surgeries. During my undergraduate time at VT, I was fortunate enough to work with the athletes by serving as a student Athletic Trainer. Everything that I saw reinforced that PT was the career for me.

What kinds of experiences in undergrad did you have (over the summer/during the year) that helped you prepare for your profession?

  • Volunteering/job shadowing in PT/OT departments (variety of settings including inpatient,  outpatient,  and skilled nursing)
  • Serving as a student Athletic Trainer in the VT Sports Medicine Department
  • Observed orthopedic surgeries
  • Job shadowing with prosthetics/orthotics professionals

What are some important things to keep in mind when applying to/preparing for professional school?

In general, professional schools are significantly more competitive in terms of admissions (i.e. most PT incoming class sizes are 25-35 students). Everyone applying has competitive grades/test scores. What will set you apart is your demonstrated commitment to the profession and health/wellness in general.  This could include things like having a variety of job shadowing, involvement in extra curricular activities that demonstrate communication and leadership skills as well as your ability to adapt to your environment, leadership roles, etc…

What is something you wish you had known during your undergraduate years?

The biggest change from undergrad to grad school was that once you are there, you are all in. Everything that you do will be focused on the profession.  Every class is relevant.  Every skill that you learn is important. Every patient/case that you are involved in will contribute to your professional development in some way. It is exhausting and the workload is intense.

Overall advice for those unsure of their health profession path

Keep your mind open and take advantage of every opportunity you have to observe/volunteer different medical professionals.

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Nursing Alumna Interview

Thank you for sharing your story, Ms. Rabhan!

Alisha Rabhan is a VT alumna who is a dually certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years of pediatric experience in critical care, trauma/burn, oncology, hematology, bone marrow transport, surgery, newborn nursery, and primary care.  She is currently working as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at The Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai. She graduated from Virginia Tech in 2002 with a B.S. in Biology, a minor in Chemistry,  and a concentration in Biotechnology.  She then received her B.S. in Nursing from Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in 2003.  Ms. Rabhan also received her M.S. in Nursing, Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner in 2007 and her Post-Masters Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Certificate in 2018 from Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.  While pursuing further education, she has also worked in a number of hospitals around Maryland, first as a Registered Nurse (RN) and then as a Nurse Practitioner (NP).

What led to your interest in pediatric nursing?
I have always wanted to work and take care of children since I was a little girl, just did not know what that career would look like.

Who or what inspired you to pursue becoming a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?
I had a 10th-grade teacher for science, and we isolated DNA from an onion versus doing the ‘bug’ project. That changed my life and wanted to pursue a career/direction with genetics involved.

What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?
I majored in biology, minored in chemistry, and had a concentration in biotechnology.  I came to VT with biology declared. I did not know what my career would be but knew science/genetics would be the backbone.

Were you successful on your first application attempt and if not, would you like to share your story with the students on how you recovered/planned for the reapplication?
I have had many jobs within my profession. My first RN position was obtained since I was completing a clinical rotation on that unit and there was an opening.  My first nurse practitioner job also resulted from a similar experience.

What are some words of wisdom about the application process? What would you have liked to know ahead of time? What do you wish someone would have told you before you began applying?
For many jobs as you advance in your career, you can negotiate your salary, unless there is a set salary standard.

How do you balance the demands of being a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with additional obligations and challenges?
I have learned over the years that work/life balance is important despite being a ‘workaholic’ myself.

Do you feel that you were prepared for nursing interviews? What preparation advice would you give?
I have learned over the years that many interviews are now just a chat/talking with the interviewee about life experiences and just getting to know each other.

What do you enjoy most about being a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?
The ability to build trust with patients and families to take care of their child especially in one of the most stressful times of their lives.
What was your favorite undergraduate class outside of the nursing prerequisite classes?
My favorite class was horticulture.  I loved making flower arrangements weekly and having a stress-free environment.
How many schools did you apply to and what criteria or resources did you use to select these schools?
For my nursing career, I only applied to Johns Hopkins since they had an accelerated BSN to RN program.

What made the nursing school you chose the right fit for you?
Johns Hopkins had the program I wanted to complete and was still close to my mom (3 hours away).

What memory stands out the most from your first few weeks of nursing school?
Just like any schooling, getting to know classmates/professors and finding my own niche.

What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in nursing?
It is a hard but very rewarding career. Nursing has many advantages since it encompasses so many opportunities to change and further your career.

What kind of financial aid did you need to pay for your multiple nursing degrees?
I was granted several scholarships but also obtain grants for my RN degree. I was fortunate that since I worked full time, Johns Hopkins paid for my first Masters (primary care NP) degree. I then saved money to pay out of pocket for post Masters (acute care NP) degree.

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?
Having a solid core group of friends who are supportive, and taking barre class several times a week.

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Health Administration Alumnus Interview

Thank you for sharing your story, Mr. Kaushal!

Karan Kaushal is a VT alumnus who is currently studying as a graduate student at George Mason University.  He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in HNFE with a concentration in the SNFE option.  He began pursuing a Master in Healthcare Administration at George Mason University during the summer of 2020.  Despite having recently begun pursuing his MHA,  he is currently interested in pursuing either finance, IT, or health policy after he graduates.

What led to your interest in graduate school?
I was interested in this graduate program (Master’s in Healthcare Administration) as it elaborates on Healthcare Infrastructure in the United States and touches on some important factors that influence success in the industry such as Finances, Policy, and Administrative leadership.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a graduate degree in healthcare administration?
I was inspired by my father who has been a practicing physician for over 30 years. From an early age, I would sit in his office or in our living room after he would return from work and he would teach me medical terminology. When I began high school, I started volunteering at a local free clinic where I was able to gain experience in their clinics, specifically in the pharmaceutical and dental departments.

What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?
I was an HNFE major during my undergrad, focusing on the science of nutrition and exercise (SNFE). The SFNE option is great for students that are planning on entering medicine or any health-related field. I was drawn to this program due to the emphasis on biochemistry, anatomy, and exercise science. There was a nice mix of the class types, and some HNFE electives touched upon health policy and administrative roles as a practitioner. 

What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for a graduate degree in healthcare administration?
Although I am in the early days of my graduate program, I already understand that Health Administration is most efficient when working with a competent team. I made an effort to be active on campus as an Undergraduate TA, a Hokie camp leader, a committee member for the Big event, relay for life, and Greek life. These opportunities provided me with valuable experiences related to teamwork, time management, and communication skills. 

How did you prepare for the graduate school application process?
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do a mock interview with Health Professions Advising at Virginia Tech. This gave me an idea of my strengths and weaknesses, and how to become a better applicant. From there, I watched several videos on graduate school interviews and wrote down the most common questions that were asked. I also made sure to read all about the programs I applied to as well as their curriculum and the post-grad synopsis. This provided me with an additional conversation starter in the interview process. Practicing the questions and my responses allowed me to feel more confident for the interview.

How do you balance the demands of graduate school with additional obligations and challenges?
Time management is critical to maintaining balance in my experience. I like to incorporate daily exercise and 1-2 hours to wind down each evening. By consistently spending several hours a day on assignments/schoolwork I tend to have more peace of mind and confidence in my courses.
Is there any advice or feedback that you received regarding personal statements that you would like to share?
This may be one of the most important aspects of any graduate/professional application. This provides the admissions committee one last opportunity to get to know the applicant before making the decision to invite said student for an interview.
My personal statement was far from perfect the first draft, and even the second draft. It took time for me to develop a personal statement that I was both satisfied with and confident in. Be patient, and do not get frustrated. I would encourage each applicant to try to bring something unique to their personal statement and have as many people provide feedback as possible. I also attempted to write each personal statement a bit differently for each school I applied to. 

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Dental Alumna Interview

Thanks for sharing your story, Ms. Dobson!

Sarah Dobson is a VT alumna who is currently studying as a dental student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry.  She graduated from Virginia Tech in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Neuroscience and spent a year working as an AmeriCorps VISTA, assisting those living with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) before entering dental school.


What led to your interest in dentistry?
As a kid, I always enjoyed going to the dentist (as weird as it sounds!). I loved how my dentist was able to create a comfortable atmosphere for everyone, even those who were nervous or scared of the dentist. I also had braces in 7th grade and was fascinated by how the orthodontist was able to move my teeth. When I got to high school, I did an afterschool program at my local dental school that allowed me to experience dentistry for the first time. I had a blast learning about the tools, common procedures, and what life in dental school was like for students. 

What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?
I majored in Clinical Neuroscience. I chose this major because not only is the content extremely interesting, I knew that I would be very well prepared for dental school. The course offerings are similar to that of a health professions school program and some are even taught by faculty who have taught/currently teach at medical schools. I was able to complete all the necessary prerequisites and was challenged at the same time. I also enjoyed the many group projects and case studies we observed as this is similar to the work that will be done on a healthcare team. 

What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for dental school?
I was heavily involved in the VT ASDA Pre-Dental Club. This experience allowed me to hold multiple leadership positions, network with others in the field, and learn more about dentistry! As a club, we also got to travel to American Student Dental Association conferences as pre-dental students, meeting other pre-dental and dental students across the country. There were many community service opportunities through the club, as well. We participated in MOM/RAM projects across the state. These are days of dental service where dental professionals provide free services to those in need. Not only was it great to give back, but we also were able to get hands-on clinical experience as well. 

In addition to my involvement in the pre-dental club, I completed 2 summer enrichment programs that heavily influenced my journey to dentistry. The first was the Summer Health Professions Education Program. I completed this program at the end of my freshman year at Howard University. This was my first time taking dental school level courses and learning about healthcare disparities. Another program I also participated in and recommend is VCU’s Summer Academic Enrichment Program. I completed this program after my third year at Tech, just before applying. This program stressed the importance of working closely with other health professionals as a dentist and being able to treat the whole patient, not just problems in the mouth.

Finally, I was able to graduate from VT a year early and spent what would’ve been my senior year as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I was located at the Virginia Department of Social Services Headquarters in Richmond and spent the year on the governor’s task force to assist those living with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). I highly recommend this program for anyone who is interested in giving back while also growing personally and professionally during their gap year!

Do you feel that you were prepared for dental school interview(s)? What preparation advice would you give?
Before applying, I participated in the HPEC Committee Letter process which included an interview. This was great practice before the application cycle. Also, I utilized the HPA mock interview services as well. These experiences allowed me to feel ready for interviews.
The biggest thing with interview prep, in my opinion, is practice! Make sure that you are able to get feedback from others, as well. It is also a good idea to have a general idea of scenarios or topics that you can use to respond to commonly asked questions. Student Doctor Network has an interview section for each school that highlights questions that tend to pop up in their interviews. That said, I don’t recommend memorizing exactly what to say. You definitely still want the interview to feel genuine and flow naturally.
Finally, don’t forget to have a few questions that you can ask the interviewer at the end of the interview about themselves or the school. This is a great way to show that you’re interested. 

What do you enjoy most about dentistry?
There are a variety of things I enjoy about dentistry, from the positive work-life balance to the plethora of career paths and options for specializing within dentistry. What I think I enjoy most is the level of impact and interaction with patients you have as a dentist. Dentistry is a very intimate field that requires a lot of trust between doctor and patient. I like the idea of being able to gain a patient’s trust. Also, I like that in dentistry you can see your vision and your work come to life. It is amazing to see a patient enter the office with a smile they might not be as confident in and within a few appointments be able to have a healthy, bright smile. 

How many schools did you apply to and what criteria or resources did you use to select these schools?
I applied to 8 schools. I used the ADEA Dental Explorer Guide and ASDA’s Getting Into Dental School Guide to help me research schools. After determining the 4 criteria that were very important to me (diversity, cost, clinical experience, community service opportunities), I used the guides to determine which schools performed best in those categories. From there, I decided that I would only apply to schools that I would 100% attend if for some reason I was only accepted into that school. This narrowed my list down to 8, all on the east coast. 

Another great resource when determining where to apply is current dental students that attend that school. A lot of dental students are active on social media and willing to answer questions about their school. Don’t be shy and use them as a resource to get insight into a school from a student’s perspective before you apply!

What made the dental school you chose the right fit for you?
1) Early clinical exposure – UNC is unique in that we first see patients at the end of our first year. This is pretty early compared to other schools. I wanted to ensure that I would have a clinical experience that would prepare me to begin working right away (without feeling the need to do a residency before if I didn’t want to). 

2) Variety of opportunities – UNC has all of the core dental specialties represented. This is great because I am not 100% sure of what I want to do but can easily shadow in the specialty clinics to learn more about what each has to offer. Additionally, UNC has many great research opportunities. UNC is home to the #2 school of public health, UNC Gillings. I am interested in public health and will be able to collaborate with students and professors at the public health school during my career. Furthermore, there are a ton of service opportunities offered. From global mission trips to student-run clinics within the Triangle, I will have no issues getting involved in dental service during my time at UNC.

3)Cost – Being a public, state school, UNC is one of the cheapest dental schools in the country. Additionally, they allow out-of-state residents like myself the opportunity to obtain in-state residency after the first year. This, along with a scholarship offer, made UNC my most financially wise choice. 

Did you have to change any of your study habits when you entered dental school?
The biggest difference between undergrad and dental school is not so much the difficulty of the content but the pace of the material. Many of the courses I had seen in some capacity at VT (Anatomy & Physiology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, etc.) but the tests are closer together and there is less time to study. However, the content is less memorizing and more connecting concepts to what we will see in practice. Therefore, the biggest change I had to make was to start studying earlier. Whereas in undergrad, there often is a lot of time to review and get acquainted with the material, in dental school, there is often only 1 – 2 weeks between exams. With this, I learned quickly that life is easier when you study a little each day or the first day you receive the material vs. waiting until the weekend before the exam. 

What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in dentistry?
1) Explore the field! Whether this is through shadowing, summer enrichment programs/internships, or dental assisting, make an effort to learn as much as you can about dentistry and all that it has to offer. Not only will this increase your knowledge, but it will also allow you to ensure that dentistry is the perfect fit for you.

2) Stay organized. There are a lot of moving parts in the dental application process. It is super helpful to have a binder or notebook that you can log shadowing, volunteer, and experience hours. Also, it’s never too early to start thinking about who you’d want to write your letters of recommendation or to work on your personal statement. Finally, be mindful of dates and deadlines in terms of applying as well as prerequisites needed because this tends to vary by school.

3) Trust the process! Know that everyone’s journey will be different and you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. Just trust that you will end up where you’re supposed to be, as cliché as it sounds. Run your own race and control what you can control, and the rest will fall into place.

What kind of financial aid did you need to pay for dental school?
Like most dental students, I am relying on loans to pay for my dental school and living expenses (rent, food, travel, etc.). I received a scholarship from my school, as well. Additionally, for completing a year of service with AmeriCorps, I was given an education award that I was able to get matched by my school. 

There are outside scholarships that cover tuition and fees as well as monthly living stipends for dental students in exchange for years of service as a dentist either in the military or in a medically underserved area of the United States. These 2 programs are called the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship Program, respectively. I recommend looking into either of those if you’re interested in serving in those fields.

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?
I enjoy working out, especially after a long week of exams! Also, I’ve been lucky enough to have a tight-knit group of classmates that support and look out for each other. We often find ourselves unwinding together on the weekends. Also, I like creating posts and interacting with pre-dental/pre-health students on my dental Instagram page (@sarahsmilesdds).

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any specific questions about dentistry or UNC! Email:
Instagram: @sarahsmilesdds 

Posted in Alumni Interviews, Pre-Dentistry Information | Leave a comment

MD Alumnus Interview

Thanks for sharing your story, Dr. Crow!

Dr. Kevin Crow is a VT alumnus who is currently working as a resident physician in pediatrics as a member of the Johns Hopkins Harriet Lane House Staff.  He graduated from Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Biochemistry in 2013, before receiving a Master’s in Biomedical Science from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in 2015.  Dr. Crow then graduated from EVMS with his M.D. in 2019, before beginning his residency in pediatrics.

What led to your interest in medicine?
As a young child I had said a few times I wanted to be a doctor but it was never a serious dream. I initially went to school to be an engineer like my father, which is why I went to VT. Found out very quickly it wasn’t going to be the career for me and shadowed my childhood pediatrician when I was 19 after my freshman year. I instantly fell in love with what he did because I realized how much of an art medicine is, how he came in with a smile doing what he loved, and the long lasting and rewarding connections with people you are able to have. Ever since that day I did everything I could to become a physician!

What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this area of study?
I majored in biochemistry because I knew many of the principles of medicine and pharmacology are based in biochemistry and a biology degree felt too “animal” heavy when I wanted a more human side of things.
How did you prepare for the medical school application process?
This is a difficult thing to do! But what helped me the most was setting daily goals on what to accomplish for my application. On one day I would focus on obtaining letters of recommendation, another day on my essay, another day on the contents of my application (CV). It may work well for some people like me, where I get burnt out if I work on one sole thing for too long. I would also implore anyone to please ask others for help! It is a hard enough process alone, so be humble and have others review your application and essay to make sure it is as good as it can be.

Were you successful on your first application attempt and if not, would you like to share your story with the students on how you recovered/planned for the reapplication?
Well I will be very honest… I didn’t do “medical school” well with my grades while in undergrad and knew I couldn’t get in after graduation. So I decided to better myself as a human being and participated in AmeriCorps in NYC for a year working as a medically oriented social worker for homeless men. It was a humbling and life changing experience to say the least! After that year of re-orienting myself I went to EVMS in Norfolk, Virginia for a “Medical Master’s” program which went well and ended up going to med school there! I was definitely not a “traditional” medical student so don’t worry if you aren’t!

How do you balance the demands of medicine with additional obligations and challenges?
By being myself. Even when I find myself slammed with exam preparation, residency interviews, or even large patient volumes as a resident I do my best to never forget to do the things that make me happy. Your free time is certainly precious and you need to use it to make your mental health and stress level as low as possible. Keeping an actual written/virtual schedule can really help with this and make sure you stay on top of your work and well being!
Do you feel that you were prepared for medical school interviews? What preparation advice would you give?
I feel as though I was relatively prepared for medical school interviews. You never really know what your interviewers are going to be like so that is certainly a tough part. As for advice I would say one of the most important things to do in preparation is to really know yourself. If you’re asked an opinion on something , know your opinion and know why you think that way. If you’re asked a tough question then answer it as honestly as possible, don’t tailor it to your interviewers (unless it is a very controversial question… which they aren’t supposed to ask). This last piece of advice may sound terrifying, but I would genuinely say that if you don’t know something to admit that. Ask for clarification and really see what they’re asking. A large part of medicine is knowing when to ask for help and knowing when you have a knowledge gap.
What do you enjoy most about medicine?
I’m extremely lucky that I get to work with children and their families. Taking care of the pediatric population is an unbelievable privilege given someone is allowing me to take care of their most prized possession. My patients make me laugh almost every single day, I get to help terrified parents through their child’s illness, and sometimes even be there during the last moments of their child’s life. Even though it is a tough field it is unbelievably rewarding. Another part of what I enjoy is realizing how much I have learned and how far I have to go to become the physician I want. It is all about learning and bettering yourself as a physician and human being which should be a never ending process.
Did you have to change any of your study habits when you entered medical school?
Absolutely! When I was an undergrad and a really tough time focusing and taking studying seriously. After my year in NYC and during my medical master year I worked extremely hard to study every single day to learn the concepts of medicine, many times up to 12 to 13 hours a day. I also realized during my medical master year that I am not someone that does well with face to face lectures and that watching recorded lectures (if possible) is much more helpful given I can stop it from playing and try to understand the concepts better as I go, rather than get behind. I also realized that there is a massive amount of information to learn a medical school, which can easily seem overwhelming, so I decided to stop taking as many notes and only try to focus notetaking on things I didn’t understand. I would typically make flash cards of the things I didn’t understand through the use of Anki online.
What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?
That it is a long and difficult road but also extremely rewarding. My mentor once told me that it is one of the longest experiences of delayed gratification you can think of. With needing four years of undergrad, four years of Med school, and a minimum of three years of residency training it can seem like an almost impossible task. I can tell you it is not and that the entire experience is worth it if you truly have a passion for healing others.
Did you have any fears going into medicine?
I think almost every single person has fears going into medicine. At almost every single level I have experienced what is known as “impostor syndrome.” This is where I feel like at every level I am not cut out to be where I am…. and that is just not true. What I hope anyone who reads this realizes is that every single person in medicine has felt this at almost every step. It does not mean that we truly doubt ourselves and that you shouldn’t trust the doctors who are treating you or your future attendings, rather it means that it is a common shared experience and you are not failure. Don’t be so hard on yourself!!
What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?
Talking to my family whenever I can, exercising, eating well (for the most part), reading non-medical books, hanging out with friends (socially distanced when necessary), playing video games so that I can talk to friends who I don’t live close to. I would also say of course something that keeps me motivated at this point in my career is my patient population And the families that I get to work with every day. I go into work every single day with a smile, because I know I’m going in doing what I love.
If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell them off the top of your head?
Don’t be so tough on yourself. Many of us in medicine are type A individuals and perfectionists. But medicine isn’t perfect. You’re going to fail sometimes even if you did everything right, you’re not going to understand every single concept right away, you’re not going to always get a perfect grade, and not every patient interaction is going to go well. Do not beat yourself up for being in an already difficult field and know that us current doctors are excited to meet who you become as physicians!

Posted in Allopathic School Information, Alumni Interviews | Leave a comment