Dr. Lauren Wingfield is a VT alumna who is currently working as an Emergency Medicine doctor. She graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, did her residency at VCU, and is now a medical education fellow at UVA to pursue her interest in academic emergency medicine.
1. What are some words of wisdom about the application process? What would you have liked to know ahead of time? What do with someone would have told you before applying?
Applying to medical school takes a lot of preparation. I recommend waiting until you are truly ready and your application is as good as it can be. For most people, including me, that means taking time after undergrad to get more experience. I did a Master’s in Biomedical Science that really helped me prepare academically and get more hands on experience through volunteering. I think one of the best experiences available to pre-medical students now is scribing where you get tons of exposure to patients, learn medical jargon, and spend a lot of time with physicians. This experience will help you be more confident in your decision to pursue medicine.
2. What do you enjoy most about Emergency Medicine?
When I was in medical school I enjoyed all my rotations throughout the hospital but nothing was as rewarding and fun to me as working in the Emergency Department. I love that each patient is a puzzle that I get to solve. I have the privilege of taking care of patients of all ages and with all problems. In the same shift I might see a critically ill gun shot victim, a child that needs stitches, a suicidal man, and a woman in labor. There is never a dull moment!
3. How do you balance the demands of medicine with additional obligations and challenges?
Emergency medicine’s biggest challenge is the schedule. Two thirds of all shifts are evenings, nights, or weekends. The emergency department never closes which means I work holidays. My schedule is a stress on my family. My husband is an attorney so he has more of a 9-5 schedule. Sometimes we have to get creative to spend time together which means we might go on a date on a Tuesday or plan a weekend together a few weeks in advance so that I can request those days off. We also have a young daughter and a dog so it’s a constant balancing act and communication is key.
On the flip side of the crazy scheduling is that EM doctors generally work less hours than other physicians, typically less than fifteen shifts per month. This means I can typically attend all doctor’s appointments for my daughter, take the dog for a bath or to the vet, and do most of the household chores during the day. We make it work!
4. Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
I was surprised as a pre-med how many people told me to stay away from medicine, which I find really sad. A lot of doctors I worked with told me to be a dentist because they have better hours and don’t have to work with insurance. While they were right about the better hours, I wouldn’t change what I do for the world. Loving what you do makes working all those nights and weekends an easy choice. My advice is that if you love medicine, go for it! All the weekends off in the world wouldn’t have made me happy doing something else. Medicine has plenty of challenges but there are a lot of rewards too.
5. What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?
To me, being a doctor is the best job in the world. There are challenges of course, which is why shadowing or volunteer experience is so important so that you see these first hand and can decide for yourself if the benefits will outweigh the cons. If you feel the same way that I do, you should go for it!
Remember that applying to medical school is a marathon, not a sprint. When I applied, I sent in my application on June 1st, the first day that the application opens. I didn’t get in until June 20th of the next year! Persistence pays off and getting a good mentor to help you go through the process is invaluable. Talk to people who have gone through the process before you so that you can get all their tips. If you don’t know anyone or know where to start, try the pre-medical office at VT or connect with me through Hokie Mentor Connect. We can meet on Zoom anytime!
6. What is your top tip for applicants preparing to take the MCAT?
Study! This is not a test you want to take multiple times so spend a solid 4-6 weeks studying. Take a lot of full-length practice tests. I think a lot of people don’t commit to studying as much as they should or decide to take it cold without studying the first time they take it because you can repeat it but I think its better to really concentrate and focus the first time and be done with it! Also, try to remember that the admissions committee will review your entire application, so if you score isn’t what you hope, don’t give up.
7. Did you have any fears going into medicine?
Of course! Being a doctor comes with a lot of responsibility so I had plenty of fear about that. I also had imposter syndrome (and sometimes still do) despite completing my residency. What helps me the most is having my friends from residency to talk to. You quickly realize that everything you’re feeling is the same as what they are feeling and being able to talk it out really helps me cope. I also have a wonderful, supportive husband that is my biggest cheerleader when I need it. Doing things I love like walking my dog and listening to my favorite podcasts help me manage my stress too. It is important to have a life outside of medicine.