Thanks for sharing your story, Dr. Griffin!
Dr. Steve Griffin is a VT alumnus who is currently working as a resident physician in pediatrics at Carilion Children’s Professional Network. He graduated from Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Biology, then graduated from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine with his D.O., before beginning his residency in pediatrics, working with children in inpatient, outpatient, nursery, and ICU settings.
1. What led to your interest in medicine?
I have always seen the human body as an almost perfect machine. It heals, responds to the environment, adapts more than most things in nature.
Therefore, switching from mechanical engineering to Biology and Pre-med was not that far of a leap. Once I started truly pursuing medicine, I met a family medicine doctor that told me: “ You never have to ask if you are making a difference at the end of the day because you’re making a difference in every patient’s life you see”. After he told me that, I knew I didn’t want to do anything else with my life.
2. Who or what inspired you to pursue medicine?
I actually decided to switch to medicine late in my academic career. My roommate in sophomore year of college was pursuing Osteopathic medicine and told me all about it, prior to that I was majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He talked a lot about osteopathic medicine and how their focus was preventive medicine, keeping patients healthy so you didn’t have to come to the doctor because you wouldn’t be getting sick as often. Osteopathic medicine also certifies you in OMT which he likened to chiropracty and gives you another tool to help patients and treat a lot of aches and pain without using medications, opioids or other expensive options.
3. What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for medicine?
I was a late transition into pre-med. Due to that, I didn’t have a very full application full of extracurriculars compared to other applicants that had been pursuing this career from Day 1. I decided to join a volunteer fire company in my spare time and attended the county’s fire academy and get some true hands-on experience with pre-hospital medicine. I also worked at a free clinic in Christiansburg as a volunteer at the front desk to see more of the outpatient side of medicine. Shadowing people in the healthcare field is invaluable for your application and helps you decide if this is right for you. Finally, I was also involved in the refounding of the Pre-Students of Osteopathic Medicine Association club on VT’s campus.
4. Were you successful on your first application attempt and if not, would you like to share your story on how you recovered/planned for the reapplication?
I actually got waitlisted at every school I applied to. I ended up sending Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine a letter of intent. This is basically a professional letter saying “if you take me off your wait list, I will definitely attend your school” and gives you a chance to stand out from the waitlist. Medical school has rolling admissions up to and a little beyond classes starting and there are stories of students getting in the day before classes start. I ended up getting pulled off the waitlist less than 30 days before classes started and had to drop my job, find an apartment and move to Pennsylvania before classes started. There are no penalties for re-applying the next cycle, just make sure your application is not the exact same. Do extracurriculars, work, volunteer in the meantime and reapply stronger and earlier the next year.
5. Do you feel that you were prepared for your medical school interviews? What preparation advice would you give?
I would say I did not feel prepared for interviewing at medical schools. I essentially went in blind as I was applying after being out of college for a year or two. I would recommend reaching out to graduates, people who have already been through the application process to learn their experiences. Pre-med clubs will often have mock interviews to help prepare you and I would advise taking advantage of these. There is such a thing as being too prepared as well. If your answers are rote and robotic, they won’t seem genuine. Prepare enough you aren’t stumbling over your words and show them you’ll be an excellent fit for their next medical school class. Many online discussion boards will also give examples of questions to start thinking of answers before you interview. No matter how much you prepare, they may pull questions out you aren’t ready for, so just roll with these and be genuine and professional. Finally, during the interview get a sense of the school, attendings, interviewers, admin and if this school doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, that is okay too. You are interviewing them as much as they are you.
6. What do you enjoy most about pediatrics?
The most rewarding part of pediatrics is being able to see a patient from birth, being there in case the baby needs help after birth, to filling out their college physical forms. You really become an integral part of this child’s life and can keep them on the course for success.
7. What was your favorite undergraduate class outside of the pre-medical prerequisite classes?
One of my favorite classes I had was leftover from Engineering. It was a welding lab where we got to do arc welding, casting of metal, machining etc. It had nothing to do with my medical career but it was a good source of stress relief and fun between other classes. It also provided some talking points to the interviewers while they were reviewing my packet.
8. How many schools did you apply to and what criteria or resources did you use to select these schools?
I applied to probably 3-4 schools and all of them were Osteopathic schools. By that time I had already decided that it would be a DO or nothing for me. For me being close to my friends and family, or at least drivable was important. My sister had her daughter while I was in medical school and while I had exams when she was born, I was able to be around and close enough that my niece knew who I was through her early formative years while I finished medical school. As for selection, I basically applied to all schools within a 4-5 hour drivable distance. The choices were significantly reduced due to there being less DO schools in total. I ended up interviewing all around but LECOM and their problem-based learning seemed the best fit for my needs and learning styles.
9. What made LECOM the right fit for you?
LECOM in Pennsylvania has some different tracks of learning away from the traditional sit in a lecture hall and take a nap in front of a powerpoint. As I had been working and out of college for a few years, I did not want to go back into that style. LECOM had problem based learning which is all small group based. You work as a team of 8 medical students working through cases based off of real complaints and patients and comprehensive tests are built off of knowledge you needed to solve the case. It was this real-world practical approach that really drew me to LECOM and kept me engaged and motivated through medical school.
10. Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
Throughout my undergrad course, I was actually told not to be a doctor and pursue a different career path. This only made me buckle down and drive for it even more. If you are set on being a physician, keep pushing through and don’t let others deter you. I ignored the naysayers and couldn’t see myself anywhere else.
11. What kind of financial aid did you need to pay for medical school?
Many students interested in medicine that I have talked to are concerned for the financial burden of attending school. With the exception of only a select few, students take out student loans for medical school. The loans are designed to provide living expenses as well since the course load of medical school is so intensive. To compare the workload to your undergrad career, an undergraduate degree gives you 120 credit hours over 4 years. You will earn more credit hours than this in your first year of medical school, so working your way through is not feasible. Also compensation once you are practicing will be enough to pay off your student loans in a timely manner. There are other options such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness and the US Military Health Professions Scholarship program to pay off your loans and pay for medical school.
12. Did you have any fears going into medicine?
A big fear of many people, myself included going into healthcare is “Imposter Syndrome”. This is where you don’t feel like you are supposed to be there, you aren’t good enough or smart enough. Working through that was and still is one of the fears and hardest things I’ve faced going into medicine.
13. What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?
For me, stress always has a very physical component. The way I can combat this is by staying physically healthy and active. I enjoy packing up the dogs and heading out on a hike through the blue ridge mountains. If hiking isn’t doable, lifting at the gym, in-home cycling rides always keep me active between tough clinic or hospital days. Spending time with my pets and my family is rejuvenating.