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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