Graduating medical students reflect on their experiences on Match Day

Two University of Michigan medical students recount their journeys towards medicine and beyond.

5:00 AM

Author | Jina Sawani

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Lead image/visual: Michigan Medicine

For soon-to-be graduating medical students, Match Day is an historic event that renders a big reveal. With a record-breaking number of applicants this year, thousands of aspiring physicians across the country will tear open envelopes that contain the name of the medical center where they will be heading for their residency training.

"This year's class is truly unique," said Erin McKean, M.D., MBA, FACS, assistant dean for student services at the University of Michigan Medical School. "I like to describe them as a major impact class. They were pulled from their clerkships due to the pandemic, and they really had to adapt and stay resilient when adjusting to the changes in their medical education because of COVID-19."

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McKean adds that many of their residency application interviews took place virtually and several programs incorporated 'preference signaling' in their residency application process for the very first time.

"Preference signaling allows applicants to designate preferred programs, but again, this is still a fairly new thing that our students had to learn and adjust to," she said. "In short, this class has had to adapt to changes on their feet more than any other class before them."

To commemorate the big day, two graduating students reflect on their four years at the U-M Medical School and share their experiences throughout the pandemic and what made their journeys so unique. They also offer advice to other young people pursuing medicine and look ahead to the future. 

Erica Jaiyeola Odukoya, graduating medical student at U-M Medical School

I took a year off from medical school and I was a part of last year's graduating class. When the pandemic hit, I was really impressed to see that we all came together as medical students to serve the greater good

The M-Response Corps was created to help students serve the community and included various philanthropic channels, like collecting and sorting PPE items, offering childcare services to faculty, staff and students in need, and grocery shopping for senior citizens. In retrospect, it was clear that we, as future doctors, were really trying to discern how best to be a part of the medical community, while also contributing to something much broader. Because when the pandemic hit, we clearly saw how it impacted everyone. 

When I reflect on my journey to this point, it's important to acknowledge that I am a non-traditional student. I took multiple years off before starting medical school and I wasn't a science major; my master's degree is actually in public health. I always had a passion for engaging in health care in some capacity, and at times, I really wondered how I was going to meld my interests with a future career. 

Before I landed on medical school, I knew that a lot of my passion revolved around researching inequities and specifically, health inequities, both broadly and in the smallest sense, within communities. As someone who studied public health, I would often observe trends and patterns regarding how some diseases were prevalent in certain communities but absent in others.

I also studied the behavioral manifestations of stress, including substance abuse, and became involved with health-related communication and education. From these experiences, I realized that there was a lot that I loved in this space, and that I wanted to pursue something that allowed me to directly help people. They were my passion. 

One of my mentors at U-M, R. Alexander Blackwood, M.D., Ph.D., finally asked me at one point what I wanted to pursue. I relayed to him that I was thinking about medicine because I realized how much I wanted to translate this population-level data and other crucial findings to individuals in need. I wanted to be their liaison and help them as much as I could. He assured me that what I was describing truly was the role of a physician. And I knew then that I was on the right track.

When you have a non-traditional background, you don't always envision yourself becoming a doctor. But it's important to remember that there isn't one archetype of an individual who will make a good physician. There are many kinds of people in this world, and many kinds of people in the field of medicine. And they all possess traits unique to themselves that make them good at what they do.

So, it's important to remember that doctors have various interests, goals and backgrounds, just like everyone else. Without this element of it all, it wouldn't be fair to our patients. Because ultimately, we serve them, first and foremost.

I'm glad that I didn't count myself out because I didn't fit the traditional mold of someone who pursues medicine. And I hope others don't count themselves out, either. 

Eric Wilson, graduating medical student at U-M Medical School

I can remember vividly when the pandemic first started. I was with my fiancée, Clare Anderson, who is also a fourth-year medical student. We were celebrating our first anniversary in the middle of our clerkships, so we didn't have a lot of personal time. We were sitting in our home eating dinner and wondering, "What happens now?" And while we were in the core of our clinical training when COVID-19 emerged, we still knew that this was something beyond just us.

Just as Erica said, it was really incredible to see how we, as medical students, really banded together to help others. Clare and I spent a lot of time volunteering for the Michigan Medicine triage line, where we helped field calls related to the pandemic. Everyone seemed to find their own special ways to help, and in retrospect, I think that's the best thing you can do in times of uncertainty: help others.

When it came to the education side of things, it was really challenging to come back to a modified schedule. But we all persevered and learned how to adapt to our new normal.

When I reflect on my path towards medical school, I did a bit of soul searching, as well. I served as a teaching assistant and completed a good amount of basic science research during my undergraduate years, but I hemmed and hawed about what I was going to ultimately do with my life. I didn't grow up with any doctors in my family, so my concept about what it was like to be a physician didn't form until much later.

In my gap years, I was spending most of my time in free community clinics, conducting research and interacting with the patients. And later, I did research at the NIH for two years. I loved living in D.C. and thought about pursuing a dual degree at a point. But as time progressed, I realized that my time in the free clinics, and while teaching others, really encompassed my passions for people and education. And I knew that medicine would allow me to blend these two things. 

As a medical student, I realized how much I wanted to continue with service and advocacy. That's why I jumped into student council. I never anticipated being as involved in various initiatives as I have been, but it has been a really rewarding experience.

When I think about advice for others pursuing this path, it's tough because I'm still figuring things out myself. But I think that's a part of the process. The caveat is that I'm trying to be better about taking advice myself. One thing that both Erica and I have in common is that we both searched for our purpose in pursuing medicine. It's easy to get tunnel vision when you're going through the motions. But if you stay focused on the real purpose of it all, to take care of people, it'll keep you motivated to always forge ahead

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This article is from the Health Lab digital publication.

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Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine



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