Ceshae Harding

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Hometown: Miramar, FL

Name of Undergraduate Institution: University of Miami

Major(s)/Minor(s) in College: Biology Major, Microbiology and Immunology and Psychology Minors

Name of Medical School: University of Virginia School of Medicine

Contact Info: ceshaeh@gmail.com

Where are you currently in your career path and why did you decide to pursue this career path?

I am currently a second-year medical student at the University of Virginia. I chose medicine partly based on my learning aptitudes. From high school, I loved learning biology and that carried through in undergrad. So I had this decision of: should I do a PhD in a natural science or go to medical school? During my freshman year at the University of Miami, I participated in the MCAT program at the Miller School of Medicine and that solidified my career path. Through that program, I had my first shadowing experiences and realized I love what physicians in academia do each day. They work with patients, round with a medical team, teach students, and are constantly learning as the field of medicine changes. Medicine basically combines two things that I enjoy– learning and interacting with people.

If you could go back and have a chat with your naïve college freshman self, what would you tell her?

Work hard. That freshman year GPA matters—its not the end of the world but it will be the difference between an uphill climb for the rest of college and being a more balanced student who can study and be involved in subsequent years. Each year in college is more challenging so you definitely want to start on a solid foundation. I would also advice my freshman self to be wiser about friendships. You won’t be friends with everyone senior year who you’re friends with now. Be quick to forgive and invest in the friendships that matter. You’re going to mature over these next few years in every way possible. Learn from other people while staying true to your values.

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a similar path as yours?

  • If you enter college pre-med, you don’t have to pile on all the difficult classes your first year with the rest of the pre-med cohort. Everything will be fine if you take one difficult class your first semester and do well in that class. You can take a summer class or double up later on once you know what to expect. If you think you can handle the academic rigor, go for it! However, if you’re unsure, you definitely won’t be behind in life by starting slowly.  Doing well in fewer classes freshman year and making up for it later on is much better in the long term than piling them on and doing poorly. If you think you’re going to need it, give yourself the leeway to adjust to a new environment.
  • At the start of each semester, I signed up for free tutoring for my hardest class before the class even started. I highly recommend doing that. You’ll have someone to explain the things you didn’t understand while you were studying by yourself. He or she can also give you tips on how to do well in that class.
  • At the end of the day, you are responsible for your education. Sit down and write out what classes you’re going to take each semester for the rest of your college career based on the published requirements for that major. They’re usually online. Sitting down and writing out what classes you need to take each semester is a great way to see if you will need to take summer classes, see what semesters/years you can be more involved, and ensure that you graduate on time. This doesn’t mean that you won't change your major, minors, or entire career goal for that matter but it does help you to be realistic and wise with your time in undergrad. Plus, having an academic plan means you can show up to advising sessions prepared and have much more productive conversations with your advisors. Most schools have multiple advisors, so talk with more than one and see which one you like best.
  • Summer research programs are AMAZING opportunities. Any summer where you’re not taking classes, do a summer program. Most medical schools have summer research programs for undergraduate students with an emphasis on underrepresented students. Generally, they pay better than any other summer job and they’re an amazing opportunity to conduct research, meet potential mentors, and get more exposure to the field of medicine. Applying to multiple summer research programs each fall was one of the best things I did during undergrad. They forced me to get into the habit of asking for letters of recommendations and applying to programs. Apply to everything that’s worthwhile. The worst thing that could happen is you could be rejected and end up exactly where you are now.
  • Get involved! Academics are super important, but the most valuable lessons I learned in undergrad were not in a classroom. I learned and grew as a person through my on campus involvement and community service experiences.
  • Ask for help. My high school guidance counselor used to say that there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. If people already did something that you want to do, go ask them how they did it. Looking back on my college career, I know she is 100% right. I didn’t get to where I am on my own. So many people helped me! College is supposed to be difficult and you’re going to be pushed to your limit at times. Be proactive in seeking sources of support such as mentors, clubs, resources, and friends for your personal well-being and academic success.
  • Remember that there are multiple routes to medical school. You can major in a science or you can major in something completely different as a pre-medical student. You can complete another major in undergrad and do a postbac after you graduate. You can graduate, work a few years and then apply to medical school. When you’re in undergrad, it seems like everyone is on this path and everyone is applying right after junior year and everyone is interviewing senior year but it’s not true. More than half of my medical school class took at least one year off before starting medical school. At the end of the day, the path you take will be completely your own based on your aptitudes and your circumstances. If you know that medicine is for you, then work hard, ask for help and don’t give up. Some people will be super discouraging and tell you that you can’t make it but that’s just not true! You can.

What is your favorite thing about your medical school?

My favorite thing about my med school is my classmates. I literally go to school with some of the kindest people I’ve met in my entire life. Medical school is definitely rigorous and can be stressful but a supportive environment makes all the difference.

What advice would you give to someone getting ready to start their application process to medical schools?

The first thing that comes to mind is—apply the first day it opens. After you’ve prepared, don’t start second guessing your grades or your scores or your ability to interview. Be yourself and be confident about that.

Wow, I couldn't have given better advice myself Ceshae!! You really hit the nail on the head with your extraordinarily useful tips! Thank you SO much for taking the time to share them with us and for giving the readers a great dose of encouragement!

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Posted on January 9th, 2017

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