Rachael A. Ward

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Hometown: Originally from Detroit, MI, moved to Atlanta, GA 10 years ago

Name of Undergraduate Institution:  University of Michigan

Major(s)/Minor(s) in College: Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience with a Minor in Sociology of Health and Medicine

Name of Medical School(s): University of Michigan School of Public Health Dept. of Epidemiology, Duke University School of Medicine (MS3)

Favorite Quote: Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.

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

I am currently a third-year medical student at Duke University SOM. During this third year, my focus is on research in the field of interventional and general cardiology and studying for the USMLE Step 1 exam. My journey into medicine has been interesting. For much of my childhood life, I wanted to be a primetime reporter. I could see myself traveling the world to gather information on interesting and important stories, immersing myself in global reporting. I was in every news-reporting group and club in high school and reported live every morning on our high school news show. My senior year of high school, everything changed.

My previously healthy grandmother fell sick and for months, her physician had been telling her that she was “getting old” and needed to get some rest. After finally deciding to get a second opinion, we found out that she had end-stage breast cancer that had greatly metastasized and she died 2 months later. I was deeply affected by her death, but even more so, I could not understand how her diagnosis had been missed. My family was devastated and all the other physician could offer us was an apology. I was prompted to get to know more about her illness and when I started college in the next few months, I fell in love with the idea of studying not just medicine, but the social and humanistic aspects of the field and how patients and their families are affected by the ailments that plague so much of our world. University of Michigan was absolutely amazing for quenching my thirst. I took several history of medicine, medical anthropology, women’s health, global health, and health policy classes along with my typical pre-med classes. My love for journalism was still there, but at this point in my life, I could not resist or ignore the impact I could see myself having in the field of medicine.

After graduating from undergrad, I earned an MPH from University of Michigan School of Public Health and spent a semester in Ghana where I worked on several global and maternity health projects. My love for medicine grew even further, and I had began honing in on my interests in global health. I started medical school immediately following my graduation from the school of public health and have not looked back. I have enjoyed every minute and I am very happy with my decision to enter into this noble profession.

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

The old homage says, “the best of our days have yet to come,” but I must say, my undergraduate experience was pretty awesome. First coming onto campus, I was concerned about being social, going to football games, and really enjoying the “college experience.” However, with the wisdom I have now, I think the true college experience involves taking advantage of the one time in your life where your greatest (and for some, their only) responsibility is to figure out your passion. Undergrad is the only time you may be able to take the classes you’ve always wanted to take and be taught by experts in the field. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT! You have the rest of your life to be social but you only get four years to hone in on your passions and do well in school. If you think about it, how you do in school in undergrad determines where you go for graduate school. Your focus then can make a huge impact on your future successes.

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

Medicine is not an easy pursuit and it takes a lot of sacrifice so I would encourage anyone considering this career to really immerse themselves in the field to make sure it is truly something that they are passionate about pursuing. From the many big and stressful exams, to the time commitment that can have effects on your personal life, to possessing the major responsibility of caring for people’s lives, medicine is a HUGE commitment! Before endeavoring into such a career, I think it’s very important to work in clinical settings, talk to physicians and medical students about their career and personal lives, and see if they enjoy being in the hospital.

What is a major challenge you have had to overcome and how did you do so?

The biggest challenge that I have overcome in my journey through medical school is the impact it has had on some of my personal relationships with people not in the field. Many people outside of medicine do not understand the time commitment and mental toll that some parts of medical school can have on a person. During my clerkship years, my mother became seriously ill several times and even endured a bad heart attack. I could not be there to support her all of the time because of the time commitments. I lost some friends and romantic relationships in my pursuit as well. I am very spiritual and firmly believe that we are placed in the positions that we are in by the grace of God. Nothing worth having will be easy to attain nor will it be easy to keep. With that being said, I remain faithful to God in fulfilling my purpose and that gets me through! In medicine, we get the joy of interacting with patients! The patients save me and remind me of my purpose and in my most tired and defeated moments, my patients somehow bring me back to my strength and purpose!

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

The biggest advice that I would give to a person would be to be very thoughtful and goal-driven in putting together the perfect medical school application. You are basically selling yourself to each school when you write your application and the way you put the application together should reflect that. There is something about you that makes you special, whether that be your previous experiences, your story in how you arrived to medicine as a career choice, your academic achievements, etc. Make sure that all these things really stand out to the reader. If you did not do the best you could have in school but you have some awesome research or study abroad or shadowing experiences, reflect on that and make sure the reader knows how this will make you a great doctor. If you don’t have as much experience because you’ve spent so much time focusing on school, talk about the things you learned about yourself through that process and how that could make you a hard-working and competent physician. When I went on my interviews, several of my interviewers spoke to me about specific and personal experiences that I had spoken about in my personal statement. I was shocked that they remembered, but it really let me know that they love hearing about what makes you unique and how that will make you a great future physician.

What an incredible story Rachael! The advice you've shared with us is excellent as well! I really appreciate your thoughtful answers and you taking the time to answer these questions! Thank you so much and best of luck to you as you continue to work towards becoming a phenomenal physician!

Health Career Spotlights Home Page

Posted on February 3rd, 2017

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