Ryan Walker

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Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, FL

Name of Undergraduate Institution: University of Miami

Major(s)/Minor(s) in College: Biology Major BS, Psychology BA, Minors in Chemistry, Public Health and Women’s Gender Studies

Name of Medical School: Tufts University School of Medicine

Favorite Quote: The Power of Positive ThinkingMy Grandmother, GrandSue

Contact Info: ryan.walker@tufts.edu

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

I am currently a 4th year MD/MPH student at Tufts University School of Medicine, and will be pursuing a career in Family Medicine. Like so many, I wanted to pursue medicine to help people. However, I also equate caring for people with love and community. I was taught by my grandmother to care for my great-grandmother as a child, and I did everything from feeding her, transferring her from the bed to the wheelchair, and giving her medications from her pill organizer. Medicine also fulfills my love for science and curiosity about the human body. I fondly remember watching the Magic School Bus and doing experiments from a kiddy lab kit I pleaded my mother to buy. In addition to caring for people and exploration of science, medicine also appealed to passion to serve communities and integrate my interests in public health.

I have chosen to pursue Family Medicine in particular because I believe it aligns best with my vision of the type of physician I want to be. I value working longitudinally in communities and with families and patients of various ages (newborns to geriatrics). The breadth of Family Medicine also provides a space for me to pursue my various interests in sexual and reproductive health and adolescent medicine. Furthermore, while medicine is changing to incorporate public health widely, I believe that the foundation of Family Medicine is centered on the notion of preventive medicine and public health. So for me, Family Medicine is where I need to be to fulfill my medical and public health aspirations!

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

There are many things that I would love to be able to tell my college freshman self! If I could sit her down and have a chat with her, I would tell her to understand what brings her peace and to learn how to keep serenity amidst the stress that comes with being a medical student. I would tell her to set clear boundaries for herself and to make time for herself to enjoy the things that she likes to do. I would also inform her of some of the harsh realities of medical school in order to fully prepare her for what she was about to get into! I would be sure to tell her how vital it is to not only know her weaknesses, but to also know how to turn them into strengths. This requires intentional and frequent reflection that I have since learned in medical school.

Finally, I would tell her that the journey to medical school is not linear — plan B may bring better opportunities. It’s easy to say all the things that would have been helpful in hindsight, but I also would commend her for being open to change and following plan B. Upon entering undergrad, I was set on doing 2 years at the University of Miami and matriculating to medical school immediately afterwards. I had obtained an associate’s degree while in high school at a pre-collegiate high school (dual enrollment in college courses full time). Thus, by credits, I was a junior upon entering freshman year of undergrad. This also meant that I had only one year of undergrad to apply to medical school if I had planned to attend medical school immediately after completion of my Bachelor’s degree. I contemplated the dilemma of graduating in 2 years to go to medical school and extending my time in undergrad. Ultimately, I decided to do complete the traditional 4 years of undergrad, and I believe that it was important for me to adequately develop and explore my interests. With that said, I grew the most from leadership experiences in my junior and senior years, and enjoyed exploring a spectrum of disciplines. I added a BA in Psychology and minor in Women’s and Gender studies during my sophomore year, and I wasn’t ready to leave in December of my senior year, so I added a third minor in public health. (If you couldn’t already tell, I love learning!) Even after attending undergrad longer than initially planned, I chose not to matriculate to medical school immediately afterwards. I followed my interests and learned that the journey is more important than the end result.

Do you have another professional degree? If so, how has it impacted you?

I am completing my MPH alongside my MD in a four-year program here at Tufts. I chose to pursue an MPH because I felt it would aid in my pursuit to practice community health. Furthermore, I wanted to explore the intersectionality of medicine and public health, thus Tufts’ integrated curriculum was a good fit. I value learning from a spectrum of public health professionals (i.e. MPH, PhD, MSW, MD/MPH), and obtaining both degrees simultaneously challenges me to learn how to integrate public health into medical practice. My clinical experience is very much influenced by my public health perspective, and I am able to contribute this to the care team through in-depth conversations and suggestions of changes in practices. I have also found that public health courses provide a “break” from medical school. The program also connects me with classmates that have similar interests and with whom I can vocalize and discuss public health concerns that I observe within medicine. Ultimately, an MPH allows me to focus more on prevention, systemic problems, and solutions concerning community health and provides tools for me to do the work that I want to do in the future!

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

APPLY EARLY!! I made the mistake of submitting my primaries in August and my secondaries in October because of writing anxiety. My application was complete in June, but I continuously edited my personal statement because I wanted it to be “perfect” — there is no perfect!  As it relates to personal statements, I found going back to the foundations of writing the most helpful:

  1. Identify a theme. Who are you? I chose to center my personal statement around the theme of community. Everything included in your statement should support your theme. This illustrates an organized and consistent message. Keeping in mind that the admissions committee is reading thousands of statements, you don’t want your personal statement to introduce too much information—that’s what the extracurricular section is for.
  2. Create an outline to determine the main ideas (related to your theme) you want the readers to conclude from your statement. For instance, I spoke about the community of my family, how this led to my service in the community, and my desire to serve communities through medicine.
  3. Complete your CV before you begin writing your personal statement. This helped me to strategically pick which experiences I included in my statement and the extracurricular section.
  4. Strategically choose who you want to review your statement. I found it helpful to have persons with different experiences review it, such as a physician, family member, and a grammar/career center at school (even if you have graduated, I was able to have my edits sent via email). I caution having too many people review it because you have to account for the time it takes to receive the edits back and the amount of feedback that you have to decipher and decide if you are going to actually include or not.

A few other nuggets of advice I would give would be to talk to people who are ahead of you (i.e. medical students, physicians), engage in multiple pre-med organizations on your campus, take advantage of mock interviews, go to your professor’s office hours, open AMCAS applications early to get an idea of what the application is looking for (I actually opened an account my freshman year), and doing things that you enjoy as opposed to doing things strictly to check off a checklist! Experience is necessary for medical school, but you shouldn’t force yourself to do things that you don’t want to do. Besides, doing things that you are interested in is much easier! I fully believe that merging your passions with medicine is the best way to express yourself. For example, I remember a pre-med student in college who merged her culture and love of art to do henna tattoos on campus and raise money for The Children’s Hospital! Seeking mentorships and attending conferences are also tremendously helpful. I was actually introduced to my current medical school at a Student National Medical Association (SNMA) Annual Medical Education (AMEC) conference! Conferences are an amazing place to build relationships and if you follow-up with persons that you meet, you can potentially find mentors! I would suggest for everyone to try to go to at least one conference before applying to medical school.

As it relates to choosing which medical schools to apply to, consider your wants in a medical school. Your wants may be a dual degree or an institution that is research or global health focused. Location is also important in determining whether you want to be near family or explore a new city. After staying near home for undergrad, I decided I wanted to go away for medical school. I have enjoyed my time in Boston, but I didn’t account for expensive flights (which you can’t get around during the holidays) and as an upperclassman I only visit my family once a year.

What did you do during the summer before you started medical school?

I took a year off after graduating from college because I knew beginning medical school would be a 4 year commitment. Before my life “ended” (that was my naïve self, life does not end in medical school), I wanted time to regroup, but I also wanted to do something meaningful during my year off. As a first-generation college graduate, I reflect often about my privilege to have invested family, mentors, and teachers throughout my educational career. Despite growing up in a low socioeconomic community where many peers fell to the judiciary system, drug use, violence, and family duties, my support system surrounded me into a “bubble,” so to speak. As a result, I never saw the ability to obtain a college degree as unattainable, but for many people that is not the case. Thus, during my year off, I wanted to give back to youth what had been given to me – mentorship. So, I decided to do a service year with City Year Miami, an AmeriCorps Program, where I taught and mentored 9th and 10th grade students at an inner city high school who were at risk of retention. My intentions were to remediate information through teaching, but I quickly realized that many of my students lacked the foundational skills, such as organizing their notebook and note-taking. So with that said, being present in the classroom to assist with these aspects of learning, which I took for granted, were essential.

My academic journey to becoming a graduate of University of Miami also afforded me the opportunity to be an example of their potential future. I vividly remember a 10th grader in my class who LOVED football and would frequently ask about the football players at UM. While UM is well known for football, football is not one of my interests. Thus, I never went to a football game. So, my response was “I went to UM for an education, not football.” Initially, he was taken aback, as if this was a foreign idea. However, it provided an opportunity to discuss an alternative route to college and what that was like for me. Unfortunately, my year of service came to an end. It wasn’t until after I had left that realized how much of an impact my students had on me. I found myself worried about them because I knew that they wouldn’t have a City Year Corps Member in 11th grade. However, I’ve been able to keep in touch with one of my students! As for the summer following my service year, I relaxed and spent time with my family before entering medical school.

What do you do to get through the stressful nature of medical school?

To get through the stress of medical school, I have a “toolbox of de-stressors”, which is a collection of things or activities that centers and relaxes me.  I recommend everyone to have a toolbox of their own. If you’re creative, perhaps you can make an actual toolbox (i.e. a decorated shoebox). One of my favorite things in my toolbox is my happy jar, where I write on strips of paper about enlightening encounters with patients, colleagues, family, and friends, as well as positive statements, or mini accomplishments that occur during the day. Examples of things I have included in my jar are when a pediatric patient shared one of her stickers with me and interactions with a janitor that encouraged me throughout my OB/GYN rotation. My happy jar provides space to be reflective daily, and whenever I have a rainy day, I read the things I wrote and it reminds me why I sacrifice and continue on this journey.

Other activities that can be found in my toolbox include taking walks either alone or with friends, hiking at nature parks, coloring in adult meditation coloring books, watching motivational videos in the morning as I get ready, listening to meditation videos at night, exercising, making time to call family, friends & husband, and going to church (where I feel I have community). I also believe it is vital to set boundaries for yourself, because it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of all the things you have to do and information you have to remember. For me, that means no studying after a particular time and getting 7 hours of sleep every day. Going to therapy can also be a great stress-reliever. It kept me going at a time during my second-year where I questioned if medical school was the best fit for me. Lastly, having a support network is essential; it is much easier when you have people you can rely on as you travel this difficult journey! Part of having a support network is making time for those people and being honest about your experiences and feelings.

You are very much appreciated for this incredible wealth of information Ryan! You’ve shared so much about your life with us and have given us more than plenty to learn from! I sincerely hope that you realize just how much your advice and experiences mean to these readers! Thank you for taking the time to help motivate and inspire us!

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Posted on July 19th, 2017

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