We were able to sit down and interview a former MEDLIFEr who has recently been accepted into medical school after studying and majoring in medical anthropology in university, and who is now taking a gap year in the Dominican Republic. Emily Fraser participated in two Service Learning Trips and credits her experiences with MEDLIFE to her broader understanding of barriers to healthcare access and education. She was kind enough to provide some more insight into her medical school application process, her decision to pursue medicine as a career, and the skills she has acquired during her time with MEDLIFE.
Q: Can you talk us through the process of applying for med school and deciding where to go?
Emily: So I kind of went into college knowing that med school was what I wanted to do, but wasn’t 100% sure. I ended up joining some more organizations, MEDLIFE being one of them, where I got to experience the more international side of medicine and also a lot of services. I fell in love with that side of medicine and ended up declaring my major in medical anthropology. Getting to learn about different global systems around the world really solidified that this was what I wanted to do. And so, I decided to take a gap year, because I knew I wanted to go abroad, and I hadn’t gotten the chance with covid to go abroad for a full semester. I ended up in the Dominican Republic taking a gap year. I started applying this past summer, which was kind of crazy because I was doing it abroad, but it was mostly getting to write a personal statement that I resonated with and I really got to talk about the mission and the type of doctor that I wanted to be. I think that was something that really pushed me over the edge when it came to applying and getting into med school, was that I actually got to talk about who I was and what I wanted to do. And then I started doing interviews at the end of November and found out that I got into med school in May.
Q: When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in medicine?
Emily: I would say, I had an idea my senior year of high school. Because I really wanted to be a vet for a long time. Growing up surrounded by animals, I was like yeah, I want to be around animals forever. And then I realized, as a vet, you have to be able to treat animals that come in and see them in that position and you can’t communicate with them. So that was a really big thing for me. I need to be able to tell my patient what I’m doing and why I’m going to be doing it so we can be on the same page, and that wasn’t really an option with veterinarian medicine. So I kind of started to drift towards human medicine, because I knew that I loved the sciences and I found the human body fascinating, but I also wanted that humanistic side of it. Then throughout college, it was really reaffirming through a lot of the experiences that I got to have working with other people and finding connections with them and building relationships. So, it kind of mixed both of those passions I have together.
Q: Could you talk about how your time with MEDLIFE has impacted your career goals?
Emily: Absolutely. MEDLIFE definitely impacted where my interests lie in medicine. My first MEDLIFE trip was in my sophomore year, and I went to Cusco, Peru. That was the first time I had seen medicine in a context outside of the U.S. Especially working outside of the city and more in the rural areas, and getting to work with the local doctors. That was really impactful for me. And understanding that medicine is so much more than just what you see on the surface. That things such as not having access to clean water actually can play a huge role in people’s health and their lives. And to be a good doctor you need to be able to address those other aspects, that it’s much more than just the physical. That kind of led me into my major in medical anthropology, and that was really where I started to learn about how culture and different healthcare systems influence the way people understand medicine and the way that a provider needs to be able to work with the patients. So, over time, that’s how I ended up realizing that I wanted to do something with global medicine and also work with rural patient populations and just kind of started going down that direction. That was after my first MEDLIFE trip. Again, it was only reaffirmed when I got to go again after covid, during my senior year, when we went down to Ecuador. It was cool because I got to compare some of my experiences and see some of the similarities and differences, especially some of the systemic issues that were seen in both Peru and Ecuador. I got to see some of the nutrition side because we worked with a nutritionist in Ecuador which I didn’t get to see in Peru. I saw the comparison of the health of the individuals in cities versus a lot of the native communities we were working with and just how different that was. People were living in the same country but they were facing different issues or different barriers and it completely changed their health and the way that providers needed to work with them. So I thought that was really cool and it influenced the type of medicine I wanted to go into.
Q: What would you say to someone who is considering getting involved with MEDLIFE, or has goals to join the medical field in general and is looking for ways to get involved before they pursue their career?
Emily: Well, I would first off say, definitely do it! Join MEDLIFE. It’s an incredible experience, especially if medicine is something you’re thinking about. It can give you a different perspective on it. I think it’s easy to listen to stories of doctors in the U.S., or you know, you hear about people’s parents who are doctors, you see tv shows, but that’s not really what it’s actually about. There is so much more to medicine than that. And MEDLIFE gives you that different angle, it shows you what well-rounded medicine can look like. I think that’s essential. As I kind of said before, there are a lot of social determinants to health and that is something that every doctor should learn about and MEDLIFE does a good job of teaching students how to see those in different contexts. So, anybody who is considering it and considering medicine, I would say absolutely join MEDLIFE. Open up your perspective, see different ways to practice medicine, work with different doctors, and see what sparks your interest and where that ends up taking you.
Q: Outside of medicine, what skills have you acquired from MEDLIFE that you believe will come in handy going forward?
Emily: I think the biggest one is people skills. Being able to just walk up to a stranger and have a conversation and build a rapport and build trust is something that’s essential to have, especially when you’re trying to do that with patients, or really with anybody in your life. It’s a great skill to have and I think being on these MEDLIFE trips and working in diverse populations and with people I’ve never met before and having to build these connections has been such a great skill to learn. It’s something that I’ve also gotten to use in my gap year here in the Dominican Republic. I’m working with people I’ve never met and I have to go live with them, and being able to just joke around at first and then start building those deeper connections was something I had really started to learn through MEDLIFE. And then also a chance to practice my Spanish. That’s been a really big thing. That was the first time I was in a context where I was forced to use my Spanish and I remember at the end of the week being like, “Wow, I think I know more Spanish than I thought I did,” and then I only continued to build from there. I think it just sometimes takes that little push to really use it, and be in a context where you really need to use it to be able to continue to learn and progress down that path as well.
Q: That’s the end of my questions today! Thank you so much for being here today and on behalf of everyone at MEDLIFE we are so proud of you and can’t wait to see what you accomplish in the future!
Emily: Awesome, thank you for your time it was wonderful!