Andrew Hillman was born at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York and moved to Jamaica, Queens, New York when he was six years old. His parents divorced when he was young so at times he found himself changing schools quite often. Many individuals in similar circumstances note the difficulties in creating friendships and his case was no different. Later in life, the challenge of adjusting to new situations became a blessing, allowing him to appreciate the importance of working in groups and establishing common ground with others. Furthermore, he learned how to form strong bonds with individuals from diverse backgrounds. Right before high school , Andrew moved to Decatur, Georgia to live with his father.
At that pivotal time in his life, having a positive male figure for learning life skills seemed to be the most important thing in his life until he realized that academically, high school did not prepare him for the rigors he would undertake in college. Feeling uninformed about the career options available to him, it seemed as though becoming a physician was the last thing he thought could be possible. Becoming an undergraduate student at Queens College made the world he knew bigger and changed the way he viewed it. Launching into this new perceived world through opulent eyes made up for the time lost and due to his intellectual curiosity , he gained a heightened interest into health and wellness. Due to this, he decided to major in Nutrition and Exercise Science. Through research, he identified domestic (Minority Access to Research Careers Program; Travelers Summer Research Fellowship) and international (Multidisciplinary International Research Training Program) research opportunities for summers and for the academic year. He was also able to participate in medical service trips to Guyana; his parent’s birth place. During this time, he also conquered his fear of public speaking and became more vocal in class and on the campus. Eager and frequently assuming roles to enhance his leadership, he decided to charter and become the founding member of the Minority Association of Pre-medical Students (MAPS) at Queens College; in which he served in the capacity of President of for two years. Under his presidency and with the assistance of an able executive board, his MAPS chapter won the 2010 National MAPS Chapter of the Year Award from SNMA in only its second year of existence. While at Queens College, he conducted biomechanical research with Dr. Ya Ching Hung quantitatively comparing the efficacy of two independent rehabilitative therapies for children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy.
This project was a collaborative study with researchers at Teachers College of Columbia University. After graduation, he felt that obtaining more experience in biomechanics and motor learning would be beneficial in reaching his goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon, so he went for it. This second degree helped him mature and served as an academic buffer for the rigors of medical school. He studied and took my MCAT during this time as well.“I am proud to say that I am now a second year medical student at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. It’s safe to say that I could not have attended a better school to receive my medical education . Due to my experience as a member of the Travelers Summer Research Fellowship, I knew many of the administrators and students so my transition to medical school was very seamless. My classmates and teachers are very supportive of me and Cornell does its best to make our lives as medical students as easy as possible considering the enormous amount of coursework.”
Although he reached his goal of getting into medical school, it’s still important to give back. Currently, he serves as the only medical student on the Heath Disparities Committee of the New York County Medical Society. Moreover, he is the Director of the Weill Cornell Youth Scholars Program. This is a four-week medical enrichment program geared towards sparking an interest in medicine and science in underrepresented and underprivileged high school students in New York. Having a strong passion for mentorship, he finds that the more he mentor others, the harder he works in other facets of his life. “How can you truly mentor others if you do not have your stuff together?
Interview Questions asked by SNMA National Vice-Chairperson of the Publications Committee , Jonathan R. Batson.
Good day Andrew , thank you for joining me to answer questions about your career path and journey in medicine for our premedical membership. It is much appreciated.
1. What inspired you to pursue becoming a doctor?
Becoming a physician allows me to increase the quality of life of others in the most intimate and direct way possible. More over, I have a deep love for science, education and people – in my opinion, medicine allows me to use all three in the most comprehensive way. The ability to practice medicine is truly a privilege and an honor – I wanted to do something that not many people can say they can do.
2. What challenges did you face as an undergraduate student? Was there ever a time when you felt discouraged or someone discouraged you from being a doctor? How did you handle that?
In high school, I did not develop a firm background in biology, chemistry, physics, and math. When I got to college, it was a rude awakening for me. I decided to take the long road, remediating courses in basic biology, chemistry and physics before taking my pre-medical classes. Taking my time and not forcing things allowed me to regain my footing and excel as a student.
3. Have you participated in any summer programs and if so, please share with us how it impacted you?
I am the biggest advocate for summer programs as they provide students with research experience, networking opportunities , and inspiration to continuing the pursuit of medical school acceptance. I had the pleasure of participating in two research programs the first being the Travelers Summer Research Fellowship (TSRF) Program at Weill Cornell Medical College where I conducted clinical research in pediatric gastroenterology. In addition, I participated in the Multidisciplinary Inter national Research Training (MIRT) Program through the University of Washington where I was sent to Bangkok, Thailand where I conducted public health research. In today’s society, evidence-based medicine is taking on a much greater importance as physicians are expected to cite research when counseling patients. How can you do that if you do not have experience reading and critiquing research papers? In addition, conducting research forces you to problem-solve, work in teams, and think critically – all essential tools for a physician, as they themselves too are scientists. Many medical schools actually recommend research experience and any type of research qualifies – from music to genetics.
4. Why do you believe that diversity matters in medicine?
The only way you can have a truly authentic conversation, in any arena, is when everyone is at the table. More specific to clinical medicine, diversity allows patients from underserved populations the chance to be treated by someone who is more in tune with them culturally, socially, and in many cases, emotionally. Within an academic medicine setting, a diverse faculty serves to affirm the identity of students of color who come after them – reassuring them that they too can achieve academic success and one day become a physician themselves.
5. What advice would you give to young people of color who aspire to become physicians but due to various birth circumstances such as poverty, see this goal unattainable?
Always remember that those before you have done it also, so why not you? Take your time, seek mentorship, and be prepared to sacrifice, as there is no room for pride in medicine. One chemistry professor said it best, “There is no such thing as a part-time pre-medical student”. Lastly, continue to dream and focus on where you want to see yourself years down the road. For me, I dreamed to be sitting exactly where I am right now – as a medical student at Weill Cornell Medical College. Those thoughts served as my fuel when spending long hours in the library and those late night bus rides home.
*This article was originally published from the August 2013 issue of the MAPS Minutes, first published August, 2013 by the National MAPS Committee of the Student National Medical Association.
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