I AM THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE – Denise Della, Bachelors of Science in Speech & Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Denise Della was born and raised on the beautiful island of Maui, Hawaii. She was raised by parents that emigrated from the Philippines. Denise is the youngest of two siblings, Michelle who is 26 years old and Chris who is 28 years old. Although Denise lived on a beautiful and tropical island of Maui, she lived in a low-income and medically underserved community of Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii. Denise grew up with her parents working double jobs at the hotel industry as a housekeeper and journeyman. Because of her parent’s busy schedule and their need to financial provide, Denise and her siblings were often left with the responsibility of taking ownership for their own education.
Denise attended Henry Perrine Baldwin High School, a local public high school in Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii. At Baldwin, Denise was very active in Student Government program. She was the freshmen class Treasurer and the class President from sophomore year to senior year. She was also actively involved in REAL: Hawaii’s Youth Movement Exposing the Lies of the Tobacco Industry, which a group that advocates and empowers youth to stand up against the tobacco industry through creative expressions, media, and voice. With her involvement, she was able to pass the Hawaii Smoke Free Restaurant Law and Hawaii Smoke Free Work Place Law. She also was able to travel to New Jersey to testify at the Philip Morris Shareholders Meeting. Denise also had the honor to represent America at the 1st Global Youth Meet in New Delhi, India, and the 13th Annual World Conference on Tobacco or Health. Lastly, Denise was even able to attend the Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy, and Leadership (APPEAL) Conference in San Francisco, California and was awarded $1000 to produce a Public Service Announcement about the danger of tobacco to youth. On the side, Denise worked as a Polynesian Hula Dancer at several Luau companies in Hawaii.
Denise also attended the University of Washington Seattle (UW). She majored in Speech & Hearing Sciences. At UW, she was actively involved in clinical research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Health Equity Circle, University of Washington Student Advisory Board, tutoring for underrepresented students, and the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students. She served as the MAPS Director of Communication from 2009-2010, Vice President 2010-2011, and President 2011-2012. As President, Denise led her team of 12 officers to a successful year by restructuring the organization. She restructured the quarterly meetings in a way that each quarter had a theme and a specific community service project. Denise also restructured the medical school mentorship program and created the first nursing mentorship program. She led her organization to creating the biggest pre-health conference in Seattle. As a result, Denise’s led her the University of Washington MAPS Chapter to winning the 2011-2012 SNMA Region I MAPS Chapter of the Year Award.
Denise’s life experience and struggle as a minority inspired her to give back to her community of Hawaii. She is a currently a 2nd year Teach for America Hawaii teacher. She teaches 6th grade at Kamaile Academy Public Charter School in low-income community of Wai’anae, Oahu. Denise loves teaching and sees the parallel of teaching with medicine. Denise is currently in medical school application process.
Interview Questions asked by SNMA National Vice-Chairperson of the Publications Committee , Jonathan R. Batson.
Good day Ms. Della, 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?
A combination of experiences inspired me to become a doctor. But most importantly my experience of being raised in an immigrant family and growing up in a medically underserved community of Wailuku, Maui sparked my interest in becoming a physician. For years, I have seen my family and my community lack access to basic health care due to language barriers, income, and simply location. Many of the people in my community had to travel to the island of Oahu to access basic and extensive medical care. Experiencing these for the past 18 years of my life sparked an interest in the medical field and interest for becoming a physician for underserved communities.
However, shadowing physicians in many diverse settings elevated my interested even more. Shadowing allowed me to see how being a physician is as an art of science, teaching, social justice, and leadership. I was fascinated how physicians can take highly scientific concepts and break it down in an understandable way. I was also inspired how physicians partner with their patients, and empower them to become advocates for their health care. Lastly, I was fascinated how physicians work and lead a team of professionals to move their patients in a positive health direction through collaboration and decision-making. Overall, I am interested in how this career is universal and can practiced in many different settings, locations, and languages.
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?
Oh yes, I had faced many challenges and discouragements as an undergraduate student. However, the most significant challenge that I experienced occurred my freshmen year of college.
As a first generation college student that attended a Title I public high school on the isolated island of Maui, I came to college with a very limited science foundation. Therefore, I struggled with my first introductory Biology course. This course truly required a strong foundation in Biology and called for application in every year area. However, since I had limited science foundation, I constantly failed no matter how hard I studied or how much hours I put in. This experience discouraged me and I began to have doubts about becoming a doctor for my community of Maui. I remember telling myself, “If I can’t pass Biology, how can I ever become a doctor?” As a result, I decided to drop the course and take a break and reflect about my experience. During that one-year break from Biology, I asked my peers and faculty how to succeed in the introductory Biology course. I began to take their ideas and write it down in a plan. I also sought out tutoring opportunities at my college and online. After one year of asking and seeking out resources, I tackled the course again and was able to get an A, which is issued to the top 5% of the students.
3. How did you balance the demands of undergrad with additional obligations and challenges?
I balanced the demands of undergrad by strategic planning. With every new information I obtained from school, work, and extracurricular activities, I always backwards planned. So for example, if I know I have a test on X date, I immediately put that information in my Google calendar and plan time to study at least two weeks before the test. This also goes for events that I had to plan or events that I had to attend. In addition, I also inserted dates in my calendar for personal time to relax. My Google calendar is linked to my phone, so I get minute-to-minute updates. Doing this efficient method eliminated a lot of the brain space that was lingering up above in my head and my to do list. I encourage you all to try it. It works!
4. Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities as a premedical student.
Throughout my undergraduate career, I exposed myself to multiple experiences to learn more about the field of medicine. My freshmen year I worked as a Clinical and Laboratory Research Assistant at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. There I saw patients three times a week in the outpatient clinic of Seattle Cancer Alliance and in an in-patient clinic of the University of Washington Medical Center. I conducted a patient surveys, nasal wash test, and spirometer test on patients. I also charted and monitored their progress through their treatment. In the lab, I was able to conduct various studies using their samples. Through my five-year research experience, I was able to present my research at several symposiums including the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS).
On campus, I was involved with multiple organization such as the Health Equity Circle, a interdisciplinary organization of students and community members focused on taking action on health equity by developing relationship on campus and in the larger community. I served as the racial and cultural health disparities co-chair for one year. I also served as a board member for the University of Washington Student Advisory Board, a group of selected individuals that advise the Vice President about ongoing issues related to diversity. In addition, I was involved with MAPS. I held many positions before becoming MAPS President from 2011-2012. On a national level, I participated in the SNMA Presidential Ambassador Program that develops the leadership skills of potential national SNMA leaders for medical school. With another MAPS leader, we collectively created a proposal to improve the intercommunication of MAPS and we presented our findings at the 2012 SNMA Annual Medical Education Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
Outside of campus, I volunteered for the International Community Health Services, a Asian Pacific Islander focused community clinic as a blood pressure screener. I took blood pressure for the Samoan population in the greater Seattle area. Lastly, I participated in the Global Medical Brigades program. I traveled with several University of Washington pre-health students and health professionals to rural areas of Honduras to provide free health care and education.
Currently, I work as a 6th grade teacher on the west side of Oahu in a low-income community of Wai’anae. I teach reading, math, and science to 22 amazing students of Asian Pacific Islander decent. Outside of the classroom, I serve as the K-12 Student Government advisor and the Spelling Bee coordinator. Outside of school, I am involved with several Teach for America leadership programs such as a fellow for the recruitment and transition team that supports prospects from Hawai’i through the Teach for America process and Teach for America Hawaii’s Values Based Leadership Program that focuses on classroom and community leadership.
5. Did you partake in any summer enrichment programs as an undergrad?
Yes, I did. I participated in the University of Washington Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity Program in 2008, which is a program that exposes underrepresented students to biomedical research and techniques and provides a biomedical internships in an area of choice. I also participated in the Summer Medical Dental Educational Program at Yale Medical School in 2009.
6. Why does diversity matter not only in medical education, but also in the field of medicine?
Diversity overall matters in the health care field because diversity brings multiple perspectives and multiple ideas to the table. I believe in order to truly understand where our patients are coming from we need to have a medical school that reflects the diversity of the population in students and faculty. We also need to have hospitals and clinics that have health professionals and staff that reflect the composition of the population. Having diverse health professionals in health care allows current and future health professionals to better relate to patients and better able to understand where patients are coming from, partner with them, and together we can work to meet their needs.
7. What advice do you have for premedical students who are embarking on a career in medicine?
Keep going! Never give up! Always ask questions because people and opportunities won’t come to you, you need to go to them and seek the opportunities. Remember most people are willing to help you if you just ask. Never be afraid. Also, don’t forget why you want to become a physician. Sometimes as pre-medical students, we get lost in the numbers or comparing ourselves to others, which in actuality we shouldn’t be doing the opposite. We should be encouraging each other because we all have the same purpose – to become excellent physicians for many communities in this country.
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