Michael Harrell was born in a small, country town in Texas, named Huntsville. It is about 45 minutes from Houston. His mother met his father while she was working at a McDonald’s that he was managing. They got married, produced Michael, and were divorced soon thereafter. Michael has a sister who is 5 years older than him; a product of an earlier marriage. When Michael was about 4 years old, his mom began dating his step-dad. Eight years later, they were married, and his little brother was born. Michael’s father moved back to Houston where his family was and also remarried. Michael generally visited Houston during school breaks and always spent Christmas in Houston with his father’s family. His mom and step-dad moved to Dallas to find more professional opportunities when Michael was in 5th grade. During this time, Michael lived with his father for a year. Subsequently, Michael joined his mom and step-dad in Dallas. In Dallas, he attended the local elementary school to finish 6th grade, transitioned to the middle school shortly thereafter, and then attended high school. It was very clear early in that school setting that he was not challenged enough which made him during his preparation for high school, sought out a more rigorous academic setting. It was that drive for a thirst for a better education that made Michael apply to attend the best magnet school in the city- the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center’s School of Science and Engineering. For most of Michael’s elementary and middle school years, he vividly remembers wanting to become a Psychiatrist or Psychologist; though not fully understanding the distinctions of both fields. Michael knew however that he wanted to talk to people about their problems. Nonetheless, when applying for high school, he then believed to wanted to pursue Chemistry. After beginning high-school, he went back to Psychiatry. After his successful years in high-school, Michael then went on to pursue his undergraduate studies at Morehouse College and majored in Biology; mainly due to his fascination of the human body and wanting to pursue becoming a medical physician.
Michael participated in several organizations during high school and college that represented his interests. During college, he became aware of the Early Medical School Selection Program (EMSSP) at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). Michael saw this as a wonderful opportunity that he couldn’t pass up on. After applying with the full support of his Biology Department advisor, and after flying to Boston for a series of interviews, Michael was then accepted into the program. Michael finished his time at Morehouse and then began medical school at BUSM where he had automatic admission due to his successful completion of EMSSP. During his senior year of undergrad, Michael was made aware of the military option to fund medical education. He always thought that being a physician in the military would be cool, and, after some in-depth research, he decided to apply. After a several month process, Michael was accepted into the Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program. Currently, Michael is in his fourth year of medical school, applying for his Naval internship. “I’m planning to complete a transitional internship and then apply for ophthalmology residency training” says Michael. After spending one month so far experiencing military medicine and due to his great experience during his time, he is very excited to see the dedication to teaching exhibited by the attending and resident physicians in the Ophthalmology Department at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Interview Questions asked by SNMA National Vice-Chairperson of the Publications Committee , Jonathan R. Batson.
Good day Michael, 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?
I recognized a need for people in my community to be able to see a physician who looks like them, understands them, and can relate to their struggles. I came from a poor family, and use my background to connect with my patients.
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?
I went to an HBCU, and I saw several students before me struggling to get into medical school and most didn’t make it. We were discouraged and even funneled into research-related fields. I just had to remember what my dream was, and find an advisor who could support me. That was probably the most important thing. It’s imperative that you have someone in your corner. I also have a very supportive family. So, in general, having a strong support system will help you to stay focused on your goals.
3. How did you balance the demands of medical school with additional obligations and challenges?
It’s all about knowing your limits and prioritizing your obligations. You have to make time for things that are important to you. It may require losing some sleep or sacrificing some leisure time, but it should be worth it in the end. Time management is key.
4. Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research,or study-abroad opportunities during medical school.
Most of my extracurricular time in medical school has been devoted to the SNMA. I chose to pick one organization that I’m really invested in and to give it my all. I’ve been involved in the organization in a variety of capacities: local, regional, and national.The summer before medical school, I did participate in a clinical and translational research program. It was good experience.
5. Did you partake in any summer enrichment programs as an undergrad?
In addition to the program I referenced above, I did also participate in the MedStarz Program at the University of Toledo Medical School. It was an introduction to the field of medicine and the medical sciences. I also spent a little time doing research in an animal behavior lab at Morehouse.
6. Why does diversity matter not only in medical education, but in the field as well?
As I alluded to earlier, the population of America is not homogeneous. We’re all different. It’s been proven that patients respond better, are more compliant and honest, and have better health outcomes when the medical professional that they see is someone who they can trust. That trust comes from the development of a strong relationship. It’s more difficult to reach the patient who feels that you don’t understand them, that you have nothing in common with them, or that you can’t even speak their language. That’s why we need a very diversified array of healthcare professionals.
7. Why consider a career in military medicine?
There are several things to consider when choosing to pursue a career in military medicine. Are you comfortable being an employee of the government? Do you like to travel? Can you operate within the rigid structure of the military? I answered yes to most of those questions. Honestly, it was a tough decision and somewhat of a leap of faith. It’s going to be an adventure. There are lots of opportunities to grow as a leader, physician, and man while in the military. I plan to travel and experience practicing medicine in different parts of the world. Military medicine is also different than civilian medicine in that you don’t have to worry about patients being non-compliant and some of the barriers to access to healthcare don’t exist. That’s really comforting for a physician.
8. What advice do you have for premedical students who are embarking on a career in medicine?
Be sure to develop a team of mentors and advisors who can walk with you along this journey. Be sure that this is what you want; you will be challenged every day of this journey, and if you’re not sure, you won’t make it. Choose a medical school where you will be happy. No matter where you go, if you’re a good student, you will get a job.
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