I AM THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE – Brittany Bruce, MD Candidate at the University of Kansas School of Medicine
Brittany was born and raised in Kansas City, MO, the beautiful city of unmatched BBQ, majestic fountains, and midwest charm. Being the oldest of one little brother, Brittany describes her household growing up as “full of love”. There was always time to sit down each night for dinner, always time for family vacations, and celebrations for every milestone. While in kindergarten, Brittany quickly stood out from her classmates with her ability to read books and write at age 5. She was put on the accelerated path, skipping first grade, and was put in the “gifted and talented” program for elementary children. Growing up admiring her mom as a Radiation Therapist and dad as a Cardiac Cath Lab technician, Brittany saw early on both the value of and demands of healthcare professionals and in fifth grade, wrote her goal down on a piece of paper, “I want to be a doctor.”
In high school is where she realized her love for science. It became daily that she’d bring home her Anatomy & Physiology textbook and read for fun, talking over dinner with her parents about how amazing the human body was. She had found something she loved to learn about and at that point, began exploring a career in medicine. That proved to be just one of many interests she would discover. Being signed to a modeling & talent agency, Brittany’s family also had several modeling and acting gigs on the side, being featured on commercials, Hallmark Cards, and print advertising. She also discovered a love for art, spending much of her free time drawing and painting. There was something else she’d discovered she was good at… running fast. She’d began running track at age 11, but by high school, was running competitively year-round. With dreams of running collegiately, her teenage years were saturated with track meets and she worked tirelessly to be the best in the country. She broke school records, won an AAU 400m national title at age 16, and had set herself up for athletic success. Throughout this, however, it was easy to forget about academics… and a career in medicine was one that surely required a lot of work as well. She worked hard both on the track and in the classroom, being featured on Fox 4 with a Reaching for Excellence Award that highlighted her academics, artwork, and athletics. She graduated with academic honors and full-ride track scholarship to Baylor University, her dream school.
She describes her experience at Baylor as “one of the biggest blessings in my life”. As a student-athlete competing at the highest level of college athletics, she was doing what she’d always dreamt of. She loved every minute of it, but quickly had to decide which came first for her, the “student” or the “athlete”. The pre-med route at Baylor was not an easy one. As a traveling athlete, she missed quite a bit of classes and in order to stay on top of schoolwork, had to do a lot of outside work. She’d sit reading her textbooks on long team bus rides and have audio files of lectures to listen to while warming up. Taking care of her responsibilities proved to be a juggling act at times, but once she got in a routine, she was able to do the things she wanted to do such as joining a sorority and going on an medical mission trip. She was even voted to serve as team captain of the Baylor Women’s Track & Field team both her junior and senior year, achieving 4 NCAA All-American honors. The steady, pleasant undergrad experience was completely rocked by a call from her mother one afternoon. Her uncle back home had passed away due to complications of a stroke. He’d had high blood pressure, but hadn’t wanted to pay for his medication. With hypertension being nearly asymptomatic, he’d done what many Americans do… go on about his life unconcerned. For the first time, she saw the importance of preventative care, education, and patient empowerment and she suddenly wanted to be able to do more. She wanted to be equipped with the medical knowledge to help patients care for themselves. She wanted to be able to help brainstorm different health strategies and give the pat on the back or the pep talk to get them back on the right track. Fueled by this, she spent one of her summers back home in Kansas City working with a Cardiologist, Dr. Willie Lawrence, who allowed her to work with the American Heart Association to create and organize a blood pressure screening program for inner city barbershops and churches. Serving hundreds of African American community members, the program served as a safety net for those that were unaware of their blood pressure and motivated community members to take charge of their health.
Towards the end of her undergraduate years, she applied to medical school and was accepted to several programs choosing to go back home for medical school to the hospital she was born at, The University of Kansas Medical Center. Brittany is now a third year medical student at KU Medical Center and enjoying the journey. She’s had the pleasure of serving as Co-President for the KU Chapter of Student National Medical Association where their chapter worked to raise and donate money for childhood obesity awareness, serve as mentors for minority undergraduate students, and try and create a comfortable environment at KU Med for minority students. She also currently serves on the Minority Issues Committee for the American Medical Association and is the President for the Anesthesiology Student Interest Group. In November 2014, she will be representing her hometown as Miss Greater Kansas City USA as she competes for Miss Missouri USA. Brittany has also recently been selected as one of 10 students in the country for the American Medical Association’s Minority Scholar Award, which awarded her $10,000 towards her education. It may sound nice, but most days as a medical student are not a walk in the park. On the more difficult days, she often has to remind herself of that piece of paper she’s had since 5th grade and how big her dreams once seemed.
Graduating in May 2016, she will be the first ever physician in her family.
Interview Questions asked by SNMA National Vice-Chairperson of the Publications Committee , Jonathan R. Batson.
Good day Brittany, 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?
Growing up, my mother worked as a radiation therapist for cancer patients and my dad as a technician in the cardiac cath lab. I knew growing up that their careers in healthcare were both emotionally demanding and time consuming and I’d always admired the selfless work they did. Even through getting called into the cath lab on Christmas Eve to help save a man from a heart attack or my mother becoming a bit teary-eyed after a long day of treating a 4 year old with terminal cancer, their sense of fulfillment from being able to help others in their most vulnerable times was always evident. I believe it’s been instilled in me from the very beginning that this life is meant to be filled with joy not by helping ourselves, but putting ourselves in the very best position to help others. I took my undergrad years as a time to explore and be sure that medicine was what I wanted to pursue. Through my coursework, shadowing, and getting out and involved in medicine, I knew medicine was where my heart was.
2. What challenges did you face as an undergraduate & medical student? Was there ever a time when you felt discouraged or someone discouraged you from being a doctor? How did you handle that?
I can’t tell you how many times I felt conflicted and discouraged as a pre-med student-athlete. Some student-athletes are encouraged to pick an easier major to ensure that their grades stay within the NCAA eligibility criteria so they can compete. Your coaches and staff really have to believe in you to trust that you can handle the rigor of both your coursework and the pressure and time commitment that comes with being a Division I athlete. After all, they were paying for my education! Both academics and sports demanded an immense amount of time and energy and at times, I struggled. One of the hardest times for me was preparing to take my MCAT. I was “in season” and traveling and competing the entire 6 months I was studying for my MCAT. Not only was I traveling every weekend for track meets, I was missing school, missing exams, having to make up work, physically exhausted, and in whatever free time I had, studying for the MCAT. I would have a book out reading about biochem as I stretched and warmed up for my races. It was a juggling act and by the grace of God, I made it through! It was absolutely essential to have a good support system and faith in yourself that you can do it!
3. How did you balance the demands of your medical education with additional obligations and challenges?
I am the queen of lists. My planner is full of to-do lists that just continue to grow. I soon realized that medical school, if you let it, will take up every waking hour of your day. There’s always studying to be done, more to be learned. I had to make a conscious effort to take a step back, center myself, and remember what makes me me. I found that if I chose to incorporate a little volunteering, or spending a Sunday afternoon painting in my room, or going for a run, or out with friends, I would get the same amount of work accomplished, but my attitude and outlook would be dramatically improved. The more that’s loaded onto your plate, the more important it is to prioritize things that need to be done now vs. later and know your own limits so you don’t overwork yourself.
4. Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research,or study-abroad opportunities during medical school.
The summer in between my first and second year of medical school, I had the pleasure of doing research at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. I worked in Dr. David Harrison’s lab with amazing mentors such as Daniel Trott and spent the summer researching the immune system’s role in hypertension. I had some pretty interesting findings and got to present my research multiple times both in Nashville and back home in Kansas City and the experience was wonderful! I’ve also spent time over the past few years volunteering with campus organizations, free clinics, and mentoring pre-med students. While at Baylor, I went on a medical mission trip to Galeana, Mexico where we set up free healthcare clinics in rural villages and saw hundreds of people, from babies to grandparents, who had never before seen a doctor. KU provides many opportunities for students to study abroad and I’m very excited about spending a month out of the country during my fourth year doing so.
5. Did you partake in any summer enrichment programs as an undergrad?
We would be running and competing from January to June, so I never had the opportunity to partake in any programs like that. I would often do summer school and try to knock out a few classes over the summer to lighten my schedule during the school year. I have a few friends that did summer enrichment programs that highly recommended them. I would suggest, if you have the time, to definitely get involved with pre-med summer programs. There’s different ones all over the country and they’re developed just for you to take advantage of learn as much as you can. And I’ve heard they’re a ton of fun!
6. Why does diversity matter not only in medical education, but in the field as well?
Our nation is becoming more and more diverse and our patients are becoming more and more diverse. It is a beautiful thing to see and be a part of, but we’ve got to make sure we are equipped as medical professionals to take care of the rapidly changing needs of our patients. Can a Caucasian physician care for a Hispanic patient? Absolutely. Can an African-American physician care for a white patient? Absolutely. But, evidence has suggested over and over that by increasing the diversity in the medical field allows for greater access to care and better communication between patient and physician. Medicine is a foreign world to many patients. The medical jargon is overwhelming, the doctors are too busy, and when their health is at risk, patients feel incredibly vulnerable. By having someone on the healthcare team that looks like them, or speaks like them, or understands their culture, fundamentally puts patients just a little more at ease. It’s not just racial diversity we’re talking about, but physicians with diverse backgrounds, diverse life experiences. I believe that over time we can improve quality of care and patient outcomes simply by putting more people on the team that they can relate to.
7. What advice do you have for premedical students who are embarking on a career in medicine?
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Pre-med classes can be very challenging! If you find yourself falling behind, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Tutors are there to help and boy did I use those up! Also when applying for medical school, don’t be afraid to ask for help then as well. I had family, friends, and anyone who would agree to it reading over my personal statement to get as much input as I could.
2. Try and find someone who’s in the position you want to be in and talk to them. Get their business card or email address and set up a time to go to lunch. Make connections. Learn from other people’s journeys. There’s so many ways to accomplish a goal and what I’ve learned is that 9 times out of 10, once people realize your drive and passion, they will be more than happy to go out of their way to help you out.
3. Don’t give up – The field needs you, your strengths, your experiences, and what you have to offer. The road to MD/DO is not an easy one and will require hard work, but each medical student and physician has their own story of how they made it to where they are. Keep pushing and write your story!
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