I AM THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE – Terrance Weeden, DO Candidate at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine – Georgia Campus
Terrance Weeden was born early on Memorial Day at Fort Rucker, Alabama, a quiet, small, army base nestled in a rural area in southeast Alabama. He arrived to a mother, father, and an older sister anxiously awaiting their bundle of joy. His parents were both natives to southern Alabama; his dad was enlisted in the U.S. Navy, while his mother worked as a civilian on the army base. He was raised in Daleville, Alabama, a small, neighboring town with only three traffic lights. He lived a quiet, comfortable childhood with a loving family until cancer took away his father’s life in March 1993, just a few months away from Terrance’s fourth birthday. At this tender age, he could not comprehend where his father went, or if he would be coming back, or why and how it all happened. The death of his father left a profound impact on him. As Terrance grew older, he came to terms with his father’s passing, and he turned this heart-wrenching experience into motivation for him to pursue a career in medicine.
Early in Terrance’s academic career, he developed an immense passion for reading and learning. He enjoyed the Accelerated Reader (AR) program at A.M Windham Elementary School and Daleville Middle School. Terrance excelled in the classroom, earning consecutive A Honor Rolls, perfect attendances, top AR reader, etc. These elementary and middle school classes evoked his diligent and hard-working qualities that he has today. He developed excellent study habits, always ahead of the task and never procrastinated. “I took school seriously and always did my homework. I hardly ever missed a day of school,” Terrance says. When his hometown newspaper asked him and other kindergarten students “How do zebras get their stripes?”, out of all of the things that Terrance could have said, he replied, “From doctors, because they help them feel better.” Perhaps a seed had already been planted.
As Terrance began high school, the same desire that had started when he was a young boy began to flourish even more. He has vivid memories of sitting in Coach Parrish’s ninth grade biology course being fascinated about learning about cells, mitochondria, photosynthesis, etc. Meanwhile, he began to take an interest in volunteering with children by assisting in teaching children and adolescents to perform praise dances at his church. He thoroughly enjoyed seeing the goofy, smiling faces that greeted him as he entered the classroom door every Wednesday night. The children would often give him hugs and make small talk with him while learning the numerous dance routines. And there in his ninth grade biology class it finally hit him… “I want to be a pediatrician.” “What better way to combine my passion for science and love of working with kids,” Terrance recalls. His zest and eagerness to learn science increased even more while taking Ms. Casey’s chemistry and physics classes. “Performing those experiments made me feel like a real scientist. I enjoyed learning about the elements on periodic table. I am grateful that I had such a wonderful teacher whose passion motivated me to learn more about science. She was the one who encouraged me to follow through with signing up for chemistry and physics. It was a decision that I do not regret,” Terrance recalls.
Terrance also has other interests outside of science. His love of music allowed him to hone his talent in the Daleville High School marching band. He began playing the trombone in sixth grade, choosing band over playing sports, and continued to play until his junior year of college. He slowly began to break out of his shy, quiet shell by having breakout performances in two high school musicals. These fun-filled experiences made his high school years memorable and allowed those four years to quickly pass by. Terrance completed high school, graduating salutatorian and earning the superlative “Most Intelligent Male” of his high school class. He cherished every moment of high school while he looked forward to what the future would bring.
Terrance started Auburn University (WAR EAGLE!) in the fall of 2007, where he majored in Biomedical Sciences with a concentration in Pre-Medicine. The next four years would prove to be an exciting time in his life with new experiences, new surroundings, new friendships, and lifelong memories. As a Pre-Med student at Auburn, Terrance was a member of the marching band where he performed at every football game for three years. He also sang tenor in the Auburn University Gospel Choir. Terrance continued to serve his community by giving his time through volunteering in Auburn’s I.M.P.A.C.T. organization. As a volunteer coordinator for I.M.P.A.C.T., he assisted teachers, helped and tutored students at the local daycares and elementary schools, where the majority of the youth were underprivileged minorities. He looked forward to spending time with the students every week, and he began to see the impact that he made on them. These children came from poor, rural, disadvantaged families and he hoped that those seeing him as an educated, young black man reaching out to their community/ being a positive male influence would motivate them to achieve their goals through academic achievements. Their laughter and inquisitiveness touched his heart, and he took joy in answering questions about science and math. He felt that this experience only reaffirmed that he should pursue a career in science that could make an impact in the lives of children. Being involved in numerous extracurricular activities and struggling to adjust from graduating in a graduating class of 97 students to an entering freshman class of 5,000 students at a large four-year university started to take its toll on Terrance’s academic performance. This became evident as early as his freshman year; he struggled to find an efficient, productive way to study that best suited his learning style. He excelled in non-science courses and made Bs in Microbiology, Genetics, Immunology, Anatomy, Physiology, and Biochemistry; however, Physics, Organic Chemistry, and the MCAT proved to be three stumbling blocks on his journey into medicine.
After graduating from Auburn University in the spring of 2011, Terrance decided to obtain a Master’s degree with a Thesis in Biomedical Sciences at the Georgia Campus of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (GA-PCOM) in order to solidify his knowledge of basic and upper level sciences. After taking the MCAT for the third time, he began applying to medical school in the summer of 2012, and a few months later he had been interviewed and accepted at two medical schools. He realized that his dream was finally turning into reality. Terrance is currently a second year medical student at the Georgia Campus of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He is grateful that GA-PCOM afforded him the opportunity to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a physician.
Interview Questions asked by SNMA National Vice-Chairperson of the Publications Committee , Jonathan R. Batson.
Good day Terrance, 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?
What inspired me to pursue becoming a physician is the loss of my father to cancer. Since then, I was intrigued by science, particularly biology and learning human anatomy and physiology. I still have the same desire to learn how the human body functions, what happens when and how things go awry, and how medicine can treat diseases and conditions. My passion for science, combined with a desire to work with and mentor children, motivates me to pursue a career in pediatrics. I know the feeling of growing up without a male influence, and I plan to be a positive male role model in the lives of my patients. As a pediatrician, I want to instill positive values in my patients through my service to whatever community I chose to practice in.
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?
With the end of my college years quickly approaching, it was time to begin to apply to medical school. I began college with the goal of entering medical school immediately after graduating college in four years. I have learned a valuable life lesson….life does not always go according to your plan. You must learn to adapt and learn from whatever life teaches you. As I previously mentioned, Organic Chemistry, Physics, and the MCAT were three challenges I faced as an undergraduate student. I began taking Organic Chemistry I during the fall semester of my sophomore year at Auburn University. I quickly started falling behind after each class, because I failed to grasp the basic concepts. I did not know how to study this material, and I ended up memorizing random pieces of information in desperation to pass each exam. This strategy did not work and it would take a miracle for me to pass this class. I felt as if my professor was speaking a foreign language; this was not anything like the General Chemistry courses I took during my freshman year. Even Organic Chemistry I lab was a nightmare! I dreaded the idea of staying in the labs for hours creating and purifying compounds. At every lab session, I would make careless mistakes that would cause me to either receive a poor grade or be the last student to leave the lab room for that lab session. I sought help but it was too late. Unfortunately, I ended the course with a final letter grade of D.
Just when I thought things could not get any worse, I found out that I had to repeat Organic Chemistry I lab as well! I was devastated and disappointed in myself because this was the first time I did not make an A or B. This experience made me doubt my capabilities and my intelligence. It made me question whether I should pursue a career in medicine. Despite my poor performance in Organic Chemistry I, I was determined to be a doctor, somehow, someway. I believed that my difficulty in this one subject would not determine my future. This tenacity made me want to repeat the course and to seek help immediately and consistently. After repeating Organic Chemistry I course and lab, I successfully passed with Bs in both the course and lab.
My second challenge that I faced as an undergraduate student was Physics II during the spring of my junior year at Auburn University. To study for the exams, I would try to memorize equations but I would fail to properly apply them to solve word problems. I sought help through my peers but I could not make any connections or applications; it was as if I had some mental block against Physics. I honestly thought the Physics was a waste of time and money and I began to lose interest in studying it. By the end of the semester, I would just go through the motions and pray that everything would eventually come together to make sense. Unfortunately, I ended the semester with a final grade of D. It was déjà vu…the same emotions of helplessness, disappointment, lack of confidence and low self-esteem. I knew that two Ds on my academic transcript would not allow me to get into any medical school, but my faith in God allowed me to put my trust in Him. I took comfort in knowing that things would turn around. I repeated the course during the summer of 2010, and passed the course with an A.
Mastering the MCAT was my third challenge that I faced as an undergraduate student. Although this entrance exam is known to test one’s knowledge and application of the basic sciences, I discovered that it also tested my faith, tenacity, perseverance, and dedication. Just weeks after the beginning of my senior year at Auburn, I took the MCAT for the first time; however, I was not prepared because I was naïve to the amount of adequate preparation that was needed. I remember leaving the testing facility with an enormous, throbbing migraine. I had never taken a test like that! I thought that studying material from my previous science courses would suffice, but I was proven wrong when I received my overall score of 17! I felt overwhelmed with disappointment, doubt, and low self-confidence. I decided to dedicate myself even more to my coursework by exchanging quality time with my friends for putting in tedious hours at the library. I even made the difficult decision to not rejoin the marching band and gospel choir for my senior year. My intent was to focus more on mastering the rigorous upper level science courses in order to master the MCAT.
I took the MCAT again the following January and received the exact same score! My strategy did not work and I plunged into a state of uncertainty. I began to think that this was a sign that maybe a medical career was not meant for me after all. I realized that I was not ready for medical school at that time, and while finishing my last semester at Auburn, I decided to apply to the Master’s program at GA-PCOM to strengthen my medical school application. I was determined to get into medical school, someway and somehow. I promised myself that regardless of how long it may take that I will become a physician. I finished the first year of the Master’s program and I was confident that I knew the material well enough to retake the MCAT. I used the summer to prepare for the MCAT. I diligently and efficiently studied each day and used numerous practice tests for two months. I took the MCAT for the third and final time in August 2012. My score improved and was sufficient enough for me to be granted acceptance into two medical schools. My faith, determination, tenacity, dedication, diligence, hard work, and persistence brought me to where I am today.
3. How did you balance the demands of your medical education with additional obligations and challenges?
Balancing the demands of medical school with additional obligations and challenges was a task that I have had to learn over time. I had developed good time management skills in high school and college; however, graduate school made me alter and refine those skills. Naturally, I fall into routines and follow schedules because I am a very organized person. Each morning before class, I would devote my time to read the Bible and ask God for wisdom and guidance throughout the day. This helped me to remain calm on test days, and before leaving my apartment, I would also speak words of positivity. When classes ended for the day, I would usually allow some time to decompress (which would involve me contacting my friends and family and spending time with my classmates) and then I would begin my studying.
During a typical study session, I usually study in spurts, taking ten or fifteen- minute breaks every one to two hours. I always study with relaxing music because it helps to relax me and keeps me focused on the task at hand. I do not like to procrastinate and I rarely pull all-nighters; I like to stay on top of things but this is a hard task to do considering the volume of information handed to me in medical school. Knowing exactly what to study is difficult because of the overwhelming amount of material that is being presented, so I attend all of my classes and take note of things that my professors highlighted for me to remember. As I study, I maximize my efficiency and my time by focusing mainly on high-yield information and certain things that my professors strongly emphasized.
You should not lose focus on the reason that you are in medical school. Make time for things that are important to you. Focus on the things that peak your interest and do not overload yourself. Sacrificing quality time with your friends and family is difficult; however, keep in mind that this sacrifice will soon pay off. I limit my extracurricular activities to those that would benefit and interest me, a lesson that I learned from days in college. It is imperative to have some leisure time….all work and no play makes an insane medical student. My leisure time consists of spending one night a week watching television, particularly college football or Saturday Night Live or treating myself to Chinese food and seafood. You have to remember and do the small things that make you happy.
4. Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research,or study-abroad opportunities during medical school.
During my first year in medical school I became a member of SNMA, in which we participated in our school’s annual SIGH Health Fair. At this health fair, we informed people and offered advice about helpful tips on stress reduction (such as meditation, healthy diet, exercise, therapy through art, etc.)…something I knew too well, as a med student. Since then, I have been elected as the Treasurer of the SNMA chapter at GA-PCOM. Our chapter plans to host a charity bowling event, volunteer with the local Boys and Girls Club, and host guest speakers on campus. Our goal for the academic year is to increase membership and participation, as well as promote our chapter on GA-PCOM’s campus by forming partnerships with other campus organizations.
As a graduate student at GA-PCOM, I wrote my Thesis, “A Statistical Test to Assess Tissue Characterization of Abdominal Organs by Color-Fusion MRI”. Tissue characterization or segmentation is a method that uses clusters of pixel values to reveal the biological characteristics of a region of interest within an image. It can provide information about the histology of the tissue located in the area of interest. Under the tutelage of Dr. H. Keith Brown and the assistance of Dr. Yong Wei at the University of North Georgia, I used statistics to investigate methods of automatic tissue segmentation of the kidney, pancreas, and liver by the color fusion MRI method (adding color to MRI). This method was previously used to detect brain lesions and ovarian masses. I hypothesized that statistics could be used to quantify the correct classification of renal, pancreatic, and hepatic tissues that are visualized by the color fusion MRI method. Results from my research show that statistics can be used to validate the correctness of classification of abdominal tissues visualized by color-fusion MRI. With these results and future studies, physicians may be able to make more accurate diagnoses of illnesses. Ultimately, this can be used as a major step toward diagnosing and staging devastating cancers, tumors, and other types of pathologies.
5. Did you partake in any summer enrichment programs as an undergrad?
Being involved in time-consuming extracurricular activities, such as the marching band, did not allow me to partake in any summer enrichment programs as an undergrad. I spent every summer of my undergrad years at Auburn University taking summer courses so that I could graduate college in four years/stay on task. However, I did offer my time by volunteering in the emergency room at the East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Alabama for two consecutive summers. This opportunity gave me a rewarding experience in a medical environment. I never knew that something as simple as giving a patient a cup of water or a warm blanket would help to ease patients’ fears and concerns. I looked forward to spending time there and would generously offer the patients pleasant smiles and kindness in their time of anxiety. This experience taught me how compassion and empathy directly affect the patient and their role in healthcare.
During winter, spring, and even summer breaks, I took time to go back home and shadow physicians and through this experience, I met a well-respected pediatrician and my mentor, Dr. Kenneth Brown, M.D.. After a family friend referral, I contacted Dr. Brown and within a few days I began shadowing him, seeing him practice at the local pediatric clinic as well as on hospital rounds. From the very first time I shadowed him, I often envisioned myself doing the same things he would do and say as he interacted with his patients. He would take time to answer any questions I had and explain certain terms, cases, and illnesses.
During one patient visit, he even let me use his stethoscope to hear abnormal lung sounds: I had never used a stethoscope before. That one moment gave me so much hope and inspiration, and it reaffirmed that a pediatric career is what I wanted to pursue. I admired how he treated his patients and families with the utmost respect. We remain in contact, and five years later, I still take time to go back and shadow him during my winter, spring and summer breaks.
6. Why does diversity matter not only in medical education, but in the field as well?
To better serve the American melting pot, we need to have all the necessary ingredients. An essential ingredient is diversity in medical field driven by diversity in the medical education. Diversity matters in medical education as well as the medical field, because of there is a disparity in the quality of healthcare in disadvantaged communities. In order to bridge this gap, physicians that practice in these communities can serve as a voice of reason by providing information about preventive medicine. I think that the main reason why citizens living in underserved (poor, rural, or urban) areas perish from preventable diseases and conditions such as diabetes, prostate cancer high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. is because they have a lack of knowledge about the ways that these illnesses could have been prevented.
People tend to identify and connect with those that have similarities to them; it helps to have someone you can relate to. This is where diversity in medical field matters; Physicians practicing in underserved communities, for example a minority family medicine physician serving a predominantly minority community could play the role of providing quality healthcare to that community. Having more diversity in the medical field would strengthen the doctor-patient relationship. Patients will feel more at ease and doctors will be more likely to provide effective treatments. Diversity in the medical field would be a reflection of having diversity in medical education. Educators and students from various ethnicities could play an integral part in shaping the future of medicine. Different ideas can evoke innovations in medical technology and challenge the traditional methods of medical treatment. Opposing viewpoints could come together to propose new changes and treatments to eradicate old diseases.
7. What advice do you have for premedical students who are embarking on a career in medicine?
My first piece of advice to premedical students is to persevere. People may dissuade or distract you from your passion, circumstances may seem dire, grades may be low, classes may be frustrating, but you have to look at the light at the end of the tunnel. I graduated Auburn University with an overall 2.8 GPA and a MCAT score of 17… I was uncertain of my next step but I was determined to enter medical school to become a doctor. I persevered through my difficulties with the Organic Chemistry, Physics, and the MCAT. You must find strength and inspiration to persevere from your faith, family, friends, etc. The journey will not be easy but if you stay the course, it will definitely pay off. Anything worth having is worth devoting your time to. My second piece of advice to premedical students is to stay true to the medical profession. Do not forget that you aspire to be in a health “care” profession or that your patients are people, not medical terminologies. It is very easy for premedical and medical students, as well as physicians, to lose sight of what healthcare is. To me, healthcare is serving your community by providing and attending to your community’s needs, being the voice of compassion in a time of grief and sorrow, being a pillar of integrity, calmness, and strength in a time of chaos, having the intellect and proper instinct to treat illnesses, and having the wisdom to accept the things that are out of one’s control.
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