I AM THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE – Christen Johnson, MD Candidate at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.
Christen Johnson was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. When she was just two years old, her parents divorced. Sadly, her father chose not to be involved in raising her, leaving Christen’s mother to work two, sometimes three jobs at a time to give her the best opportunities possible. This gave Christen an amazing example of great work ethic. “I started school then, at two, and stayed out of trouble with extracurricular activities. I also spent time with my maternal grandparents everyday, which gave me an opportunity to really get to know them. I later was exposed to the arts where I started painting, drawing, and doing ceramics.” says Christen. This of course made her a very easy target. She was bullied really badly from 3rd to 8th grade, so she found herself spending more time reading, specifically books that dealt with medicine and science. When Christen entered into high school, her mom started pushing the idea of college. She had offers from all over but her maternal grandmother spent 5 months in the hospital, which deterred her from leaving the state for college so that narrowed her search drastically. “I vividly remember going to a college visit with my mom and sitting through the financial aid presentation. They said $50,000 a year and I saw her eyes start to fill up. I made the decision at that point to work harder to make sure that I could take the financial burden off of her.” Christen participated in the post secondary options program, which allowed her to take college classes during high school. She also took primarily honors and AP classes and found jobs to make her own money so that she would not have to ask. She applied for 78 scholarships and was awarded about 10 of them, 1 being the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which covers all undergraduate degrees and then masters and doctoral degrees in 7 areas, which was and continues to be a great help.
Christen chose to attend Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio for undergrad where she was very involved as president of 4 organizations including the Wright State University MAPS Chapter, founder of one, and worked very closely with the president of the university. She also participated in the SMDEP program in 2011 at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, which she states “was one of the most amazing experiences of undergrad.” Working 4 jobs, sometimes at the same time to make sure that she could support her summer classes, allowed Christen to graduate in 3 years with a Bachelors of Arts. Presently, Christen is a second year medical student at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. She is still very involved as president of 2 organizations including the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine Chapter of the SNMA, regionally as the Assistant Regional Director of Region 5 of the SNMA and Regional Director of Region 5 of the Gates Millennium Scholars Alumni Association, and nationally as a Future Leadership Project Fellow.
Interview Questions asked by SNMA National Vice-Chairperson of the Publications Committee , Jonathan R. Batson.
Good day Christen, 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 have to admit that I never chose medicine, it chose me. I was about 2 when I told my mother that I wanted to be just like a pediatrician that I met during an urgent care visit. Shortly after I told her that I wanted to be an Ob/GYN or a Baby taker-outer as I knew it to be. By 5, I started reading medical books, leading to an obsession with science. That obsession matched with my love for community service made the profession of medicine a perfect fit.
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?
Academically, I struggled with math, general chemistry, and biochemistry during undergrad. I have never been very good with numbers. After speaking with my advisor, I was told that it was important for me to have a backup plan due to the fact that I had a C in a calculus class. I was sometimes made to feel that medical school was going to be a pipe dream due to the constant competition with many of my classmates who had higher grades and lots of research. I found being proactive was helpful. I sought tutors before the class started to make sure I could get the help I needed. I also was blessed with an amazing SNMA mentor who shared his time and resources to assist me when I would start to doubt my abilities.
3. How did you balance the demands of your medical education with additional obligations and challenges?
Organization, Organization, Organization! I can’t stress this enough. I even now plan my day out down to breaks, phone calls, and study time. I also made to do lists to ensure that everything was done in a timely fashion. At one point, I was president of 3 organizations and working 4 part time jobs and still doing very well in classes. I can attribute this to time management and organization.
4. Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research,or study-abroad opportunities during medical school.
I have been participating in volunteer work since I was a kid so I have quite a few existing initiatives that I participate in including an organization the provides food to needy families for the holidays, as well as organizations that provided toys and supplies to kids and senior citizens, respectively. I did a one-year service commitment with AmeriCorps assisting high school students in their college process and loved it enough that I started my own non-profit that I continue to work. I volunteer time at the area free clinic as well as through other organizations. I am also a mentor for students on the high school and college levels. As for research, I have found that I really enjoy community health research and have pursued 3 projects since I have been in my MD and MPH programs. I also participated in an international rotation through Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock New Mexico, which I enjoyed immensely. I plan to return during 4th year.
5. Did you partake in any summer enrichment programs as an undergrad?
I participated in the Summer Medical and Dental Educational Program or SMDEP, which was marvelous, wonderful, and everything in between. Not only did I have an opportunity to enjoy Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York City, I learned a ton and I came home with 80 new friends. Some of the people that I met there are still very close to me. I would recommend that every student that is eligible submits an application if for nothing more than the experiences for shadowing and getting to practice new coursework. This program is truly life changing.
6. Why does diversity matter not only in medical education, but in the field as well?
I strongly believe that relationships are everything. Historically, the lack of diversity both racial and socioeconomic has scared the face of medicine through unethical research, deliberate health disparities, and inequity in health policy. Many of which continue to have a grave impact on our health care today. Having a diverse medical field allows for us to rebuild those relationships that have been broken in the past, especially in the communities who need it most. This can only be achieved through diverse medical education, as we are able to debunk myths and do the research that will impact our communities that have been looked over for so long. Diversifying the face of medicine is the only way to a truly healthier America.
7. What advice do you have for premedical students who are embarking on a career in medicine?
Don’t give up! There will be challenges and sometimes the odds will be stacked against you. This means absolutely nothing. Everyone has a journey, some are very direct, others may have twists and curves. What you may be going through may not be for you, it may be for you to be able to help someone else down the road.
You have everything you need to be successful. The pre-medical curriculum is hard. Medical school is hard. Not all people in medical school have an insanely high IQ. We work hard. If you want to be here, give it your all and it will happen.
Use your resources! Your pre-med friends both at your institution and at others may have advice about studying or could even go over things with you. Have a mentor at the medical school level who can keep you grounded and remind you that hiccups are just that and that they don’t have to control your journey. Ask for help from tutors. Do your homework on funding for things like the MCAT, Travel Scholarships for Study Abroad, and other opportunities. Most importantly, never limit your opportunities by asking will this help me to get into medical school. Ask will this hinder me, if the answer is no then there is no reason not to explore!
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