‘Mini-Medical School’ Encores for Southern Regional Students

Top Advice: ‘Find, Deep Down Inside, That Passion’
Jan 16, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy CAREER GUIDANCE: Rowan University medical student Craig Biebel answers a question during the  ‘Mini-Medical School’ Jan. 9 re-opening at Southern Regional High School.

As Dr. David Kountz gazed at more than 90 students sitting in the seats of the Southern Regional High School auditorium, he offered a professional perspective but also a stark reality.

“This is something physicians and other healthcare professionals really love to do: We love to give back, and hopefully inspire the next generation of physicians and healthcare professionals,” he said as he opened this year’s Mini-Medical School lecture series. “And it’s important to emphasize that while we call our program Mini-Medical School, we really hope over the next few weeks you will have a better appreciation of not only what it takes to be a physician, but (also) learn about other healthcare professions. There are literally hundreds of healthcare professions, and we will have a great need in the future.”

Last year, Southern partnered with Hackensack Meridian Health and Southern Ocean Medical Center to give students an advanced look at the potentials they had within the healthcare realm. It was so well attended that the district opted to host it again, and on Jan. 9, Kountz kicked off the six-week series alongside six Rowan University medical students.

“What makes tonight unique is not me, an older doctor, but we have six medical students who are going to share their experiences,” Kountz said. “Getting the perspective from students who are in the position you might want to be in four, five or six years from now, is a real special treat. So please take advantage of them being here.”

Prior to the panel discussion and Q&A with the medical students, Kountz provided a slew of details for Southern’s students: from a particularly valuable website, aspiringdocs.com; to insightful statistics on how much prospective healthcare professionals can expect to make and how much they may spend for their educations; to the educational process for medical students and what medical schools look for in an applicant.

But perhaps the two most insightful offerings from Kountz – two he homed in on with the medical-student panel, specifically – were the importance of volunteering and “shadowing” healthcare professionals as part of the preparation for medical school; and “there’s no one, single path which leads to success” when it comes to getting into medical school.

“It’s OK to take some time between college and medical school,” he said. “In fact, many medical schools prefer applicants who are a bit more mature and have had other valuable experience.”

During the panel discussion, Amanda Woodford, Craig Biebel, Adam Kandil, Sarah Bechay, Alexandra Nutaitis and Jocelyn Wardlaw each accentuated those points, giving brief testimonies to the value of not being a hardcore bookworm, but instead taking the experiences of firsthand learning in real-world settings and applying them further.

For instance, Nutaitis said she had learned a lot from her volunteer work with Special Olympics. Biebel explained that half his medical school interview centered on his time volunteering at a camp for individuals with disabilities and how it helped develop him as an individual. Bechay remarked about volunteering at a local hospital to transport patients to the X-ray unit.

“In high school, I had two goals,” Bechay said. “One was to stick with my schoolwork because I had heard college was a big jump from high school, and I wanted to train myself for that. I also put myself in an environment where I could see whether I really wanted to be there.”

Biebel said it’s important for young people looking to possibly go into a healthcare profession to “get your foot into a clinical setting as soon as possible.

“We’re all going to the same finish line, and there’s no one correct way to do it,” he said. “What matters most when you get to the finish line is who you are when you get there. And that starts now. Volunteering and shadowing, being passionate, shaking people’s hands, showing interest ... that’s what is going to set you apart.”

After the hour-long discussion panel and audience questions, Biebel expounded on that point.

“Do what you’re passionate about, so that passion shows when you interview for a medical school,” he said. “It’s not that you need to do specific things. You just have to do things you’re really passionate about, so you get to that finish line.

“Building your base in high school is going to set you up for success. And while there are a lot of things you need to do, statistically things you need to meet and criteria that give you the best chance of getting into medical school – and those things can be positive, rewarding, fun things – mostly, you have to find, deep down inside, that passion and drive to do what you want to do. And keeping a positive attitude and starting as early as you can will set you up for success.”

Woodford, who spent time doing a lot of philanthropy work with a University of Delaware sorority and didn’t even consider medical school until she was in college, said volunteering can provide “a lot of exposure to what you’re going to deal with later.”

“To be in the medical field, you really have to love it and have a passion for it – because it is a lot of work, there are a lot of long hours, and it can be hard,” she said. “But never say no to an opportunity to volunteer in a healthcare environment because that’s how you figure out if it’s something you really want to do.”

As part of Mini-Medical School, six Southern students are part of the leadership team – Zoe Deakyne, Matthew Terhune, Keeley Himmelreich, Julia Thompson, Amy Chan and Kaitlyn Ward. Each one is responsible for the introduction of the guest speaker or speakers, in addition to other organizational aspects of each lecture in the series, which runs every Wednesday until Feb. 20.

“I was part of this last year, and I learned a lot from it, so this time I was mostly focused on everything running smoothly,” said Terhune, who was the first out of the gate among the leadership crew. He hopes to pursue a career in either neurology or clinical psychology.

“Tonight’s lecture gave a lot of information about what medical school is, how to prepare and how to develop connections. But the message that was reinforced to me again was that healthcare is a service profession. You’re serving others.”

Deakyne, who last summer was able to study medicinal chemistry at the University of Connecticut, hopes someday to be in the pharmacology and toxicology field, also because she wants to help people. She said the lecture series could benefit a variety of students, regardless of which part of the medical field they’re interested in.

“A lot of courses early on are the same – the chemistry and biology, and all that,” she said. “So it was really good to hear from the medical students who shared their experiences tonight. I was very glad to see sophomores and freshmen taking the opportunity to be a part of this because it really can help them understand what their future might be like.”

— David Biggy


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