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On Abstaining from Alcohol

Bruin P., M1

Bruin (right) with his anatomy group at the AMWA Red Dress Event in January.

I feel confident in my lifelong decision to abstain from drinking — largely influenced by understanding my own personality and family history — and have never felt held back from social events because of it. No matter your rationale, I promise that you will find your amazing WashU classmates to be very supportive and mature. My biggest advice is to not feel daunted about making your own choices! You will not be alone. Just remember to focus on being together and enjoying each other’s company rather than passing judgment. Whether it’s post-exam partying, weekend clubbing, or late-night kicking back with friends, bonding with your classmates will be a major highlight of the first year.

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On Being a Person of Color (POC)

Jazmine M., M1

Jazmine on what her white coat means to her.

On August 28th, 2017, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri. Still reeling from the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man killed by a white police officer, my father, brothers, and sister-in-law instructed me to strike WashU from my application list. But I resisted. The institutional racism, healthcare disparities, and microaggressions prevalent in Missouri are present in every state, county, and city in our country. Its saliency in St. Louis has not discouraged me from living and studying here. It has motivated me to become an advocate for change. I do not feel any more unsafe here than I did in my hometown of Chandler, Arizona. I do, however, feel a greater sense of urgency to engage in community activism. Both WashU and St. Louis have a vibrant POC community, of which I am proud to be a member. Between SNMA, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and community organizations for POC, I genuinely feel welcome and heard here.

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On Being Asian-American

Marina N., M1

Marina ready to perform in the K-Pop choreographed dance at the Lunar New Year Festival.

As a California Bay Area Asian-American, I admit that I had some trepidation about attending medical school in Missouri due to the fact that it had a lower population percentage of Asian-Americans than I was used to. However, now that I’ve moved here, I’m glad that I didn’t let that hesitance deter me. Yes, if you grew up in California, for example, we are a smaller percentage here by comparison. However, perhaps because of that, it’s been a great opportunity to be involved with a solid, tight-knit community of Asian-American students and faculty members here at WashU.

Also, let me just preemptively address one of my major concerns coming here: Yes, there is good Asian food AND boba here. In fact, there’s even a Kung Fu Tea here now, so have no fear! Is there as much variety as you might be used to, depending on where you’re coming from? Perhaps not. However, I would encourage you to see this instead as an opportunity to learn how to make that one dish that you love — you might even want to share it with your peers who’ve never tried it before! 

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On Being Buddhist

Colin M., M1

Though I was raised Buddhist by my parents, my own exploration of Buddhist thought and philosophy coincided with my interest in pursuing a career in medicine, both of which blossomed during my sophomore year of undergrad. Compared to other religions, Buddhism can have somewhat less of a community aspect, but the monastery just outside of my hometown was essential to my practice, knowledge, and development. As with most cities in the United States, there is a small but active Buddhist community in St. Louis; Wat Phrasriratanaram is the main Theravada center, and there are more Mahayana options available if those are of interest to you. The humanism and compassion intrinsic to the teachings of Buddhism lend themselves very well to a career in medicine and were undoubtedly influential in my choice to make medicine and research my career; the tenets of medicine align very well with the Eightfold Path, and there are few other careers that are so inseparable from science while being simultaneously based on generosity, virtue, and compassion. I’m not very vocal about my upbringing or practice due to the fear of being exoticized or categorized as “new-agey,” but if any of you reading this are curious about Buddhism or just want to talk, feel free to reach out to me, as I really enjoy talking about it!

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On Being Catholic

Sam C., M1

The stunning mosaics of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, located in the CWE.

My faith life has always been very important to me, and I’ve had a tremendous experience continuing to grow my relationship with God while here at WashU. The Catholic Student Center (CSC) on the Danforth campus does a lot of work with the graduate schools and offers tons of events for students to attend. Whether you’re looking for faith retreats or just a chill happy hour with other students, the CSC has you covered! In terms of finding a church, St. Louis has so many fantastic options. The Cathedral Basilica is an absolutely breathtaking building (seriously, go tour it even if you aren’t Catholic) with traditional services offered daily. St. Francis Xavier Church (SFX) over at Saint Louis University is another great option. SFX is another gorgeous chapel and has a VERY socially engaged church. Whether it’s fighting racism, helping the homeless, or addressing church conflicts, SFX takes these issues head on and offers so many ways to get involved. I personally attend mass at the CSC on the Danforth Campus. This is a much smaller church and definitely has a ‘college’ vibe to it, but I’ve never been to a more welcoming parish in my life. I love going there each week, and I usually see several other med students and a handful of faculty members there too, so you certainly won’t be alone in your faith here at WashU! It’s also great on Holy days that the medical school will host masses in a conference room so it’s not hard to attend in between classes. If WashU is your home next year, please reach out and let’s go to mass sometime!

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On Being Christian

Elizabeth C., M1

St. Louis has a large Protestant Christian community with many churches within just a few miles of campus. I attend The Journey church located in Tower Grove, which has many young people that attend, including other Wash U students, and averages about 1,000 people per weekend. Other churches within a couple miles of campus that some WashU Med students attend include the Central West End church and One Family church, both of which have a relatively young congregation and are very welcoming. For those wanting to get involved in a Christian group on campus, there is a Christian Medical Association (CMA), which includes not just med students but PT and OT students as well. Although the group is relatively small, it’s very active with weekly meetings and occasionally dinners at the homes of Christian faculty. Even though practicing faith in medical school can be challenging with the demands of school, it’s a great opportunity to grow and connect with people in the community, outside the WashU bubble.

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On Being Conservative

Austin H., M1

Like most universities, most WashU students and professors seem to lean blue. Several student groups and events promote single-payer health care, pro-choice, and similar ideas. And you’ll learn about the gender spectrum in Genetics and Anatomy. There currently aren’t many student groups for conservative ideas. That does not mean WashU is not welcoming to conservatives though! Your peer group will come from all around the country and the world. This broad range of students includes many viewpoints, including some that will have similar views as you. In my infrequent political discussions with classmates, I am often surprised by how much we agree.

Missouri is currently a red state (although nowadays being red doesn’t necessarily mean being conservative). St. Louis has had a Democrat mayor since 1953 and is predominantly blue. But you’ll see plenty of Trump bumper stickers on the freeway and there are pro-life marches and similar civic events throughout the year. WashU makes an amazing effort to teach you about St. Louis’s history. During orientation, we learned of the failed attempts by the government to help its poor/disadvantaged. Nearly all of the government’s attempts failed or even made living conditions worse for the people it aimed to help. I lived in Baltimore for two years and St. Louis feels very similar. The historically left-leaning city government has struggled to fix some issues. Don’t get me wrong, I love living here. It’s a great city, but its history is instructive to me regarding certain policies and their effects.

My fellow conservatives and I could certainly do more at WashU to make our voices heard in the form of student groups, events, etc. Even so, the primary focus of everyone at WashU is helping students become excellent physicians. Most days, at school and at social events, politics are not discussed. When I have discussed politics with classmates/professors, each discussion has been civil and respectful. If only our politicians could behave similarly.

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions when you get here!

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On Being Hindu

Kushi M., M1

St. Louis has a pretty large Hindu community for a smaller-size city. The biggest Hindu temple is a traditional South Indian temple in Town and Country, which is about a 20-minute drive from campus. It is a great place to worship. They have many events there throughout the year, and if you get on their mailing list you will be informed of most Hindu things going on in the area. If you go there around lunchtime on the weekends, they usually have a meal for prasadam as well. There is also a Chinmaya Mission Sunday School in Kirkwood on Sunday mornings, close to the temple. Their community is quite tight-knit, but it is mostly for children.

There is also an ISKCON temple near Saint Louis University, about a 30-minute walk down Lindell or 20 minutes if you use the MetroLink and get off at the Cortex. This is a wonderful community that is very welcoming. At their Sunday Feast program held on Sunday evenings, they have a full hour of kirtan, a full hour of lecture from various scriptures, and dinner prasadam. Many devotees here are heavily involved, so if you’re looking for a serious weekly congregation, this is the place you’ll find it. The ISKCON community also does a lot of home programs in families’ homes in the suburbs as well, which are wonderful and can really provide you with a family here. A Swamiji visits fairly often (I think four times a year) as well, and gives lectures in the temple and in people’s homes. I come here regularly, so I would love to introduce any newcomers to the community. There are many people in the community that are willing to give you a ride to/from the temple or any of the home programs if you need it.

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On Being Jewish

Rachel B., M1

Rachel after receiving her white coat during our ceremony on August 16.

WashU overall has a strong Jewish community. The Jewish community within the medical school itself is relatively small, but there’s always at least a few people to go to High Holidays services or Shabbat dinners with. Chabad Central West End, located near campus, does a fantastic job of creating a warm and engaging community focused on local graduate students and young professionals. The rabbi and his wife are really welcoming and will provide you with food/coffee/moral support/Talmudic advice whenever you need it. They host events all the time, from happy hours to game nights to holiday meals, making it a great way to meet Jewish people from other graduate programs or working in the area. There’s also the Jewish Medical Students Association which helps organize events for just the medical students. Barnes-Jewish is a great place to be Jewish!

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On Being Latinx

Marina P., M1

Marina shaking the hand of Dr. Ian Hagemann after she received her white coat from him.

I grew up in Latin America and didn’t come to the U.S. until college, so my experience with being Latinx might be a little different, but I have found St. Louis to be much more diverse and welcoming than I initially believed it to be. There are plenty of great Latin American restaurants scattered across the different St. Louis city and county neighborhoods, including a couple of spots within the Central West End like El Burro Loco. There are clubs that have Latin music nights where you can dance your heart out, such as Club Viva. Lastly, but equally if not more importantly, there are plenty of volunteering opportunities to give back to the Latinx community, including volunteering as an interpreter at Casa de Salud, performing health screenings at El Torito, and volunteering with children at the multitude of after-school programs designed to get young kids interested in science and medicine!

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On Being LDS

John D., M1

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), I’ve loved living in St. Louis. The local ward has been very welcoming and friendly. My wife and I have made good friends through church already (since many in the ward are grad students either in med school at WashU or Saint Louis University, or PhD students, it’s easy to connect). Coming from Utah, it’s nice because it feels like there are more missionary opportunities out here; it has been fun to go to church and have investigators (people considering joining the LDS Church) to talk to and make friends with. I’ve honestly enjoyed the community much more than in previous wards I attended. All in all, I have nothing but positive feelings towards the local church.

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On Being LGBTQ+

Lane P., M1

Lane and his partner, Justin.

I’m a gay man originally from rural Tennessee, and while I loved all the simpler aspects of living there, my partner and I were both very excited about the possibility of moving to a big, exciting city like St. Louis for at least the next few years. 

Upon arriving here over the summer, I quickly realized that there is actually a very vibrant queer community here in St. Louis. There are a ton of different gay bars across the city, including several within the Grove neighborhood, located within walking distance just south of campus. The city’s Pride festival was a blast made even more fun by the fact that WashU medical students, faculty, and administration march in the parade. The Advocate, America’s oldest running LGBT publication, recently included St. Louis on its list of Queerest Cities in the United States. The Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, a measure of a city’s laws, policies, and services that support LGBTQ+ people, awarded the city of St. Louis a perfect score of 100. A lot of people don’t know it, but St. Louis is a great place to be LGBTQ+!

As for the school itself, I have found WashU to be a great place for LGBTQ+ students. From working with LGBTQ+ Med, a student-run interest group that advocates for LGBTQ+ health issues, to OUTmed, a networking and mentorship program that brings together queer-identifying physicians, residents, scientists, and students, I’ve always felt that my identity here as a gay man is celebrated as important and that this isn’t a place where I have to hide my personal life from my classmates and professors. In fact, I’ve felt this place is preparing me to be a healthcare advocate for all gender and sexual minorities, and I really love that. In summary, my partner and I are so happy to call this place home, and we think you will just the same!

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On Being Liberal

Kaamya V., M1

Having spent most of my life in liberal bubbles in the northeast, I was unsure of what to expect when I moved to St. Louis for medical school. Although St. Louis itself is relatively blue, Missouri is a red state, and this is an especially contentious time in both Missouri’s and the nation’s politics when we consider issues like abortion rights, gun control, and Medicaid expansion. Two major themes I’ve experienced since moving here are that there is room for an open dialogue between diverse perspectives in both the medical school and in St. Louis at large, and that being a medical student (and eventually a physician) puts us in the unique position to be heard by lawmakers about political issues that relate to health care.

To the first point, WUSM has exposed me to a great deal of geographic diversity, and my medical school class is full of people from different backgrounds and parts of the country that I’ve had little exposure to. Ever since orientation, it has been really interesting and educational to hear about my classmates’ experiences that have contributed to their world views and political beliefs. Though I personally lean to the left, I have never felt disrespected or overlooked in conversation with classmates that disagree with me. Hearing other perspectives in respectful dialogues has helped me gain a more nuanced view of my own beliefs on topics such as abortion access. Though I have had unpleasant encounters with anti-choice protestors outside the clinic where I volunteer, the number of constructive conversations I have had far outnumbers these negative experiences. 

Beyond just feeling comfortable having conversations about political issues relevant to health care, being in medical school and living in St. Louis has made me feel more empowered than ever to get involved with the issues I care most about. There are student groups dedicated to these issues, such as Medical Students for Choice and the Gun Violence Reform Task Force, that have brought in policy makers to speak with my classmates about relevant laws in Missouri. Beyond student groups, there are plenty of opportunities in the city to get involved with initiatives you care about. I have had the opportunity to volunteer as a clinic escort at the local Planned Parenthood clinic, the last remaining abortion service provider in the state of Missouri. In that post, I have met many like-minded individuals who have been attending rallies and writing to legislators and local newspapers for years in support of reproductive health services, and who have encouraged me to become more politically engaged. While this state faces plenty of problems relevant to health care because of its legislation (and while this is a frustrating reality), there is huge room for improvement, and we as medical students can play an active role in efforts for improvement. In sum, living in St. Louis as a liberal has turned out to be an empowering experience that has motivated me to become more politically engaged and actively involved with organizations like Planned Parenthood, in greater capacities than I ever had before beginning medical school at WashU.

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On Being Muslim

Arwa M., M1

Arwa receives her white coat from Dr. Gregory Polites.

Coming from a Catholic undergraduate institution, I spent four years before medical school hyperaware of being a Muslim minority, especially because of the hijab I wear on my head. However, these four years were critical in developing my religious identity and in my learning how to “be Muslim” in a setting where there were not many other Muslims around me. These are the experiences I brought into WashU with me, but being Muslim here at WashU is very different from being Muslim at a Catholic university. Of course, with such a large medical center, there are people of all different religious backgrounds walking around campus, and that’s something that the institution recognizes. For instance, there are multiple interfaith chapels — one in the hospital and another right by Moore Auditorium lecture hall — where students can pray (prayer rugs included). There is also Friday prayer in the hospital chapel every week, which is a great opportunity to meet other Muslim students and faculty. There are multiple mosques around the city, including one right on the Saint Louis University undergraduate campus, about a mile away from FLTC. The Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis is a large mosque that has a very active community, and there are plenty of opportunities to get involved if you wish to do so. In addition, the CAIR Missouri branch is active and always puts on events around St. Louis, so that is another opportunity to work with the greater Muslim community. All in all, WashU does a great job of accommodating Muslim students, and St. Louis has a Muslim community that is not only welcoming but dedicated to their work in the city and the surrounding areas.

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On Being Orthodox Christian

Mari G., M1

I have been pleasantly surprised by the vibrance and diversity of the Orthodox community in St. Louis. Knowing how uncommon Orthodoxy is in the U.S. in general, I was concerned about moving for medical school. I grew up Georgian Orthodox and have gone to a Russian Orthodox church my entire life. I went to college 40 minutes away from home in a large city, so I was able to both be heavily involved in the Orthodox Christian Fellowship on campus and still attend my home church. Starting from scratch in St. Louis has definitely been challenging for me, mostly because it is my first time actually moving, but there are plenty of churches to find a new spiritual home. I have only been to one of them so far, but I hope to change that as the year progresses!

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is right across the medical school campus in the Central West End (a five-minute walk from my apartment!) and is a lovely parish. The congregation mostly consists of families and older people, but there are some young people as well. The services are in English, so it is very accessible for non-Greeks like me. Father Michael and Father Doug are great, and individual members of the congregation were very quick to welcome and introduce me to everyone as soon as they noticed that I was new at coffee hour. Vespers is held in a different building that is a 20-minute drive away, so I have yet to experience that.

The other churches in the area are not walkable but are within a 10-30 minute drive. They represent many of the various Orthodox traditions, both Eastern and Oriental. Among the Eastern Orthodox churches, there is another Greek parish (Assumption Greek Orthodox Church), a Russian parish (St. Basil the Great), a Serbian parish (Holy Trinity), a Romanian parish (St. Thomas the Apostle), and a couple of OCA parishes (St. Michael the Archangel, Christ the Good Shepherd). Among the Oriental Orthodox churches, there is an Ethiopian Tewahedo parish (St. Mary and St. Gabriel), a Coptic parish (St. Mary and St. Abraam), and a Malankara Syrian parish (St. Mary’s).

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On Being South Asian

Avan A., M1

Avan (right) with Nikita (center) and Drishti at the annual Diwali celebration held in the Center for Advanced Medicine at WUSM.

The beautiful diversity of WashU lends itself well to having something for everyone. Growing up on the East Coast, there was never a lack of Indian restaurants, stores, and events. Luckily, WashU and the surrounding STL community has all of this as well! In terms of restaurants, Rasoi and Gokul are just two of many tasty and affordable options in the area. There are also various international grocery stores nearby, such as Jay’s International Food Co. and Bombay Bazaar, so you can stock up on your chutneys and masalas. Additionally, WashU medical students also host an annual Diwali celebration, that brings everyone together for dinner and incredible performances. But most importantly, we are lucky to have incredible classmates that are often down to watch (and sing along to) Bollywood films together.