Default image

On Being a Veteran

Vera T., M1

Unlike many students in med school, when I graduated high school I had NO plans of going to college. Instead, I enlisted in the Air Force and served on active duty for six years. At the end of that tour of duty, I started thinking about medical school and finally returned to college to get my undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona. There is a lot that has been said and written about how challenging being in the military is, but what got me was how challenging it was to transition back and try to be a regular person. I felt like I had to create a new identity — there was the version of me that used to be in charge of people, that ran combat missions, and now there was this new version that went to school and worried about my math homework. I even had to buy new clothes, it turns out Under Armour shirts and Oakleys aren’t exactly the thing to wear on a college campus. I was fortunate that the University of Arizona had a well organized and supportive veterans center, and I was able to find connections there. Still, though, it sometimes felt like there was a gulf between me and some of my classmates. Many of them were great people, they just had their own social thing going on, and I wasn’t a part of it. I was often closer in age to my professors than my fellow students.

When I started the process of applying to medical school, a concern that was at the front of my mind was finding an environment where I could fit in and truly connect with my classmates. I didn’t want to sign up for another four years of having friendly acquaintances instead of friends. I wanted to be surrounded by people who would value the experience I had to offer, while also challenging me to learn and grow. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that it isn’t just what you know but who you know that matters. One of the greatest assets I hope to get from medical school is a strong network of fellow doctors I can reach out to for the rest of my career. When I came to Second Look at WashU, I was anxiously looking at all my possible future classmates — would these turn out to be people I could find a place among? What I found was a group of people who are some of the nicest and smartest people I have ever met. Every one of my classmates I have gotten to know has maturity and has engaged in the kinds of substantive experiences that build character. I have consistently felt included since day one, and I could not be happier to have chosen to come here.

Default image

On Being an International Student from Canada

Tim K., M1

I grew up in Western Canada, attended college in Montreal, and this is my first time studying in the U.S. WashU is probably one of the most Canadian-friendly medical schools, and that is reflected in our class (three Canadians and many dual citizens). I think even for students coming from the U.S. coasts, St. Louis bears a distinct identity. Its culture and demographics are definitely different from those in Canada; the difference here is greatly attributed to the historical racial and socioeconomic divide in the city.

Depending on where you are coming from, St. Louis might be considered a relatively small city. However, even if you are accustomed to living in a major metropolis like Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal, there are surprisingly just as many activities to partake in here in St. Louis and ample restaurants to try. If you are a fan of good barbecue (this is non-existent in Canada), then you’re in luck! Living and eating in St. Louis is also more affordable than other big cities.

I have been told it gets cold during the winter and hot in the summer. So far though, it only snowed a few times and then somehow became 20 degrees Celsius in December (probably like 70 degrees Fahrenheit, I still have no idea how freedom units work). I have only seen one person wear Canada Goose on campus, and I have still yet to bring out my toque and gloves. This lack of snow can either be a pro or a con. Hockey is still a thing here, and the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup last year. (The Blues winning is probably a con.) Overall, St. Louis has been great so far, and I am excited to continue learning about and living life in the U.S.

Default image

On Being an International Student from China

Clara (Jingxian) L., M1

Clara and and her boyfriend, Sherwin (also a WUSM M1), at the Great Wall of China.

As someone who grew up in Beijing, I have to say that St. Louis has exceeded my expectations in providing a feeling of home. Although St. Louis doesn’t have the largest Asian population or the biggest selection of Asian delicacies, it provides everything I need. From the Asian markets on Olive Boulevard, to the broccoli beef in Central West End, the bubble tea at Kung Fu Tea, and the noodle soup at Cate Zone, I have been very well fed whenever I am craving Chinese food.

However, most importantly, I was able to find my home here in my communities. Through WashU’s APAMSA (Asian and Pacific American Medical Student Association), I have participated in and organized many events that celebrated my culture. I had lots of fun making dumplings with my friends and preparing for the school-wide Lunar New Year celebration. I am also able to speak my mother tongue when I volunteer at the Chinese clinic run by WashU and Saint Louis University students. Although I didn’t expect to fit in well in St. Louis as a native Asian, I am very happy about where I am after one semester. After all, home isn’t about the physical location, but rather about who you are with, right?

Default image

On Being an International Student from South Korea

Ki Yun (Kay) P., M1

Starfield Library at Starfield COEX Mall in Seoul.

In 2012, I was a naïvely confident teenager who had just moved to St. Louis, a city 1/27th the population size and 1/3rd the area of Seoul, South Korea. Like everyone, I’ve been through various seasons of life for almost a decade in the U.S., making friends from different walks of life, and feeling melancholic loneliness and homesickness (sometimes blaming the 9-fold difference in population density!). Finding my group of people who have helped me better understand what it means to live as a sojourner in the U.S. has been great. I’ve slowly become aware of my liminality – a source of that awkward feeling of being a foreigner, but also of freedom and of realization that it is my choice to either be an outsider or fit within multiple groups. My outlook on life has changed; my views on interpersonal relationships have changed; my political orientation has changed. Maybe it’s just me getting old (!), or maybe it’s from being an international student, or maybe, it’s a mix of both with many other factors. These experiences, thoughts, and feelings, however, have transformed into a single reminder: always to remember upon whose shoulders I stand and to not necessarily depend on nationality for my identity, but find and appreciate my communities for the sense of belonging and to becoming who I am!

Default image

On Being from a Small Town

Kevin N., M1

Many people say St. Louis isn’t that big. That is false. It’s a big city. I say this because I grew up in a small town in rural New Mexico. In eastern New Mexico, all of the roads are straight and flat and virtually abandoned. I definitely have had to focus hard on improving my driving skills since moving here. Granted, there are a lot of perks to coming to the big city. Not only do I get to come to an awesome medical school, but there is also quite a diverse range of cuisines, with many restaurant options. There are a lot of different neighborhoods, each with their own culture, vibes, and experiences — which can be fun to explore. St. Louis itself has some beautiful attractions and a diverse population, and the medical center is full of resources for trainees in the health sciences. Finally, I live right by Forest Park, which is a massive city park with museums and a free zoo! I’ve heard that it’s bigger than Central Park in NYC. On a nice day, Forest Park is full of people from St. Louis and beyond. St. Louis has a lot to offer!

Default image

On Being from a State School

Colin M., M1

Colin (front, center) was a drummer for the Michigan State Spartan Marching Band.

It was strange coming to my interview and being the only student not from a top ten private school. Being from a large, Big Ten “party” school, I felt overwhelmed by the prestige and status of WashU in the medical community, so much so that I was initially hesitant to come here. What if my classes hadn’t prepared me well enough to go to medical school at WashU? What if I my peers looked down on me and my degrees? Though the imposter syndrome is real and won’t go away regardless of where you come from and where you went to school, there is a reason that you were accepted: because you have the capability, qualities, and drive to be a great physician. My peers constantly astound and impress me, but all of my fears were invalidated once I met and spent time with them. Regardless of where we come from, we are all the same in our passions and desires to practice medicine and impact the communities around us.

Default image

On Being from STL

Ann I., M1

After growing up in the St. Louis area, when the time came to apply to colleges I was ready to see another part of the country. However, after driving six hours back and forth, to and from school for breaks, I was much more open to the idea of staying in St. Louis when the time came to apply to medical school. While I didn’t choose WashU because of its location, I have definitely come to appreciate being a little bit closer to home. I love being able to easily visit my parents for a home cooked meal, and it’s also nice to be familiar with the area while starting a new experience like medical school. That being said, I still feel like I have learned a lot about St. Louis in my first few months as a medical student here that I didn’t know already. I grew up about 30 minutes away from the medical school, so I wasn’t as knowledgeable about this particular area as I am now. I’ve really enjoyed getting to visit new restaurants and go to new events with my classmates, and even places that I’ve been to many times before are fun to get to experience with a new group of people. If you are worried about being bored, don’t be! Medical school will provide plenty of new experiences even if you are already acquainted with the area.

Default image

On Being from the East Coast

Karim S., M1

Between growing up in D.C. suburbs, going to school at the University of Virginia, and spending my gap year in D.C., all I had really known prior to St. Louis was the East Coast. Moving here was definitely an adjustment in terms of it being a less dense city, but I have found that there is still enough to do in my free time. The city also has a very diverse population, which was comforting coming from D.C., where residents come from all over. And people here are so nice! Strangers will chat with you just to chat! It’s cool and new to me being in an environment this friendly. It would be nice if the city had a few more hills (why is the Midwest so flat?), but it really has been a smooth transition to Missouri.

Default image

On Being from the Midwest

Allie L., M1

I’m originally from Huron, Ohio, which is a small town in northern Ohio. I went to college in the Midwest too, at THE Ohio State University. The city of St. Louis has so many fun things to do, which makes it feel like a brand new, exciting place to explore. At the same time, the pace of St. Louis feels familiar to me, which I think helped me to quickly get comfortable in the city. I also really like that I’m never too far from home, and with an hour flight, I can be in Columbus or Cleveland. Even though I’m from the Midwest, this is the first time I’ve been outside of Ohio, and the welcoming atmosphere at WashU has helped me to feel at home here.

Default image

On Being from the South

David L., M1

I always pictured myself staying in the south for medical school after growing up and going to undergrad in North Carolina. Although I ended up coming to a school in a region not normally considered to be part of the south, I feel like in a way I stayed true to my original intentions. Everything that I considered integral to the true southern charm can be found in St. Louis, and there is an additional multicultural influence in St. Louis that really amplifies this charm in a way you may not find in the south. The St. Louisans in the Central West End area are super friendly, and there is a great feeling of hospitality both throughout WashU and in the whole surrounding community. Beyond the people, the prices are just as good as they are in the south, so you won’t be breaking the bank with food or rent. The diversity in food is great, and southern staples such as barbeque are still incredibly popular throughout the city.

The only thing that requires adapting to is the weather. The St. Louis summer is quite similar to that of the south, but the winter is rougher. I had to upgrade my winter wardrobe following our first snow in October, but beyond that adjustments have been minimal and, it has been a great time so far in St. Louis!

Default image

On Being from the West Coast

Haley S., M1

San Clemente, California

Transitioning to the Midwest, and St. Louis specifically, has been surprisingly smooth for me! As someone who was born and raised in Southern California, I was apprehensive about moving to a land-locked state in the middle of the country. When I moved here, I missed my family, the ocean, and the abundance of sunshine. However, the city of St. Louis has surprised me! Its incredible array of restaurants, the proximity of Forest Park, and welcoming community won me over very quickly. I miss Korean barbeque and quality Mexican food, but I am a huge fan of St. Louis barbeque (definitely check out Sugarfire) and toasted ravioli! There is no ocean, but Forest Park offers plenty of outdoor activities, including ice skating, sledding, soccer, paddleboarding and running. Finally, everyone at WashU and in St. Louis proper are incredibly friendly and open; you will have no shortage of friends here!

Default image

On Coming from a Big City

Rachel M., M1

Rachel at home in NYC.

Whenever I tell people where I am from, I am inevitably met by the following response: “Wait, you moved from New York City to Missouri?” While this is technically true, I like to say I moved from NYC to St. Louis – one city to another. There are many ostensible differences between NYC and St. Louis. For starters, I have seen more people crammed into one NYC block during the morning hustle to work than I think I have in all of the Central West End at any time of the day combined. Since NYC is truly the city that never sleeps, coming to St. Louis where restaurants and stores actually close before midnight was definitely an adjustment (read: I am learning how to cook). 

With that said, I was taken aback by how many similarities there are between NYC and the Central West End. I happily traded my expensive unlimited NYC Metrocard for a free Metrolink pass. For fun, I can go to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, quality art museums, and the zoo, just like I would in NYC, except in St. Louis these activities are mostly all free. In addition, I loved going to concerts and events in Central Park, so I felt right at home in Forest Park, which is actually 450 acres larger than Central Park. I have attended concerts and community events, such as the Balloon Glow, and have had a great time here. These events have been more enjoyable because they are not inundated with people, which makes them more intimate.

I think what I liked most about coming from a “big city” was the constant cultural and intellectual stimulation. While St. Louis is definitely not a “big city” compared to NYC, WashU is equally as stimulating. I also immediately felt embraced by the welcoming, kind people in St. Louis. I feel a strong sense of community here, which I didn’t realize was lacking in New York City until I experienced it at WashU. While I will always be a New Yorker at heart, each day I become a little prouder to say I live in Missouri. 

Default image

On Coming from WashU Undergrad

Collin N., M1

What drew me to the WashU medical school is the same as what drew me to the undergrad program: the people. The Midwestern charm is a real thing, as the people here are both astoundingly bright and exceedingly genuine. There are professors here who are at the top of their field and, yet, are perfectly willing to sit down and talk about their work. This has made extending my stay here in St. Louis an easy choice to make. Additionally, the freedom offered during med school has given me ample opportunities to see more of what St. Louis has to offer. The med school atmosphere is markedly different from the “WashU Bubble” that many experienced in undergrad. I have started to feel more like a resident of St. Louis than just a student who happens to be here.

Default image

On Coming Straight from College

Amy L. Z., M1

Coming straight from college can simultaneously be a smooth and crazy transition. Having been sitting in lectures just three months prior, the return to class was familiar. On the other hand, I was going from living in a dorm and eating in dining halls to having to cook for myself and living in an actual apartment. Although I was a bit nervous for this switch into semi-adulting life, I found myself feeling settled quite quickly — the friendliness of both my new classmates and the overall community definitely helped a lot. With medical school being a wonderful experience that bonds all of your classmates, you’ll notice that any age differences that may exist between you and your classmates are not apparent at all. Additionally, there are many students at WashU who are also coming straight from college so you’ll have lots of company in your 17th straight year of school. Overall, while medical school is more school, it’s vastly different from undergrad so you’ll both be prepared for continuing to learn while immersed in a completely new experience — enjoy!

Default image

On Taking (a lot) of Gap Years

Kristin P., M1

Kristin practicing clinical skills on her (somewhat willing participant) husband, Darrel.

In 2015, I walked away from my career as a transactional attorney and set off on the long journey toward med school. My persistent worries of whether my dream of becoming a doctor would even work out fully subsided when I somehow landed a spot in the entering class at my dream school, WashU. As with all things in life, those fears and worries were soon replaced by new ones. Now, with med school upon me at age 35, I wondered whether I would have a place amongst my 99 extraordinary peers, almost all of whom were substantially younger than me. I worried that for what they lacked in life experience, they would make up by orders of magnitude with their brilliance and talents in science. I felt I would be uniquely disadvantaged to be a nontraditional student from a mostly non-science background. On top of that, I worried I wouldn’t fit in and would spend the four years of med school feeling alienated from the people around me. 

If this sounds like you, know that your fears are normal, and kudos to you for forging ahead in spite of them. It is true that my peers are brilliant, and they bring skills to the table that I do not. However, instead of this being the detriment I worried it would be, it has been such an asset. Placing bright, goodhearted people in a noncompetitive, pass/fail curricular environment has a way of creating a truly collaborative and exceptional culture. I have been able to learn from my peers, and their strong science backgrounds have only served to benefit my own academic growth. I have also managed to carve out a place for myself amongst my peers and contributing my unique background and business acumen has enabled me to find leadership roles that fit my strengths and interests (shout out Dis-O guide team!).

As for fitting in, I can assure you that your peers will get exactly zero of the cultural references from your youth. They haven’t seen Clueless or the Big Lebowski. Our 9/11 is on the cusp of being their Pearl Harbor. You can choose to let this be a source of alienation or entertainment; I did the latter and am thankful that I have. I genuinely love my med school friends, and I feel welcomed, accepted and supported by my classmates. I encourage you to seek opportunities to form bonds with your peers, and embrace the ways they differ from you. Just as they can learn from you, you have something to learn from each of them; I challenge you to discover what that is…and if you need a fellow elderly med student with whom to wax poetic about Pete & Pete or play Pogs, I’m your girl.

Default image

On Taking Gap Years

Dylan S., M1

I took a few years off before starting at WashU, and I was worried it would be hard to get back into school mode after working a normal job. I shouldn’t have been. A lot of job skills translated well to med school — 40 hour work weeks have given me great work ethic — but more importantly, once I’m done with work for the day I know it’s best to just relax and not worry about stuff I have to do tomorrow. Med school can sometimes feel overwhelming but taking it one day at a time has made it manageable. The best thing about taking gap years though is I got to experience normal 20-something life before starting school. It completely cured me of fear of missing out. People online like to romanticize this idea of med students sacrificing their youth to learn medicine, but I still spend just as much time hanging out with friends, seeing shows, and having fun now as I did during my gap years. I just get to learn cool facts about the body, and I don’t have to sit behind a desk for 40 hours a week!