Welcome to Washington University School of Medicine! As you prepare to enter the next chapter of your life, the Dis-Orientation Guide will introduce you to the ins and outs of life as a medical student. Before you enter the guide, take in some words of wisdom from the Dean of the Medical School, the Dean of Admissions, and the medical student editors of the Dis-Orientation Guide.

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From Dean David H. Perlmutter, MD

Dean David Perlmutter (Photo Credit: Matt Miller)

Dear Members of the WUSM Entering Class of 2020, 

Welcome to Washington University School of Medicine.

You were each selected from a highly gifted pool of applicants based on what we believe is your potential to be one of the health care leaders of tomorrow. But just as importantly, you chose us. We are extremely fortunate that you have decided to begin your medical career at our school, where you’ll find a medical program designed to support your unique talents and goals.

The school’s mission — to conduct groundbreaking research, provide skilled and compassionate patient care and prepare the next generation of leaders in biomedicine — is complex, and its success requires the dedication of the community of scholars of which you are now a part.

As you experience the challenges and rewards of medical school, you’ll be surrounded by a diverse group of peers with extraordinary talents and abilities, as well as distinct perspectives. You will learn with them and from them as you form connections that will influence your personal and professional pursuits for years to come.

One of the School of Medicine’s greatest strengths is its faculty, whose members have an impact that reaches far beyond our school, into our community and communities around the world. They have chosen Washington University, as well, as the institution where they work to promote the mission of health care by training the next generation of physicians and scientists.

Mentorship is one of the hallmarks of the school, and students consistently cite their interaction with faculty as a highlight of their experience here. As you take your place within our collaborative learning environment, you’ll be encouraged to use your talents and time to advance science and serve others.

Like the school itself, the city of St. Louis is rich in culture and history, and it serves as an ideal location for you to gain an understanding of the challenges of modern medicine. Step outside familiar learning spaces and immerse yourself in the city’s diverse communities, many affected by disparities in health care.

You have chosen to begin this significant chapter of your life at an institution committed to helping you acquire the knowledge and skills you’ll need to achieve your full potential. I first chose the School of Medicine as a faculty member, and now I’m honored to lead this exceptional institution. Together, we will shape the future of medicine.

Best wishes,

David H. Perlmutter, MD
Executive Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs
Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor
George and Carol Bauer Dean, School of Medicine

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From Dean Valerie S. Ratts, MD

Dean Valerie S. Ratts, MD

Welcome to the Dis-O Guide — a document written and designed by our students to give you an inside perspective of Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) including its culture, its philosophy, and its people. Our mission statement calls for us to advance medicine … “through the education of tomorrow’s leaders in biomedicine in a culture that supports diversity, inclusion, critical thinking and creativity.” Clearly, our students are at the core of our mission and we are prepared to provide them an unparalleled education. At WUSM, we are building on our strengths through our scientists, our educators, and our physicians to create a new future of medicine.

The Dis-O Guide has been produced annually by students since 1987 to present the many facets of our school, our students, and the city of St. Louis. As you read this, you may be an applicant wondering how WUSM might fit into your interests, passions, and career goals, or you may be a matriculated student waiting to move into the Core and thinking, “What’s next?” The Dis-O Guide will show you how much WUSM, our medical students, and St. Louis have to offer. Who else are better able to give you “insider advice” on entertainment, housing, food, and life than our amazing students? Uniquely this year, we are on the precipice of innovation in medical education as we unveil our new Gateway Curriculum in 2020. So in addition to the tips on life outside of medical school, we are also featuring information on the Curriculum.

What advice can I give you? 1) Get to know your classmates. They are super interesting people who like you want to make a difference. 2) Never lose your enthusiasm to change the world. You are starting down a pathway that requires diligence, sacrifice, and hard work, but the rewards of a medical career and the satisfaction of making a difference in a patient’s life are worth it. 3) Rely upon the skills and characteristics that have brought you to this point. You are amazing.

There are so many people at WUSM who wish to mentor, support, and grow young physicians. Join us. At WUSM, we hope to make a difference in medicine and in our community.

Valerie S. Ratts, MD
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Associate Dean for Admissions 

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From the Editors

Dear Entering Class of 2020:

We, along with our 2020-2021 Disorientation Guide (“Dis-O”) editorial staff, are honored to be among the first to officially welcome you to Washington University School of Medicine. Congratulations on your acceptance! We hope you take a moment to reflect upon and appreciate your accomplishment.

We both have strong ties to Washington University, in roles that range from undergraduate alumnus to research scholars, law school alumnae and even patients. Our myriad of positive experiences with this institution as a whole and the many brilliant, inspiring people who make up its engaging community are what compelled us to continue our stories here, this time as medical students. It is our love of Washington University and the vibrant city of St. Louis that motivated us to volunteer as the stewards of this year’s Dis-O. We both felt we could serve our classmates and you, our readers, by aggregating our peers’ voices and perspectives so as to provide you with a glimpse of the breadth of possibilities to grow and explore that exist for you in this dynamic city and at this storied institution.

The Dis-O Guide is an entirely student run publication; the M1 students alone decide its content. Faculty voices, even that of Chancellor Martin, are included solely at our invitation. Dis-O is our class’s opportunity to showcase to you why we choose to call WUSM and St. Louis home and to demonstrate some of what makes us who we are. In each year of its more than 30-year history, the Dis-O Guide has provided incoming students with an insider’s look at St. Louis and WUSM.

The challenge of properly introducing you to WUSM and what it’s like to be a medical student here is greater than in years prior. As you are aware, you will be the inaugural class to matriculate under the new Gateway Curriculum. Prior years’ Dis-O Guides leaned heavily on student voices to explain the day-to-day realities of coursework at WUSM, but our class’s experience under the legacy curriculum differs substantially from what you can expect for your own curricular endeavours. To tackle the challenge of properly introducing you to your curriculum, we enlisted the help of key students, faculty and administrators from the Curriculum Planning Committee to paint an accurate picture. We also included our M1 classmates’ voices to speak to the many aspects of the WUSM experience that will remain relevant as you commence your studies.

Of course, Dis-O offers more beyond the nitty gritty of your coursework, which you’ll read about in the WUSM Experience section. You will also find:

  • Helpful guidance from students and faculty in Advice.
  • Essays articulating what attracted some of our outstanding students and faculty in Why WashU.
  • Detailed apartment and house hunting tips in Housing.
  • Candid personal narratives highlighting classmates’ diverse attributes and talents in Perspectives.
  • An introspective delve into what it means to truly engage through service and community action in a city that is ripe for innovative, groundbreaking solutions in In St. Louis, for St. Louis.
  • A comprehensive guide to life in this amazing city in Life in the Lou (like a travel guide but for living here)!

Given that our class has a diversity of ideas, talents, personal experiences, identities, and viewpoints, we embarked on this Dis-O endeavor with the philosophy that to truly demonstrate to you who we are, what there is to love about WUSM and St. Louis, and what our community looks and feels like, it was imperative we include as many classmates’ voices as possible. We are thrilled to report that 96% of our classmates contributed to the guide this year. Still, for every thought and suggestion included, there is an order of magnitude more to say; we are excited for you to have the opportunity to immerse yourself in this school and this city and explore all that is offered beyond what you read in Dis-O.

Kristin Pfeifauf & Vinay Penna

Vinay  Penna

Vinay Penna


I’m from Parkland, Florida, and came to St. Louis for the first time to attend WashU for undergrad, where I studied biochemistry and economics. After college, I spent two years doing research at the National Institutes of Health before deciding to come back here for medical school. In my free time, I love working out, trying new restaurants, and watching sports.

Kristin  Pfeifauf

Kristin Pfeifauf


I was born and raised right here in St. Louis. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and Spanish from The University of Tulsa and a Juris Doctor degree from WashU Law. I then practiced transactional law as in-house counsel for a large institutional asset manager before leaving my law career to pursue my big dream of becoming a doctor. My hobbies include sailing (cruising and offshore passagemaking), cooking/baking, weightlifting, learning to play Irish fiddle, and exploring the great outdoors.