So what does a growth year look like? Well for Lemuel, during his growth year, he played a Steinway, drove a Tesla, helped out in food banks, spoke at schools and juvenile detention centers, visited Crater Lake and host of other experiences he wouldn’t have had, had is “failure” to get into medical school on his first attempt hadn’t happened. Like I told the students last night, sometimes “failure” is just a disguised opportunity for something amazing! Enjoy these pictures from his experiences.
Early this week we posted about the MD vs the DO degree. Today, our featured alum is Dr. Oneka Marriott D.O. Here to tell us first hand what life as a D.O. is like. Enjoy!
What year did you graduate from Oakwood?
What was your major?
What were your career aspirations during your time at Oakwood?
My focus was always on studying to become a doctor – specifically a pediatrician. I was a biology major at Howard University for my first year of college and then transferred to OC my second year maintaining the same degree focus.
What was your academic path after graduation from Oakwood?
I did not enter medical school directly after graduating from Oakwood (although I did apply). Back then (as it is even more so now) the competition to enter medical school is fierce. And although Oakwood’s Biology/pre-med program prepares you very well for medical school my life took a different path. Upon the advice of my counselor Dr. Schmidt, I applied to the Master of Public Health program at The Ohio State University and was accepted for the Fall of 2003. This was the best decision I could have made. In this program I discovered my love of population health and laid the foundation for my future work in public health and medicine. My love for pediatric medicine was still brewing however, and I decided to reapply to medical school. A year into my MPH I completed an intensive 6 week summer program at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens, Ohio. I have never worked so hard in my life and it paid off! At the end of the program eligible candidates are offered interviews for the medical school. I interviewed and was granted direct admission into the medical school for the following academic year. That Fall, I completed my MPH and graduated from The Ohio State University. I worked for 6 months until the start of medical school the next summer and then began my journey through the medical training.
I graduated from Ohio University (Heritage) College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2009 with a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. I completed my pediatric residency in Palm Beach County Florida at Palms West Hospital in 2012.
What do you currently do (professionally)?
Currently, I am a board-certified practicing pediatrician and full-time faculty member at Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine (NSU-COM). I serve as Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health as well as the Director of Medical Education for the Florida Department of Health-Palm Beach County Preventive Medicine and Public Health Program. I teach medical students in the pediatrics course as well as serve as a clinical instructor in our pediatric clinic. I also instruct 3 courses in the Master of Public Health Program including: Children’s Health, Public Health Issues in Child Abuse, and Vaccines. In 2014, through the sponsorship of NSU-COM, I completed a year-long national professional training fellowship in Health Policy.
I notice that you went to an osteopathic medical school? Can you give a brief description of how osteopathic medicine differs from allopathic medical schools?
Students attending osteopathic medical schools complete training in basic sciences as well as clinic medical education (as they do in allopathic medical schools). The Osteopathic philosophy is interwoven in the curriculum from day one where students are taught how the body functions as one unit and that the body is capable of self-healing. They are taught in a manner that emphasizes a holistic approach to patient care and management – taking into account, structural, biological, mental and social determinants of one’s health. Students are also instructed in Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy – which is a hands-on study and practice in the structure and function of the human body. Upon graduating from medical school and subsequently residency, osteopathic students, like allopathic (MD) students can be fully licensed and credentialed to practice medicine and surgery in the United States.
Our students are not as familiar with osteopathic medical schools as they are with allopathic medical schools, how did the option to train as an osteopath come about for you?
Again, my advisor, Dr. Schmidt from OC was instrumental in my decision to pursue osteopathic medicine. Before her, I had never heard of it. During my MPH studies I researched it and found that the philosophies fit well with mine which were treating the whole person and creating a sense of community within your practice of medicine.
One common misconception is that graduates from osteopathic medical schools have a harder time getting residency positions, can you comment on that, as a practitioner who has completed residency?
The landscape of Graduate Medical Education in America is evolving as we speak. The once separate osteopathic and allopathic graduate medical education system is now unifying. Starting July 1, 2015, osteopathic residency programs will be able to apply for ACGME recognition; and therefore graduates of osteopathic and allopathic medical schools in the US will be eligible to apply to any of the residency positions as the transition unfolds. There are still many unknowns relative to this new unified system, but it does open up additional opportunities for graduates of all the US schools. As was previously the case, however, competition for residencies continues to be a challenge for all graduates. There are still some specialties such orthopedics, ophthalmology, and dermatology to name a few that are highly competitive and will likely remain so regardless of the changes in GME. Therefore, students are advised to work hard, be present and make themselves as valuable a candidate as possible. This goes across the board.
How do you incorporate your osteopathic principles and your OMT training into your daily work?
For me the principles of osteopathic medicine should be a part of any practicing physician. The principles guide a practitioner to be compassionate, think comprehensively (holistically) about the patient and his/her ailments, treat the body as a unit – meaning if there is a problem in one area it may be stemming from another area, incorporate the patient into his/her treatment plan, etc. These are principles that are ingrained in my practice of medicine on a daily basis. The beauty of OMT training is that it is an added tool in your medical toolbox. With our hands we are able to fix a headache in the office, relieve pain in a joint or back, and improve the oral-motor function in a baby to better facilitate feeding for instance. We use these techniques in conjunction with traditional medical management where appropriate.
What do you love most or find most rewarding about your job?
What I love most about being a pediatrician specifically is the ability to make a difference in a child’s life and potentially alter their course in life to maximize their greatest potential. The children we treat today could become the leaders of tomorrow. Who knows – one of them may become my doctor when I’m old! I’m contributing to the circle of life and the health of a nation and it’s a beautiful thing!
Thank you for the opportunity to share my journey!
Oneka Marriott, DO, MPH
There is more to healthcare than just medicine and dentistry. Don’t get me wrong, medicine and dentistry are two lovely professions, however, that path isn’t the path for everyone. Those with the desire to “help people” in a healthcare setting can do so as a physician assistant, optometrist, pharmacist, chiropractor. Check out the interview below from Oakwood’s own Shonet Brown – PA, who works as a physician assistant. To learn more about the road to becoming a PA, check out this website.
HO:What was your career goal when you started at Oakwood?
SB: My plan was to be a medical technologist (lab rat) to work my way through medical school and eventually become a pediatrician.
HO: What was your major?
SB: Pre-Physician Assistant (Associate of Science), Pre-Physical Therapy (Associate of Science), Biology (Bachelor of Science)
HO:How did you decide to become a physician assistant?
SB: First day of freshman registration I was waiting in line to see my advisor and saw a pamphlet about the Physician Assistant career. It gave me the option to do all I wanted in less than half the time just without the title of “MD” so I jumped on the opportunity!
HO: Can you describe your professional journey post Oakwood?
SB: After Oakwood I attended Nova Southeastern University where I earned a Bachelors in Physician Assistant Studies and a Masters of Medical Science degree. I was hired by a preceptor upon completion of my training. (make a good impression during clinicals!) I worked in Florida for a few years doing hospital admissions and rounding as well as in the out patient setting.
HO: Where do you currently work?
SB: Currently on Sabbatical but worked for years in Internal Medicine, inpatient (hospitalist) and out-patient (private practice) facilities.
HO: What are your hobbies or interests outside of work?
SB: Movies and TV, Reading, Zumba, Quality time with family and friends
HO: What are good resources for students interested in learning more about becoming a physician assistant?
HO: What exactly does a physician assistant do?
SB: A Physician Assistant (US) or Physician Associate (UK) is a healthcare professional who is licensed to practice medicine as part of a team with physicians.
PAs are concerned with preventing and treating human illness and injury by providing a broad range of health care services under the supervision of physician or surgeon. They conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, develop treatment plans, perform procedures, prescribe medications, counsel on preventive health care and may assist in surgery.
HO: Can a physician assistant prescribe medications?
HO: What’s the path to becoming a physician assistant?
SB: Most PA programs offer Masters Degrees, usually less than 3 years to complete. So, obtain a Bachelors Degree in your field of choice as long as you have the pre-requisites for PA school like Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, etc. A period of extensive clinical training precedes obtaining a license to practice as a physician assistant, and similar to physician training but shorter in duration, includes all systems of the human body. Renewal of licensure is necessary every few years, varying by jurisdiction. Physician assistants may also complete residency training, similar to physicians’ residencies but significantly shorter, in fields such as OB/GYN, emergency medicine, critical care, orthopedics, neurology, surgery, and other medical disciplines.
HO: What are some of the pros and cons to life as a physician assistant?
SB: The biggest PRO of being a PA is flexibility. Not only are you not limited to a field of medicine to practice but you can choose the setting as well. Whether you like night shifts, 9-5, holidays and weekends off or want to work around the clock you can find the right fit. You can practice pediatrics for a few years then switch to orthopedics or dermatology if you’d like. You’re never locked down.
The only CON I can think of besides paperwork is getting stuck with a supervising physician you don’t get along with or whose view of the PA role is limited. If you and your supervising physician are in the same room you’re not being properly utilized. We are best effective and efficient when working with autonomy.
HO: Can interested students contact you with questions?
SB: Email questions to Sbrownpac80@gmail.com and I will try to respond quickly.
Over the past 2 weeks, we’ve discussed the pros of the gap year and outlined some of the things students can do in the time between completing their undergraduate studies and starting professional school. Today, we have a real life gap year story 🙂 Jessica Malcolm MS1 talks candidly about her experiences with applying to professional school and what she did during her gap year. Hope you find the information valuable. Also check out previous posts regarding the gap year.
HealthOU: What year did you graduate from Oakwood?
JM: I graduated from Oakwood in 2013.
HealthOU: What were your academic goals / aspirations (career plans) upon starting college?
JM: Prior to starting at Oakwood, I was not exactly sure what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that involved building long-term relationships with many people. Looking back, I also remember feeling like God was leading me towards some kind of career in the medical field. I knew that Oakwood had a great pre-med program and that became one of the main reasons why I decided to attend.
HealthOU: Did those goals change at all? How so? What were some of the factors that led to those changes?
JM: They did not exactly change but instead, became more solidified. While I was at Oakwood I looked in to a number of different careers but soon decided that I wanted to become a doctor. I looked into nursing, bio-medical research, accounting, physical therapy, and engineering to name a few. At first, I looked into these fields because of my own curiosity. Later on in college, I started to look into other fields because I did not do well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT.)
The first time I took the MCAT, I did not commit to studying as long and intensely as I should have. As a result, I did not do well. To make matters worse, after getting a poor score, I applied to 2 schools very late in their application cycles. (I mean “the day that their application closed” type of late.) Needless to say, I did not get in that year. That failure was very difficult for me to deal with. I took that failure as a sign that God no longer wanted me to become a physician and I started looking into other careers.
The more I looked into other fields, the more I realized that I wanted to become a physician. So I prayed and fasted about it, and God sent the right people in my life to propel me towards medicine. After my senior year, I decided I would work as hard as I could to get into medical school. I then decided that if it did not work out, I knew that was not the career door that God wanted me to go through.
HealthOU:What was your academic / professional path after Oakwood?
JM: When I left Oakwood, the first thing I did was to pray and spend time reading the Bible. I did this to draw nearer to God and see the direction He had for my life. After that, I did my best to get into medical school. For about two and a half months I did nothing but study in the library with a few MCAT resources and a good friend.
After I took my exam, I started working to help pay for my application and living expenses. I also volunteered in a research lab at a medical school (about 10 – 20hrs a week) to help keep myself connected to science. (I also knew that medical schools love to see research on your application!) On weekends I would volunteer at my church and in the community.
HealthOU: What are you doing currently (professionally)?
JM: I am currently in my first year of medical school at the University of Connecticut (UCONN.)
(By the way — UCONN really likes Oakwood graduates. I strongly encourage all science majors to apply for their Medical, Dental, and Graduate programs!)
HealthOU:What are you future professional aspirations?
JM: I am very interested in pursuing a career in Primary Care. I am currently looking into Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.
HealthOU: Were there any resources or websites that you found helpful as you explored different options for your career?
JM: Yes! The following resources I used were incredibly helpful:
- The Bible. – It helps connect you with God, who will direct you towards the career He has planned for you. It is also full of encouragement!
- The teachers at Oakwood. – They are so willing to help! They also have many contacts in different careers that you can speak with and even shadow.
- Student Doctor Network – http://www.studentdoctor.net/ – Which is full of medical resources.
- This blog. I really enjoyed reading it. It is also full of resources and encouragement from your peers.
- Missionary Orthopod in the making. – http://doctajay.com/ – A blog of an Oakwood grad thoughout his entire journey from applying to medical school to his residency.
Career Advice – http://christianworkingwoman.org/broadcast/get-over-it-part-ii/ – Specifically this article. I strongly recommend it to everyone who is struggling with what they want to do in life.
HealthOU: Can you give a timeline from the time you first took the MCAT to when you actually started medical school.
- Here is the timeline of everything I did:
August, 2012 – I took my first MCAT in the summer following my Junior year.
Nov/Dec 2012: Applied to medical school. Did not get accepted**
May, 2013 – I graduated from Oakwood.
July, 2013 – I took the MCAT for the second time.
August, 2013 – I submitted my AMCAS application.
August/ early September, 2013 – I started volunteering in a research lab.
August, 2014 – I started medical school
HealthOU:What advice would you give to a student who is currently where you, facing a gap year before starting medical school?
JM: At the beginning of my gap year, I can I vividly remember feeling like a failure. Most of my classmates were headed to graduate school or to medical school and I was not. I had to make a decision as to which direction I wanted to go in – graduate school or medical school. So I prayed, spoke with a lot of people, did some shadowing, and decided to pursue medicine. I put together a plan about how I would tackle my gap year. Even though I had a plan in place, it definitely was not an easy year. I can remember cringing at the anticipated question… “So what are you doing now that you’ve graduated from Oakwood.” But looking back, I am so happy that God allowed me to go through that experience! It was a period of growth both spiritually and mentally.
I would definitely advise other students to put together plans A, B, and C before they graduate! Do some reflection about the career they want to enter and find a way to set themselves up toward that path. If their goal is medicine and their grades are low, I suggest they find a post-bacc program to enroll in. If their grades are high, try to do some research or engage of some kind of clinical experience. But they MUST do something, it is vital to stay active!
Also, I would like to tell students to not let go of their dreams out of fear. The fear of failure is often worse than actually failing. If you humble yourself and do your best, God will take you to heights you’ve never imagined. I can often remember wondering what I would do if things did not go according to plan. However, during those rough points I would pray and cling to the promises in God’s word. If you give your all in pursuit of your dreams, trust that God will open the doors you are supposed to go through. He did it for me and He will do it for you too!
**Added by HealthOU for clarity
Jessica Malcolm is a 2013 graduate of Oakwood University. She was born on the beautiful island of Jamaica but grew up in Massachusetts. Jessica is currently a first year medical student at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Her favorite bible texts are: Proverbs 3:5-6 and Philippians 4:19. In her spare time she enjoys traveling, cooking, swimming, and spending time with friends and family.
What was your career goal when you started at Oakwood?
Upon entering Oakwood, my career goal was to become a medical professional. However I was not quite certain exactly what area of medicine I would pursue. I had a love for the sciences, a trait which was recognized and fostered by my mother early in life.
What was your major?
While at Oakwood, my major was Biological Sciences. I chose biology as my major because a biology degree would prepare me for entry into several areas of medicine. The Biology Department at Oakwood is renowned for preparing future medical professions and I know I chose the best undergraduate institution.
How did you decide to go into chiropractic medicine?
I prayed for guidance and out of evil came good. I was involved in a motor vehicle accident. I sought chiropractic care at that time and was intrigued by the modality of chiropractic care. One Friday afternoon, I attended a science club meeting at Oakwood where I met Mr. Mackel Harris, Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic’s recruiter for minority students. It was at this time that I made my decision to attend Chiropractic School. There are over 60,000 chiropractors in the United States. This is a male dominated profession. However the number of blacks in practice account for only one percent in the entire country.
Can you describe your professional journey post Oakwood?
My bachelor’s degree from Oakwood College adequately prepared me for success in pursuit of my doctor of chiropractic degree. I had to work hard and make many sacrifices to achieve success. Through it all, I never lost sight of my vision neither did I compromise my faith or personal principles for success. I have thoroughly experience thus far. I have gained a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in restoring health and wellness as well as helping to improve the quality of life of members of the community I serve one patient at a time. I find the autonomy of private practice exhilarating!
What exactly does a chiropractor do?
The word chiropractic mean done by hand. It is a natural healing modality of health care. A chiropractor is a physician who specializes in removing vertebral subluxations in order to restore proper alignment to the body through spinal manipulations which allow the body to heal itself. Chiropractors also utilize various forms of supportive therapies such as physical therapy, massage therapy and acupuncture. I utilize a lot of physical therapy in my practice and plan to introduce acupuncture in the future.
What are some of the pros and cons of life as a chiropractor?
Like other doctor’s chiropractors enjoy the prestige that is associated with being a doctor such as social and civic prominence as well as tremendous earning potential. Another added bonus is that chiropractors now enjoy reciprocity in all 50 states. There are no longer individual state boards. The role of a chiropractor maybe sometimes misunderstood. Public education seems to be needed to dispel some of the misconceptions about the modality of care and how we fit into the general scheme of things were health is concerned.
Can a chiropractor prescribe medications?
Chiropractors do not utilize medication. Chiropractors use natural forces to allow the body to heal itself. We know that pain is the body’s way of communicating to the individual that there is something wrong. Chiropractors get to the core of the problem by placing a force into the patient’s body which will increase the immune system and enhance endorphins which allow the body to heal itself. We do not believe in using traditional medicines example pain killers, but some chiropractors utilize nutritional supplements as part of their treatment plans.
Where do you currently work?
My maternal grandmother has bequeathed the legacy of entrepreneurship. From her, I became acquainted with the challenges and pleasures of autonomy and independence in business ownership. I am the founder and CEO of Abundant Living Chiropractic Center LLC in Loxahatchee, Florida an accomplishment of which I am justly proud. I am gaining a wealth of experience in my field, networking with other chiropractic professionals and at the same time I am learning to manage a successful private practice, serving the community and getting much satisfaction from working with my patients and their families. I hope to open another office in the not too distant future.
What’s the path to becoming a chiropractor?
A current student would need a minimum of three years of undergraduate education preferably in the sciences. Once undergraduate studies are completed, the chiropractic curriculum takes approximately 3 ½ to four years to complete. There is no residency but I would encourage new graduates to work under an experienced chiropractor before going into private practice if they are so inclined. At present, there is no pre-entrance for chiropractic profession. However there is discussion concerning the implementation of the CCAT for future admission into chiropractic colleges nation-wide.
What are good resources for students interested in learning more about chiropractic medicine?
I think that one of the best resources for students interested in learning about chiropractic medicine is to see what the profession is all about first hand. I would suggest that interested students shadow a chiropractor. Another helpful resource could be visiting one of the chiropractic colleges, researching chiropractic online and speaking with people who received chiropractic care to glean from them their feelings about the care they received and the results of their treatment.
What are your hobbies or interests outside of work?
My hobbies are singing, traveling and community service. While at Oakwood, I was a member of the Aeolians. I have worked with the praise team at First International SDA Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Presently I am singing with the Sanctuary Choir at my home church Daughter of Zion SDA Church in Delray Beach, Florida. I am also a guest soloist at other churches. I have traveled extensively and I have worked at several health fairs and community events.
Can interested students contact you with questions?
Certainly! It would be my pleasure to be able to guide perspective students in this great field of health care. I can be contacted by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone 561-223-3340. Prospective students can also view my website abundantlivingchiropractic.com
Dr. Stacy- Ann Smith D.C. is a native of the island of Jamaica. During her time at Oakwood she was a member of the world-renowned Aeolians. She continues to minister in song regularly at religious and community events.
“I have finished the work, which You have given Me to do.” —John 17:4
Greetings future healthcare professionals!
After a very long hiatus, I am very happy to share with you the update on my journey as a medical student.
To those who have been following my journey, thank you for your support and kind words, spoken and unspoken. One of the many things I learned during my matriculation through professional school is that support is paramount. No man is an island, and if one tries to be, one area of your life will suffer for it. In short, ask for help when you need it. Seek a mentor, a therapist, a friend, a pastor, a financial advsior, and certainly seek God.
I have seen firsthand how not seeking help can be detrimental because I went through it myself. One reason for my silence in posting during my fourth year of medical school is due to an incident that occurred at the end of my third year.
After completing my third year clinical rotations in London, U.K, I realized I had some time left over to partake in a voluntary international elective. I am interested in global health and plan to volunteer as a medical missionary for at least a few weeks a year. For the first time, I was also in a prime location geographically to travel to Africa cost-effectively. As with all my major decisions, I wasted no time to research and sign-up for an amazing opportunity to rotate thru an inner-city hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with Work The World. I chose two weeks in Pediatrics, two weeks in OBGYN and one week in a faraway village. Those five weeks would take place in December/January, meaning I would be spending Christmas, New Years and my birthday in unfamiliar territory. How exciting!
Sub-Sahara Africa was definitely an eye-opener in more ways than one. I was emotionally taxed by the preventable deaths I witnessed due to the shortcomings of a 3rd-world healthcare system; however, I was increasing my medical acumen by being more hands-on with cases that are far more advanced in presentation than I would ever witness in the West. These cases included malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, HIV, gastroenteritis, viral illnesses, very premature infants, etc.
Then, the unthinkable happened. On December 26, 2012, I was preparing for a presentation that I volunteered to do for the residents. Unfortunately, my program’s accommodation did not have WIFI access so I went across the street to conduct my research. Only steps away from my home on my return, I rounded a corner and immediately saw the man who would attack me.
Let me preface by saying that only seconds before, a voice in my head told me to cross my cloth-bag, which contained my valuables, over my shoulders. I refused to listen because home was seconds away, but the voice was relentless. Therefore, I crossed my bag over my shoulder, and seconds later, the eyes of the man that would attack me is now burned into my memory. He reached out and grabbed my bag and my first reaction was to instinctively resist and scream. He pulled at my bag and I clutched it harder and screamed louder.
It was dusk, and the streets were filled with a large post-holiday crowd, marching down the street. I screamed in desperation for someone to help. Finally, I noticed a group of young men walking towards me. “Praise God,” I thought. They would help me.
To my utter shock and disappointment, instead of pushing my attacker away, they were also attacking me to try and get my purse. This brought attention to me, as a crowd of young men pushed, punched, and kicked me. Unfortunately, the extra attention brought on more vagabonds that were now removing my clothes in the middle of the street. In the end, there were about 20 men attacking me. I was numb and hovering above myself. I thought I would die that night. I just kept screaming, crying, resisting, and watching the gate of my home that was literally steps away, wondering why no one would help. Finally, out the corner of my eyes, I saw an old man yell something from afar in Swahili, waving them off, and just like that, all the men surrounding me dispersed, walking away as if nothing had happened. I never saw that old man again.
I limped home, crying, angry, disheveled, clothes tattered, clutching at my ripped handbag, which they were never able to take from me. That very night, I wanted to leave the country. I made plans to leave early after the necessary police/hospital/embassy runs, but changed my mind hours before my flight. I wouldn’t let those criminals win! I will finish what I came here to do! And I did.
The next three weeks in Tanzania resulted in my delivering 11 babies, saving a baby’s life that was born in distress, vaccinating a whole village, going on an amazing safari, swimming with dolphins and celebrating an unforgettable birthday. It was an extraordinary journey. However, the lingering post-traumatic stress was very evident when I commenced my fourth year in New York. Any man that walked towards me on the streets of NY were possible attackers. In such a crowded city, this was every day, and it affected my mood. I thought thru sheer willpower I could get through it. Unfortunately, it led to isolation and a depressed mood, which negatively affected my studies. After much introspection, I decided I needed to take a step back, take some time off, recuperate, and seek help. This help came from my amazing church family in New York and although things were bleak on the outside, my renewed faith in God led to a calmer spirit.
I was worried about not graduating with my class, however, what kind of physician would I be if I didn’t take care of myself first. Studies show that a good number of medical students and doctors face depression or other mental health issues but keep it to themselves for fear of being an outcast and considered unstable. The results range from compromised healthcare delivery, troubled relationships, substance abuse and even suicide. The stigma has to end!
If you have read my previous posts on what it took for me to get here, you would soon understand that this journey was never meant to be simple for me. I was faced with major setbacks for years. It is not superhuman strength that allowed me to finish. It is a relentless tenacity and a remembrance of where God has brought me from in the past.
The song says: “I just can’t give up now. I’ve come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me the road would be easy, but I don’t believe He’s brought me this far to leave me.”
He hasn’t left me yet, even when the enemy tries to whisper in my ear that God has. You are your worse enemy. Only you can extinguish your goals and desires. The moment you stop, it stops. I hope to encourage you that you may pause, but don’t ever stop. I was almost done with medical school when things went haywire. I was very discouraged and wanted to go into an eternal abyss and never come out. I plastered on a smile but inside I was shattered. My first semester thoughts of being an impostor came back full-throttle. But I was so close!
Therefore, like the last leg of a marathon on a hot, humid day, I focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
Step, step…pause…step, step…pause…step, sip some water…pause…step, step, final step…finish line!!!
I can proudly say that I am now Natacha Pierre, M.D, as of August 2014.
My journey is a living example of the old adage: “If I can make it, so can you!”
Last week, we touched briefly on the vast world of Public Health, the next two posts will try to highlight that by featuring two public health professionals and their experience.
Health OU: What is your current job title?
- My current job title is Project Data Manager.
HealthOU: What does your job entail?
- I currently work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA within the Center for Global Health as an independent contractor; and my work is based in the Domestic Unit of the Malaria Branch (Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria). As a Project Data Manager, I am primarily responsible for maintaining an accurate database and analyzing data for all patients treated with Artemether lumefnatrine (Coartem) in the United States. My involvement with surveillance reports for this particular drug has an ultimate goal of evaluating the safety and effectiveness of Coartem in pediatric and adult patients (U.S. and foreign residents) diagnosed with malaria. In addition to my main responsibilities, I have the opportunity to respond to public inquiries about malaria; participate in data management for other drugs used to treat malaria; and present findings at major scientific conferences in collaboration with Novartis.
HealthOU: How has your background as a Biology major been beneficial to you in your current position?
- My background as a Biology major prepared me for several of my graduate school courses such as infectious disease epidemiology, environmental health, tropical infectious diseases, and cancer epidemiology. These classes, in turn, gave me the theoretical knowledge I needed to be efficient in the practice of public health. I strongly believe that my strong science background acquired at Oakwood helped me to better comprehend the lectures presented in graduate school, prepare scientifically sound research papers, and produce quality results in the field.
HealthOU: A large part of the reason students pursue healthcare is because they have a desire to help people. How do you feel that your current position allows you the opportunity to fulfill this desire or have a positive impact on the lives of others?
- I feel that my role at the CDC positively impacts the lives of others because I am contributing to a continual effort to keep the general population of our country healthy. Malaria was eradicated from the United States in the early 1950s, but it is still considered endemic in many of the world’s poorest nations. My work in the domestic unit of the Malaria branch (CDC) helps to keep the United States free from malaria transmission, and to identify areas of the world that need aggressive action toward eradication.
HealthOU: What were your academic goals and aspirations upon starting college?
- When I started college, my goal was to become a pediatric cardiologist or a dermatologist. I had my plan all mapped out to attend medical school, complete my residency, and delve into the specialty of my choice. However, God had other plans for my life.
HealthOU: Did those goals change at all? How so? What were some of the factors that led to those changes?
- My goals didn’t truly change until after graduation. During my junior and senior, I entertained the thought of pursuing a career in public health but I didn’t know what steps to take and I felt pressured to continue on the path to a career in medicine. After completing my first year of graduate school, I knew that public health was my calling.
HealthOU: Did you pursue any additional degrees or training after Oakwood / prior to obtaining your current position?
- Yes. I attended the Ryals School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and obtained a Master of Public Health degree. My concentrations during my graduate studies were International Health and Epidemiology.
HealthOU: Were there any resources or websites that you found helpful as you explored different options for your career?
- Yes. I often visited the following websites while I was in graduate school to keep me informed and to explore different career options.
HealthOU: Were there any mentors or advisors who were helpful as you explored different career options?
- Yes. While I attended Oakwood, Dr. Gullo was very supportive of my potential for a career in research. I took his research and independent study course, and he provided guidance on how to effectively collect data and analyze it. In addition, Dr. Schmidt’s meticulous way of checking the weekly article reviews prepared me, and gave me the keen eye I needed for submitting my work for publication. In graduate school, my advisor, Dr. Pauline Jolly, was very instrumental in my development. Her guidance in field epidemiology, data collection and analysis, and report writing, undoubtedly refined my skills in public health practice.
HealthOU: How did you specifically end up in your current position?
- I originally worked as an Oak Ridge Institution for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow with the Division of STD Prevention, CDC for 9 months. Before my fellowship ended, I began looking for jobs and was selected to work for the Malaria Branch as an independent contractor. Before I landed the first fellowship, I diligently searched for positions for a period of 11 months. Persistence is certainly key when searching for positions after graduation.
HealthOU: Would you recommend your current profession? Why?
- Absolutely. Public health is a career path that has so much to offer because there are a myriad of opportunities within the profession. You can work as an epidemiologist, college/graduate professor, medical doctor in the U.S public health service, health educator, environmental health scientist, or a health behavior specialist, just to name a few.
HealthOU: What are some of the most fulfilling / rewarding aspects of your job?
- Now that I am married with a daughter, I am most appreciative of the flexibility of my work schedule. I have the option of working from home periodically and my colleagues are family friendly. In addition, having the chance to impact the health of large groups of people by the results that I produce through active surveillance is deeply rewarding.
HealthOU: What are you future professional aspirations / goals?
- I plan to complete my academic studies by pursuing a PhD in Epidemiology and then continue to work for the CDC, possibly in infectious disease or cancer prevention. I am also exploring the idea of serving as an adjunct professor later in my career at the CDC.
HealthOU: What advice would you offer to a current undergraduate student who is questioning his or her interest in medicine and is unsure what direction to choose?
- My advice would be to explore all of your options. There is nothing wrong with choosing a different branch of healthcare. Becoming a physician or a dentist is fantastic, but becoming a scientist or public health professional who conducts the research that medical practice is based on is just as fantastic. You can achieve whatever you desire!
HealthOU: What specific advice can you offer to someone who may be interested in pursuing a career in epidemiology?
- First, majoring in any of the sciences or math will provide a strong foundation for graduate studies in Epidemiology. Secondly, choosing a graduate program that has a strong mentoring and research program will be essential in preparation for the field, lab, or office positions. Lastly, acquire as much experience as you can while in school. I suggest working part time for a state health department, volunteering with non-profit organizations, or assisting graduate professors with major research assignments.
Alyson Gray is a 2005 graduate of Oakwood University. She is a native New Yorker, who currently resides in Georgia with her family. Her favorite texts are: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13; “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1. In her spare time she enjoys singing (praise team/choir), teaching piano, sports (basketball, swimming, working out), Pathfinder and youth ministry.