All That Matters

I recently received a message from a reader who was contemplating between two choices of med schools and needed some insight about how I feel about coming to AUC. I thought this was a good question, so I’d like to share my answer. Here was his question:

If you had the opportunity to start AUC over again, would you?

It’s great to hear from you and I’m excited to see that your journey into medicine is going to start really soon!

If I had to opportunity to start AUC over again, I would do it again. Although coming to the Caribbean for my medical education wasn’t my original intention, my experience here has really changed my life for the better and in unexpected ways. I’ve not only gained much in my education and preparation for a life in medicine, but on a more personal level, I’ve learned what it is like to help and be helped in return, being a part of and actively continuing the supportive environment here.

Back in undergrad, I barely knew anyone and nobody really knew me. I was really shy and passive, and wasn’t active in any way on campus. I didn’t know how to express my voice (or know what to express) or make a difference in the community. But then after coming to AUC my life really has become a blessing. First, there was my blog, which over time gained a wide readership and garnered a lot of attention from my school, my fellow colleagues, and prospective students. I’ve suddenly become well-known on campus and among the school administration. Then I decided to run for class representative, which I served for two semesters, doing my job in getting some issues solved for my class and going beyond and creating The Scope, now officially the Student Government Association’s online newsletter and website. I became an anatomy TA and then later, a head anatomy TA, and made a difference in improving the learning resources in lab like co-creating a tutorial for VH Dissector and implemented radiograph catalogues, both of which have continued to be learning resources in the dry lab today. I then became an Orientation Advisor and helped update several of the help-packet documents OAs send their advisees. I was named Student of the Semester by the student body two semesters ago, and then I became the first SGA Historian in AUC history where I further improved The Scope to become a better resource for students and a better vehicle for communication among student leaders, organizations, and student body. I was also a part of the committee that helped draft the Social Media Policy for our school as well as served as a student representative to meet with candidate professors, school administrators, and premed advisors from colleges in the US a couple of times. I had the opportunity to volunteer in the community in medical ways, such as screening people for diabetes and HIV, as well as volunteer in non-medical ways, like environmental cleanup in the community.

Before coming to AUC, I never thought all of this would have ever happened. I didn’t even know I had the ability to do all this. It’s only been about a year and a half since I started med school and my experience has been very rich and fulfilling, and I think it was only possible because of the environment AUC is – small, tight-knit, involved student body, inspiring alumni, and supportive faculty. Living abroad infinitely makes the experience even more interesting and there’s so many life lessons that can be gained from living abroad.

And my story is just one of many here at AUC. There’s so many students here who have done so much to make both the AUC and the St. Maarten community a better place, and those who have achieved great honors academically. There was the student who organized a volunteer medical mission to Peru. She has long left the island but she has inspired another group to organize another medical mission to Bolivia this coming August break. Then, there was the student who started a free school breakfast program for local kids on the island who couldn’t afford eating breakfast. And then there was the student who started a free diabetes screening program on the island to help tackle the growing rate of diabetes in the community. There was the student who made a perfect score on the Anatomy Shelf Exam, the student who made a 97 on the NMBE comprehensive exam, and the student who made a 262 on the USMLE Step 1.  They are all an inspiration to all of us here, examples of excellence to strive for, and it makes me proud to be a part of this community that produces such bright future doctors with so much potential. Reading the stories in AUC Connections (the alumni magazine) about how an AUC alumnus pushed to start a free community clinic in the Gambia, or became the Medical Director of one of the top cardiovascular centers in the country, it shows many graduates here have fulfilled this potential.

Last year I volunteered at the graduation ceremony and was quite impressed at the residencies that many of our graduates have obtained, some going to top hospitals for their fields, and even some obtaining highly competitive residencies likes orthopedics and radiology. The next commencement ceremony is coming up this May and I’ll forward to seeing what our new graduates have achieved this year. Several of our guest professors who were visiting from other US medical schools (including some who are part of the admissions committees of their schools) have commended on the quality of our education and our students and said how we should all be proud of being here at AUC. We have some distinguished professors, some who have even been elected to serve national organizations like our neurology professor Dr. DeMesquita, being the only officer alongside other leaders from major US medical schools to be from a Caribbean medical school.

Before med school, I never thought coming to a school in the Caribbean could be something one could be proud of. Certainly many in the US may not think so. But experiencing everything I’ve experienced, I’ve come to realize that much of the negativity really stems from ignorance, just as how I was ignorant as a pre-med student before applying to medical schools. One just cannot ignore the fact that this school has turned students that were previously deemed “not good enough”, to become excellent physicians with test scores just as good, and often even better, than their counterparts in the US. And especially achieving all of this coming from a school with as little prestige as Caribbean schools, it’s very impressive and it makes me proud.

So in conclusion, It has been a real privilege to experience this journey here at AUC, together with my colleagues, many who I know will do great things in the future in their careers. Yes, there are students who may not have had as satisfying of an experience as I have, or others who decided the experience wasn’t for them. But for me, this experience has been a good one, and in the end, it really is about what you make of it. I just find for me personally, this good experience was a lot easier to achieve here at AUC.

So I hope you figure out what’s best for you. It really does vary from person to person, and there really comes a point when one cannot add any more points to a pros-and-cons list, which can go on and on endlessly, or come up with any more reasons to go to one place over another. In the end, all that matters isn’t necessarily which one has a longer list, but what do you want. For me, I wanted an opportunity to pursue my dream, a life-changing experience, and an exciting story to tell. Had I gone to a US med school, I may have fulfilled the first one, and possibly part of the second one. But for me, coming to AUC has fulfilled all three.

Good luck in everything and let me know how everything goes!