Ben Meyer '11
Name: Ben Meyer
Graduating Class: December 2011
Your Story: I graduated from Gustavus in December 2011. I grew up in Sioux Falls, SD, graduating from Lincoln High School in 2008.
I chose Gustavus because of its strong reputation in the sciences and for its demonstrated success in advancing its graduates to medical school. Given my interests in politics and history, I was also interested in having a liberal arts education, as well as the ability to be involved in a wide range of activities outside my classes, including athletics and service. As a prospective senior high school student, I was also interested in finding a way to study abroad, and I was intrigued by the wide range of study abroad programs that Gustavus offered.My interest in pre-medicine started when I was in high school. Both of my parents work in health care as a pharmacist and as a nurse, but I did not seriously consider a career in health care until one was suggested to me by a particularly influential teacher. He noticed that I excelled in science, and he encouraged me to consider a career as a doctor. Upon his suggestion, I became intrigued by the possibility of applying my intellectual gifts to a career that involved serving others directly, so I began exploring the possibility of becoming a physician. During the summer, I volunteered as a patient escort in one of my local hospitals and found that I enjoyed interacting with patients. It was especially inspiring experiencing how simple, friendly conversations with patients could ease their mindset, even before an upcoming stay in the hospital. Experiences like this led me to plan for a career in medicine immediately when I started my first semester at Gustavus.
My most influential experience confirming pre-medicine path was through my position as an emergency department scribe in Burnsville, MN. As a scribe, I collaborated with ER physicians to document patient visits to the ER. My duties involved accompanying physicians into the patient’s room for their initial examination and, from my notes, writing the history of the present illness for each patient as well as documenting their past medical history, laboratory and imaging studies done in the ED, medications given, and the physician’s ultimate medical decision making. My job as a scribe reaffirmed my interest in medicine by giving me the opportunity to experience firsthand the aspects of medicine that initially drew me toward a career as a physician. In the ER, you never know what type of patient will walk in the door, and it is through this variety that in medicine, one frequently sees novel cases and thereby continuously learns throughout the course of the career. Through charting for physicians, I have also been exposed to the intellectual challenges included in the study and practice of medicine. This exposure has deepened my commitment to medicine through the realization that as a physician, I will never be bored by my job.
Top Five Activities/Experiences:
- GAC Study Buddies: As a study buddy, I volunteered in educational settings throughout the St. Peter community, particularly the middle school/high school building, where I tutored an ELL student, students in a social studies class, and special education students. I also served as a middle school/high school site coordinator and as a lead coordinator. Study buddies was greatly influential on my development as a leader, as during the four year experience, I was responsible for communication between my organization and educators in the community as well as developing our organization’s strategic plan to ensure the continued evolution of the program to best adapt to and meet the community’s needs.
- GAC Elders: As a volunteer with Elders, I played Bingo once weekly with residents in as an assisted living facility as well as regularly visiting one particular gentleman in a nursing home. My experience with Elders helped me to better comprehend the experience of individuals in assisted living and nursing home facilities who are commonly treated by physicians.
- HHMI Peer Mentor: I served as an upperclassman peer mentor for four groups of students (5-6 students/group) in BIO-101 and/or CHEM-107. In weekly meetings, I facilitated group activities intended to help students learn in a collaborative manner not always possible in the classroom and laboratory settings as well as improve their overall critical thinking skills. This experience further developed me as a leader, especially in the area of public speaking, and also spawned my interest in eventually serving as some sort of educator during my career in medicine.
- Study Abroad: During Spring semester 2011, I studied abroad in Lancaster, United Kingdom at Lancaster University. While I was at Lancaster, I was immersed in British culture. I lived with seven British students, joined societies offered on-campus, such as the Lancaster University Running Club and the Study Abroad Society, and took classes with British students. Although differences between American and British culture are not as stark as those between American culture and a non-Anglo or non-Western culture, I was still very much an outsider among the students in my "flat." I came to learn British slang and colloquialisms and adjust to British social relations, growing to respect the British particularly for their forwardness and stoicism. My semester abroad also gave me the opportunity to travel on my own throughout Europe and even a portion of the Middle East. Living and traveling abroad helped me to become more self-aware, confident, and independent, and I am confident that these personal changes both helped me in the interview process and will help me in my future career as a physician.
- Career Exploration: In my hometown of Sioux Falls, SD in January term 2010, I shadowed physicians in a wide variety of specialties, including family practice, radiology, orthopedics, sports medicine, oncology, pathology, cardiology and general surgery. I set up this experience by contacting a local physician and received class credit for this experience by answering weekly reflection questions posted by Gustavus Career Development and by a faculty member in the department of my major. This experience was particularly influential because it allowed me to realize and embrace the variety that is evident in medicine and further convinced me that I would be able to select a specialty that suited my strengths and personality well.
- When you select activities both on-campus and off-campus with which to involve yourself, focus on quality over quantity, and do not over-involve yourself. Medical schools will place a much greater value in the leadership skills and valuable experiences you have gained from immersing yourself in a reasonable number of activities rather than the sheer number of activities with which you have been involved. In my opinion, too many pre-medical students over-involve themselves, thinking that there is a checklist of activities needed to complete for their medical school resume. The truth is that medical schools do not select the same student twice. They are looking for diversity in their student bodies in terms of what each student brings to their learning environment in terms of leadership, research, athletic, service and other meaningful experiences as well as each individual’s own personal passions, hobbies, etc. Rather than thinking solely about experiences that you believe medical schools value, think about the experiences that you personally value. There is no standardized path to becoming a medical student. Additionally, college should be a time of self-discovery and reflection. To do these things adequately, you need time to independently develop your own interests outside of medicine or, for that matter, whichever career you choose. You will have the rest of your life to practice medicine, so embrace college for the multitude of experiences, not all of which can possibly relate to medicine.
- Study abroad for a semester. As I described above, my semester abroad was truly one of my most influential experiences during my college years, and I would recommend this experience to any pre-medical student at Gustavus. I will admit that finding time for a semester abroad is difficult for a student who is a science major and/or on a pre-medical track, but with adequate planning and flexibility, it is not-all-that-difficult to fit your medical prerequisites into the other seven semesters you have at Gustavus as well as possibly a summer course sequence (consult your advisor and the pre-health advisor). Additionally, if you are a science major, there are many semester study away programs that offer courses that will fulfill your upper level science requirements. While there are also fantastic January Interim study away programs offered by the CICE, the challenges and opportunities for personal growth present in longer study away experiences during which one is thoroughly immersed in a foreign culture are not as abundant in the shorter-term opportunities.
- If you are interested in studying abroad, the welcoming individuals in the CICE will be happy to begin advising you early on (years in advance) in finding a way to make it happen. There are also sheets in the CICE with lists of programs that may be of particular interest to pre-medical students or Biology majors.
- Apply for medical school early. Submit your AMCAS application by June or July. Doing so will give you a greater chance of landing interviews and thus a better possibility of ultimately being accepted. While it is understandably stressful to complete an application immediately after finishing junior year and while you are in the midst of a summer job or other experience, the hard work will ultimately improve your odds versus a student who submits their application in August or later. I speak from experience having submitted my application in September and having been invited for a lesser number of interviews than I might of otherwise.
- Feel free to major in something other than the sciences, if that is what suits you. It is totally possible for you to major in something other than the sciences and still complete the prerequisites you need to apply to medical school. In fact, medical schools particularly value such individuals for the diversity of intellectual interests they bring to their student bodies, many of which are densely populated by science majors. College is a fantastic time to enlighten yourself by pursuing academic studies other than those with a close relation to medicine. You will have the rest of your life to study medicine if you become a physician, so do not let the perceived obscurity of a subject relative to your intended career detract you from majoring in a subject that inspires you. While I majored in biology, I am happy that I was able to discover that I had an interest in history as well and graduate with a minor in that subject.
- Read a book about health care reform. I have been told that a common weakness of many students going into their interviews is a lack of adequate knowledge about the general system of health care in America and the prospect of reform. In fact, I received questions regarding health care issues and reform in all of my interviews. In these interviews, I was not expected to take a political stand regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but I was expected to at least be able to explain the basic problems evident and the challenges that must be overcome to improve health care. One book that I found quite useful in getting a basic grasp on health care was The Healing of Americaby T.R. Reid (a journalist), which was written prior to the politically-charged health care reform passed in the US in 2010. Another useful book I'd recommend is Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performanceby Atul Gawande (a physician). However, feel free to select your own resources, in consultation with the pre-health advisor, to improve your understanding and prepare for your interviews.
Future Plans: I will be attending the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine beginning in July 2012.