Advice from a Prospective Medical Student at Minerva

Dec 27, 2019

My name is Oluwasunmisola, or Sunmi for short, and, for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to become a medical doctor.

In high school I began to look into how to become a doctor. First, you need an undergraduate program with science classes and laboratory experience, which enables you to apply to medical school where you begin the hands-on training. Of all the universities in the United States that I researched, almost every school offered a similar version of this timeline. Except Minerva.

From the beginning, I could see that Minerva was different. I loved how novel and fun the application process was; I felt like they cared about me as a person rather than just a set of numbers. I was fascinated with the possibility to travel the world while studying and saw their genuine commitment to seeing me succeed.

However, I quickly realized that because Minerva was not the traditional program, it would also not provide a “typical” pre-med college experience. There was not a pre-med major and the course structures were completely different from every other colleges’ courseload. Instead of Organic Chemistry 101 and Physics lab, every first-year student takes the same four courses: Empirical Analyses, Formal Analyses, Complex Systems, and Multimodal Communications.

So if I wanted to become a doctor, why did I choose to enroll at a school seemingly without a clear medical track? Because after reading more about how to get into medical school and how to become a successful doctor, I realized that there was more to learn than just marking off classes on a checklist in chronological order. Medical schools aren’t looking for the same cookie-cutter applicant with identical academic and personal characteristics — the medical field is a diverse, complex, and constantly-evolving system, and it needs equally diverse and innovative doctors to lead it.

Now, as a rising junior, Minerva continues to show me that my initial theory was correct — preparing for a medical career is more than simply taking the required science and math classes. While my classroom doesn’t have a laboratory, I have been able to join unique opportunities with people and organizations pursuing innovative research. During my first year at Minerva I collaborated with John Cumbers, the founder of SynBioBeta, an innovation company using synthetic biology to build a sustainable universe. My civic project team and I conducted an experiment to discover the effect of genetic literacy on people’s perceptions of genetically-modified-organisms (GMOs.) The following summer, I completed a competitive internship at the Santa Fe Institute of Research, where I successfully discovered new ways to improve current epidemiological models.

Not only have I learned how to critically analyze and understand my academic lessons, Minerva has helped me mature in multi-dimensional ways, all of which are preparing me for success both as a doctor and a leader. Two key areas where I have grown the most are my understanding of compassion and empathy and the ability to learn from failure:

Compassion & Empathy

A doctor’s primary responsibility is to help his or her patients. Growing up in Nigeria, I always considered myself to be very empathetic — it was easy for me to feel the pain of others. However, when I came to Minerva, I realized that my home was not the only place where I could, or should, evaluate my sense of empathy. My community was homogenous; almost everyone was Nigerian, they spoke like me, thought like me, and looked like me, so it was easy to be empathetic to one another. Once at Minerva, however, I realized I’m surrounded by classmates from over 65 countries, each with opinions, values, and experiences so different from my own. This diversity, in both appearance and mindset, has tested and grown my empathy in so many ways. Living in a community where I can experience firsthand that not everyone is like me, has enabled me to learn to be okay with differences and broadened my definition of the many forms of pain.

Learning from Failure

At Minerva, my classmates are incredibly smart! They are each so driven and passionate about impacting their communities that, occasionally, my own dreams and abilities seem small and insignificant. In the beginning, I hated asking questions or raising my hand in class because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But over time, I realized that if I continued to be afraid of failing, I would never be able to try anything new and, simply put, that is not a fun way to live. If I let my pride rule me, I would never have the opportunity to improve. I see now that everyone has different skills, strengths, and weaknesses, and in some way, there will always be obstacles in front of me, but that shouldn’t stop me from trying and discovering where I am the best.

To the high school student reading this who may be unsure if Minerva will prepare them for medical school, this is my advice: Almost any school can provide you with the academic coursework required to be a medical school applicant but Minerva will set you apart. At Minerva, I have learned how to communicate and interact effectively, which will help me better understand my patients’ needs, even when they come from backgrounds very different from my own. I have learned how to think critically, which will enable me to discern which opportunities are worth pursuing and understand the impact of my choices. I have learned to think creatively so that I can find solutions for complex problems previously unsolved. Most of all, I have learned confidence and resilience, to not be afraid of challenges or weighed down by losses, which will always be a part of life.

Yes, Minerva is a different path than the traditional one but I think it is worth it. I wouldn’t change my decision even if I could.