For more than six years, Aidan was making a difference in the lives of young students, teaching science at low-income, New York City–based public elementary schools. So how did she come to the decision to pursue a career as a medical doctor instead?
As a teacher, Aidan saw how her school’s health-services options helped students who were struggling with poverty, chronic stress and environmental triggers to overcome the systemic barriers in their lives. At school, her students knew they were in a safe place and had the support to reach success—and not just academically.
“Through my experience in the classroom, I have realized that although my work was powerful and fulfilling and had created change within students in my community, health care—not education—is the leverage point with which I can best combat inequity,” she asserts. “Everyone has a right to be healthy.”
Now, with some financial support from us, Aidan is going from being a full-time teacher working to empower her students, to applying to medical school in order to become a doctor working to fight health inequity.
Finding the Intersection of Science and Teaching
Aidan pursued her undergraduate studies at the University of Washington. There, she realized her love of science—evolutionary biology, in particular.
It wasn’t just the science that called to her; her university mentors and professors also made a huge impact on her decision to pursue teaching.
“I worked part time in a paleobotany lab as a research assistant, and although I wasn’t super passionate about paleobotany, I had multiple strong, independent, whip-smart female mentors leading that lab,” she says.
“I also had the unique opportunity to be the only undergraduate teaching assistant for the intro-level biology course and professor that I had so loved. I took the weekly lab sections that I taught very seriously. I found it incredibly satisfying to help drive growth in my students. I enjoyed working with the professor to discuss methods to help every student in my lab section succeed. I didn’t realize it then, but I was learning valuable pedagogy.”
It was then that Aidan decided she wanted to be a teacher in order to close gaps in educational equity. After earning her bachelor’s degree in biology, she was accepted to Teach For America New York and got a job teaching 7th–12th-grade science at Brooklyn School for Global Studies, a small, struggling, low-income, public school. Eventually she began working toward her master’s degree in teaching secondary science from Relay Graduate School of Education.
After two years at the Brooklyn-based school, Aidan began teaching in northern Manhattan at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS). Her mission remained the same: bring equity to education. But there, her eyes were opened to a new way of doing it.
“Pursuing medicine has always been of interest to me, but I was only sure I wanted to commit to it during my sixth year of teaching,” she explains. “I wanted to build my life and career around continuing to work to close access gaps and work toward equity.
“Health is such a basic, fundamental, yet powerful lever for change on an individual level as well as societal. I saw this in the juxtaposition of the two schools in which I taught. Serving similar student demographics, WHEELS had full wraparound services in the building, including free dentist visits, nurse visits and psychological support. I saw how much this changed the culture of the school and the outcomes of the students.”
She also saw how much building relationships on trust mattered. “They worked so much harder and felt safer in my classroom when they could see that I cared and could be counted on to follow through, and when I showed them my own faults, insecurities and challenges.
“I know I want to root my career in working toward health equity in a way that allows me to build mutual trust with patients as I had done with my students.”
Getting to Her Goal
Moving back to San Francisco in pursuit of her new career goal was a no-brainer for Aidan.
“When it became clear to me that I’d need to dive full time into post-bacc classes and build meaningful health care experiences, I knew I’d be moving back home to live with my parents. I also happen to love it here,” she says.
Our Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program was a frontrunner in her research, too.
“The health professions program stood out to me because of its flexibility,” she says. “I wanted to be able to take only the particular classes that I needed and not retake anything from undergrad. I also wanted to be able to structure my classes around clinical work.
“My top priority has been to learn as much as possible in clinical environments since this transition from teaching is so stark. I wanted my classes to fit around everything else.”
As Aidan got deeper into the post-bacc program, though, she realized she needed financial support to continue.
“The costs of each semester’s classes are significant for me; I truly appreciate the financial support as I work toward a career in medicine,” she says of winning one of the semester’s scholarships.
Her Program Experience and What Lies Ahead
“I’m in my last semester of classes before I’ll take the MCAT and start the application process,” says Aidan. “I’ll need to take some upper-division biology classes while I’m applying, but am still debating exactly which ones. Up to this point, I’ve been focused on biochemistry and on filling in the gaps from undergrad in general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics.”
She says of her classroom-based courses thus far:
“The ones I’ve enjoyed most have been with instructors who, like Drs. Daniel Benjamin, Austin Hedeman and Desiree Thayer, teach at Extension because they love teaching, are highly invested in our learning and are passionate about the material. Some instructors work in industry or other non-academic jobs and take the initiative to teach out of passion. I find that inspiring. Others teach at UC Berkeley during the day and enjoy working with a different population of students in their extra time.”
And of her classmates:
“I have a few good friends in the program—people I’ve taken multiple classes with. One thing I love about UC Berkeley Extension is that everyone has full lives outside of class. Many people have been drawn to medicine via unique and interesting paths. As such, I’ve found that there isn’t a default camaraderie among the students. We’re not part of a clear cohort. But the relationships I’ve built have been really useful. It’s been great to have people who understand the frustrations of the process of applying to medical school as a working adult.”
Building relationships with others who really understand your situation and who share a common goal has been a constant in Aidan’s career life. It appears now in a network of peers pursuing medical careers, and it also appeared when she worked with other New York City teachers to empower their students.
Tiana Junius, a former colleague of Aidan’s at WHEELS, says of their time working toward a common goal: “Aidan is a true testament to the power of motivation and self-determination. She has used her passion for science to engage our learners in ways that are beyond imaginable. She was a champion for our students, being an advocate for students by empowering them with meaningful opportunities.”
And in describing Aidan, she adds, “Detail-oriented, efficient and diligent are just a few words that come to mind when describing Aidan’s work ethic. What sets her apart is her reflective nature—reassessing her practice at every turn and seeking out professional development to make her a well-rounded educator. Aidan has seized every opportunity presented to her and possesses all of the qualities necessary to become a phenomenal doctor in the future.”
Agreed, Tiana, agreed.