Think about your own goals. How many have you set? How many did you successfully achieve? In life, we tend to start on the path toward reaching our goals, invariably get detoured but ultimately find our way to success.
Upon introducing ourselves during a recent Zoom call, I found out immediately that we had a few things in common, including having lots of siblings and always thinking outside of the box. Let’s hear about Laura and her journey toward reaching her medical career goals.
What brought you to our Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program?
I was cross-eyed as a kid and had an operation to fix that when I was seven, which was a game changer! Because when you are cross-eyed, people make all sorts of assumptions about you and your intelligence level.
I want to help other people. This desire determined the college I went to—really, everything that I did. But then life just took some changes.
When I graduated from high school, I chose the military because I didn't have a whole lot of money, especially coming from a big family—I’m one of six kids. So I thought, “Well, the military will be how I can actually pay for medical school.” I ended up going into the Medical Service Corps, thinking I’d go to medical school after I got out. And then life just took a whole bunch of different paths.
I've had a very fulfilling life working with immigrants and refugees, and with people living on the streets in various roles, including as the Director of Operations at Code Tenderloin and as the Executive Director at The Gubbio Project. But then I wondered, “What's next? What's my capstone?” I didn’t know. So I went on sabbatical and took a train across Canada—a good sabbatical type of thing to do, right? I wanted to find out what's next for me. I got this pull to med school and I was so mad that this idea was resurfacing so late. I would have gone to med school in my 30s or my early 40s. Why now? But the draw was persistent and didn't go away.
So I just said, “Let's see if this is real; let's see if I can do it.” I didn't know if I would still have the capability or if there would be age discrimination about being accepted into a medical school. So I just took one step at a time. I started taking a couple of classes, did well and found them interesting. The classes were at night and that really worked for me. Also, the Berkeley location was really helpful because I lived in Oakland; I also took some classes at the Merritt College and San Francisco locations. The flexibility, the low barrier and the locations were real assets for me. So I kept moving forward and applied—and was accepted—into the post-bacc program.
That’s wonderful! When did you start?
The first class I took, General Human Anatomy, was in 2018. Then I took the majority of my other classes in 2019. During the first semester of 2020, I was finishing my Biochemistry class when COVID-19 hit, so that got moved online. But my instructor for that course, Dr. Daniel Benjamin, did not miss a beat. He is a rockstar!
Then I took Organic Chemistry II online. My final class was The Biology of Human Cancer, and I'm so glad I took that class because we recently covered this subject in only four lectures in med school before moving on to the next subject! I am so grateful to UC Berkeley Extension and having taken that biology of human cancer class, because as I have heard repeatedly, “Med school is like drinking water out of a firehose.”
Laura’s Course Path to a Career Change
Basic Biology Electives
Upper-Division Biology Courses:
So when you completed the post-bacc program, what was your next move?
I thought that my next step was to take the MCAT. I thought that I probably wouldn’t do very well—surely something's going to stop me. But nothing stopped me. Then I thought, “Surely no one's going to let me in, but I will apply and see.” And then I got accepted to a couple of schools!
There was a plan predestined for Laura and nothing could stop it—not even her own self.
Congrats on your acceptance—I’m sure other students are as inspired as we are! Do you have any advice for those students?
Advice is so hard. No one really takes advice and wisdom (laughs), but I can offer some encouragement. Advice usually comes from what you didn't try. I didn't work enough with the staff who are running the program, because I was still doubting myself and this path.
So take advantage of all that they're offering. Tap into those resources to support you.
They want to help.