About Tom McGuire

I'm an English/Social Studies teacher in Austin, Texas. I'm a 2014 grad of the University of Notre Dame, and a 2010 Corvias Foundation Scholarship recipient.

Scholar Spotlight: Ariana Melendez

Opening

Opening the Match Day letter.

2008 Corvias Scholarship recipient Ariana Melendez recently marked the culmination of her journey through medical school with a successful Match Day! On Match Day, thousands of medical students from around the country find out what residency programs they’ll be heading to for their first positions as doctors. Ariana matched with UC-Irvine’s OBGYN program and will be officially graduating from medical school in about a month! Ariana recently agreed to answer some questions from the Corvias Connects blog and share her experiences with our community.

All opinions and experiences represented are Ariana’s own and do not represent those of any institutions she is affiliated with.

1) Could you tell us a bit about your med school journey up to this point? How did you decide you wanted to attend med school, and where have you been studying so far?

This is a bit of a doozy – unlike a lot of people, I wasn’t totally set on medical school before, or even when I graduated from, college. It was something I had always considered, but I wasn’t sure it was the right path for me, and at the time of college graduation, I couldn’t iterate quite why medical school was a good fit for me. Having said that, I always loved the sciences, so I majored in Biology at the University of Chicago. As a part of that, I had the opportunity to take some classes on the ethics of medicine that really inspired me. Following college graduation in 2012, I served with Teach for America teaching high school biology and physics. While I absolutely LOVED my kids, I realized I missed being a part of the process of scientific discovery. Combining that with wanting to continue to serve under-served communities and being involved in advocacy, I felt like medicine could be a great fit. I started medical school in 2014 at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago.

2) How exactly does ‘med school’ work? What makes it different from, say, a university experience?

Alright, stick with me here – it’s a long process and I didn’t know how a lot of it worked until I got there. Most medical school programs are four years of training. Roughly the first two are classroom years – lectures on the basic sciences (think biochemistry, genetics, physiology) and combining that knowledge with medical basics (immunology, pathology) to begin to formulate a basis for making diagnoses. We also take classes on how to be good doctors – how to conduct patient interviews, write notes, and concerns specific to certain populations. At my school, we also spent some time involved in patient care during those first two years. Then, we take our first board exam – Step 1.

The third year, we start clinical rotations – essentially, we work at hospitals and clinics in a variety of fields – surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry, and my favorite, obstetrics and gynecology. During third year, we work a lot with residents – doctors who have graduated medical school and are onto their next level of medical training in a specific specialty. We also work with fellows (doctors getting additional training in a sub-specialty following residency), attendings (doctors who have completed their training), nurses, physical therapists, social workers, and everyone else who makes a hospital run. As students, we see patients, assist in procedures, and help the team function administratively.  

During our fourth year, we take our second set of board exams (Step 2 CK and Step 2 CS), do additional rotations – usually starting on rotations in whatever specialty we’re interested in, and ending on rotations we need to graduate and elective activities such as research – and interview for residency. Some people take additional time in medical school to get additional degrees – MPHs, MBAs, and more – and others take time to do research to help them be more competitive residency applicants.

Overall, medical school was pretty different than college for me. The last two years of medical school are much like having a job, and not like college at all. In college, all of my classes were mandatory, and most of them were small seminars. In medical school, many of our classes were large lectures for our whole class (~185 people) that weren’t mandatory. This meant I could stay home and watch lectures online at a speed that was better for taking notes or comprehending the material. Additionally, we do a fair amount of small group team-based learning in medical school, which helps develop our abilities to form diagnoses. My college experience was a lot more focused on understanding processes and having discussions based on specific topics, whereas my medical school experience was much more rooted in mastering a large volume of information. We often joke that med school is like drinking from a fire hydrant – a lot comes at you fast and you have to keep up! It’s hard, but it’s so worth it!

3) Could you explain how the “Match Day” process works?

The Match Day process is actually just a small part of the longer residency application process. Everything you do in medical school is part of your residency application, as can be experiences you had before medical school (work experiences, research), however, the application opens the summer before fourth year begins, and we can begin submitting our applications in mid-September. There are also separate earlier matches for people participating in the military match or applying to specialties like urology and ophthalmology.

Our application includes a personal statement, letters of recommendation, test scores, a CV, personal information, and a list of all the programs we’re applying to. Most people only apply to one specialty, but some people apply to two or even three, and some specialties require doing a preliminary year in surgery or medicine before starting their official specialty.

After we submit our applications, residency programs offer candidates interviews. The interview season goes from October-January, and can involve a lot of travel! It’s a lot of fun to see and meet different programs, but the process can be exhausting too!

In February, both applicants and programs submit a rank list. For candidates, that’s a list of the programs we interviewed at in the order we want to go to them, and for programs, it’s a list of candidates they interviewed in the order they want them. After our lists our submitted, an algorithm runs a matching process which pairs applicants with their top program that also ranked them. Then, we wait!

The Monday of Match week, we find out if, but not where, we matched. Sometimes people don’t match, and they enter a process called the SOAP, where they can try to match at programs that did not fill all of their spots. That Friday, or Match Day, we find out where we matched!

Reading

Reading to find out where she’d matched.

4) Does this mean that we get to call you ‘Doctor’ now?

Not quite! But after I graduate in May, yes! (Editor’s Note: It’s official! Feel free to refer to her as Dr. Melendez at the next summit 😀 )

5) How did you actually find out where you had “Matched”?

At my school, we have a ceremony where we’re all given envelopes containing our match results, have a countdown, and open at the same time surrounded by friends and family. Some schools have students go up one-by-one and open their envelopes at a podium. I was really anxious going into the match and could hardly speak after I opened my envelope, so that would have been really hard for me. Overall, it’s really interesting because some people are very excited by their matches (like me!) and others have more bittersweet experiences (like some of my friends who have to move away from loved ones, or who didn’t get one of their top choices.)

6) How did it feel to find that you had matched with UC-Irvine’s OBGYN program?

I was absolutely thrilled! The process had been very stressful for me, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. UCI was my first choice, and I think it’s going to be a great fit! I had a lot of people rooting for me throughout this process, and they kept telling me it was going to work out, but the voice in my head was less sure. One thing I learned through this process was that I should listen to the people around me a bit better! Because I was going through this process with my husband, I knew he was also really relieved to be going back to his home state, so that made it even better!  

7) How are you feeling about moving to the West Coast?

I LOVE Chicago, but given that it snowed here a day ago (it’s April!) I’m ready for a change of pace! My husband’s family lives in California, and his job is based out there, so it works out well for both of us! Of course, moving isn’t easy, but as a brat, this is old hat. 😉

After 2

Feelings after a successful Match!

8) Now that you’ve matched: what comes next? When will you start transitioning towards your residency, and what will that process look like?

At this point, I’m just wrapping my last course of medical school, then graduation is in about a month, then we’re taking a vacation before heading off to our new lives in California. For now, it’s filling out a lot of paperwork, but once I start I’ll hit the ground running – full on doctoring – with support of course! Another point of clarification – a lot of people wonder if internship and residency are the same thing – interns are just first year residents. It’s kind of like squares and rectangles.

9) This is, in some ways, a culmination of your experiences in medical school. Have you been reflecting on the experience lately? If so, what has been coming to mind?

Yep, this is definitely the end, and I’ve been doing tons of reflecting. Overall, this experience has been hard and has taught me a lot about myself – how to take care of myself and my mental health better, what my identity is an adult, woman, and doctor, and how I can best help those around me. I’m also really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to learn from those who have done it before me – I’ve had residents, attendings, other medical students, and patients serve as mentors and teachers. I’m so excited to finally be in a position to help others reach higher in the medical field!

Additionally, one of the biggest things that comes to mind is something I was told my first week of medical school – that I would meet some of my best friends here. At the time I didn’t think it was likely, but now I’m leaving with a tight-knit group of friends I couldn’t have done this process without! Even though we’ll be going all over the country, I know I’ve made friends for life – some of whom were even my bridesmaids – and I can’t wait to plan trips to see each other!

10) How did your experiences as an Army brat shape your experiences in medical school?

Resilience and compartmentalization both play huge roles in medicine. We’re often tired, but the world doesn’t stop turning and people don’t stop getting sick. It’s our job to be there when things go great, but also to keep patient care going when things take turns for the worse. It’s a real privilege to be able to be there during some of the most emotional (good and bad) parts of people’s lives. By being an Army brat, I think I developed a pretty strong sense of emotional maturity at a young age, and I think that’s served me well. Doctoring is hard, and experiences often come home with you. Having healthy ways to process strong emotions – whether success, failure, helplessness, or any number of other things – is really valuable.

I also think there’s a lot to be said for diversity in medicine. As a brat, you meet so many people from so many backgrounds, and as a doctor, the same is true. It’s so important to take the time to listen to hear people’s experiences and to know their perspective on their illness. As military kids, we have a lot of opportunities to move between communities. Medical school has allowed me to be a part of even more communities – not just as a medical student and future physician, but as an advocate for women’s health and for equitable treatment of people with disabilities – two things I always innately felt, but didn’t really have enough knowledge about to speak on. Growing up in a multi-ethnic family and having lived in Puerto Rico for three years as a kid has also helped with my Spanish, which is really valuable in letting Spanish-speaking patients know their concerns are valued too!

I talked to a lot of people throughout this process, and it was funny how many people compared the match to getting orders in the military – you bloom where you’re planted was a phrase that came up a lot on the interview trail and describes a lot of my life experiences pretty well. At the same time, from my perspective as a brat, I never got a choice of where we were going, so having a choice in my rankings was certainly a luxury, but also a really tough decision to make!

Finally, as military children, the statistics aren’t always the best in terms of pursuing higher education because there is so much transition. To be able to represent the perspective of someone from a military family as a medical student and future physician is really exciting, and I hope it motivates others from minority backgrounds to keep reaching for their dreams!

11) We know that many Corvias scholars are also working towards careers in the medical field. What advice would you give people who are interested in working in medicine or are already studying medicine?

I think the best advice I can give is to stay humble and actively try not to get jaded. It’s easy when you’re exhausted to take the easy road or not give 100%, but that devalues patients and leads to errors. Sometimes it’s a conscious effort to check yourself, but it’s an important thing to do. For people who are already in medical school, I’d say to keep doing your best – if you got in, you deserve to be here! There are so many rich experiences in medical school – friends, extracurricular activities, faculty, rotations, teaching, and patient experiences – treasure those!

To everyone, medical school isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay, but if you think it’s for you, don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way of your success! Take the time to take care of yourself – emotionally, physically, mentally – you can’t give to others if you can’t take care of yourself. It’s okay to step back and prioritize yourself and your health! Remember that while it can be hard, medicine is not the only hard thing in the world and we are privileged to do what we do. Finally, and I think this is true of all fields, the perfect “work-life balance” does not exist – work and life will never be in equilibrium, but they can be integrated.

After

Reaction after reading the letter!

 

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Scholar Spotlight: Tonia Tyler

The Corvias community is filled with amazing individuals who are constantly doing fantastic work to better themselves and their community, and each Alumni Summit we are dazzled by the stories of some of our outstanding Scholars and Alumni. One Corvias Alum, 2007 scholarship winner Tonia Tyler, is currently in the midst of a project to take her own story to the big screen through the creation of a short film. In addition to owning and running the video production company Mal Compris, Tonia is also finishing her studies to receive a Master’s Degree in Film from the Savannah College of Art and Design.  She is currently working on a short film titled “Cautious”, which depicts an encounter between a happy family heading out on a Christmas trip and a rookie police officer on a first patrol. Tonia agreed to take some time away from her production and fundraising schedule to answer some questions for the Corvias Connects blog, and we’re thrilled to share this update from this exciting member of our community!

 

What was your motivation for creating this specific story?

My husband and I were pulled over one night. An officer told us we made a right on red where a sign was clearly posted. Long story short, there was no sign and we got a ticket. That wasn’t the biggest takeaway for me that night. We were pulled over shortly after the most recent in-the-news traffic stop that ended in a victim’s fatality. The fear of that moment, I can’t describe but I knew I could piece together with visual imagery. I was afraid, confused and even angry that I felt we were wrongfully pulled over and now had a ticket to pay, had to make a court appearance – and there was no sign. I sat in the passenger seat fighting the urge to tell the officer, “There’s no sign back there, we live over here.” In the midst of my emotional rollercoaster, I looked up and made eye contact with the officer. I saw fear, I saw anticipation of what would happen next, and I saw a man that felt he was doing just doing his job. That tore me even more. The situation was so complex! I started writing that night.

We’ve heard that this will be your ‘thesis film’ for grad school. Could you explain what a ‘thesis film’ is?

A thesis is a document created to support consideration for an academic or professional qualification. In film school, you have to do a written thesis research paper in addition to spearheading a creative from conception to post-production. That creative can be done in the form of a music video, short film, documentary etc. Both are submitted to several departments and reviewed for a candidate’s graduation.

What does it mean to you to make this film?

It means a lot. It’s a challenge because there are supporters of various movements that don’t necessarily agree with what I’m doing. I honestly don’t think they fully understand it. I don’t really get the chance to explain it sometimes before it’s shut down. Even in those moments, it reminds me how much more understanding the entire world needs when dealing with and communicating with one another. Creating this film, examining another perspective is not my way of diminishing any other perspective. I have no doubt that some people have personal biases and reflect those in their decision making on the job. I’m not denying that, I’m just not creating from that perspective. I feel like we’ve seen that already. This is an already ignited topic, but with a conversation that has hit a wall. My goal has always been to create things that become bigger than the original idea in terms of the positive impact it has on our world.

Where are you in the filmmaking process right now?

The production team just called our selected actors to thank them for being a part of the audition process and invite them to join the cast. We’re having our first rehearsal Thursday night and I’m so excited to get started with performance aspect of it all. Up until now it’s been grind work, trying to network, setting up the campaign, meeting with crew, etc.

What’s been the most exciting part of this project so far?

It’s exciting for me when I get to share about the film with someone and they’re on board, immediately. They understand it’s importance and support everything it stands for. At the callbacks the other day, I released the script to the then potential actors we were considering. At that point, they’d only seen a few lines of the character’s they were auditioning for. I gave them a few moments to read the entire script. The wave of energy that went through the room as each person finished it, it swept over me in waves.

What’s been the hardest part of this project so far?

I would say the hardest part has been finding funding, honestly. A lot of the people I know and have worked with  are struggling artists. As much as they want to help, most of them can’t. I’ve really been reaching out and trying to expand my network to get the project in front of the right people. Funding is so important because as a student filmmaker, you don’t have money and you fill whatever roles with whoever you can. For this film, there’s certain positions that so vital to its success. For example, the sound mixer, the colorist they have to be great, not even just good at what they do. People that are great at what they do and have the required experience, cost money.

We know that many Scholars have taken on projects that involve a fundraising component. Could you explain a bit of how you started an IndieGogo campaign, and what that process has been like?

I started the campaign by making a video explaining the project and the inspiration behind it. That involved facing my fears of being on camera! It’s been interesting. I’m doing so much research, writing so many letters. Just trying to be concise but informative about the goals and purpose of this film. All while trying to attract an audience to the film.

We know you’re an incredibly busy person: how do you balance this project, grad school, and everything else you’ve got going on in your life?

I actually don’t feel like I’m busier than the average person pushing for their dreams. I’ve always been around people that are moving and shaking the world. So when I’m not, and it’s not a time of intentionally focused rest, I feel weird. I want to do things. I have to move and shake things up to feel “normal.” We live in a world where there’s so much potential for growth and change, that alone motivates me to push. I remind myself of a quote often, “Your dreams don’t care if you’re tired.” When it’s hard to get out of the bed, I’m playing  inspirational/motivational videos. They help a lot. I have a super supportive husband, who is also in the industry. So it’s not something I have to explain and try to get him on the same page about. We both get it, in terms of how busy things can be sometimes.

Who are your biggest influences at a filmmaker?

My biggest influencers are all the brave filmmakers, newly well-known and those underground that are telling stories we haven’t seen before. The ones that are giving voices to those who haven’t had a chance to be heard or seen in film. They’re trailblazers and I admire all of them.

What comes next for you–both in the process of making this particular film, and after this film is complete?

After making this film, I’ll be making sure it has a successful run in the film festival circuit. In the larger scheme of things, I’ll be finishing up the other requirements to officially attain my masters in June. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and creating.

Cautious: The short film is conducting a fundraising campaign on IndieGogo for the next 15 days. If you’d like to contribute, you can find out more or make a donation here.

My Last ID Card

Over my school’s winter break, I was lucky enough to visit my family at their current home in Wiesbaden, Germany. After my parents picked me up from the airport, we headed on post, and my siblings practiced our well-rehearsed routine of passing up our ID cards for the gate guard to scan.

As I pulled mine out, however, something caught my eye: the expiration date. In just a few short months, my ID card will expire–for good, I think. On my 26th birthday, I’ll lose my eligibility for TriCare Young Adult health insurance, and thus will lose my ability to keep a military ID card. I’ve been able to fend off this milestone for a while–first through going to college, then by using TriCare Young Adult after graduation–but it’s coming, and this time there’s no avoiding it.

This should have been a trivial moment. I only go on military bases a few days a year at this point, I never shop at the Commissary or PX without a family member beside me, and I’m not even on TriCare anymore. But in that moment of realization, I felt a sort of visceral shock and sadness. That ID card marks the official connection between myself and the US military, and once it’s gone, I’m not sure my relationship with the military will ever be the same.

The military has been perhaps the single most important institution in my young life, and I suspect that’s true for many of us. It shaped where I lived, who I interacted with, what I valued and wanted to do with my life, and so much more.

At this point, however, I’mmaking many of those decisions for myself, and my reliance on the military has faded fast. The vast majority of the people I work with and hang out with have little or no connection to the armed forces. I now see the army from much more of an outsider perspective, and as none of my siblings have any plans to join the military, I’m not sure I’ll ever regain that sense of belonging I once had.

My Dad is still active duty, so my family is still pretty attached to the Army,but once he retires, I’m not sure how, or if, I’ll still feel connected. The military has already left a massive and indelible mark on me, but will I continue to feel a part of that broader community once my physical connection becomes obsolete?

I know many Corvias Scholars and Alumni have already negotiated that transition away from the military, and I’d love to hear how you navigated that path. Do you still feel like a part of the ‘military’? Are you as comfortable identifying yourself as part of the military community? Is there anything you miss about having an ID card? (I know I’m already dreading not being able to use the gym when I visit my family…) Your advice would be incredibly valuable to those of us fearful of giving up our MWR privileges, so please share in the comments!