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!

 

Advertisements

Lead365: A Step in My Personal Journey to be an Impactful Leader

By Cristi Rader

Do you ever wonder if you are an effective or impactful leader? I do. What are the qualifications I possess to be an impactful leader? As a young professional, how do I develop my skills to be more effective? How do I inspire others to want to lead in their community or business or academic environment? Hmm-insert thinking emoji.

I received the Corvias Foundation Scholarship in 2007, graduated in 2011, and am now an Opportunity Advisor with Corvias in Cary, North Carolina. Corvias empowers its employees to be truly impactful and its Foundation Scholars to reach higher in all that they do. This year I had the privilege of representing both Corvias employees and scholars at the National Lead365 Conference. Lead365 is an organization “committed to empowering collegiate leaders and professionals dedicated to developing student leaders, to be prepared to serve the greater social good 365 days a year”. For the last three years, Corvias Foundation has sent a small group of scholars and team members to the Lead365 Conference in Orlando, Florida, to support their personal and professional development and to continue to build a network of Corvias Foundation scholars, alumni, partners, and mentors.

I attended the conference as a professional with three college students from across the country: Lahela Daniels, a Corvias Foundation scholar attending the University of Oregon; Sara, a foreign exchange student from Egypt and a Resident Assistant at Wayne State University; and Gerald, a Resident Advisor at Howard University.  Sara and Gerald are Corvias partner scholars; Corvias partner scholars are distinguished students that attend universities with which Corvias has a partnership.*  Through their jobs both Sara and Gerald help students navigate the challenges of their college journeys.

Lahela and I attended the Lead365 Conference with the Corvias Foundation charge to make a difference in our communities and campuses. Although we both are a part of the Corvias Foundation family, this was the first time I had the opportunity to meet Lahela. Her energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and she plans to use her sociology major with a minor in legal studies to make a change on campus. I had the privilege of connecting with her on a personal and professional level during our time together in Orlando, to take risks, and by the end of the three-day conference I could see the new confidence rising out of Lahela. After the conference Lahela shared with me, “I feel that the most important thing that I’ve taken away from the conference is that in order to create your foundation, you must first establish your mission, your vision, and your statement of values. My vision is to start with my community; mentor, influence, and inspire those my age and younger, and to give hope to those who are older, that I will change the world day by day.”

“Leadership isn’t impossible, it means I’m-possible.” This was one of the most resonant quotes from a presenter at the Lead365 Conference. Although, it is fairly easy to listen to your inner critic, this statement reminds me that how we individually show up in failure, truly defines the leaders that we are.  I am continuously learning to be an empowering leader to not only my Corvias teammates but my fellow Corvias Foundation scholars and alumni. Attending the Lead365 Conference allowed me the opportunity to overpower my “inner critic” and allow myself to evolve my leadership skills. I learned from many leaders and presenters in higher education that it is not easy to be a leader, but it is indeed possible. Not only for me but for others too. I can evolve my leadership skills and direct a passionate pursuit to make a difference in others who tell themselves becoming a leader is impossible. I’m-possible and so are they!

The truth is, I do not need someone else to tell me I am doing a good job as a leader, but I do need to feel the 360-degree impact of my actions. James Robilotta, speaker, author, personal coach, and host of the 2017 conference said it best, “As leaders, it’s not only your job to impact others’ lives; it’s your job to let them impact yours.”

Through the Lead365 conference, I have learned that I am a more impactful leader when I:

  • Listen to understand rather than offer solutions—when I am present
  • Engage openly
  • Allow others to impact me and challenges I am facing
  • Take the time to let others share their story
  • Ask for help
  • Recognize moments when a person is showing empathy because we both need this moment.

I know I am being an outstanding leader when the team I am a member of is allowed to learn together. We can learn so much when we value the contributions on all sides.

Corvias Foundation has always inspired me to Imagine. Empower. Reach Higher., and now I can also build upon lessons from the Lead365 Conference to Explore. Engage. Evolve.

*Corvias partners with higher education and government institutions nationwide to solve their most essential systemic problems and create long-term, sustainable value through our unique approach to partnership.

Following Dream A and End up at Dream B(etter)

I’m the textbook stereotype of an overachieving first-born child. In high school, I was captain of the soccer team, one of the most decorated JROTC cadets of my school’s battalion, in the top of the class academically, and a member of various student organizations. I even paid for my entire undergraduate college tuition, fees, room and board entirely with scholarships. (This triggered an old bargain my Dad made with me in third grade that resulted in a new car before college.) I set high expectations for myself, and I was used to exceeding them.

The expectation I set for myself in college was medical school. That was the plan (and I’m a planner). You get a degree in biology, and then you move onto medical school. My grades weren’t as spectacular as they were in high school but, they weren’t terrible. I had varied and dedicated extracurriculars and a part time job. I volunteered at a Children’s Hospital, and I even continued to play club soccer. I studied abroad for two summer semesters and was able to complete my degree in four years. I had multiple awards and honors and a decent test score for entry to medical school. I knew medical school admission officers were going to love me!

But then they didn’t. I applied to at least ten different medical schools and was subsequently rejected from all of them. “Sorry, thanks for applying but we aren’t interested.” I started to panic. What in the world was I supposed to do now? I didn’t really have a backup plan (highly unusual for me) but I had always just known I was going to go to medical school.

During the last semester of my undergraduate program, I utilized one of my more eccentric talents and researched frantically to find something to fill what was now just going to be a gap year in my studies. I soon found a graduate school with a Master’s program that was essentially geared for people who couldn’t get into medical or dental school. They didn’t advertise it that way but it was pretty much the gist. I was surrounded by people all hoping to get into a professional school or move onto PhD programs. And they all seemed successful. This was the new plan. This was where I was going to gain a little more life experience. Just one small bump in the road, then medical school here I come. I could totally do this!

I had to repeat one of my courses and extend my program out an extra semester because in graduate school you cannot make Cs (even borderline, 1 point off C+s). I didn’t let that deter me, I went on to get a 4.0 the next semester and graduated in December instead of May. I applied for medical school again, this time being a little more selective of my choices. Everyone was on board with my plan – it was even quoted in a newspaper article. But again I didn’t get into medical school.

My family was super supportive the whole time. I admit that even they told me that no one ever said I had to go to medical school. The whole situation was devastating to me, and I felt like a failure. But I couldn’t hide behind school anymore, so I got a job. I went to work in a histopathology laboratory (the place they send specimens for testing after you have surgery) for some time. At least it was in the realm of science and was going to put to use some of the knowledge I gained from these two degrees. It wasn’t the fault of the hiring manager but my naiveté that I took the job without understanding that I wasn’t going to start off doing these great amazing things they promised during the initial interview. I was miserable for a good while working a 2 am shift just placing glass slides in a folder and ensuring names matched. I gained some basic skills and eventually they allowed me to do some more technical stuff but it still wasn’t enough.

Many laboratory people will tell you the reason they work in the lab is because they don’t like people, and while I may have been shy in my childhood, I still wanted to talk to people/patients as part of my job. I loved the science aspect of what I did and researched how to go further with that and how I could utilize my hard earned Master’s degree. I remember finding a book in the library of what to do with your biology degree. Everything I found interesting required me to go back to school. But I knew if I went back to school I wanted it to be for something meaningful and definitely a terminal degree.

I researched more careers and ran across physician assistants (PA) among other things. I kept coming back to the PA thing though. There happen to be a school in the area I worked and two others in the state, as well as a new program at the school where I had done my Master’s. I had a few friends from grad school who had gone into the field, and it felt right. Then I found out that I couldn’t apply right away. I actually set up my letters of rec beforehand, but I had to take two extra courses that they refused to waive. (Medical terminology being one, for goodness sake I had a Master’s in Medical Science!) A new plan was formed. I took the classes the next semester and started the application process. I found a PA to shadow and maintained my current job, although my employer may not have been too pleased about my future endeavors.

By the end of summer I hadn’t heard anything about an interview, but forum websites (that I stalked) said they were happening. I was starting to lose hope when finally I received an e-mail asking to come in for an interview. I have always believed in myself that if I could get the interview, I could make a good enough impression to land the job or position.  The PA school interview was all of 15 minutes but I did everything you’re supposed to do. I made a good first impression with the receptionist and talked with other applicants and current students in the appropriate manner. I answered the questions correctly regarding the profession. There was an exam at the end but I wasn’t worried. I had been told from previous students the scores wouldn’t factor into the interview but just serve as a baseline for the future coursework. I nailed the ethical question essay, and I was feeling fantastic. I knew this was what I was meant to do.

The next week after the interview, as I was creeping on those forum websites again, I saw that people were already getting acceptance e-mails, but I got nothing. About two weeks later I had a letter in the mail that stated, “sorry but we’re not interested.” I was upset. My now husband tried to comfort me as best he could. I remember he brought home pumpkins to decorate (something we never did) just to have a project to do and keep my mind off of it. Another two weeks later he would propose to me and confessed that he felt terrible when I found out I was rejected that he wanted to tell me his surprise right then and there just to make me feel better. He just knew I was going to get in and then he was going to propose and then our fairy tale would begin. I enjoyed the moment and felt reassured that at least I had a good man in my life even if I had no idea what I was going to do now.

Three weeks later, shortly before Thanksgiving I was on a weekly coffee/tea date I have with my friend before work and her classes and my phone rang. I let it go to voicemail because it wasn’t a number I recognized, and I didn’t want to be rude. They left a voicemail, and then thru a quick google search realized it was from the school that had rejected me. What could they possibly want? My friend encouraged me to call them back right then and there. They had called to offer me a spot on the waitlist. I said yes immediately, but I tried not to get my hopes up … I wasn’t sure I could stand anymore rejection at this point. Secretly in the back of my head I thought it kind of a cruel joke to offer a wait list spot to someone who was rejected outright at first but maybe there was a chance.

I went on vacation with my new fiancée to my parents’ home (stationed in Virginia at the time). At this point I had saved the PA school’s number in my phone. This time when the phone rang and I looked down to see the number, I knew who it was. I said the words out loud in the living room, “it’s the college calling.” I answered on the third ring as my parents and fiancée stared at me. As I was trying to listen to the woman on the phone explain that they were offering me a spot in the class, they continued to stare and mouth loudly, “What is it? Are you in?” I had to walk into another room and start shutting doors behind me to concentrate. I accepted on the spot and assured the woman that I would pay my seat deposit as soon as I returned from vacation.

When I got home, I turned in my letter of resignation at work and set myself up to start school in January. No lie, PA school was rough, and it’s no joke … learn ALL of medicine and how to treat patients … oh and do it in 28 months. It was draining, and I didn’t have an extensive social life. When I started seeing patients during my clinical rotations, I knew it was so worth it. THIS is what I was meant to do, this is truly my calling. Now, I have dozens of stories about patients who contribute to just how wonderful and proud it makes me feel to be a PA. I am honored to have been a part of those patients’ medical team. I intend to be the best PA that I can and advocate for my patients as I begin my medical career. The path to this point was not easy, but it has somehow been necessary to make the end result feel this satisfying.

I graduated towards the top of my class and passed my board exam with no issues … how’s that for someone who was initially rejected? I guess the other moral to point out here is don’t give up on your dreams even if they don’t look the same as when you first started the journey.