Perspectives by Prospectives

Katie Nerlino

I loved studying theories of the mind like those of Freud and Maslow as an undergraduate student of psychology. I think of psychology as my first love, in the way that it will never really leave me and will always be the lens through which I regard other disciplines, like medicine, physical science, and humanities. Psychology has fed my interest and curiosity in the human condition. It has always felt right to acknowledge how fragile this endeavor of being human is. To learn about the vulnerabilities of it, and to serve those vulnerabilities through methods that bring to people a peace, a joy, a wisdom, a strength, a love for themselves, and a special reverence for life… that is exciting to me. Learning about different modalities for counseling and therapy like psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy, reading through the disorders in the DSM, studying the “psyche” (whatever that means… mind, brain, spirit, soul?), it all seemed not only to be an education but a process of self-discovery, too. It is said that to serve others is to serve yourself – and this idea of being a clinician has always represented just that to me. Psych meaning “soul” and -iatry meaning “medical healing” in Greek, a psychiatrist is, then, a healer of the soul. The idea of interacting with other humans for the sake of their souls is not just extraordinary. It’s food for my soul.

Jillian Shaw

I finished a PhD in molecular neuroscience before attending Columbia’s Post-Bac Pre-Medical program. In large part, I pursued research because I was fascinated by the question of why individuals with Down’s syndrome inevitably get the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. I used Drosophila as a genetic model to explore protein interactions and the complexities of axonal transport, mitochondria dysfunction, synaptic defects, and neurodegeneration.

I fell in love with the brain as an undergraduate reading the reflections of the neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks in his book The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. His words humanized people suffering from neurological disorders and his descriptions allowed me a glimmer of insight into what the daily experience was like for someone experiencing hallucinations or delusional misidentification syndrome. To me the study of medicine is rooted in the ability to understand another person’s perspective and empathize with the life experiences that shape their health and humanity. As much as I enjoyed puzzling over cell signaling pathways, I love getting to know the stories of other people and hope to do so as a clinician-scientist.

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Michelle Ritota

Prior to beginning my journey as a pre-medical student in the School of General Studies at Columbia University I had earned a degree in Psychology at The George Washington University. Additionally, I avidly pursued the arts, including fine art and creative writing. Repeatedly in the span of my life I have been awestruck and allured by the combination of psychology, art, and medicine. Whether it had been the breakdown of human anatomy from Leonardo da Vinci in an art history class or visually seeing the evolution of comprehension of the human brain throughout the centuries in a cognitive neuroscience lecture. Being a psychology student and an artist has taught me to approach things with an open-mind, curiosity, heart, and a special attention to detail. I feel as though the science courses also work towards teaching us similar traits, helping us to develop our problem solving skills, as well as keep an open mind while approaching problems we have never seen.

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Daniel Koenisgberg

At work as a software engineer I learned more about myself than I did about technology. Meanwhile, I learned an outstanding amount about technology. I fell into a lesser known field of development called data infrastructure engineering and in a team of 3 completely rebuilt the database our company used. Within the company I became known for my ability to diagnose discrepancies. Databases are lumbering systems constantly over-encumbered by an influx of signal; drowning in a sea of noise. Seconds of downtime translate to hours of work. My ability to diagnose and fix broken pipes quickly led me to suspect that my path forward was through medicine. 

Perhaps what is most interesting to me, and what I believe to be the next area of research, is the study of dynamic systems, or in layperson's terms, the study of chaos. I believe that through the study of partial differential equations relevant to the body, in addition to networks, and through the application of numerical methods, we will be able to make advances in understanding cell signaling and indeed all bodily processes. 

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Anne Hart

In the sunset of graduate studies, I was living in an abyss of systems, no longer the fibrous nervous system or skeleton of that body, but of structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, deconstruction, and Marxism, trying to pull them apart for some kind of diagnosis and prognosis (i.e. a passable thesis). My professors at this time taught me how to observe art, moving images, and all the texts that surround us as clues that index the underlying structures of our social, political, economic, and religious environments. They taught me to confront information from multiple perspectives and showed me how things change when you look at them from other angles. At this juncture, I was confronted with the long path of academia or a return to what initially set a fire under me.

The humanities taught me what my science classes didn’t: that no matter how hard we try we cannot obtain objectivity. This may be an unpopular opinion in the medical field but I find it to be instead a strength, if we are willing to use our subjectivity to find better practices and more creative solutions to all the problems that confront us as physicians—symptomatic or underlying. Of course, recognizing this and applying it may take more work than our current systems demand, but that is ultimately my goal—to work myself to death.

Sonya Levine

I graduated from Wesleyan University with degrees in dance and history in May 2017. With a deep love for crossword puzzles, reading, and most things creative, I spent most of my college years gearing up for a career as an arts administrator, supporting dance from the sidelines, grant writing and networking. However, I recognized after pursuing some internships in development in the arts that what I loved most about dance was the human connection associated within it, the inherent language of bodies connecting across space and time. I spent most nights at Wesleyan in the dance studio, sweating and creating material with other people, using mostly non-verbal communication to find a mutual understanding with others. 

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Tashema Clark

As an oncology nurse for 9 years, I had been exposed to a certain degree of science, but learning sciences such as General Chemistry and Physics at Columbia so many years after earning my BSN, was like learning a new language. I discovered this language only becomes fun to speak when you become more fluent in it.  I truly am encouraged in these sciences now that I have begun to see how these basic chemistry/science concepts are linked to improving diagnostic procedures in nuclear medicine. They are also linked to immunotherapy breakthroughs in cancer treatments that are more effective and cause less side effects than other untargeted therapies. It’s truly exciting to see that many treatments came about from these sciences when someone saw a link and extended that science into improving medical care.  This encourages me to pay close attention and to try to understand this new level of thinking because this knowledge might allow me to find a link that improves patient care in the future.

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Jessica Park

Before I joined the post-bac community, I was a psychology and College of Letters double major at Wesleyan University. I always knew that I wanted to become a psychologist or a psychiatrist because I’m a dork about self-improvement and the human psyche. But as the years went by, I began to fall out of love with psychology as a discipline and to immerse myself wholeheartedly into the College of Letters. The College of Letters is an interdisciplinary major unique to Wesleyan University, dedicated to the study of European literature, history, and philosophy from the antiquity to the present.

Flipping from the humanities into the hard sciences is a difficult transition to make, no doubt about
that.  I have noticed, however, that certain skills carry over across disciplines, suggesting the existence of some sort of link. For example, years of pouring through dense philosophical treatises makes lifting main ideas, themes, and hints out of textbooks and lab manuals quite manageable. I find that I enjoy getting into the rhythm of physics―locating missing variables, comparing equations, and arranging them to get from a to b to c really does feel like I’m solving a puzzle in a different language. It reminds me of the hours I would spend in a bookstore comparing all the different translations of a foreign work of literature before making a purchase. Thus, there are multiple methods to get to a single solution, just as there are multiple translations to get to the point of a novel. The fun part for me is choosing the path.  

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Emily Willard

I was working for a network of charter schools - Harlem Village Academies as a Program Manager. In that role, I worked with the development and fundraising team to design and manage after school, tutoring and Saturday reading programs for kids and as a way to engage high net-worth donors. Getting inspired to come to medicine had little to do with that job - I actually was inspired by an injury I had myself which opened my eyes to the endless opportunities in medicine. But yes, I do see many parallels between the education non-profit world and medicine. Both require you to meet someone else's needs. At the school, my job was to serve low-income students and find the funds to get them through the 12th grade and then to college while making our donors' feel valued and appreciated. Each student and family was unique just as each patient's needs and story are unique. Finding a one-size-fits all approach does not work in either model. Lucky to have had this previous work experience as I think it'll help me be a better provider moving forward.

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Sarah Jednak

Originally, I began school at Purdue University hoping to go into Aerospace and Astronautical Engineering. Although I loved the certainty and technical skill that science and engineering provided, I craved human interaction. I didn’t want my life to be behind a computer screen, programming and never seeing the light of day. I made the drastic decision to change to the complete opposite side of the spectrum – liberal arts, specifically in Public Relations.

Medicine continues to excite me because it allows me to feel that the decisions I make have a meaningful and direct impact on others. I can firsthand see the outcomes of my choices and help people as though they were my own friends and family. However, the most exciting part about medicine is our ever-growing understanding about the world around us. Every day, there are new discoveries being made and new information we are learning; and getting to be a part of this little piece of history seems like the most exciting job around.

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Irina Kulichenkova

My journey and academic preparation is an extraordinary and rewarding one that has spanned continents and taken me half way around the world. After graduating from high school, I immigrated to the United States with my family from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, a country that is 6,338 miles away.
Currently, I am a graduate student at Columbia University working on my second Masters degree, a Master of Science in Narrative Medicine.  In February 2018, I graduated with a Master of Arts in Biotechnology from Columbia University. And I graduated from Long Island University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology in May 2015. My graduate work is intellectually stimulating and revealing new horizons. As a scientist, curiosity is part of my nature. In addition, to natural and social science I have a love for painting and drawing. My inspiration includes the great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet,Katsushika Hokusai, Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cezanne to begin with. Their use of form, style, color, placement, process, method, beauty, and imagination are pure genius.

Anonymous 

I’ve always been fascinated by the body’s capabilities.  After spending most of my early years pursuing sports, I switched to charge after a career in opera.  Opera completely overwhelmed me.  I sat underneath the stage in Italy at 17 years old (serving as the production’s tree), listening to one of the greatest Italian bass baritones in the world.  I marveled at the human voice and its capacity to reach 1000s of people without amplification and communicate in a language so laced with emotion that it sent palpable sensations straight to my heart.  The classical and romantic composers struck me as pure geniuses, and I wished to devote part of my life to studying their wisdom and communicating that wisdom.  My primary goal was to represent the works of musical geniuses with finesse and beauty as well as lift audiences to a better place.  The first step seemed to cultivate the skill of singing....

The thing that fascinates me most about medicine is empowering others to take command and explore their bodies.  All my efforts to learn about health and well being seem to ultimately help educate patients so that they can make the best and most informed decision, for themselves.  The science and allopathic component is an essential chapter (or many chapters) in the book of health.  A passion for learning and uncovering will provide patients with a book of medicine that is varied and robust.  Through this process, I think we can all grow.  A life spent devoting myself to growth, well being, and hopefully the ultimate- inner peace and bliss, is a life worth living. 

Katja Lazar

I graduated from Columbia University in 2015 with a BA in Sustainable Development and a
strong impulse to heal the world, but an uncertainty in what that outlet would be. My
education had shown me to exercise deep caution when implementing change; better first to listen to what a community needs, rather than barge in with your own ideas of what should be improved. Believing that education is the foundation of growth for society and wanting to affect change in the  community I grew up in, I began teaching math for Bank Street, an education research institution, on a year-long project designed to improve long-term outcomes
for children living in poverty in New York City. Towards the end of that year, I enrolled in night classes at the International Culinary School to sate a lifelong passion for the culinary arts.  However, immediately after passing my Level 1 final, life hit me right in the appendix, and I had to take a medical leave of absence to recover from my appendectomy. In the interim, I began working at a bakery on the Lower East Side making bagels, and worked on the side consulting for the business end of a soup company in Chelsea Market.

I see many parallels between my work in the restaurant industry and my interest in a surgical profession: the fast-paced and demanding nature, the importance of
preparation, meticulousness to detail, intense physicality, and prioritizing the needs of our
customers. Hospitals are, in some measure, a part of the service industry. That feeling of
immediacy and the privilege of helping others attracts me to medicine. Science also helps to
feed my curiosity and fascination with the world; to realize that there is underlying structure and to discover simple laws that govern forces is absolutely fascinating. I hope to someday deeply and intimately comprehend the craft of the human body.