About a year ago, over fifty thousand pre-med students began the application process for medical school. In a time of immense uncertainty, social isolation, civil unrest, and fear of losing loved ones, applicants like myself experienced an added level of unpredictability. What already seemed like an insurmountable process was further complicated by postponed MCAT dates and impending virtual interviews. Though much has changed with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, we remain in the midst of a global pandemic with new health inequities and political divides. The rapidly changing landscape has highlighted the need to equip future physician leaders with the tools to tackle the diverse and unpredictable challenges of our lifetime.
The University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) Leadership and Enrichment for Academic Diversity (LEAD) program addresses this need. Along with 19 other M0s (pre-matriculating medical students), I attended a virtual two-week program centered around diversity, leadership, and social justice through early exposure to UMMS culture and resources available to ensure our success through medical school. The mission of LEAD is to build upon our professional and leadership skills, empower us to advocate for ourselves and our peers, and provide us with tools to address health disparities and inequities today and in the future.
Through engaging presentations by faculty, staff, and guest speakers, we discussed topics such as finding mentorship, qualities of a great leader, and improving communication skills. Additionally, we engaged in difficult, but pertinent discussions on racism, microaggressions, and social determinants of health. We addressed student well-being, and the various mental health resources available to us, including M-Home counseling and peer support groups. Through LEAD, it quickly became clear to me that UMMS harnesses a unique culture of openness, promotes wellness, and actively implements new programs to support its diverse class of students.
“The LEAD program acted as a bridge to medical school. Michigan medical students come from all walks of life with gap years ranging from 0 to 2+ years. However, we all arrived here with a common identifier, as University of Michigan medical students. This sentiment was reinforced on the very first day of LEAD.”
–Oluwatomi ‘Tomi’ Lawal, M1
The LEAD program, which is usually held in person, was beautifully adapted for Zoom and vastly surpassed my expectations. My colleagues and I developed an instantaneous mutual respect and understanding with one another through sharing our stories and vulnerabilities. My personal lesson from LEAD is to have the courage to express my opinions on the off chance that there are others who feel the same way. Whether others are in agreement or not, it often leads to interesting discussions which fosters a deeper understanding for one another.
Now into my third week of medical school, I realize that the inclusivity I experienced is not unique to LEAD, rather it is a function of UMMS culture as a whole. As I think back to my virtual interview day, I distinctly remember a moment where Director Teener encouraged us to just be ourselves and to believe that our unique communication styles were exactly what UMMS is looking for. At this moment, fears melted into tears of joy, and set the tone for my entire experience so far. I am grateful to be a part of an institution, a family, that attracts culturally competent students from all walks of life, that celebrates our differences and our unique paths that have led us to this point.
On the first day of M1 Launch, Dean Gay welcomed us by exactly pinpointing our feelings of excitement, anxiousness, and fear (I managed to hold back my tears this time). He told us not to see one another as competition, but rather as inspiration. Inspiration to do better, to be better. As I look around at the amazing and resilient peers with whom I will experience my medical journey, whom I will learn from and grow with, it has become immensely clear to me that our diversity is our strength. It is what sets us apart. It is the very thing that will make us great future physician LEADers.
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Sonal Joshi is a first-year student at the University of Michigan Medical School. When she’s not studying or making new friends at the library, you can find her experimenting with vegetarian recipes or taking a moment to meditate. A Pacific Northwest native, she enjoys exploring the outdoors with her husband. You can follow her on Twitter @joshisonal.