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Growing as a LEADer: From Non-Profit Management to Medical School

Before coming to the University of Michigan Medical School, I spent three years building the nonprofit organization, Lunar Doula Collective (LDC). After noting the lack of reproductive grief care at multiple health care systems, I helped build the first and only pregnancy loss doula program in Michigan. Not only did this experience inspire my motivation to pursue medicine, but it gave me a community that shared my passion for social justice and health equity.

2023 LEAD Cohort at Adventure Leadership in the summer

As I prepared to transition into medical school, I remember feeling anxious about leaving LDC behind. This next chapter of my life would come with a lot of challenges: making new friends, figuring out work-life balance and adjusting to a different environment. While I felt excited and grateful to begin my journey, I was equally as nervous to navigate this process as a first-generation medical student. 

When I heard about the LEAD (Leadership and Enrichment for Academic Diversity) Pre-Matriculation Program, I knew right away that I wanted to apply. This two-week leadership course is thoughtfully designed to prepare and help transition incoming medical students. Through early exposure to resources and mentorship, LEAD students are empowered to cultivate change in the community and seek professional growth. 

All smiles at our White Coat Ceremony – July 23, 2023

During my time in LEAD, I heard from faculty and current students about their experiences at UMMS as they shared advice on how to navigate medical school. From learning effective study strategies to identifying research opportunities, I began growing more confident as the first day of class approached. LEAD programming also included team bonding activities, health equity lessons and stress management strategies. As part of the LEAD cohort, I truly felt like I had the resources, attributes and support system to succeed.

Another thing I appreciate about LEAD is the longitudinal educational enrichment. Our cohort continues to meet throughout the year to hear from various guest speakers and engage in professional development opportunities. Whether it’s a financial literacy seminar or a CV-building workshop, we get to collectively decide what events and topics would interest and benefit us the most. At the end of LEAD, I got paired with a senior medical student as part of a peer-mentoring program. Having someone to lean on and seek guidance from was so immensely helpful when I began medical school. 

Checking out the Big House Stadium with some LEAD friends!

What surprised me the most about LEAD was its unique culture of collaboration and connectedness. I found a safe space to talk about failures, learn from my peers, and explore diverse perspectives. This close-knit community has been my source of encouragement and inspiration throughout my M1 year. I’ve seen my LEAD peers represent our class on the Student Council, encourage community building through M-Home, and facilitate resource and knowledge-sharing. Taking what I learned from LEAD, I was personally inspired to start two new organizations for medical students at UMMS this year: The Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society Chapter and Medicine in Motion

LEAD Besties: Krupa Patel (left) and Jennifer Lee (right)

The LEAD Program was the perfect start to my medical school journey. It allowed me to strengthen my leadership and professionalism skills, value the diversity and experiences of my peers, and turn my doubts and fears into self-confidence. These are lessons I will carry with me throughout and beyond the next four years.​ I am grateful to the Office of Admissions, the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion (OHEI), and the Office of Medical Student Education (OMSE) for planning and hosting such an impactful experience. To my 2023 LEAD cohort: thank you for our little community that cheers each other on, dreams big, and makes UMMS feel like home. 

From Professional Football to Med School: A New Path LEADs to the Same Goal

Not every path is linear, especially when it comes to going to medical school. Some students may move directly from their undergraduate into M1, others may take a few years off before entering the field. Then there are individuals who have paved their way towards a certain career and turn to medicine as their new goal. My path was somewhere in the middle. With the intention to pursue medicine after my undergraduate degree, a different career delayed my way.

I entered freshman year of undergrad with the intent of going to medical school upon graduation. As an athlete, I balanced sport and academia, knowing they both gave me a unique future opportunity. I completed all required pre-medical prerequisites and graduated in May of 2015 with my undergraduate degree. I transferred to Michigan later that year to continue playing football while working towards a Master’s in Kinesiology. Following my Wolverine season, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to keep playing football for another five years after college.

When football seemed to be fading from my future, I poured myself into a year of MCAT prep and working through the application cycle. The goal of pursuing medical school was back at the forefront. I was ready to start living my dream, a full six years from diploma in hand.

Needless to say, I had some anxiety going back to school. On one hand, I knew an MD was exactly where I wanted to be and exactly what I needed to do. On the other hand, I’ve been in meeting rooms and practice fields for the last half decade, a vastly different atmosphere. As I pride myself in being prepared, I desired something that could help get my feet wet, so to speak, before returning to the books full time. I wanted something that could help me adjust between two different worlds.

As fate would have it, a former teammate of mine from Michigan told me about a pre-matriculation program that helped him feel a bit more comfortable before starting the four-year journey of medical school. That program is called LEAD (Leadership and Enrichment for Academic Diversity), a two-week leadership course to aid in the transition of becoming a medical student. Learning more about the program, I realized it would help ready me for the school year. Without hesitation, I sent my application.

Feeling a sense of inferiority as I walked in, it took no time at all to feel welcomed, as if I was part of a team. I gained mentors who were more than willing to help me out with whatever I needed throughout school. Throughout the two weeks, we had various discussions and lessons on what to expect as well as tips and tricks of navigating medical school. While we discussed things you might expect such as study tools and med student resources, we also talked about the emotional journey of medicine, which includes success and failure. I found many of the lessons taken from LEAD helped provide perspective while also gearing me up for the long journey ahead.

Our days were mostly typical of a job schedule, wherein we would get to school around 8:00 and be done around 5:00, give or take depending on the day. Thankfully, no work needed to be completed at home. This scheduling alone allowed me to get back in the groove of things as the previous year I had been focused on waiting for applications to come back, and my wife and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first child. Furthermore, even navigating a simple change of which room and which building we were to meet in proved to be more helpful than I could have initially imagined. According to the coordinator, the change in location that occurred nearly daily was by design.

Through LEAD, I was also able to make friends and build a sense of community among my classmates. Meeting periodically throughout the year, we’d learn from someone in the Michigan community about various topics like building your residency application, finding a mentor and creating a CV.

As a bridge connecting my gap years away from academia to the beginning of my medical training, I have no regrets in having devoted two weeks of my time to engage in the LEAD program. The simple step of getting my feet wet provided me with a sense of connectedness and calmness moving forward as I walked across the stage to receive my first white coat.

LEADing the Future of Medicine at Michigan

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.

A few of us met for the first time in person at Dominick’s. After months of social distancing, we initially struggled to remember how to interact, but we managed to figure it out pretty quickly.

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.