EDITORS’ NOTE: It’s Match Day, when graduating medical students across the nation learn where they will spend their residencies. In this post, we hear from fourth-year student Sammy Wu. Earlier this week, Sammy learned that he’s matched for physical medicine and rehabilitation. Today he learned where his residency will take place: Zucker SOM-Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital, followed by three years at New York Presbyterian Columbia/Cornell. In this post, he shares the journey that took him from Coney Island to Einstein and now to his residency.
I am the son of Chinese immigrants, the first in my family to graduate from college, and will be the first doctor in my family. That’s why I will always remember the incredibly gratifying feeling of getting the acceptance offer from Albert Einstein College of Medicine—an email that would change my life.
Choosing Einstein was an easy decision because of its mission and its commitment to enrolling medical students who are racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. Diversity is an important factor in graduating future physicians who wish to meet the healthcare needs of underserved populations in their communities and throughout the world. Mine is the story of one such doctor, and I hope it can motivate premedical students who have a similar background.
One of the key aspects of a diverse healthcare system is economic. A research report published in October 2018 by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) about economic diversity among U.S. medical students shows that roughly 75 percent of medical school matriculants come from the top two household-income quintiles. By comparison, only 5 percent of all matriculants who provided parental income data in the 2017 AAMC Matriculating Student Questionnaire were in the lowest household-income quintile, whereas 24 percent were in the top 5 percent.
Underserved and Wanting to Serve Others
Growing up in an underserved community in Brooklyn’s Coney Island blessed me with a firsthand perspective on how healthcare disparities affect an individual’s life. Amidst gun violence, damage incurred from Hurricane Sandy, and limited healthy food options in my neighborhood, I felt inspired to pursue medical education to help others in need. These experiences influenced not only my decision to become a doctor, but how I want to practice. My background makes me especially mindful of how an individual’s home environment, financial status, employment, and educational background can affect that person’s life trajectory and overall health.
Though not wealthy, my parents strongly supported and encouraged my education. For instance, they enrolled me in tutoring programs to prepare me for the specialized high school entrance exams in New York City, which allowed me to attend Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, known for its excellence. They also supported me by introducing me to programs such as the Summer Youth Employment Program in New York, which allowed me to gain clinical exposure at Maimonides Medical Center while earning a paycheck.
Finding Further Support
I’d done well in high school, but college humbled me. Navigating the path to applying for medical school as a premedical student at Binghamton University was not easy. As someone with no ties to the medical profession, I continually had to be proactive and resourceful to uncover shadowing opportunities, mentorship, and guidance.
A mix of programs and work experiences also provided financial support. I benefitted from merit- and need-based prehealth scholarship opportunities. Outside school, I worked as a game operator in an amusement park and as a physics tutor to earn money. The fees associated with applying to medical school can also be a barrier to entry. Through the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Fee Assistance Program, I was able to register for the Medical College Admissions Test at a discounted rate and have some of my application fees to medical schools waived. Through the American Medical College Application Service, I was able to apply as an “SES Disadvantaged” applicant, which the AAMC states is intended to assist schools in placing entire applications in context as part of a holistic admissions review process. Finally, I sought a physician mentor through Binghamton University’s Harpur College Summer Physician Mentor Program.
Perseverance and Inspiration
At Einstein, I discovered another level of intensity. In college, I was used to being self-sufficient and studying independently. Collaboration in my preclinical science courses was a foreign concept that I needed to adapt to quickly in order to survive the fast pace of medical school. Service organizations at Einstein offered opportunities for me to meet and assist the diverse Bronx community. Organizations at Einstein such as BODY (Bronx, Obesity, Diabetes, and You), ECHO (Einstein Community Health Outreach), Project Kindness, and Montefiore Adaptive Sports offered me an up-close perspective on the challenges Bronx patients face. When I progressed to clinical rotations, I found myself taking a broad view of my patients, going beyond their diseases to understand how their biopsychosocial circumstances affect their overall health. Their challenges reminded me of the ones faced by my Coney Island neighbors and reinforced why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place.
Four years later, I see how much I have grown personally and professionally. I have chosen the next step in my journey: to pursue a career in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Given my personal experiences, I naturally found myself gravitating to this field because of its emphasis on patient-centered care geared toward improving patients’ quality of life and function through a holistic approach. The specialty explicitly demands a focus on the patient as a whole, and I have never felt more equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. Although there is still a lot of uncertainty, I know I have made the right decision.
As I contemplate Match Day and graduation, I aspire to continue my dedication to underserved communities through mentorship, medical education, and being a voice and inspiration for the next generation of medical students from underserved areas or socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.
I am very excited for the future and forever thankful to Einstein for its holistic approach to the admissions process for medical students, and for its commitment to diversity.