In this Q&A series, we have the honor of featuring Lauren! She shares all you need to know about Military medicine, how she manages wellness as a busy medical student as well as some things she wishes she knew as a pre-med! Enjoy!
Lauren is a second-year medical student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She grew up in Denver, Colorado and attended the United States Air Force Academy, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Biology. Her unique college experience allowed her to fly and jump out of planes, learn survival skills, and gain leadership experience as a peer counselor. In her spare time, she enjoys sharing her passion for fitness as a personal trainer and traveling. She is excited to serve as a physician upon finishing medical school and hopes to pursue flight medicine and dermatology.
1. What drew you to pursuing a career as a physician? Did you consider other career choices?
In high school, I fell in love with science and learning about the human body. I knew I wanted to work in the medical field, and I spent time shadowing a variety of careers. From this I felt my strengths and interests most aligned with becoming a physician. I love learning the physiology and pathology behind conditions and implementing this knowledge to make a decision that will help people feel better. When I went to college, I did consider becoming a pilot instead, but ultimately could not get becoming a doctor out of my mind!
2. You’re an Air Force Officer! That is incredible! Can you expand on this and what brought you to attend the United States Air Force Academy?
Thank you! I have pilots in my family and my dad really pushed me to look into applying to the Air Force Academy. When I looked at the admissions requirements, I immediately dismissed it. One of the fitness components was pull-ups and I couldn’t do 1. Well, after thinking about it more I decided to apply anyway and work at it – and was able to do 3 by the time my fitness test rolled around! So I’d really encourage anyone to not count themselves out when they see daunting admission numbers. Once I became a cadet at the Air Force Academy, I learned to balance my college classes with military training and athletics for four years. I also got to participate in flying different planes, visiting different Air Force bases, cultural immersions, leadership conferences, and even learning how to skydive. Upon graduating, I became a commissioned officer in the Air Force!
3. Can you tell us more about the military medical scholarship otherwise known as the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)? What is the military commitment?
HPSP is an awesome opportunity for anyone interested in pursuing not only medicine, but a more adventurous and service-oriented career path. I am partial to the Air Force (seeing as it’s the best branch), but students can apply for this scholarship through the Army or Navy as well by working with a recruiter. Once accepted, the military will pay your tuition, as well as reimburse you for anything required (I’ve been reimbursed for my stethoscope, pen light, blood pressure cuff, etc.) and for boards. Moreover, you receive a monthly stipend to cover living expenses. Being in the military means you will need to complete certain trainings throughout your time in medical school, but most schools are familiar with these requirements and will work with you to schedule these. In return, your military commitment is 4 years (or 3, for those who didn’t apply to the scholarship until they were a first-year medical student). It’s important to understand this commitment doesn’t start until after residency. For example, if you graduated in 2020, and did a four-year OB/Gyn residency, your commitment would start in 2024 and end in 2028.
4. What do students need to know if they want to pursue military medicine?
The needs of the military will always come first. Sometimes this means waiting a few years before you can do your desired residency (in which time you will act as a general medical officer), moving to a base you didn’t put high on your requests, or having to spend time away from family for a deployment. But, you also have unique opportunities. The military regularly conducts humanitarian missions. Military doctors have abundant access to the latest technology and research funding. They can practice in remote locations, high-stakes situations, and are given a lot of leadership experience from the get-go. I know doctors who have worked in Honduras, South Korea, Afghanistan, Greece, and more. Military medicine also heavily relies on primary care providers. Personally, one of my favorite aspects of military medicine is getting to treat our nation’s servicemembers and their families who have given up so much for us. It’s truly an honor.
5. How many medical schools did you apply to? Is this different when pursuing military medicine?
I applied to 20 medical schools. What I did was use MSAR to see a school’s average GPA and MCAT score for accepted students, and about 10 of the schools I applied to had averages that matched up with mine, 5 were “safety” schools that had fairly lower averages, and 5 were “reach” schools with considerably higher averages. You do need to have at least one acceptance to apply to HPSP, but other than that I don’t think there is a difference in that regard! There are some schools that have a greater military community or affiliation, so you may consider this when choosing which schools to apply to.
You belong in this profession. If medicine is what you want to do with your life, no one can hold you back from that.
6. Do you have any tips for maintaining wellness during pre-med or medical school?
Determine your non-negotiables for keeping your wellness up and commit! For me, this is at least 7 hours of sleep a night (I know certain rotations are going to cut this short next year, but let me keep dreaming for now), getting 4 hours of strength training in a week, and having time to meal prep once a week. These three things ensure I am keeping my health up consistently. I really encourage students not to get caught up in yo-yoing their wellness. By this I mean don’t exercise 6 days a week when school is lighter and then not at all during the week you have an exam. Find an amount you can do every week, and then on lighter weeks, you can use the extra time for other hobbies!
7. Did you take a gap year? If so, what did you do during this time?
I actually didn’t! When I was applying to medical school, I didn’t consider a gap year but I wish I had. I didn’t realize how common it is for medical students to not come straight to medical school after finishing their undergrad. I felt a little burnt out starting medical school and I think a break in between would’ve helped with this. So for those who aren’t taking one, make sure to soak up senior year and summer and don’t get caught up in trying to get “ahead” starting medical school. That advice goes to everyone – you have plenty of time to do all the medical school work when medical school actually starts!
8. What’s a study method you find to be most effective for science courses?
I love mapping out concepts and “teaching” them back to myself. When I think back on the concepts I have the best grasp on, they are the ones that I rehearsed as if I had to teach them to someone else. I also think practice questions are the best way to retain information and make sure you understand how to apply what you’re learning. It’s nice when courses provide practice materials, but if they don’t, try looking for practice questions in your textbooks, online, or even making up your own! Understand why the answer is right and other choices are wrong, and space out how you study so you’re constantly reviewing material!
9. Have you been able to use the same study strategies as you did in undergrad?
NO! I struggled so much adjusting to medical school. I was very used to having a lot of homework and projects in undergrad, and all of this coursework was how I practiced material for exams. I didn’t realize how much I relied on this until I got to medical school and didn’t have anything except the exam! It took a poor grade for me to realize I needed to change what I was doing. I’m grateful my school has academic counseling to utilize. This is where I learned how to really read board-style questions to understand how to answer them. It’s also where I learned to prioritize the methods I brought up above, and to ditch passive learning methods like reading through slides repeatedly. Don’t be afraid to seek help and change what you’re doing early on. I still feel like I’m finding my niche with each organ module, but I’d rather do trial by error now than during dedicated.
10. What is something you wish you knew before applying to medical school?
I wish I had paid more attention to how schools structure their pre-clinicals, rotations, and time for boards. Every school I went to interview at went over this, but I admittedly didn’t really understand how schools could have different scheduling and how that would have much affect on me. So, I would recommend taking time to gather a very general understanding of the different timelines medical school can have. I also wish I spent more time practicing for interviews. I am very comfortable talking in interviews, but some of those hard-hitter questions got me in a few, and I wish I had been more prepared to address them. For example, I had limited research experience when I applied and when one interview questioned it, I was caught off guard.
11. Any last tips for pre-medical students going through the medical school journey?
You belong in this profession. If medicine is what you want to do with your life, no one can hold you back from that. Getting into medical school requires both humility because you will constantly be challenged, but also security in knowing the strengths you bring to the table. Hold on to these strengths and the people who see them in you when you find yourself getting discouraged.
For those interested in military medicine, my last word would be to make sure you’re getting into it for the right reasons. There’s no doubt the financial benefits are enticing, but if you are not truly passionate about serving you will find yourself unhappy. The military offers a journey unlike any other and I wouldn’t trade my experience so far for the world. But at the end of the day my top priority is taking care of our service members and their dependents. All of the adventure is a bonus!