University of Dallas junior Nicole Adams hasn’t always wanted to be a physician. In fact, her childhood phobia of doctors was so severe that she had to be chased down the hall to get a routine vaccination. “I tried so many different things,” she said. “But I finally realized that being a doctor was the best way I could make an impact and try to keep other kids from having the fears I had.”
To that end, Adams applied and was accepted to the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at Duke University. The privately funded program has locations nationwide, allowing prospective students to apply to individual universities. Those universities are then free to choose program participants from their pool of applicants. “Duke’s program is among the top 5 in the U.S.,” Adams said. “And they have only a 10% acceptance rate, so I was very honored to be selected.”
According to Adams, the goal of SMDEP is to let undergraduates considering going on to medical school get a realistic view of what is in store for them. And to do that the SMDEP organizers kept Adams and the other participants busy–very busy. “I took Physics and Organic Chemistry in the mornings,” she said. “In the afternoons, we learned about different aspects of patient care. Actors would come in as patients so we could learn how doctors connect on a personal level with real people.” In the evenings Adams shadowed surgeons and medical students in the ER, the Neonatal ICU and other areas of the hospital. Even the interns lunch hours were filled hearing prominent physicians and guest lecturers from around the country.
To help students adjust to the sometimes overwhelming work load and high expectations of the program, Adams said that participants met in small groups with psychologists whose goal was to help them reach the best of their abilities. “It was a tough program, and you could see that some of the group was getting competitive toward the end,” she said. But as long as Adams keeps up her grades, her successful participation in the SMDEP program guarantees her an interview with Duke Medical School upon graduation from UD. And while at Duke, she was able to meet members of the admissions committee and hear tips on navigating the application process from current medical school students.
Adams said that her experience with the program validated her choice to become a doctor–specifically a surgeon. “I feel like the SMDEP program taught me the importance of fostering an emotional connection with patients. I learned that as a med student, you have to ask yourself, ‘What kind of doctor am I going to be?’ And I’ve decided that I’m going to be a surgeon who recognizes my own mortality. And because of that, I’m going to be the best surgeon I can be.”
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