Pre-SOMA’s First Medical Student Panel

Daphne Watson, Staff Writer

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The Pre-Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) at NEIU hosted their first medical student panel discussion on Oct. 2.

Four Midwestern University medical students spoke to NEIU students about preparing for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the medical school application process, their decision to enter the field of osteopathic medicine and what their hopes for the future were.

In 2015, more than 17% of doctors entering medical residency training were doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO) and the number is rising as cultural competence and a holistic approach to medical care are more widely accepted, according to the Oct. 2017 Health Affairs journal.

These doctors, many trained at Midwestern University’s Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (CCOM), have similar knowledge as a traditional medical doctor (MD). They must pass the same board exams, complete the same years of residency and earn comparative salaries. Specializations such as internal medicine or anesthesiology are the same in both disciplines.

The primary difference in the medical training is that allopathic medicine (traditional MDs) is focused on the diagnosis of symptoms and treatment, whereas osteopathic medicine is holistic and focused on disease prevention and views the patient as a “whole” where all parts of the body work together and influence one another. DOs also practice osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), which is a literal hands-on diagnosis, treatment and prevention technique.

According to the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaboration (ChicagoCHEC), the “whole patient” approach is of particular importance to Chicago’s underserved, low-income African-American and Latino communities where cancer death rates double the national average.

NEIU’s Pre-SOMA President, Alexis Chappel, said her and Pre-SOMA Vice President Rut Ortiz met over the summer of 2017 at ChicagoCHEC. Along with other students from Northwestern Medical and University of Illinois Health, they engaged in joint cancer research education with medical students, physicians and other health professionals. The opportunity to experience mock interviews and MCAT workshops, Chappel said, “gave her a greater understanding of how difficult the path to medical school truly is.”

Chappel and Ortiz formed a local Pre-SOMA chapter at NEIU “to be a support system and resource for pre-med students at NEIU.”

Panelist Min Chang shared how she shadowed doctors for more than 100 hours before being admitted to medical school and urged NEIU students to pursue volunteer and job-shadow opportunities at palliative care centers, nursing homes and hospice programs.

All the panelists stressed the importance of passion and perseverance. The current MCAT is a seven and a half hour test. Free and subsidized study aids are available online.  

“Volunteering and shadowing isn’t about checking boxes for your medical school application,” Min said.

Min retold of a time when she worked with an uninsured and largely immigrant population at a DO office and witnessed how OMT relieved chronic pain for many patients.

Panelists Tom O’Brien and Adilda Dema explained that the applicant must speak with confidence and passion during the interview to demonstrate a depth of understanding regardless of the field.

Panelist Samrin Samad added that some students in her classes have undergrad degrees in fields such as software engineering and that “passionate communication sets you apart.”

Questions and answers ricocheted around the room and covered a few specific topics in great depth. Many wondered aloud how to balance life when in medical school. O’Brien stressed to the audience the importance of time management, effective study habits and perseverance.

Min encouraged everyone to “be present with the people you care about. Most are very supportive, so when you have the time to give, be fully there.”

Their next event will be an MCAT workshop in November.

For more information on Pre-SOMA NEIU, visit: https://neiu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/presoma