First Gen Fireside Chat: Medical Insights with Perelman SOM student & MedLegs Podcast host, Michaela K. Hitchner

In celebration of First Gen Week at Penn, Career Services is highlighting experiences, perspectives and advice from first gen professionals in various career fields.

Learn about life in the medical field through a conversation with Perelman SOM student & MedLegs Podcast host, Michaela Hitchner.  Med Legs aims to increase awareness of the narratives of first generation and/or low income (FGLI) medical students and to build a community of support for FGLI individuals through the creation of an accessible, free resource that allows listeners to hear from guests and the hosts on a number of FGLI-related topics, including: FGLI success stories, advice related to applying to medical school and adjusting to life in those spaces, resources and programs available to FGLI students, building one’s network and brand, etc.

  • Friday, November 12th, 2021
  • 12:30p – 1:00p
  • LIVE via Zoom

** Want to listen on your own time?  All registrants will receive a link to the interview.**

Learn more about our first gen professional, Michaela Hitchner.

Tell us about your background and interest in the medical field. 

My father was born with a cleft lip and palate, neither of which you would be able to tell today. From a young age, I have been very aware of the fact that not everyone is so fortunate to have access to this type of medical care and the impact having this surgery has had on my father’s life. Moreover, as someone who loved my roller-skating pediatrician growing up, I was dumbfounded every time I found out someone did not like visiting the doctor’s office. These experiences have not only made me want to be a doctor myself but specifically want to be a doctor who patients actually want to see and have the ability to see when needed. These experiences combined have driven my interest in medicine and global health. I am now trying to incorporate these experiences in my career as I am applying for Master degrees in Public Health and planning to apply into plastic surgery. I am hoping the MPH will help me refine my public/global health skills and give me the knowledge and ability to address disparities in surgical care. 

What three key qualities did you look for in a potential medical school? 

While Penn was a no brainer for me as soon as I got in, there are a couple things I considered when trying to choose other schools to apply to. The first and biggest factor for me was GEOGRAPHY. I find it important to go to a medical school where there are things that will keep you busy outside of school itself. For me, that’s being in Philadelphia close to my family and friends. I get so much stress relief from being able to play pick up games of field hockey with my high school friends and eat dinner with my family on Sunday nights. It truly keeps me from burning out. The second thing I looked for in medical school was the opportunities afforded outside of the medical school curriculum. This can include the opportunity to engage in community clinics (the more patient interaction you get the better!) or, for me for instance, opportunities to pursue a dual degree or certificate program. Medical school should not mean that you give up your other interests so make sure you find a school that encourages your well-being and personal pursuits. Lastly, on my interviews I always made sure to ask what students would change about their school. Making sure the people that are current medical students at the places you are looking are HAPPY individuals is important and should not be overlooked. Make sure you vibe with the other students and that they feel like the school faculty supports them. 

How can students seek mentorship as a first gen professional in the medical community?  Are there national organizations, clubs or conferences that support first gen medical students or professionals? 

I STILL STRUGGLE WITH THIS TO BE HONEST!! This is one of the reasons I created Med Legs and the UpLIFT Project, to provide mentorship to others with similar experiences as myself. You should look for first gen/low income student organizations at the schools you apply to! 

What unique qualities do you think first gen students bring to the medical community? 

You often relate to your patients better than others on the team! Most patients aren’t physicians and many don’t have college yet alone graduate degrees. As first gen students, we are used to speaking with members of our own communities and those communities often fit the demographic of our patient populations. Remember, you bring an element of diversity to the team and diverse teams are much better at providing effective patient care than a team of individuals approaching a patient and their medical issues all from the same perspective. 

How could a student highlight their unique experiences or qualities during the medical school application process? 

Don’t just tell people what you did, tell them how it makes you a better medical school candidate. For instance, instead of griping about how many people from my hometown do not attend college, I often speak about how my small town background where I grew up having strong connections to my teachers (often because I played sports with their children or knew them from other things such as church) makes me more likely to engage in my higher education classes and reach out for help from my professors. Essentially, mention the hardships in your life, but never without telling them how it made you a stronger person all the more ready and likely to succeed in this next stage of your life. 🙂 

By Ariana Alexander
Ariana Alexander Associate Director, Graduate School Advising