Meharry celebrated 2017 Match Day Friday, March 17, with members of this year’s graduating class from the Meharry Medical College School of Medicine finding out exactly where they will be spending their next four years in residency programs throughout the United States. The 2017 graduating classmates opened envelopes revealing the institutions that selected them and then each placed a pin on a national map to mark where they are going to after graduation in May.
This year’s match statistics show that Meharry graduates are matching to programs as far away as the University of California, San Francisco and programs at institutions as prestigious as Harvard University, with others matching to academically highly acclaimed programs at Southwestern, Brown, and Baylor, among others. Of the residency matches made in the Meharry Class of 2017, 55 percent of the students matched in the primary care areas, which include OB/GYN (Obstetrics and Gynecology). Also among the matches, 50 percent of those students who matched to residencies in the state of Tennessee are from the Volunteer State. Those students soon-to-be-residents were placed at such institutions across the state as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital, East Tennessee State University, and Metro General Hospital at Meharry.
The personal backstories of Meharry medical students and their path toward a medical degree are many times inspiring and, sometimes, heart breaking. We would like to share with you, our readers, the stories of two Meharrians who make their alma mater and their families proud.
Nicholas Conley, who matched at Nashville General Hospital at Meharry in Family Medicine:
I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. I first learned about Meharry while in high school when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer and was subsequently treated at Metro General. At that time, I saw firsthand the dedication and compassion of a Meharry physician. I was so touched by the doctor’s compassion that I vowed to dedicate my life to helping others in a similar fashion.
Throughout undergrad, I worked hard and was accepted to five medical school programs, and I chose to become a Meharrian. From my first day at Meharry, I got involved with the student-run 12 South Community Clinic, eventually serving as its executive director. This clinic stands as an embodiment of the students’ commitment to Meharry’s promise to serve the underserved. I am now matched into a family medicine residency and poised to continue following my dreams, attaining my goals, and carrying the name and mission of Meharry wherever I go.
During my time at Meharry, I was faced with the challenge of being both a medical student and the family member of a patient. Towards the end of my first year of medical school, my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Over the next few months, I juggled my time between grieving my mother and committing medical knowledge to memory. During this time of grief, I attempted and failed the USMLE Step 1, a part of the required tests for medical licensure.
Although I was knocked down, I was not defeated. Meharry is a family, and through the mentorship of Dr. Millard Collins, and with the help of Ms. Dee Gardner and Meharry’s tutoring service, I was able to not only pass my exams, but to catch up and graduate with my class. This ordeal has given me a unique perspective into medicine; I’m able to appreciate both the provider’s and the patient’s views. I understand firsthand the importance of patient education, seeing the entire person, and how social situations can affect disease outcome. Having matched into a family medicine program, I will be a more compassionate doctor for having overcome this challenge.
Tiffany Alexander, who matched at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, Texas in OB/GYN (family medicine):
When I learned I was accepted for the incoming 2013 class, I was not prepared. I was on the top 10 percent wait list since my interview at Meharry that February. On June 23rd , I received the phone call that changed my life. I then had to begin the process of applying for loans and scholarships. I did not know at the time how challenging it would be.
I am a first-generation-born Canadian and my parents are from the beautiful islands of Grenada (mother) and St. Vincent (father). They worked hard their entire lives to give us the very best. My mother works as a laundry attendant for a hotel and my father is a meat processor. On hearing the great news, we went to the banks to inquire about a line of credit that health care students usually obtain. We were constantly turned down after trying multiple banks. I had matriculated at that point and had no clue how I was going to be able to pay for school.
Getting help from the Canadian government was also a problem because students need to apply to schools in their respective provinces—Quebec does not help if you are studying outside of Quebec. But, because I worked as a travel nurse in Alberta for two years prior to entering medical school, I was considered a resident of Alberta and was able to ask for assistance. Once I was approved, it was still a challenge because, on average, I would get about $30,000-$35,000 Canadian a year. In my first two years, my father had depleted almost $80,000 of his $100,000 retirement fund to help me pay for school. To make matters worse, the Canadian dollar had fallen to about 65 to 70 cents on the American dollar, which made my $700-$900 rent (I moved multiple times trying to cut down cost) cost me close to $1,000-plus by the time the exchange rate was factored in. Still not meeting my financial goals, my family had to remortgage our home to help cover costs. We did everything in our power to keep me in school.
Meharry was very understanding of my situation—year-after-year, Meharry has granted me enough scholarships to reduce my financial burden. My third and fourth year in medical school was better because my cousin, who is a first-generation-born American, was able to co-sign a private loan soon after she finished law school. At the time, I was unaware of the tuition increase that year and Meharry yet again was gracious enough to cover the difference in scholarships. In the midst of all these financial troubles, my father became ill. I went home a couple of times during the four years to help out. The last time was in the middle of interview season, in between interviews, to help my family navigate through the French-speaking hospital system.
Beyond what was occurring in my financial life, my academic career was pretty stable up until my Step 2 exam—my score was lower than my Step 1 result. I didn’t know what would happen with my match chances since I am a foreign student looking for a J-1 or H-1B visa sponsor for residency in a very competitive program. I applied to approximately 130 programs and obtained only 12 interviews. With the new presidential administration and travel restrictions, I was very afraid that hospitals would rank me lower than other American students. I am humbled to have matched into OB-GYN.
I would not have made it but for my faith and the people that God has placed in my life. I am eternally grateful to Zalaya Ivy, whom I met on interview day—she has been my support system since the day we met. When my pockets were close to being empty, she was always there providing me with essentials and making sure I always had everything I needed. She became my prayer sister and greatest confidant while at Meharry. My parents would pretty much give the clothes on their backs to see me succeed. More recently, my significant other, Sekou Rawlins, is my best friend and constant cheerleader.
Meharry gave me a chance to be great and I will be sure to continue on that path. Thank you, Meharry, for not giving up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself.