"...SHPEP is the gift that keeps on giving..."
Ms. Ngouonga graduated from the University of Washington in 2021 with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. Today, she is a research coordinator in the University of Washington’s Gynecologic Oncology department where she works on studies of ovarian cancer genetics and endometrial cancer disparities.
What led to your interest in a health profession?
When I first started college, I joined the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students (MAPS) which set the tone for my healthcare journey. In that space, I learned about health inequities and the importance of diversifying medicine. It was because of MAPS that I chose to study medical anthropology, apply to SHPEP, and prioritize public health in my education.
How did SHPEP influence you?
I treasure my time in the SHPEP program because it was the first time that I learned in a diverse classroom. During the program, I was in community with students from Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Asian, and Pacific Islander backgrounds. I vividly remember when a
fellow scholar spoke of the challenges her family faced when accessing healthcare services on their reservation. It was one thing to read about health disparities for indigenous communities in class, but it was another thing to hear my classmate provide anecdotal context.
I remember how wonderful it was to come to class and see faces that looked like me or meet amazing clinicians, researchers, and professors of color. The program’s emphasis on interprofessional collaboration made me expand the way I viewed healthcare. To me, SHPEP is the gift that keeps on giving. I still connect with the friends and mentors I made in the program and I often find myself reflecting on what I learned during those six weeks as I navigate through my work and my applications for professional school.
Did you have experiences or mentors that prepared you for a career as a health professional?
Without mentorship, I would not be where I am today. During college, I consciously set out to have three different types of mentors based on where I was in my life. I have mentors who are in the same phase of life as me. In college they were classmates and now they are graduate students, incoming medical students, or research assistants. I have mentors that are a couple of years ahead of me in their careers like MS4s and residents and those who are already “established” like attendings, professors, or researchers.
Having mentors at all these different phases has allowed me to ask a myriad of questions to anticipate what life looks like as a health professional. With a peer mentor, I can talk about the MCAT or AMCAS but not about what it’s like to balance work and personal life as a female clinician-researcher. On the other hand, I won’t ask an attending who has been practicing for 20 years about the MCAT or what classes I should take my senior year.
There is an overwhelming amount of information about what we “should” be doing at any point in time on this journey to be a health professional, and without my mentors shining a guiding light and being there to support me, I surely would have been lost.
What advice do you have for students pursuing a health professional career?
Make sure to leave room for yourself!
I have been on this journey to become a health professional for years and I’m not at all close to the end. During the start of college, I wanted to reach the end so badly that I started to burn out. I had a “put your head down and just plow through it” attitude. This worked in the short term, however, as I got older, it got harder to motivate myself when I didn’t allow myself to rest.
I learned an important lesson in the fall of 2019 when I missed an opportunity to travel internationally with friends because I had a biochemistry exam. In my mind, we would always have more opportunities to travel so I skipped the trip with the intention of traveling during spring break in 2020. The next thing I know, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and all our plans changed. The irony of it all is that I don’t even remember that exam much less the grade I received. But you know what I would have remembered, a trip to Jamaica with my friends.
To clarify, I am not saying you should disregard your studies or your goals. You should learn to balance your academic life and personal one. Remember to take breaks because you cannot “power through” undergrad, the MCAT/DAT/GRE, applications, and graduate school. Make time for your happiness, whatever that may be.
Posted: September 2022