"...SHPEP scholars are part of that supportive community of like-minded individuals who are also pursuing careers in healthcare."
Istabraq Musa is a rising junior at Johns Hopkins University. She is pursuing a bachelor's degree in neuroscience, with a focus on systems, and preparing to graduate in May. Ms. Musa participated in SHPEP during the summer of 2022, at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. When she is not studying for exams or working at the research lab, she loves to cook and spend time with friends and family.
What path did you take when you first started college?
When I initially started at Hopkins, I was overwhelmed, to say the least. There are many different paths, majors, and activities that I found myself interested in pursuing. However, going into college knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare as a physician, and wanting to use my experiences at Hopkins to enrich my understanding and experience within the healthcare system, I was excited to get started. After taking a course in the spring of my freshman year, I declared neuroscience as my major and have loved every aspect of the major. The courses, professors, and depth of information at Hopkins are how I fell in love with neuroscience in the first place. As I prepare for the next phase of my premedical journey, I remind myself to pursue things that truly interest me, and with that mindset, my undergraduate experience has been amazing thus far.
What led to your interest in a health profession?
My interest in medicine bloomed from a fascination for science and research. Since starting college, through the experiences working through the illnesses of my loved ones, I have begun to understand the responsibility that physicians bear. I want to pursue a health profession to be a proactive physician, one who regards patients and their loved ones with care, compassion, and the will to specify care to the individual. In undergrad, it has been my research experience in neuro-oncology that furthered this interest and introduced me to research medicine. While I continue to navigate the vastness of healthcare and prepare myself for this career, I like to remind myself of where my interest started.
Who or what inspired you?
Growing up as a child of immigrants, my seven siblings and I carried the responsibility of navigating life as my parents navigated their new circumstances. My responsibilities as a first-generation Palestinian-Venezuelan American involved translating for my father at the pharmacy and doctor’s office or watching a YouTube video about how to write a check to pay household bills. My parents sacrifice the comforts of their homes, and languages so that my siblings and I may pursue passions and degrees that were not available to them. They and my siblings are my inspiration and my support system at every milestone and challenge in this journey.
What obstacles did you overcome in your educational or career journey?
The largest obstacle I have overcome in my educational career was understanding that learning is individual to you. The transition from high school to college and adapting to both the pace and structure of college courses was not exactly seamless, but it is that obstacle for which I remain grateful. The challenge of succeeding, finding ways to study that worked for me, and understanding how I learn is why I feel prepared to handle the next phase of my education. Especially in my major courses, I found the techniques that work best for me and have made studying an enjoyable process.
What are some of your recent milestones?
Recently, I was offered a position to work as an undergraduate teaching assistant for a course I took last year, and I am excited to work with students and give pieces of advice I wish I had while taking the course. Additionally, I have been working full-time as a research assistant and have had the pleasure of learning from healthcare professionals who have integrated research as part of their careers.
What surprised you the most about graduate/professional school?
I was surprised when I learned the pace of modules in medical school and the density of information that is covered in so little time. One of my neuroscience professors told me that a year’s worth of undergraduate content is covered in a six-week block of medical school. While this may seem daunting, I will rely on study habits and techniques developed throughout undergrad and apply these strategies to aid my success in medical school.
How did SHPEP influence you?
SHPEP influenced me in a variety of ways. Interacting with students at different points in their pre-professional journeys, from various institutions allowed me to network and build long-lasting friendships. Many of my fellow SHPEP scholars are part of that supportive community of like-minded individuals who are also pursuing careers in healthcare. Additionally, having the opportunity to integrate clinical hours, simulations, and work in a cadaver lab was integral to defining my interests and navigating my premedical timeline. Learning from professors like Dr. Sturgil, working with medical students and the Dean of Medicine at NJMS, and learning from their paths was an experience that has impacted my own choices. I was and continue to be inspired by my peers and alumni network from SHPEP.
What has been your favorite part of the process? The most difficult?
My favorite part of the process has been engaging myself in my activities, building professional relationships, and finding a community of peers to lean on for advice and support. Growing up with seven siblings, I was nervous to move away from home and endeavor my undergraduate career alone, but my mentors, professors, and friends have been instrumental in helping me achieve my goals and inspiring me to stay true to my passions. In terms of what I have found to be the most difficult part of the process, I would say having to remind yourself that your story, path, and achievements are unique to you. Comparing yourself to others and where they are in their journey is not helpful and will ultimately discourage you from being ambitious in your interests and goals.
Did you have experiences or mentors who prepared you for a career as a health professional?
My mentors have been the professionals I have worked with in research, clinical, and academic settings. Starting work in a research lab with no experience, and many questions, I am endlessly grateful to my PI for helping me navigate that experience, encouraging me to ask questions, and allowing me to learn by making my own mistakes. In finding time to answer my questions, train me for new roles, and aid my growth as a student, my mentors have been actively involved and such a vital part in preparing me to pursue a career in medicine.
What is the best career advice you have received?
The best career advice I have received thus far was from a professor who told me, “You can’t borrow time.” While we had been discussing study habits and the consequences of cramming before an exam, his advice has applied to every other aspect of my career. No matter the setting, you truly cannot borrow time from one commitment to fulfill another. Prioritizing time management, and dedicating time to each part of your life has been the piece of advice that I live by.
What advice do you have for students pursuing a health professional career?
The piece of advice that I give to my mentees, and the one I would give to any student beginning their journey, is to know your reason. Pursuing a health profession career is hard and there will be times when you find yourself questioning your capabilities and your passions. But reminding yourself in those moments especially, that there is a reason you are putting in the time and work, that this isn’t about a finish line at the end of a race, will get you through the challenges and make them all the more gratifying.
IG: Istabraq Musa