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Episode 115 – Cecelia, first year medical student at University of Utah School of Medicine

Jan 09, 2019

“It never felt quite right; it always felt very close to right but not quite there.” Cecelia, having grown up in Utah, became interested in science while she was dancing for a company in San Francisco. We talk about her decision to go back to school, why she initially chose physical therapy and how she realized it wasn’t the right fit for her. Finally, she shares what it was like to fit in returning to school to complete additional pre-requisites, having a baby and preparing to apply for medical school all at the same time.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Chan: What makes a dancer decide to go into the sciences after graduating from college and working professionally in dance for several years? How do you navigate pivoting your career? Why was the decision of going to school in physical therapy one that felt not quite right? How do you balance going back to school to complete pre-reqs while you're having a baby and preparing to apply to medical school at the exact same time?

Today on "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life," I interview Cecelia, a first-year medical student here at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Announcer: Helping you prepare for one of the most rewarding careers in the world, this is "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life" with your host, the Dean of Admissions at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Dr. Benjamin Chan.

Dr. Chan: We've got another great guest today, Cecelia. How are you doing?

Cecelia: I'm good. How are you?

Dr. Chan: Great. Just started med school?


Dr. Chan:All right. How's the first couple weeks going?

Cecelia: Good, busy.

Dr. Chan: Doable?

Cecelia: Doable. Definitely.

Dr. Chan: All right. Now too overwhelming?

Cecelia: Not too overwhelming. Just a little.

Dr. Chan: Just a little? Okay. We'll talk about that, but let's jump back in time, Cecelia. You grew up in Utah, right?

Cecelia: I did. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Okay. Where did you grow up? What area?

Cecelia: In The Avenues.

Dr. Chan: In The Avenues. Okay. And growing up in Utah, went to high school here, and then . . .

Cecelia: I went to Judge.

Dr. Chan: You went to Judge and then there was like . . . Let's just . . . When did you decide to become a doctor? And we'll just kind of work that way in.

Cecelia: That's a good question. So I guess medicine has kind of always been in my life. My mom is a pediatric nurse practitioner, but when I started college, I had zero interest in medicine. And I went to college at Santa Clara University in California and majored in dance and psychology.

Dr. Chan: Interesting.

Cecelia: And then after I finished college, I moved up to San Francisco with the hopes of living the life of an artist.

Dr. Chan: Interesting. It's very bohemian.

Cecelia: Sort of.

Dr. Chan: So we're talking like a dancing career, or what are we talking about?

Cecelia: Yeah. So I danced with a small dance company in San Francisco. There's a lot of sort of independent artists in that part of the Bay Area.

Dr. Chan: Did you have a name for the group or troop, or what are they called?

Cecelia: Yes. Company.

Dr. Chan: Company. Okay.

Cecelia: It was called Double Vision.

Dr. Chan: Double Vision.

Cecelia: And we did sort of an experimental artwork. We had an electronic music composer that we worked with. So we performed a lot in San Francisco. We went on a national tour where we slept on all of our friends' floors.

Dr. Chan: Couch surfing across the country.

Cecelia: Yes.

Dr. Chan: How big is this company?

Cecelia: It was about six or seven people, give or take.

Dr. Chan: All right. Modern dance, ballet, robot dancing? What kind of . . .

Cecelia: Modern dance. I did dress up as a robot one time.

Dr. Chan: Oh, is that on YouTube? Could we find it for all the listeners out there?

Cecelia: No. I think there are maybe pictures on the internet if you search deep enough.

Dr. Chan: Okay. My kids are into robot dancing. Apparently they've been teaching that in schools now.

Cecelia: That's awesome.

Dr. Chan: So, yeah. It's very cute that they do it. They go, "Beep, beep, beep."

Cecelia: Yeah. So I did that for . . . I got, like, about five or six years, and San Francisco is obviously a very expensive place to live.

Dr. Chan: That's why you're here. I've lived in California. I remember. I mean, gorgeous, you know, good weather, great food.

Cecelia: High rent.

Dr. Chan: High rent, steep streets. Yes.

Cecelia: So being involved in art was wonderful and very rewarding, but supporting myself was always very difficult. So while I was dancing, I also worked in the nonprofit sector mostly for medium-sized arts organizations helping them fundraise. And after a while, I felt like I had done as much artistic things, artistic stuff in my life. I kind of met those goals and I wanted a more stable life.

Dr. Chan: So the entire time you're dancing . . .

Cecelia: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: . . . in the back of your mind, you're thinking medicine, you're thinking health care, or . . .

Cecelia: Thinking? So I guess my interest in science sort of expanded while I was dancing. It may seem counterintuitive, but there's actually a pretty big crossover between scientists and artists. So that was happening and I wanted a more stable career.

Working in an office isn't something that I love, sitting behind a desk all day. So I started kind of thinking about new things to do. I thought about going into public policy and then I thought about the healthcare world, and kind of went back to my roots with talking to my mom about her career.

Dr. Chan: So your mom the entire time is like, "I was always hoping you'd come back." I assume she was very supportive of dance.

Cecelia: She's very supportive. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: But she's probably trying to take the long view going, "I'm not sure if you can do this for the rest of your life."

Cecelia: Right. Or, "Maybe you should figure out how to always pay your bills yourself."

Dr. Chain: Yes. So there is something to the starving artist kind of image.

Cecelia: Yes. And I think some people are better at dealing with that than others. Some people need more stability, and I think I'm one of those people. So I thought about science and health care, and kind of settled on physical therapy, because it seems like a good way to combine what I had done in dance.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. I mean, dancers have injuries. Were you ever injured?

Cecelia: Nothing serious.

Dr. Chan: Did you have to go get some physical therapy?

Cecelia: I did get a little bit of physical therapy over the years.

Dr. Chan: All right. Yeah. That makes sense. That's kind of a natural . . .

Cecelia: Yeah. And if you talk to physical therapists, there's always a contingent that are former dancers. And I thought that would give me the opportunity to, you know, go back and take the pre-reqs and kind of indulge myself in learning more science, something that I felt like I missed out on in my undergrad years.

Dr. Chan: So it sounds like after the arts career starts kind of winding down, you had to go back to school a little bit and get your application, get your life ready for this pivot, this transition.

Cecelia: Yeah. Exactly. And I did most of that while I was still working full time in a nonprofit sector, so it took me a while. And then . . .

Dr. Chan: This is all in San Francisco?

Cecelia: All in San Francisco. Yeah. And then I applied to PT school. And there was always like a little voice in the back of my mind thinking that maybe I wanted to go to medical school, but I forged ahead. And got into PT school, started PT school, and it never felt quite right. It always felt very close to right, but not quite there.

Dr. Chan: So it felt better?

Cecelia: It felt better. And the first year of PT school, the program that I was in, sort of was split between learning the basics of physical therapy and also kind of getting a foundational understanding of medical science.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. And there's anatomy. I mean, did you take those types of classes then or was that later on, or . . .

Cecelia: So we started with anatomy. We went into cadaver lab.

Dr. Chan: Because there's a fair amount of overlap between medicine and physical therapy, pharmacy. I mean, it's the health sciences for a reason.

Cecelia: Exactly. So everybody has, you know, some of the basic education understanding. So what I found was that I loved my anatomy class. I loved my physiology class. We had to take a pathology class too. And my physical therapy classes, like kinesiology and orthopedics, I sort of had to force myself to study for them and the opposite was true for most of my classmates. So I . . .

Dr. Chan: And how big is this program? How many people are in there?

Cecelia: It was 50 people.

Dr. Chan: Fifty people. Okay. Kind of, I would say, medium size.

Cecelia: Yeah. Medium size. I think there are some programs that are smaller and a lot that are bigger. So I kind of struggled with that for about the first six months, and then I reached out to my physiology teacher. He's an MD, and he's also very involved in teaching medical students. And he gave me really good life advice, which was basically that you don't want to be 90 years old on your deathbed and have any regrets.

Dr. Chan: That's very true.

Cecelia: But it's never too late to make a change. So I started reaching out to some different physicians that he connected me with and immediately found a couple of female physicians that were just great role models and kind of the example of what I want to be in 10 to 15 years.

Dr. Chan: Kind of gave you an image. Kind of gave you what to strive for, a model. Yeah.

Cecelia: Exactly. So from the time that I talked to my physiology teacher to the time that I decided to take a leave of absence from PT school was about another six months, and it seemed like this totally overwhelming decision. Quitting something is really hard especially for me. So really, it was one of the hardest decisions that I've ever made.

Dr. Chan: Because probably you started making friends with the other PT students.

Cecelia: Exactly.

Dr. Chan: And then it was like, "Oh, I'm not going to do this guys," you know?

Cecelia: Exactly.

Dr. Chan: That must have been a hard discussion.

Cecelia: Yeah. It was really hard and I think I was really afraid that people would judge me for it. And what I found was once I actually made the decision to leave PT school, immediately, this huge stress in my life was just gone. And people weren't judgmental of me. They were actually really supportive. So it was like I had to kind of projected all of my self-judgment on what I thought other people would think of me and . . .

Dr. Chan: You're your own worst critic. Yes.

Cecelia: Exactly. And the other really funny thing that happened is people started reaching out to me, like other PT school students that were kind of struggling with whether PT was the right place for them, another friend of a friend who was thinking about going back to medical school too. So everybody was just suddenly very supportive and it was very clear that that was the right decision.

Dr. Chan: So, made another pivot in your life.

Cecelia: Exactly.

Dr. Chan: Did you have to go back and do even more kind of pre-med activities and classes, and things like that?

Cecelia: Yeah. I had to go back and take the second semester of OChem and get ready for the MCAT. And I also had a baby at the same time.

Dr. Chan: So, yeah, you bring that up, Cecelia, so let's about that. So we've talked about your professional and educational life. And then your personal life, you know, you can't really separate these things.

Cecelia: No.

Dr. Chan: You know, that's all kind of chugging along. And so, when did you meet this person? I assume they have been supportive with all these changes. So, yeah, how was that?

Cecelia: So I met my husband when I was still dancing in San Francisco, but we got married while I was in PT school.

Dr. Chan: All right.

Cecelia: So we got married. We've been married for a little over three years now, and in that time I've gone from PT school to leaving PT school, to having a baby, to applying to medical school, to starting medical school.

Dr. Chan: A lot of changes.

Cecelia: And he's gone through, like, several job changes. So it's been an eventful few years.

Dr. Chan: Yeah, but it sounds he's incredibly supportive and just . . . And he's not from Utah.

Cecelia: No.

Dr. Chan: It sounds like . . . is he from California?

Cecelia: He grew up mostly in Michigan.

Dr. Chan: Michigan. Okay.

Cecelia: Via North Carolina.

Dr. Chan: So you're a little bit closer to his family, right?

Cecelia: Yeah, slightly.

Dr. Chan: It's making the education move back East. So I'm going to use this word, and you probably have heard this before, but a nontraditional student or a nontraditional applicant. Would you say that fits you in your situation?

Cecelia: I would say definitely. And it's funny, through the interview process, I remember talking to one doctor. And she said something like, "Oh, everybody's a nontraditional applicant these days." And then I started to tell her my story. And she was like, "Oh, you're really a nontraditional applicant." So I think I'm kind of on the far end of the spectrum.

Dr. Chan: So let's just start picking apart. So MCAT, was that a little bit harder to study for a nontraditional student, or did you feel like, you know, you're good at taking tests? I mean, what advice would you give or how did you do this? I've talked to a lot of people and that's a bear of a test.

Cecelia: It is.

Dr. Chan: It's a very long test, like eight, nine hours, lot of intense studying. It's a pretty important test.

Cecelia: Very important.

Dr. Chan: So, yeah, what were your techniques? I mean, how did you balance all this stuff?

Cecelia: So my original plan was to take the MCAT before I had my baby while I was pregnant, and what I found was that because I took so many of my pre-reqs before I started PT school, I was very rusty with general chemistry and physics. And I delayed my test date. So I was supposed to take it in September, and I just wasn't ready. So I actually took it when my son was 6 months old.

Dr. Chan: Okay. Interesting.

Cecelia: So it was a lot. The MCAT, I thought . . .

Dr. Chan: Would you recommend that to other people?

Cecelia: No.

Dr. Chan: Cecelia says . . .

Cecelia: Don't do it.

Dr. Chan: Don't do it.

Cecelia: But with the caveat that, I guess, you shouldn't . . . I mean, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Dr. Chan: Were you taking practice tests leading up to it?

Cecelia: Yes. So I did a lot of content review and study, and some practice tests. And then had my baby, took kind of about a month break, and then started studying again. And I took it on June 1.

Dr. Chan: Okay. And if I recall, you did extremely well.

Cecelia: I did do well. Yeah. I would say . . .

Dr. Chan: Good job, Cecelia.

Cecelia: Thank you. The challenging part was in terms of balancing family obligations. For my situation, after I had the baby, what made the most sense was for me to be my son's primary caretaker, because childcare, especially in the Bay Area, is very expensive. So we set up a support system for ourselves where kind of we traded off grandparents coming to visit me and that was when I worked in a lot of my study time, and then over naptime, and stuff like that. So it took me longer to get ready for the MCAT because I had a baby than it otherwise would have.

Dr. Chan: But then you're throw in all the other stuff that med schools are looking for, like shadowing doctors and community service. I mean, is that the same thing just kind of like prioritizing and multitasking? Is that how you see that?

Cecelia: Yeah. I feel like I did most of my community service before I had the baby, and then I found . . . you know, I guess in any sort of difficult, challenging process, finding good mentors is so important. So my former physiology professor has been and still is a great mentor of mine. And he gave me the opportunity to come back to my physiology class and TA. So that was something that was very doable with a baby.

My other mentor is a hospitalist at the VA Hospital. And we had this long-term basically quality improvement project that we were working on. So that was something that they could do at home on my own time and come in for meetings about once a month or, you know, talk on the phone. So flexibility was super important for me.

Dr. Chan: Awesome. So you started applying to schools. I mean, as a nontraditional student, did you target schools . . . because I think this information is out there . . . that are . . . I don't know what the word is. Pro nontraditional student, I guess. I mean, how did you pick the schools to apply to? Do you see what I'm saying?

Cecelia: Yeah. So basically, my husband works in tech and being close to San Francisco is important for his career trajectory. And he also, about the time that I decided to start applying to medical school, started basically the perfect job for him. And so he is in charge of all of the engineers for a startup. It's a hardware startup, so he's managing mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and his background is in computer science, so programmers also.

So we wanted to make it as likely as possible that he would be able to stay at his job while I went into medical school. So we targeted schools mostly based on geography, also with the idea that we wanted to be places where we had family support.

Dr. Chan: So I can see Utah kind of rising on the list.

Cecelia: Yeah. Utah is less than a two-hour flight away. My mom is here. It's a great place to have kids.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. And if you really get crazy one night, you can drive straight, stop in Reno.

Cecelia: Exactly.

Dr. Chan: Do a little gambling. Just keep on pushing through to the Bay Area. I've done that trip many a times, but I never gamble. Okay. So you started applying to schools and then the interview process . . . Again, I have a theory. Want to hear my theory and then you can . . .

Cecelia: Yes.

Dr. Chan: So my anecdotal . . . I don't have any data that supports this, but just anecdotally I feel that nontraditional students do slightly better in the interview process because they're a little bit older and more mature, have more life experience, and they can kind of talk about things better. Do you agree or disagree with that?

Cecelia: I do agree to, I guess, a point. I think because I'm so far to the end of the spectrum of nontraditional, particularly in the more traditional style interviews, I think I threw a couple of my interviewers off.

Dr. Chan: Oh, I see.

Cecelia: Just that they weren't expecting my life story to be what it was, and I could have maybe prepared for that a little bit better. And the MMIs are all obviously different because your personal life doesn't really come up.

Dr. Chan: So you liked MMIs better?

Cecelia: Yeah. I mean, in some ways they were easier. I didn't have to answer quite as many personal questions. And as a woman that has a young child, whether it's true or not, there's a certain amount of anxiety in revealing that you just had a baby when you're applying to medical school.

Dr. Chan: You'll fit right in. Yeah.

Cecelia: Exactly.

Dr. Chan: Several of your classmates, both men and women, have had children. So, yeah.

Cecelia: Exactly. Which is great.

Dr. Chan: Have you guys found each other? Have you started kind of . . .

Cecelia: I know who most of them are. It's a club.

Dr. Chan: It's a club. Yeah.

Cecelia: So, yeah, but I think that you definitely have more to talk about.

Dr. Chan: Okay. That's just something people . . . So I'm getting a lot of questions nowadays about gap years. I like your phrase, you know, "the spectrum of nontraditional." And so, nationally, the average age of incoming students is creeping up. Right?

Cecelia: Right. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: And so, nationally I think the number is, you know, 24 years old, 25 years old. We've always been above the national average by a year or two for cultural, religious, etc., reasons. So more and more students are a little bit old older as they start medical school.

People ask me about gap years. I say, "Well, you know, the path to medicine is very long. If there's anything you want to do, you should really maybe do it before med school." So people are going out and they're doing Teach for America or the Peace Corps, and they're just kind of doing stuff, or working in the private sector, or doing all the stuff.

And so I think it's . . . I don't know. I think people have these different experiences, and then they come to medical school, and then they make the class richer and they have different perspectives. And it kind of drives the debate in educational experience.

Cecelia: Definitely.

Dr. Chan: So I don't know. Have you experienced that the first few weeks of school or . . .

Cecelia: Yeah. I agree. I think also . . .

Dr. Chan: Because you've already had some TBLs, right?

Cecelia: Right. We've had a lot, and it's interesting. In our TBLs, you can see that everybody has sort of their field of knowledge that they have more knowledge in. So working in a group together is really great. I'm strong in anatomy because of PT school, but my background in molecular biology is not as strong as some of the other people in my group. So we kind of all bring each other up.

I also think just diversity in so many ways is great for medicine in general and a medical school class, and that includes life experience. So I think there's definitely something to be said for the people that have the maturity and, you know, have differentiated themselves enough to go straight through along with people who've taken a different path. I think it's good to have both.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. I remember when I went to medical school, I was more . . . I was young. I was, like, 23 or 24. And I remember my classmates were older than me. You know, they're in their late 20s, 30s, and it was just . . . I was still friends with them, but it was like, "They have all of these other responsibilities."

Our lovely library, I remember studying at night and I would see these guys and their wives or husbands, they would drop by dinner. And I was like, "Oh, I wish someone would bring me dinner." So, you know, it's sixes because it's hard. As I've talked to the students, especially that just start out, I think everyone's trying to find . . . I call it the academic rhythm, you know, their routine.

Cecelia: Exactly.

Dr. Chan: And trying to establish a schedule. And for a lot of students, they haven't been in school for a few years. But even if they were just in undergrad last year, I would argue, "That school is different."

Cecelia: Definitely.

Dr. Chan: You're like, "This is the big leagues." You know, there's a lot of information in a short amount of time. So I think people are starting to find their footing.

Cecelia: Yeah, definitely.

Dr. Chan: Do you think you found your footing or . . .

Cecelia: I think I have a goal to what my footing would be.

Dr. Chan: Okay.

Cecelia: And it's funny, having family responsibilities and a child, it definitely has its pluses and its minuses. I feel like once you have kids, kids thrive on routine and schedules, so I'm forced into a routine. I definitely get up at the same time every day and go to bed near the same time every night. I know that if I deviate from my routine, I'm going to pay for it because I don't have a lot of wiggle room. But I do have less time, so I can't get behind, but I think that it's very doable.

Dr. Chan: Okay. Are you more of a . . . just to ask, are you more of a library study person or after your son goes down to sleep kind of study person? How have you found that time?

Cecelia: So my goal . . .

Dr. Chan: The goal, yes.

Cecelia: My goal, which I've not achieved yet, is to get up a little bit earlier than he does. I'm lucky that he's a good sleeper. So he sleeps until about 7:00 in the morning. So my goal is to get up around 5:30, get myself ready, have maybe at least a half an hour to study, and then get him up, get him ready for the morning, take him to daycare, and then study until . . . Our classes don't usually start until 1:00.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. I mean, that's very fortuitous. That really helps.

Cecelia: Exactly.

Dr. Chan: And that's a good three to four hours.

Cecelia: Solid.

Dr. Chan: Powering. I remember those, power. Yeah.

Cecelia: And then after class I've been, you know, getting to daycare as fast as I can. And then . . .

Dr. Chan: Yeah. They'll find you.

Cecelia: Oh, yeah. Five dollars a minute.

Dr. Chan: Oh, yeah. When is it? When is the . . .

Cecelia: 6:00 p.m.

Dr. Chan: Okay.

Cecelia: So there's plenty of time.

Dr. Chan: Plenty of time.

Cecelia: So I've been . . .

Dr. Chan: They're very militant about that. My kids are in a similar program, and it's like you do not mess with that.

Cecelia: No.

Dr. Chan: And I feel like, "What happens after a half hour? Do you start depriving them of food and water?" I don't know. It just seems like . . . Yeah. And then the sick policy too, that's kind of . . .

Cecelia: Right. So luckily, I mean, I'm sure that will happen.

Dr. Chan: "Oh, can you come pick him up? He has a fever." "What his number?" "98.0." "I don't think that's a fever, but I'm not going to get in an argument with you because my child . . . Yeah. So I'll come pick him up." Yeah.

Cecelia: Yeah. So that part is going to be a little tough I think once he gets sick, which happens all the time. And then I try and study a little bit after he goes to bed. So my husband's been traveling back and forth between here and San Francisco a lot, but after another week or so, he'll be mostly in Salt Lake working remotely.

Dr. Chan: Cool.

Cecelia: So that'll be easier too.

Dr. Chan: So how did it feel moving back to Utah?

Cecelia: It's good.

Dr. Chan: Is it like the prodigal Utahn? "I never thought I'd be back here," or, "This is great," or . . .

Cecelia: I definitely never thought I would move back to Salt Lake City and I'm sure my husband didn't. You know, 15 years ago, he would not have thought he would be living in Utah.

Dr. Chan: That's the beauty of life.

Cecelia: Exactly. But it's great. I mean, especially at this stage in my life with having a family being near, grandparents, and having that kind of support, you just can't match it. And my life is actually less exhausting now than it was in San Francisco even with medical school. I don't know how.

Dr. Chan: Well, you know, as I tell people, I think our lives are like 5,000-chapter books.

Cecelia: Exactly.

Dr. Chan: And you're on maybe . . .

Cecelia: Chapter 1,000.

Dr. Chan: Chapter 1,000. You have 4,000 more chapters to go. I mean, you don't know where life will take you. I think the next four years you're going to be very busy, but very beautiful. And then there's that whole residency match thing. You shouldn't think about that now because you just started. But there's this other kind of like, big pivot, like, "Oh, residency? What field? Where are we . . ." Your husband is aware of this, right?

Cecelia: Oh, yeah. My husband moved around a lot as a kid. So he's much more flexible than I am.

Dr. Chan: So he's going to understand that this is going to be beautiful. It's going to be a journey.

Cecelia: Exactly. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: It's going to be a long journey.

Cecelia: I think he's one of those people that discovered sort of his career purpose very young. He started programming computers when he was, like, 10 years old. So he's just excited for me to start my . . .

Dr. Chan: Like, "Cecelia, you've been talking about this for a long time. It's starting. You're happy."

Cecelia: Exactly. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: That's good. How did you guys meet?

Cecelia: So one of my day jobs when I was dancing in San Francisco, I was an office manager at a PR firm and my sister-in-law, my husband's sister, worked there. And so we had this other co-worker who was an amateur stand-up comic, so we met at one of her amateur comedy shows.

Dr. Chan: Wow. That's a good story.

Cecelia: In the Tenderloin. I don't know how familiar you are with San Francisco.

Dr. Chan: Yeah.

Cecelia: Not the greatest neighborhood.

Dr. Chan: But with a lot of character.

Cecelia: Exactly.

Dr. Chan: Very cool. All right. So I want to bring it back because you said some at the beginning and I want to kind of explore that more. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to come do this thing. I'm taking away your test study time. I feel bad.

Cecelia: Just a little bit.

Dr. Chan: Just a little bit. You mentioned that science and art, there's a synergy there. There's, like, a crossover, an overlap. Can you tell me more about that?

Cecelia: Yeah. So actually one of my friends that I danced with in my dance company just started her internal medicine residency at Pittsburgh. So when I was thinking about doing all of this, I talked to her for a really long time and she was very supportive.

And the director of my dance company, the choreographer, her day job, which she still has, she administered a graduate program for a biology professor at UC Berkeley.

And so, there was this core group of seven or eight kind of regular artists, but we would do these big projects. And she would recruit these scientists that she knew from Berkeley. And she attended the integrative biology program.

Dr. Chan: Interesting.

Cecelia: So they did a lot of . . . they would build robots that moved cockroaches and they did a lot of kind of crazy stuff. So we had these very talented mechanical engineers that would, you know, help us develop crazy sets and things to interact with in our performances. So that's kind of, I guess, a more concrete example.

I think in terms of how the artistic brain and the scientific brain work is actually very similar. You know, science is always asking questions and coming up with possible explanations. And I think the creative process is like that also. Particularly in modern dance, there's this tradition of when you're trying to figure out how to create a new work of art. You either come up with a problem that you're trying to solve or sort of a meditation on different experiences or ideas that you see in the world.

Dr. Chan: Interesting.

Cecelia: I guess there's an intellectual curiosity at the core of both of them.

Dr. Chan: With all that's going on your life, do you still have time to do a little art, a little dance on the side, or maybe that's a goal?

Cecelia: That could be a goal, but not right now.

Dr. Chan: Right.

Cecelia: I did meet over the last six months some younger physicians in San Francisco who were producing live storytelling events, and they kind of recruit practicing physicians to come in and tell their stories on a theme. So I've been working with them a little bit.

Dr. Chan: You know, with Layers of Medicine, I don't know if you know this, but there's usually an end-of-year project. I'm thinking you should do a dance. I'm thinking, just as an idea. I'm going to put that out there.

Cecelia: I've thought about it.

Dr. Chan: You can just blow away your classmates. They probably have no idea how good you are.

Cecelia: Maybe I will do a dance film that I can do ahead of time.

Dr. Chan: Okay. A dance film. All right.

Cecelia: I guess I should also say the choreographer of my dance company, she's still doing artwork. I don't know if you've read the book, "The Body Keeps the Score."

Dr. Chan: I've heard of it. I haven't read it.

Cecelia: So she's doing a lot of stuff with people that have experienced trauma in their life, and they create works of art that are interactive that do things like . . . they'll sense someone's heart rate and then project it visually so people can see it, and create kind of this experiential environment where people not relive their trauma, but experience kind of the physiological . . .

Dr. Chan: That's beautiful.

Cecelia: . . . process that you go through in the hope that it will be healing.

Dr. Chan: Wow, that's really cool.

Cecelia: So I've talked to her a little bit over the . . .

Dr. Chan: Yeah. I did a little PTSD research and study. The book I think about when you said it is "The Body Remembers." I remember studying that book. Probably it sounds very similar.

Cecelia: I think it is.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. Well, that's beautiful, Cecelia. I really appreciate you coming in.

Cecelia: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Chan: This has been awesome. And I'm excited to see you over the next few years and watch you grow into a doctor. And we'll have to have you come back and give us updates about your son, about your husband, about medical school, and where you're at, and ultimately what field you choose.

Cecelia: Yeah. Well, thank you for having me.

Dr. Chan: Cool. Thanks, Cecelia.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life" with Dr. Benjamin Chan, the ultimate resource to help you on your journey to and through medical school. A production of The Scope Health Sciences Radio online at