Melani S. Cheers '02
Washington University School of Medicine
My path towards medicine began when I was just a young girl growing up on a small farm in western Pennsylvania. We had no electricity or telephone service, so I experienced daily life intimately entwined with nature—watching pumpkin seeds grow into fruit-bearing vines and witnessing chicks develop into hens and roosters. Consequently I was transfixed by the science of life. My interest in medicine therefore emerged early as I cared for injured animals and assisted birthing ewes.
Yet the path I took to medical school was less than direct. At Mount Holyoke, I double majored in anthropology and biology and spent my summer months exploring subjects as disparate as light pollution levels on Boston-area lakes and the role of the maternal immune system in murine pregnancy. Even though I had fun in the lab, I was actively involved Mount Holyoke’s community—so much so that I decided not to spend my junior and senior years studying for the MCAT and applying to med schools. Instead, I completed my thesis research, served as the hall president of Dickinson House, and codirected of the campus’s Medical Emergency Response Team.
After graduating in 2002, I took time off from school to do developmental biology research at Carnegie Mellon University. I found the time off to be invaluable. It gave me the opportunity to “unwind” a bit, to reconnect with my family, and to prepare well for the MCAT. Additionally, while I identified integral elements of the gene regulatory network involved in sea urchin skeletogenesis, I was also able to earn the money I needed to apply to and interview at a dozen medical schools.
I am currently a second-year medical student at Washington University in St. Louis, and I have found the experience to be amazing! Ion channels, biochemical pathways, drug interactions, and microscopic anatomical structures somehow crowd their way into my brain each day. Incredibly, I use every section of my premedical education. Bio, orgo, gen chem., physics, and even calculus have come in handy over the past several months, and each time they show up, I smile and shake my head because I once doubted their importance in medicine.
The study of medicine is different from any of my previous academic pursuits because every detail I learn is critical to my ability to treat patients in the future. This being the case, I find myself studying twelve hours each day, and even then there isn’t enough time to learn everything. Ultimately, finding balance is essential.
My advice to premed students: give up thinking that premed requirements are not relevant to the practice of medicine. Before you know it you will be in medical school using your physics and calculus to determine the turbulent flow of blood through atherosclerotic plaque-clogged coronary arteries or employing your organic chemistry to figure out how the drug you administered interacts with cytochrome P 450 oxidase for drug metabolism. It is amazing how much you will learn in each day of medical school, and I guarantee you will be very thankful to have the strong background the premed curriculum at Mount Holyoke provides.