Interview with Pre-Medical Student, Michèle-Corinne Ako
It is an honor to share this interview with Michèle-Corinne Ako, a Neurobiology/Physiology & Community Health double major and pre-medical student at the University of Maryland, College Park. Michèle-Corinne is an inspirational student and leader born in the Cameroon. She enlisted in the United States Army, became president of the African Student Association of the University of Maryland–College Park, and most admirably, she is determined to pursue a career as a military physician. I want to initially thank her for her time and her amazing story!
What initially attracted you to the field of medicine?
When I was eight years old, I was in the Cameroon and I became sick with malaria. It was a difficult time for my parents because I was in the hospital for two and a half weeks. Sometimes malaria is unpredictable. Even though there are antibiotics, you never know if they will work or if something might happen. Lying there in the hospital, I was thinking about the quality of medicine, the physicians, nurses, and technicians. I realized that wanted to help someone one day and give them a better quality of life. When people are coming over from Africa, I feel like a lot of us see things that we wish were better. You see someone suffering and you want to help.
What were some of your experiences or challenges as a pre-medical student?
The biggest challenge was taking the initiative to seek out the information that I needed. I am the oldest child in my family and I am sort of the “guinea pig”. No one is there to show me the way and say, “Look at this school and these statistics,” “You should take your MCAT around this time,” “Look at these programs,” or “Take this class so that you can do better on the MCAT”. You have to actually go out there to events such as pre-health conferences and workshops and take the initiative to get the knowledge that you need.
How do you help other pre-medical students? How would you want to help other students?
As the president of the African Student Association at the University of Maryland, College Park we have organized pre-professional programs and workshops and this year we are starting a Mentor/Mentee program for the incoming freshman.
I was in a similar program where I was paired with the Black Faculty and Staff of the University of Maryland. I want this program to help incoming freshman figure out where to start, helping them pick classes, preparing for the MCAT, finding research and clinical experiences, etc. The workshop will help them on the path to medical school.
Do you have any concerns about taking the MCAT?
I am not really worried about the MCAT. Yes, it makes you nervous because it’s an exam but that is like any standardized exam. If I am prepared and not pressured by time limits such as taking it before the end of my junior year, then I will be fine. I am going to take it when I am ready, I am going to be prepared, and I only plan on taking it once. That’s the plan right now.
If you could go back to your first days as a pre-medical student, what are some things that you would change?
It is never to early to start prepping for medical school. By your freshman year, find a partner and begin doing practice problems. Every week, meet with them and do some practice problems. It helps because of the repetition and the early exposure to the exam. There is a common misconception where people say that you should start thinking about medical school in your sophomore and junior year but it is never too early to start. The earlier you start, the greater the advantage you’ll have.
What has been your most exciting or interesting experience as a pre-medical student?
I really have not had a moment where something exciting or interesting has happened but I am looking forward to doing more clinical work and shadowing physicians. I am still in the process of deciding which specialty to start with; Cardiology or Neurology? Shadowing will really help me decide what specialty I like and do not like.
Is there any advice that you would like to offer to a future pre-medical student?
My advice would be to definitely think ahead. Always plan ahead and always think about possibilities. Not only thinking but putting it into action. When you’re in your senior year of high school think about why you want to be pre-med and your reasons. Some people come to college and realize that being pre-med is not for them. Reevaluate your interests and think about being pre-med. Take some summer classes after high school and before college, think ahead and make wise choices.