Month: November 2021

Karmyn Polakowski: Preparation for Medical School

My name is Karmyn Polakowski. I am currently a first-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

What was your undergraduate major at Michigan Tech? How do you feel this major has prepared you for medical school?

I majored in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS). This degree choice was vital to shaping me into the medical student I am today—I am a strong believer that in order to be a fruitful physician we must know the ins and the outs of medicine from the lab all the way to the patient rooms. Simply because if we don’t know how we got to the answers such as the origin of a particular lab result, it’s difficult to make a diagnosis and explain it effectively to a patient.

The curriculum devised for MLS students is one for students with a desire for perpetual learning and a mind full of curiosity. I promise you, the courses will feed these cravings. 

What experiences/resources did you have at Michigan Tech that you felt set you up for success?

Michigan Tech did an amazing job at shaping me into a competitive medical school applicant as well as a successful medical student by providing me with both the people and activities to make me a well-rounded person. Medical schools emphasize not only the necessary science skills but also the soft skills and I truly believe that MTU set me up to do both. In particular, I had awesome instructors, an amazing pre-health advisor, and extracurricular groups that pushed me to be this type of person.

Why did you apply to Michigan Tech’s Early Assurance Program (EAP) with Michigan State University?

I chose to apply to the EAP simply because I knew that MSU College of Human Medicine (CHM) was the perfect fit for me. MSU CHM places an emphasis on producing primary care providers in rural health care settings and that is my personal goal as well. So because my goal aligned with their mission statement so well I decided to apply and even better, apply a little early.

Do you have any tips or advice for future students applying to EAP? Or students applying to Medical school in general?

BE A GENUINE PERSON! Applying to medical school can be frightening because of all of the numbers and statistics about GPAs, the MCAT, etc– however, discovering why you want to do medicine and making that apparent through a genuine and compassionate attitude will take you so much further than a score will. That being said, make sure that you’re always trying your best to do well on your exams and projects, but make sure that you’re also doing things outside of school to shape yourself into a well-rounded person. After all, medicine is about human connectedness, not your best test score.

What type of experiences or extracurricular activities were you involved in?

I was involved in Michigan Tech EMS for a couple of years and it was definitely the highlight of my undergraduate career. I was not only able to deploy my patient interaction and care skills, but I found the EMS family that created bonds to last a lifetime. EMS brings out special qualities in everyone and learning how to utilize everyone’s strengths is really quite eye-opening. This lesson in itself makes me confident in my ability to work well as a physician amongst a group of other healthcare workers someday soon.


Bella Menzel-Smith, Pathway to Physician Assistant School

My name is Bella Menzel-Smith, and I am currently a fourth-year student at Michigan Technological University. 

I will be graduating this May from MTU with a degree in Human Biology. After graduation, I will be attending Marquette University’s Physician Assistant Program. As a Pre-Physician Assistant student at MTU, I was able to take courses in biology, chemistry, psychology, public health, and epidemiology. My favorite aspect of MTU’s Pre-Health program has been the supportive faculty. I truly have felt that I have been a part of a tight-knit community throughout the past four years. Working with the Pre-Health advisor, Nicole Seigneurie, was so beneficial to me because she was always there to answer my questions and cheer me on along the way. In addition to this, all my professors have been more than helpful to make sure that I succeeded in their classes. 

When I was unsure about what I wanted to study during my first year of college, I had an annual healthcare check-up with my healthcare provider who is a Physician Assistant. I asked her questions about her profession, and she had nothing but positive things to say. I decided to do more research on my own, and I found out that the Physician Assistant profession was created in 1965 by Dr. Eugene Stead, in order to address healthcare disparities and the need for more primary care providers. Immediately, I was so excited that I had found a healthcare profession that was created for the exact reasons as to why I wanted to enter the healthcare field! Growing up in a rural area, I have seen firsthand how poverty and access can affect the quality of healthcare that people receive. When people in my community need to see a specialist, they have to travel at least four hours away. Therefore, it is my goal as a Physician Assistant to be a healthcare advocate for marginalized populations and to improve healthcare disparities in rural medically underserved areas. 

Once I decided that I wanted to pursue the Physician Assistant profession, I knew that I had to get involved in the MTU community. I have been a tutor at the Chemistry Learning Center, since my second year at Tech. Being a tutor has allowed me to support students during their difficult chemistry classes. I have loved being able to help students build their confidence and strengthen their studying skills. I have also been a Co-President of Student Well-being Advocates at MTU and the President of AED Pre-Health Honor Society for the last year. Both of these opportunities have allowed me to work on my leadership and communication skills. Through Student Well-being Advocates, I was able to start a Winter Warm-Up winter accessory drive that takes place annually on campus. In addition to my involvement on campus, I was fortunate enough to be a Crisis Text Line Counselor where I learned how to be an empathetic listener to people who were in crisis. I know that the lessons I’ve learned throughout this experience will help me with my future interactions with patients. I believe that it’s so important for everyone to get involved with extracurricular activities that you enjoy to help you find your passions in life! 

The most valuable advice that I have for anyone who is on a Pre-Physician Assistant pathway is to gain clinical experience. I was a Certified Nursing Assistant for over a year at a local nursing home. Through this experience, I was able to learn how to provide person-centered compassionate care to my residents. I cared for individuals who had a diagnosis of dementia, and I learned the importance of treating my residents as the human beings that they were and not as their diagnosis. I also found that one of my professional callings in life is to be a healthcare advocate for vulnerable populations like the elderly. I know that this experience has taught me so much and will be very beneficial to my future as a Physician Assistant. I hope everyone takes advantage of their time at Tech and gets involved in the community as much as possible. I will forever be grateful for the time that I have spent at MTU!


Ben Cockfield, Pre-PT Advice

My name is Ben Cockfield, and I am currently a second-year student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Central Michigan University.

I received a BS in Exercise Science and an MS in Kinesiology through Michigan Tech. I began my academic journey in the biomedical engineering department with aspirations to design technology that would interface directly with the human body in some way to improve performance or quality of life. I quickly found out that the engineering-based curriculum was not holding my interest – but the anatomy and human applications of the information was. This was hugely important for me and ultimately led to my switching into the department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology and is my first piece of advice: explore often, and if you can, early. Change your mind, change your major! You do not need to have a decision made about what you want to do right away but trying to open as many doors as possible early on – and keeping them open – is relevant for anyone, regardless of major or interests.

I didn’t know I was going to apply to a DPT program until I was starting my MS – although PT school had been on my radar, this felt like a bit of a late decision. Looking back, I am glad I took my time, and in the end, it cemented my certainty to pursue my DPT. This would not have been possible had it not been for the support and connections I made at Tech, specifically, my thesis advisor Dr. Steve Elmer, and the other graduate students in the department. Having a mentor that guided and pushed me was essential during my time at Tech and finding someone like this is critical for growth as both a person and as a professional. Moreover, interacting and networking with graduate students across departments was invaluable to me and highlights another important lesson – surround yourself with people who genuinely care about what they are doing. Passion is contagious, and when you are surrounded by people who are invested and willing to work hard because they care more about just getting a good grade, it encourages you to do the same.

One important note was that I didn’t wait until I was a grad student myself to initiate these interactions, and I would encourage other undecided students anywhere to do the same. The easiest way is to volunteer to be a research participant (affectionally referred to as a lab rat), this allows you to observe the type of research that gets done across a variety of departments while simultaneously learning more about the topic from the students and faculty directly – no one loves to talk more about the most up-to-date research, techniques, and projects than those directly involved with the process, so be careful how many questions you ask, you may end up being there all day!

The last bit of advice I would give anyone interested in pursuing PT is to involve yourself with your local community to some capacity – whether that is through a volunteer organization, church, job, etc. I have been a member of the Mont Ripley Ski Patrol for 5 years and believe that extending yourself outside of purely the academic community/college “bubble” is incredibly important for personal growth and getting in touch with the world outside of your own niche. Get out and learn about the people who make the community that you are a part of. This will extend to your future as a health care professional as well – you can’t expect to spend your whole life in the clinic or hospital!

To boil it all down, my advice for applying to PT school (or any graduate program for that matter!) would be to keep doors open (but don’t be afraid to change your mind!), surround yourself with passionate people, explore new avenues, and get involved with the community – Good Luck!