Alumni Spotlight: First Year Medical Student Meghan Liroff
Tomorrow is my first day of medical school. I’m terrified of cutting into my cadaver but excited that this dream of medicine, which I’ve had since age four, is finally coming true. It’s taken a lot of pain, work, and learning to get me to this point, including a concentration in Women’s Studies with almost three years of intense chemistry research. While these interests may seem to be polar opposites, I’ve come to realize that equally incorporating these fields of study into my medical journey have helped to make me the medical student, and in the future, the physician, who I want to be.
This academic journey officially began at U of M’s freshman orientation at which students take the chemistry placement exam to determine where in the chemistry curriculum she/he belongs. I earned a 14%. I had a lot to learn about chemistry. I enrolled in the most basic chemistry class and studied until I couldn’t see any longer. Concurrently, I enrolled in a Women’s Studies seminar on gender and aging with the inspiring Professor Debby Keller-Cohen. I didn’t know it consciously yet, but the combination of these two classes would support and encourage each other, exercising the same analytical areas of my brain.
It wasn’t until later that I entered a chemistry lab headed by Dr. Mark Banaszak Holl, a progressive scholar who is uncompromising in his pursuit of academic integrity. Additionally, the guidance of his brilliant student, Dr. Chris Kelly, helped me to realize that the study of chemistry is a way to holistically understand our world, to critically analyze theories and explanations, and that environment has a huge effect on a molecule’s behavior and performance.
Women’s Studies teachings affirmed these same concepts, respectively. A holistic understanding of the world and of the person was present in the theory of intersectionality. Secondly, analysis is inherent in Women’s Studies. And finally, Women’s Studies students are taught that culture and environment make up our experiences, and thus perceptions of the world.
Chemistry has uniquely prepared me with the basic science knowledge to treat bodies, and Women’s Studies has uniquely incorporated the effects of identity in terms of treating the person. While I’ve still got a lot to learn, I’ve been taught how to think by both. I’m proud to have had this training. My first patient, my cadaver, will make all of this real. I’ll learn his anatomy, the innervations of his muscles and the chemical make-up of his organs; I’ll discover his race and imagine how this affected his life experiences and the medical care he received; I’ll imagine his family who graciously donated his body so that he would live in my mind and be my greatest teacher. This will all be in my mind tomorrow as I say a prayer, take a deep breath, and make my first incision…