1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. My name is Melissa Chase, I’m 21 years old. I was born in Milwaukee Wisconsin as Brynn Lisa Christensen then adopted into a loving family in Sonoma County California where I became Melissa Chase. I entered college to Sonoma State University as a Kinesiology major with a recent switch to being a Biology major after increased interest in upper division biology subjects (virology, immunology, bacteriology). I am two classes away from a minor in Economics, I’m not sure if I’ll be finishing that but I have a deep love for economics- perhaps micro more than macro. I’m the President of the Pre-Health Professions Club on campus and work to help get my fellow club members opportunities that expose them to medicine early and gain clinical hours to help them decide what health profession school they would want to apply to. By doing this, I created Sonoma State’s first shadowing program with local clinics that filter our students through a rotation of specialties to expose them to a shift with MD’s, DO’s, NP’s, and PA’s. I’m also the Chief Emergency Department Medical Scribe and spend most of my days (and nights) with the incredibly intelligent team of doctors who work there. I work as their right hand to aid in their productivity and quality of patient care. Last summer I had a surgical internship in Athens, Greece at the Ιπποκράτειο Hospital and observed over 100 hours of surgery with the most compassionate doctors and residents I have ever known. I was able to do this through the Atlantis Project which I highly recommend to every single pre-med student. However, the role I hold in highest regard is being a student instructor for Human Anatomy both in lecture and the wet lab where we have 3 full body cadavers and many varying organs and extremities. I lecture small groups of students as our class is over 100 people, I lead them in their cadaver dissections, teach them their lab information in addition to proctoring and grading all exams. I’ve found that I truly love teaching, seeing student’s succeed, being a confidant who can relate to their hardships having known the difficulties they’re facing, and sharing in their journey through Human Anatomy.
2. Who was your favorite teacher in school and how did he or she impact you? My favorite teacher in school was actually a professor in my first year of college. I never was great at mathematics and had to enter into corrective math after performing poorly on the University entrance test. Dr. Steve Wilson, Ph.D was my professor. He made math understandable, dare I say he even made it easy, and I actually felt embarrassed that I never knew there were multiple ways to approach certain problems. He gave me confidence in mathematics, and now it’s a subject I excel in and enjoy. I am not the type to create excuses for my failings but my time in high school was met with hardships. I ended up having personal problems with my entry algebra teacher as a freshman in high school and that left me without a base of knowledge to build on.
3. When did you first decide you wanted to become a doctor and why? I wish I had a romantic life-changing story for this, it would make personal statements much easier. I feel like I have always known I am medically inclined. After being hospitalized for Anorexia Nervosa, restricting type, I was given a nutritionist and thought about the field of nutrition for about a year. After that, I witnessed a car crash right in front of me on the freeway and had this overwhelming urge to help even though I knew I couldn’t because I would do more harm than good with untrained hands on critical patients. Later that day, I looked into being an emergency medical technician, and paramedic. I researched heavily and read articles by EMT’s and paramedics about the lifestyle they lived with this as their career, I was left unsatisfied and dismayed. I pondered this job for a few days before deciding I would take the long road and become a physician which matched my medical predisposition and desire to generate positive outcomes for people in undesirable conditions. I also have become comfortable in leadership roles and desire these types of jobs, after working in the ER where the physician is the decision maker this only further solidified my yearning to become an M.D. A large part of being a physician now is the computer work. In a normal 2-hour long visit, we average roughly 5-10 minutes with a non-critical patient face-to-face and the rest of their time in the ER they spend with the technicians and nurses while we spend that time on the computer or the phone either ordering labs, imaging, calling for consults, and looking up past medical history as well as charting the current visit. This is also very common for most outpatient settings I’ve shadowed in. Being a doctor, in my experience, is not specifically interacting at length with the patient and only spending time with them. Rather, it’s mostly being away from the patient and being the director of their care ordering studies and looking over results to come to a conclusion which will ideally give the patient better health and clarity of their current state.
4. What area of medicine are you interested in? I have experience in many areas of surgery including general, upper GI, cardiothoracic, ENT, as well as outpatient cardiology, family care, pediatrics, as well as extensive time spent in the ER as their Chief Medical Scribe. Out of these options, I would say I love all of them equally for different reasons. Surgery tests the intuition of the surgeon and relies on one’s knowledge of the entire body and all systems within beginning with histology which appeals to me because I find I take on challenging tasks. I enjoy family care and pediatrics because it allows one to form personal relationships with the patients and be able to watch them progress in their life in addition to being a constant for them, someone who is always there for them and to whom they may confide in. When they come in with an illness, they trust in you to help them which is a tremendous amount of responsibility. Finally, with cardiology and emergency medicine work, these are analogous to being a detective and figuring out a diagnosis which explains their symptomology. In the area I work in with the ER, we have a large population of homeless individuals who unfortunately have comorbid psychosis and polysubstance abuse. Getting the “whole story” as to why they presented to the ER is hard to obtain. Through lab and imaging results we can deduce the cause of their current condition. This “detective mindset” also applies to our patients who arrive unresponsive and were found unresponsive so their progression to this current syncopal state is unknown and we need to pinpoint exactly what is happening inside their body in order to save them. I’ve been in the ER now for almost two years to the day, and I’ve had firsthand experience with a handful of patient deaths that arrived in this unresponsive condition, both elderly and adolescent; most of them illicit drug overdose related, withdrawal related, but some were extremely interesting etiology including a saddle pulmonary embolus and an abdominal aortic aneurysm. As much as I love the ER I’m working in, I believe I may have had enough emergency medicine work by the time I retire and begin my journey applying for medical schools. However, my mind remains open and if I end up in an ER in my medical journey, I would be happy my end began as my beginning.
With that being said, I have a limited view of areas of medicine- I haven’t seen them all. If I had to chose now based off of my experiences, I would say perhaps general surgery interested me the most. However, again my views are obscured because I spent my time in Athens, Greece observing these cases and they do not have access to the same techniques, imaging studies, and technology that we do in America. In short, I am interested in all areas of medicine and am excited to expand my understandings.
5. What’s the coolest experience you’ve had so far on your premedical journey? My most treasured experiences being a pre-medical student will always come from my time spent in Athens, Greece with the Atlantis Project. I made life long friends through this program, we lived together in a huge apartment in Athens for a month and saw the most astounding Greek history every day. I can’t even begin to explain the coffee we drank when we got to the hospital at their café stand, which was 2 euros, and fails in comparison to any American coffee available. Every single place we ate at whether it be restaurant, café, or street trolley, had the best Greek food for barely more than 5 euros, and I crave it still every day to the extent to where I worry when one day I’ll be pregnant and ask my husband to fly to Greece to bring the food back to me! We explored the islands of Santorini and Mykonos and were able to navigate the metro system to explore as much of Greece as possible from the beaches on the peripheral to the country in the center and all the city-life in between. Aside from the social aspects of the trip, we were given direct access to observe surgeries for eight hours a day, every day. We also were invited to the medical student lectures (in English) since the Ιπποκράτειο hospital is Athens largest teaching hospital. Both surgeons and residents put in maximal effort to teach us what exactly they’re doing surgically, why, and how this will benefit the patient. We observed many cancer cases as tobacco smoking is extremely excessive in Greece- even the surgeons smoke even after operating on cancer related cases multiple times every day. I was able to see over ten mastectomies (breast tissue removal), esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colonic cancer, lung cancer, and how they operate to remove these malignancies. My closet physician friendships were with Dr. Henry Markogiannakis along with Dr. Spyros Smparounis and Dr. Theodorou. All general surgeons, and chiefs of their departments. Probably the most interesting part of the internship was being hospitalized as a patient myself and being able to get the entire view of Greek medical care. On the third week of our internship, I woke with a fever of 39C, had chills, horrible lumbar back pain, and a headache. I thought it to be a common cold or illness and stayed home to rest until the pain became unbearable. I presented to our own hospital’s ER, where the surgeons quickly found out I was, and they came down to the ER and completely took over my care- which I was thankful for, the ER physicians never spoke to me in English and began triaging me and getting labs without me knowing what was happening. They found that I had pyelonephritis after an 8-hour workup where I got the most extensive set of imaging and blood work imaginable. Their preliminary blood work showed only an elevated white count which indicates an infection but the location to them was unknown and they sent me to three other hospitals for more testing. The entire area has one CT scan, so I was given renal, pelvic, and abdominal ultrasounds in addition to a full cardiac workup and serial blood tests. By midnight, I returned back to the ER at Ιπποκράτειο where the doctors were waiting my imaging to be sent to them. At this point I was still febrile, I asked for Tylenol which I learned is called Paracetamol in Europe, and wanted to go back to my apartment. I argued at length with Dr. Smparounis, he eventually made me stay as an inpatient while they conclude my diagnosis. I stayed in a room with four other people, the hospital is entirely non-air conditioned, and summers in Greece were always above 100F degrees. They gave me intravenous antibiotics and a dextrose fluid solution for the next three days until my fever subsided and they discovered I had pyelonephritis. My roommates brought me food, coffee, and all the books they had with them since I was confined to my bed with only my cell phone. During the course of my treatment, I got a diffuse bodily rash as an allergic reaction to one of the antibiotics they administered, which made them want to keep me longer for observation to my apprehension. I was eventually discharged then went cliff diving with my roommates that following weekend in Santorini and completed the final 4th week of shadowing in general surgery with the same surgeons who nicknamed me Lazarus for “rising from the dead” after my time in the inpatient ward. Luckily, the Atlantis Project prepares for the undesirable and provides all students with over 100,000 American dollars’ worth of medical coverage and I did not need to pay for my inpatient stay or studies. However, if I did have to it would only be roughly 300 euros for a comprehensive medical workup and hospital stay.
6. What is your favorite book? I might be a bit biased, but I have two favorite books. The authors are some of my closest professional friends. The first, Birth Day, is written by my former pediatrician whom I shadow now; I’m 21 years old and he has known me since I was roughly 3-6 months old. His name is Dr. Mark Sloan, M.D (He’s the original, Greys Anatomy didn’t begin airing until he was already out of medical school). Birth Day is a three-decades-long exploration of the marvels and peculiarities of human childbirth, it delves into every aspect of childbirth and the evolution of each step involved. I love this book, and it has made me eager to shadow in obstetrics- a mission I am still trying to accomplish. Dr. Sloan is an incredible doctor, and is the one responcible for me loving medicine in the first place. Whenever I would go in for a visit, he would explain medically relevant things to me, as a child, sparking my interest in medicine. Every time I came in with musculoskeletal pain from sports (I played many throughout my time growing up), he showed me X-rays, and explained anatomy. He also saved my life, which I’ll explain below in #9.
The second book which made me love Organic Chemistry even more (if that’s possible) is called Strange Chemistry by my chemistry professor Dr. Steven Farmer, Ph.D. This book is being discussed for a movie (but I’m sure I’m supposed to keep that a secret until all the signatures are on the line). This book is a collection of stories which relate our real-world experiences to the world of chemistry and brings about the knowledge of what happens chemically during every day actions. He discusses how alcohol affects the brain and can cause death in withdraws, how methamphetamine mimics the neurotransmitter dopamine, how asphalt is the most recycled item in the US, how Bengay can (and has) kill a human, as well as many other relevant things that open your mind up and help you to understand pertinent chemical reactions. No knowledge of chemistry is expected for the reader, he does a fantastic job making everything understandable to an individual without experience in any field of science. Words cannot do justice to my explanation of Dr. Farmer, I’ve been going to his office hours since before I ever had him as a professor because he makes everything comprehensible and he genuinely cares about helping students. His office is also like a mini free 7-Eleven, he gives out free food to anyone because he heard sometimes students are broke and go without eating. While you’re there getting chemistry help, you can also snack, watch his magic card tricks, and discuss with him his personal Guinness World Record or black belt in ninja training. I am thankful to him for never giving up on students and working so hard to counsel us and help us succeed.
7. Tell us one thing interesting about you that most people don’t know. I have competed in women’s natural bodybuilding and placed first two weeks after turning 18 years old. I still bodybuild but not for competition any longer, I enjoy being in a caloric surplus too much to give that up again. I train daily and work on being a functional and strong individual, it’s been an important part of my life keeping me healthy and confident. I recommend weight training to all women given its health benefits for the musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, and to promote positive body image.
8. If you couldn’t be a doctor, what would you want to do? I honestly have not entertained the idea. Perhaps if medical school does not seem likely after applications then maybe I will begin to think about this, but until then medical school and becoming a physician are my focus. I feel that the goal of life is to be happy, regardless of your occupation. When I am elderly, irrespective of what title I held, I just want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was happy, regretless, and lived my life as best I could.
9. What has been your biggest obstacle as a premed and how did you (or are you) overcome it? When I began high school, I was chosen to play as a starter on their volleyball team. Perhaps this made me a target of jealousy or envy, that’s the only reasoning I could come up with after this entire experience concluded. Within my first week at high school, the bullying began from a group of girls also on the team but one year older than me- mainly over the internet as many adolescent girls fear in person confrontation. Every aspect of my physical appearance was targeted, weight, height, phenotype, even my eyebrows which remain a self-conscious factor to this day, eight years later. My strategy to get my peers to like me was to stop eating, I remember thinking “if I’m skinnier like they are, maybe they’ll stop”. I was never overweight, I was 5’9 and 145lbs which is exactly the baseline weight for my height. I trained hard for volleyball, so I had a fair amount of muscle in my legs and abdomen giving me a “thicker” look. I began to eat less and less, and the months and years progressed. The bullying stopped around my junior year when the main girl perpetuating the bullying graduated. At that time, I was exactly 100lbs and in full-blown anorexia nervosa. I would go 5-6 days without food and became a pro at throwing my food away without anyone noticing. My closest friends and my parents had no idea and I told them I was thinner from running more (a lie, I didn’t have the physical strength to even walk upstairs). My mom later told me she was suspicious and every night when I came home from practice she hugged me and would palpate my thoracic spine to assess how much bonier it’s becoming indicating further weight loss. The beginning of my junior year I began experiencing tremendous bilateral upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fatigue forcing 8 ER visits without a diagnosis (although, after working in an ER myself, my visits were not met with any pertinent testing which we would order on a normal basis. However, I was 16 and otherwise healthy which would make many physicians assume a benign cause and they were unaware of my anorexia). My pediatrician, Dr. Sloan, saw my many ER visits, was likely called for consult by the ER physicians during my final ER visit and he admitted me to the hospital to figure out what was going on inside of my abdomen. I had cholelithiasis, cholecystitis, pancreatitis, and multiple organ trauma from gallstones exiting my common bile duct and shooting into my digestive tract causing puncture- all secondary to anorexia. This was festering for six months, undiagnosed. I was told I had a 40% chance of full recovery assuming successful surgery outcome. Every night I saw my mother crying at the foot of my hospital bed, begging me to eat again and survive surgery. She’s never been one for God, but I feel like I remember hearing her pray. The entire recovery process was initiated by my volleyball coach, Dan Freeman and sophomore geometry teacher Mrs. Balli. Mrs. Balli noticed my weight loss within a one-year span since teaching me and asked my coach if I had additional energy loss and personality change. He confronted me about it- he’s the first person I told the truth to regarding my eating. He did the one thing that pissed me off the most- which is what I needed the most. He benched me from the season until I sought medical attention and told my parents about my eating and bullying. Without him, I wouldn’t have told anyone else about my anorexia. Making a long story short, I got my surgeries, received physical and psychological therapy, and began bodybuilding as a new hobby. I made competing a goal and won first in natural women’s bodybuilding one year later after my hospitalization, one week after I turned 18. I overcame this by realizing I shouldn’t look to others to form my own opinions of myself. This entire endeavor taught me self-love, compassion, and positive body image through strength training. I learned how important fuel is for the body and the importance of eating enough calories and making sure the macronutrients making up those calories are beneficial to how the body processes them. To this day, nutrition and strength training hold a high regard in my life and mental/physical well-being.
10. What do you like most about PreMed STAR? I love the community the most within PreMed STAR. Everybody asks great questions and the replies are all positive and helpful. Every single person appears to be genuinely welcoming and friendly. I find that as a pre-med this environment is rare, and many times we are so highly competitive that being supportive of one another doesn’t occur often. I try to create the most supportive and encouraging environment on my campus through my club, and to see a whole country-wide group of students doing the same is incredibly heartwarming. Ultimately, we are all going to be peers and colleagues and we will spend more time with each other than anyone else, we should be friendly and helpful from the start. I vehemently recommend this app to every pre-med student I know for this reason.
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