November 24, 2020

Serena Bidwell: Prioritizing passions

Students find balance and support in and out of the classroom

Two students in a clinical simulation center

M2 Serena is a non-traditional medical student who has brought her passion for youth education outreach to new heights while at Michigan Medical School. Here she answers 9 questions about lessons learned from the application process, what she enjoys most about the curriculum, how she creates balance in life, the resources that support her, and much more.

What’s one thing you wish you would have known before going through the medical school application process?

When I was going through the application process, I had taken a few years off from undergrad, and I was constantly worried that I wouldn’t be enough – that my test scores and GPA wouldn’t be high enough and that my accomplishments wouldn’t measure up. I quickly realized that the medical school application process is about fit; it’s about finding a school that wants to celebrate the person you are and sees tremendous potential in your future.

Throughout the process, I learned to be comfortable discussing my setbacks and to speak enthusiastically about my passions because my goal was to find a program that would ultimately support me both in achieving my goals but also in overcoming moments of difficulty. I wish I had known this during my application cycle, and I hope all applicants embrace this: you are enough. You are enough exactly as you are, and the application process is just about figuring out where you can best shine.

What has been your favorite part of the Michigan curriculum so far and why?

As an early second-year medical student, I’ve only experienced the first half of the UMMS curriculum, but my favorite part has definitely been the flexibility in the first year. During our M1 year, we have endless opportunities to get involved in student organizations (even holding leadership positions within these groups), to participate in research, and to continue our passions outside of medicine, whatever they may be.

The structure of the first year allows for a “choose your own adventure” approach to medical school where you can attend lectures in person or watch them on your own schedule. The flex-time quizzing lets you design your week to test Friday, Saturday or Sunday, so if I had a conference during the week or really wanted to go to a Saturday football game, I could plan around those events.

Additionally, while I’m just starting in the clinical space, the one-year preclinical structure is special because it gets us into the hospitals and working with patients so quickly. I’ll be the first to admit a one-year preclinical curriculum is challenging, but the reward of spending more time in clinical spaces learning the art of medicine is well worth it in my opinion.

What are the ways in which you’ve been able to explore your passions during med school?

The flexibility of the curriculum really allows us to explore our passions. For me, this has involved several activities, but probably most notable is my work with Doctors of Tomorrow (DoT), an outreach program in partnership with high schoolers in Detroit that aims to provide mentorship and educational opportunities for students from underrepresented backgrounds interested in medicine.

Prior to medical school, I had spent two years working with a STEM education non-profit (SMASH) and had managed a branch of their curriculum related specifically to health care career exposure. Doctors of Tomorrow has allowed me to continue growing this passion through expanding DoT to include a new high school, working with Michigan Medicine leadership to start developing additional outreach programs so more students are being supported in their journey to medicine, and continuing relationships with SMAS as they open a chapter affiliated with the University of Michigan.

Throughout my time invested in this area of youth educational outreach, I’ve been blown away by the support from Michigan Medicine faculty as they step up to serve as mentors, offer their time as session instructors, and provide continual encouragement.

How have you tried to stay engaged during the challenges of COVID-19?

When COVID-19 first impacted our community and most of society had to slow down, medical students stepped up in tremendous ways. What started as some comments in our class group chat about helping to deliver groceries to at-risk populations and providing childcare for Michigan Medicine staff and faculty eventually developed into the M-Response Corps, a student-run list of initiatives designed to support our community during COVID-19.

In addition to the volunteer opportunities listed above, students helped organize PPE and food drives, supported respiratory therapy units in the hospital, assembled COVID testing kits, and engaged in numerous telehealth activities to ensure patients were still receiving the care they needed. This was an incredibly large way that Michigan medical students showed how much we care for our community and how willing we are to serve others first even during difficult circumstances.

What resources at Michigan have been the most helpful to you in your medical education so far?

The resources that have been most helpful to me so far have been other students – my classmates and upperclassmen. During my M1 year, if I didn’t understand a concept, couldn’t memorize a biochemistry pathway or didn’t understand a physical exam maneuver, my classmates would take the time to walk me through the material, share their study guides, make up mnemonics with me, or demonstrate the physical exam skill.

My classmates are really special individuals with hearts of gold; they’re so willing to help at all times. This is evident when you see our huge Google drive of past study materials that students have so selflessly shared. The School also offers additional resources to support our education such as a learning specialist to help develop study tools and strategies, free tutors, and regular review sessions during the M1 year. These resources have been extremely impactful for me and my peers.

How would you describe your fellow students and/or the community at Michigan?

My classmates and the Michigan community amaze me every single day with their accomplishments, their compassion, and their willingness to support each other. My peers are some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, from managing non-profits to training for the Olympics, yet they remain humble and determined to continue making bigger impacts in medicine. They drive me to be a better person and encourage me through moments of doubt. My peers are the type of people I’d want for best friends; and in such a short period of time, they’ve become just that – some of my best friends with whom I share holidays and birthday celebrations.

Furthermore, the entire Michigan community is so supportive and motivating. As a second-year student, I have friends in every single class. There are M4s who will call me just to check in, M3s who will give me advice about rating different options for our clinical rotations, and M1s who will reach out with questions about their curriculum. This is the type of community I wanted in a medical school, and it occurs so naturally here through medical school mentorship programs and organizations that involve M1s-M4s, such as Student Council for me. Being a student at Michigan means being part of a large family full of kind and passionate and caring individuals.

What do you like to do outside of the med school, and how do you find balance?

Along with the activities I’ve mentioned above, such as Doctors of Tomorrow and Student Council, I’ve been able to find time for other activities I enjoy, such as hiking and kayaking in the warmer months and skiing or playing basketball in the winter. Ann Arbor has many parks and nature areas that I’ve enjoyed exploring over the past few months. Especially when COVID-19 hit, my friends and I found ourselves spending much more time outside during daily walks and weekend kayaking adventures.

Last year, a group of M1s and I created an intramural basketball team. At our first game, the referees asked what student organization we were part of since we had such a huge showing of support from our “fans” (other classmates). We even had an Instagram account to highlight our embarrassing moments on and off the court – all in good fun, of course.

For me, balance is so important. Wherever you go, medical school will have challenges, but finding balance and ways to recharge is essential. The moments I just described, like our basketball team memories, filled my cup way more than long nights cramming for exams, so I prioritized friendships and the important people in my life over test scores or memorizing every tiny detail for a quiz. The Medical School also has a program entirely devoted to student well-being called M-Home with sponsored activities ranging from free yoga classes to pumpkin carving at Halloween, illustrating the School’s efforts to prioritize wellness. Balance is about finding ways to fill your cup, and, thankfully for me, spending time with the incredible people in the Michigan community keeps my cup overflowing.

Why has Michigan been a good fit for you?

Michigan was a great fit for me because this program and the entire medical school community so clearly want you to maintain all that makes you unique throughout your educational journey. I was nervous that being in medical school would mean giving up so much of who I am and what I enjoy, but I’ve found that Michigan encourages us to keep those interests and passions alive and thriving.

Michigan is a school that values diverse backgrounds, diverse perspectives, and diverse strengths. My class alone has students from tech company backgrounds, former teachers, phenomenal musicians and writers – the list is endless. And for each of these traits, I can also name ways students have showcased or expanded their passions through activities within the School, whether that be in a Path of Excellence or volunteering opportunities or an open mic night performance.

Michigan has been a good fit because it has allowed me to be the best version of myself. Michigan has pushed me in new ways academically and challenged me to grow personally; it has granted me the freedom and flexibility to build a medical school schedule that works best for my learning style; and it has nurtured and supported my interests in ways I hadn’t previously experienced.

What would you say to a prospective student who is considering the University of Michigan Medical School for their medical education?

Michigan is a wonderful place to learn how to practice medicine and develop your unique talents, which are so strongly valued here. Michigan offers a supportive, genuine community and endless opportunities to pursue your passions or develop new ones.

The faculty, staff, and students here will simultaneously blow you away and remind you over and over that you are more than enough, that you belong, and that you are important to our community. I repeatedly feel grateful for the opportunity to train here, for the friendship of my peers and guidance of my mentors, and for the evident commitment of this institution’s administration to meet the needs of its student body.

Medical school is full of challenges and opportunities for growth wherever you go, but I am so thankful to be on this journey surrounded by people who consistently lift me up and whom I wholeheartedly cherish.