Moderated and transcribed by Edward Chen
Panel discussion with Alexandria Lee, Alexis Derrigo, Gwendolyn Lee, and Jacob Ingber
Welcome! (Image by Edward Chen; headshots from respective individuals)
SvP held its first annual pre-health panel on November 6, 2021 at 4 pm PDT/7 pm EDT. The panel was moderated by Edward Chen, SvP national president, and the panelists were Alexandria Lee, SvP co-founder; Alexis Derrigo, SvP director of youth programming; Gwendolyn Lee, SvP co-founder; and Jacob Ingber, former SvP national president.
If you weren't able to join, or want to refer back to the discussion, the full transcript is below.
Edward Chen (EC): Everyone, welcome to our first annual SvP pre-health panel. And I would like to thank you for coming. And I also want to thank our panelists, Allie, Alexis, Gwen, and Jacob. So, let’s just start by having Gwen talk a little bit about SvP before moving on to questions anybody may have. I have also come prepared with a list of questions that I think will be of general interest, in case we have some extra time.
Gwendolyn Lee (GL): Sure, thank you so much for having us, Edward and for hosting this. I’m really excited to share a little bit about SvP’s mission and also all of our professional journeys toward a career in pre-health. Students vs. Pandemics is a catalyst network solving time sensitive humanitarian crises and that really all began with COVID-19 back in March 2020. We were founded at Harvard University and within the first week of our founding, we had over 100 students interested and to us that really showed how important it was to students to feel like they had a platform to get involved and give back to their community, especially during times of crisis. Over the past couple of years, we’ve grown to over 600 students and that has really built a nationwide movement in terms of students addressing a public health crisis. Today we have three main pillars. It’s to educate, to advocate, and to serve, and so that includes writing public health blog posts and it includes serving our legislators and writing policy memos. And it also includes serving our hospitals who may be under-resourced in terms of PPE. Our numbers of projects have grown, and each chapter of SvP has taken on its own passion, their own passion projects, and so today we’re really excited to be able to share our pre-health journey and help educate and advocate and serve some of our own SvP members and their journey toward a pre-health career. Edward, I’ll pass it back to you in terms of how you want to lead this session.
EC: Thanks for your great introduction for SvP. So, since you mentioned a pre-health journey, would you like to start by describing your pre-health journey? Then maybe we can have our other panelists join in.
GL: Sure, I’ll keep it brief and broad, just as an introduction, I’m Gwendolyn. I’m one of the cofounders of SvP. Really excited to be back this year. I’m a current 4th year medical student at UCLA and I completed a dual degree program. So, I completed my master’s in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School last year. In terms of my premed journey, I had majored in public policy and international affairs in college, but really felt that there was a great need for direct medical service and that’s what drew me to medicine. When I got to med school, I realize that medicine and healthcare so directly intertwined with health policy and the bigger picture of what happens outside of hospitals’ four walls and so with that I decided to do a dual degree. It was not the initial plan, so if anyone is interested in combining passions and interests outside of medicine, I’m happy to speak to that.
EC: That’s good. So maybe we could have Allie introduced herself.
Alexandria Lee (AL): Hi everyone, I’m Allie or Alexandria and I was a recent grad of Harvard Chan School of Public Health in 2020 and I completed my master’s of epidemiology there. And similarly, to Gwen, I actually went into public health. Kind of falling into it my last year of college. I decided to tack on a minor in evolutionary medicine and was really exposed to a lot of public health and epidemiology classes then, and so really last minute I kind of applied to grad school and then ended up in my master’s program and loved it. So originally, I was actually pre-med like the rest of the panelists here today and so they can give you plenty of insight into the pre-med route. But for me, I guess. If you’re not as much of a planner so much as just going along with the flow wherever your life takes you, then I guess you can direct more questions to me. I kind of went from public health right into work. During the pandemic there was a lot of it considering the crisis, and so I worked at the LA County Department of Public Health as an epidemiologist and health program analyst for a year, and now I’m transitioning, likely into my UCLA Department of Family medicine position as a public health administrator. The plan kind of is that a lot of my clinical and research background kind of drew me more upstream and to of interest so as opposed to working directly with patients and in the hospital, I kind of want to work more in the legislative policy side, which ironically was Gwen’s master’s program. And so, I’m thinking of going into health law in the future. And so, kind of following where my life track takes me. But if you if you guys have questions as to how I’m doing and like the steps that I’ve taken so far, happy to answer.
EC: Thanks Allie, and this is a panel, so I’m really opened to just having people just jump in and talk with any thoughts. Jacob?
Jacob Ingber (JI): Yeah, so I’m Jacob. I’m a first-year medical school student at Case Western. I’m in the MD, PhD dual degree program. I graduated last year with a master’s in immunology at Harvard. Same program, Edward’s, and now so it’s pretty cool connection. I went into college pre-med, and I want to be a doctor and then start doing research over the summers because I always heard people talking about how you need to be researched for medical school. Realize that I really loved research and couldn’t decide between going again and MD or getting a PhD. So here I am attempting to get both. Pretty kind of unique track. If you’re really into science and also medicine, it’s definitely something worth considering. It’s a bigger time commitment. If science is what you love then it’s really great way to be able to incorporate kind of lab work. Have a deeper evaluation of science than what you might normally do in medical school. So yeah.
EC: Thanks Jacob.
Alexis Derrigo (AD): Awesome, I will go next. I’m Alexis, I am a fourth-year medical student at Trinity School of Medicine. I started my undergrad majoring in psychology, kind of the opposite of Jacob. I actually thought I wanted to go into research. My plan was a PhD in psychology and then I started working as an undergraduate in an animal lab and realized I was bored and needed to talk to people and not just animals. And so, I did human research and then I didn’t really love that either, so. Then I decided to go into medicine and have fallen in love with the training patients and just daily hospital activities. So, I guess that was the opposite. But from undergrad I struggled through college, so I started a master’s at Case Western and then a Caribbean medical school reached out to me. And so instead of waiting a year, finishing my master’s and going to medical school, I ended up going to medical school in the Caribbean. So, you do two years there and then. I did a year in Baltimore and now I’m doing my final year in Georgia. I’m studying rural medicine, so kind of an interesting track as well for anyone who has any questions about that path.
EC: Thanks, Alexis. So maybe for the first question, I just wanted to ask: as physicians or as public health experts who are maybe still training, what are your thoughts on the current pandemic? What do you think the world needs to do to fare better against future pandemics?
GL: Well, that’s a big question Edward and I’m happy to give that shot. As a trainee, it’s been very eye-opening working in the hospital, seeing patients in the ICU, talking to them, talking to their family members when patients are unable to do so themselves. And so, when I see the pandemic from that lens, I really think of: how can we prevent patients from even entering the hospital in that state? I think for many public health officials that would be vaccination, and so ensuring that people get vaccinated, when appropriate and even some of my patients, they were vaccinated. So, then we think what can we do to make sure those people have the least amount of risks? So that includes masks. You know, social distancing, but I think first and foremost as a society as a community, we need to come together during times of crisis like this and think about what we can do to help each other and ourselves and so those are the kind of medical or public health things I see. One thing that SvP I felt has done a really good job of during this crisis is also building community and social relationships during a very isolating time. And so, while I know you’re asking us as pre-health or health future health professionals, I think that piece has also been critical. You know, we were just talking about before the panel started. How doing Zoom classes it didn’t lead to a lot of class cohesion and medical school things like that, so that’s another piece? I’d say it’s very important.
AD: For me, I think it revealed, how important education is and how easily misconception spreads. I know a lot of people have a fear of a vaccine. They feel pressured into it. So, there’s more pushback and it really showed me how important education is to your patients to the general public and how you need to establish a trust between physicians and medical professionals that you know you can trust and the general public.
AL: I guess for me I will speak on a more governmental perspective. I suppose. I think a lot of counties and states that a very good job of creating rapid response teams. I know I joined a newly formed team myself for outbreak management, and I think in that sense we did a really good job and in the sense that we came together very quickly. I definitely agree with Alexis and Gwendolyn that perhaps more education for the general public is necessary, as well as just having more cohesion in general. I think maybe if we could coordinate like state, county level stuff with national level, it might be a little more helpful. I can’t really speak to that much because I am only figuring this all out myself as well. But yeah, I would definitely say maybe having more pillars in place for prevention in the future, or at least a system that can be tapped into if we encounter another situation like this again, because I think for a lot of us that was OK. This is kind of new. Let’s just assemble something really quickly together and respond. Hopefully we’ll just have more experience in the future, and we won’t even have to really get to this level in the future as well.
JI: Yes, for me, you know, a lot of it boils down to scientific communication. I think that goes hand in hand with Alexis pointing out education. I know SvP’s been going for a while with the blog posts. But you know a lot of the misunderstanding, or the distrust really comes down to. A lot of people, and either the scientific kind of world or the healthcare world not being great at explaining things to kind of lay people. It’s difficult to explain and mRNA vaccine. People who’ve never heard the mRNA before, but it’s something that is so important. To be able to do if you’re good track, convince people to get the vaccine in the first place. And so, I know it’s becoming a larger part of both medical and like PhD training is being able to explain your results. Explain your damage plan just what you’re trying to do to people outside of your field. But I think a lot of ways. We tend to focus on. How do you explain something to someone who isn’t an expert who’s not in your field, but the assumption still tends to be that you’re speaking to someone who has a baseline knowledge of what you’re talking about? While other times were like OK, I study immunology. How am I going to explain these immunology concepts to someone who studies biophysics. The assumption there, though, is still that they have a baseline knowledge. If they’re already studying just different facets of biology at a high level, and so I think that’s where a lot of issues come. Are people have gotten good at explaining their research. To non-experts in the field but not really just to laypeople and that’s really where you need to focus. But obviously right now for this pandemic, but just in the future, really, with any sort of health issue, whether you’re trying to convince people it’s taking new drug or to do this or that, it really comes down to being able to explain succinctly and clearly, it’s people who really have no idea what you’re talking about, why it’s important that you do this.
AL: And I think I would like to add onto what Jacob is saying is that I think, historically speaking the US has had instances where the government has not been fair or just to certain populations, and so I think in addition to education, there is a very large need to face our historical context as well as establish a larger level of trust with our own people. So, I think where that starts? I’m not really sure whether or not that starts in schools. I like there are. There are corrections in our history books now. There are more people speaking out on it. I definitely admire the new generation for really doing their homework beyond classwork and trying to figure out exactly what happened. And I think in that sense. Beyond just education, I think there is a very large need for establishing a level of trust. But hopefully we’ll work on that soon.
EC: Thanks to each of you for your thoughts. You know, now I’m sort of curious because education comes up. Misinformation, of course, comes up. And basically just, you know, communication. So, I