CMU for Pre-Med?
Kristen Livesey M.D.
Ashley McMakin, M.D.
Many choose a Carnegie Mellon University education for its world-class programs in engineering, drama and computer science.
But two young alumnae — now M.D.'s — chose the unconventional route of CMU over standard pre-med schools on their paths to becoming doctors — and encourage others to consider this option as well.
Kristen Livesey M.D. (MCS'07, DC'07) and Ashley McMakin, M.D. (MCS'07, DC'07) explain why they feel CMU is the best possible preparation for this noble profession.
"I feel very lucky to have had a CMU education before entering medical school," said Livesey, who graduated from medical school at the University of Pittsburgh and is now an internal medicine resident at UPMC Presbyterian.
"I was so well-prepared for the required science classes. And our mentors at Carnegie Mellon encouraged us to really explore the decision to become a physician," Livesey added. "There were many opportunities available, from formalized shadowing programs to the Doctors of Carnegie Society (DOCs), which brought in residents, medical students and past CMU graduates who are now physicians and surgeons that were able to answer any questions we had about our future careers."
DOCs is one of the many services offered through CMU's Health Professions Program geared towards students interested in pursuing a career in a health profession.
McMakin is in her second year of residency in family medicine at UPMC St. Margaret.
"CMU taught me problem-solving skills and instilled in me a strong work ethic. Since we were really busy with classes, we had to learn to manage our time," McMakin said. "There were also lots of opportunities available to work on our own, which is very important for building self-confidence."
But the key factor that sets CMU apart from standard pre-med schools is the faculty.
Both McMakin and Livesey agree that the university's exceptional faculty and the mentoring they received here made all the difference.
"Others we've talked to didn't have the kind of mentoring we had at CMU," Livesey said. "Dr. Amy Burkert was my biggest resource. She met with me regularly and suggested what classes would most helpful to me in my future career." Burkert is currently CMU's Vice Provost for Education.
McMakin had a similar experience with CMU faculty member Karen Stump.
"Karen was very much present and involved. She genuinely cared not only about our academic success but what was going on in our lives outside of school as well. She was really easy to talk to and that was so important, especially during times when I was really stressed." McMakin said.
"And we had each other," Livesey said about her friendship with McMakin. "If you have a buddy, it's helpful. You can check in on each other."
McMakin and Livesey are both graduates of CMU's Science and Humanities Scholars program. Also Loyal Scots, they recently returned to campus together to give a talk through the Alumni Association's "Real Story Series" about their chosen paths.
"The students and parents who attended had a lot of questions for us about the medical school application process, interviews and classes. They were most interested in the transition from CMU to medical school and what our day-to-day lives are like," said Livesey.
A typical day for Livesey, who is currently working on the busiest inpatient oncology rotation in UPMC's Shadyside Hospital, is often 16-hours long.
"The patients here have a lot of complicated medical problems and they need a lot of social support," she explained. "We're here for long hours, but I really enjoy being able to provide my patients with comprehensive care during this difficult time in their lives."
McMakin enjoys the variety of practicing family medicine, which includes delivering babies, and caring for those children as they grow into adults and have children and grandchildren of their own. Her job requires her to be skilled at communicating with patients of all ages.
Medicine is a unique calling in life and McMakin and Livesey agree that they feel privileged to be part of this tight knit community. "You have to be willing to work long hours. People see you at their most vulnerable, and you can make a real difference in your patients lives, sometimes more than we realize," McMakin said.