DMU students mentor undergrads to support their journey

As the first in their families to study medicine, Kelly Bang and Jiyoon Song, members of the DMU osteopathic medicine Class of 2024, can look back and see the great impact that having mentors would have made when they were undergraduates navigating a path to medical school.

“If I’d had a mentor, I think my journey could have been a lot shorter,” Jiyoon says. “Having a support system among just your friends is great, but a good mentor can provide both truth and encouragement at the same time.”

“Applying to medical school can be like being in a dark room with a flashlight,” Kelly says. “Having a mentor is like having someone turn on the light switch for you.”

A good mentor can make all the difference in one’s climb to medical school. (Photo: Riccardo Bresciani)

Knowing now the difference a mentor would have made inspired Kelly with the idea of matching DMU students with pre-medicine students at Drake University. Jiyoon jumped on board to assist with logistics. Last fall they reached out to fellow members of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) to gauge interest; 45 osteopathic medicine and podiatric medicine students signed up. Given that positive response, the DMU students are now working to connect with pre-med students at Iowa State University.

“When I first got the email about this opportunity to get involved with AMSA, I knew I wanted to be a mentor and make time in my schedule to dedicate to this program,” says Tanner Kirchberg, D.O.’24. “I didn’t have anyone to talk to when I was thinking about going to medical school who had insight to how the process works, and it made it very difficult at times. I believe that it is so beneficial to have someone who has experienced it to talk to and ask questions. My goal is to make the process easier so that no one who wants to go to medical school and become a physician is discouraged by the arduous process.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has limited many in-person interactions, the switch to virtual platforms, including email and Zoom, has expanded mentorship possibilities, Kelly says.

“We are hoping to have a ‘Shadow a D.O. Student Day,’ but in the meantime, we’ve been able to mitigate the challenges COVID has thrown at us,” she says. “The sky’s the limit when it’s virtual.”

Michael Munafo, D.O.’24, compares being a mentor to being a good physician. “It means being nonjudgmental and listening to what your mentee has to tell you,” he says. “It also means sharing your own experience of going through the [pre-med] process as an undergrad. There’s so much you wish you had known in advance.”

His Drake mentee, Savannah Cavan, learned about the mentorship program through Drake’s Pre-Medicine Club and a Zoom panel discussion with DMU students. “When I heard the idea, I got really excited because it sounded like a great opportunity to be able to converse and have a connection with someone who is currently going through what I plan to go through in the future,” she says.

Drake health sciences major and Pre-Medicine Club treasurer Hannah Krier has talked with her DMU mentor about applying to medical school as well as about volunteering, shadowing and “our own goals, aspirations and current situations.”

“I feel this experience will benefit me greatly by preparing me for situations that my mentor has experienced that I never have,” she says. “I think it will also help me develop relationships in the medical field and get some good insight about my future career path.”

The mentorship program brings value to participating DMU students, too, says Tanner Kirchberg. “When I initially set out to become a mentor through this program, I was doing so with the intention to be someone whom they could rely on for support, to answer their questions and hopefully benefit their life in the process. That being said, I am pleasantly surprised at how much this program has benefited me as well,” he says. “I believe that being a mentor to someone else has pushed me to be a leader and role model that they can look up to, and with this the drive and motivation to be the best I can be.”

Kelly Bang with her parents Chau Nguyen and Thuy Bang and her nephew, Dylan Yates, at DMU’s White Coat Ceremony in 2019. Her father passed away due to COVID-19 last July.

For Kelly Bang, creating the mentorship program was, in part, a way to honor her father, Chau Nguyen, who died last July from the coronavirus. He served as a lieutenant in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War and then was transported to a refugee camp in the Philippines, where he met his wife, Thuy Bang.

“Without knowledge of English and barely anything in his pockets, he worked hard to start a new life in the United States. Our family didn’t have much, but my parents did their best to make sure we had enough,” Kelly says. “My dad worked long hours as a mechanic and always encouraged my sister and me to follow our dreams because he didn’t have that opportunity back home. He was my best friend and my cheerleader – the one who picked me up every time I fell and believed in me when I struggled to believe in myself. My dad is the reason why I want to be a doctor, and his support has helped me build confidence in my ability to become one. I will never forget how elated he was the day I was accepted into DMU.”

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