Notes from our Alums
Our postbac premed students arrive at Bennington in a myriad of ways and from a variety of backgrounds. Uniting as a community through the common goal of the pursuit of a medical, dental, or veterinary career, and diving into the study of science together, the postbac year is a meaningful experience in and of itself. Our alums leave here with a solid grounding in the concepts necessary to move forward in this new direction and an appreciation for the support they find in each other and in the Bennington community.
Here some of our recent alums share their “post-postbac” experiences; life during the glide year and in med school, and reflect back on their time at Bennington.
Ryan ‘12 and Cat ‘12 (University of Vermont College of Medicine):
Ryan: “As I’ve made my way through the first year of medical school at UVM, it seems that I often come across moments, both personal and academic, that draw my mind back to my year at Bennington College. Academically, I find that I am often reminded of how thankful I am for the emphasis Bennington placed on going over primary source articles and developing our ability to read scientific literature. Throughout the classes, discussions, and time with professors at Bennington I came to more fully develop my curiosity for the sciences, and more importantly, the skills to go about satisfying that curiosity. These skills in analyzing and synthesizing material that I developed at Bennington are ones I use on a daily basis here at UVM. In warm parallel with the academic connection, I find that I am also often reminded of how thankful I am for my time at Bennington on a personal level. While at Bennington I grew to love Vermont and all of the opportunities it offers to hike, run, bike, swim, or drive through its wonderful countryside. Now in Burlington, I am enjoying the opportunity to explore new places made even more beautiful by the fact that they remind me of the roads, hills, and trails I came to know while in Bennington.”
Cat: “My post-postbac experience started off in a bit of a whirlwind with studying for and taking the MCAT, getting my application together, and working at the Emergency Department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. But, upon getting into medical school in the fall, I ran off to New Zealand to WWOOF on a farm on the North Island. There I learned some of the ins and outs of working on a farm such as harvesting pine nuts and daily milking. I even lost my first patient: a baby calf which came into my care after being abandoned by his mother. Despite vigilant care and feedings with a plastic tube and funnel, he was too compromised from not getting any nutrition in his first couple of days. Living the farm life was a really great way to spend a good chunk of time outside before hitting the books in the fall. Now I’m nearly a year into medical school at the University of Vermont. It’s hard to believe we’ll be stepping onto the floor and starting rotations in our fresh white coats in less than a year! It seems like just last semester that we were chasing down frogs in the physiology lab, catapulting pumpkins in the name of physics, and working on our chemistry research projects while looking out over the pond outside the lab windows at Bennington. I really appreciate the atmosphere of Bennington, my professors and fellow classmates. It was the perfect place to not just check off the prereq boxes, but to really immerse myself in the science and really learn and understand. It provided me with a solid foundation on which to build my medical education.”
Katie ‘13 (glide year):
“For the glide year I am working as a project manager in Quality Improvement (QI) at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital. I help run projects, such as hand washing auditing and the QI newsletter, and conduct research for a number of QI projects, one of which I began during Field Work Term and have continued this year. I was afforded this job opportunity thanks to volunteering at this hospital over FWT, which was a great chance not only to pad my resume with clinical experience, but also to make connections with physicians and to gain mentors in various fields. Having gotten the lay of the land over FWT and then returning to work with a number of the same people has provided excellent professional continuity throughout my postbac and glide years.
“Working at UVA has also afforded me the opportunity to live and work among medical students. I am constantly surrounded by students who love to talk about medical school, and they are eager to provide any and all advice I could ever ask for. I have gotten to celebrate with the second-years after they took Step 1; with the third-years when they finished clinical rotations; and with the fourth-years when they matched into residency programs. I also got to witness firsthand the wide spectrum of emotions that precedes and follows each of these events. Ultimately, I think living and working among medical students has given me as realistic a view as possible of what medical school entails, both in terms of the workload and the emotions involved, and I value the networking I’ve experienced as I prepare to start medical school this summer.
“Finally, I think it speaks volumes about the close-knit experience at Bennington that I still keep in touch with the majority of my classmates and even some of the current postbacs with whom my class overlapped. It was a welcome relief from my undergraduate experience to have such small science classes where I could ask questions and meet with professors outside of class. I think learning how to think about science and how to ask the right questions, which we were trained to do at length at Bennington, will be very helpful when we begin tackling such a huge amount of science in medical school.”
Carl ‘12 (University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine):
“As far as my post-postbac life goes, I have had quite a positive experience in terms of first getting into veterinary school, and subsequently as a first-year vet student. Academically, the past eight months have been no doubt some of the hardest of my life, and I have certainly had to adjust to new ways of studying and keeping on top of classes. Despite the quantity and the difficulty of the classes and the occasional crippling levels of stress, I have not had this much fun in school since…well, ever (not including, of course, any class where Bennington’s own Dr. John Bullock is involved).
“My class has just finished our semester-and-a-half-long Anatomy course, the arduous veterinary rite of passage that all must undertake in order to transition from neophyte animal enthusiast to seasoned know-it-all. So as of now, how close am I to being a practicing vet? Well, if someone brings in a cadaver of a horse, goat, dog, cat, or chicken, I can definitely tell you if it is alive or dead. Once in a while, however, I do get the chance to see some living patients and practice my growing skill set. As a first-year student we do get to practice physical exams on small and large animals, as well as interact with their human owners (sometimes real, sometimes hired professional actors) in order to practice our communication skills and bedside manner. I also volunteer occasionally at the local animal welfare society to participate in high-volume vaccinations, spays and neuters, which has been preparing me well for this summer when I go to Thailand to do the same thing.
“When I think about my year at Bennington in the postbac program, I am grateful that the professors and the students there really helped me to hone my critical thinking skills, particularly when it comes to science. These days when I am sitting in a classroom with 122 other students (who all had a strong science background) and learning about how chemotherapy drugs work, or how abdominal radiographs work, or how T cells become activated—once in a while it will occur to me that I am not merely passively learning and listening, but in my head I am actively thinking about the biochemistry of oncogenesis, about the electromagnetic radiation of an x-ray cathode, about the significance of specific peptide and receptor interactions—and realize that I learned to think this way primarily by sitting in a classroom and discussing these topics with 10 other students in a small town in Vermont.”
Michal ‘11 (University of Washington School of Medicine):
“I’m a few weeks away from completing my second year of medical school at the University of Washington and when I think back on my year as part of the Bennington Postbac Premedical Program, the first thing that comes to mind is that Bennington really was the perfect place to make the transition towards medical school. I was initially drawn to Bennington because of the small class sizes, location, and the idea of Field Work Term. Knowing what I know now, deciding to attend Bennington College for my pre-medical education was one of my best professional decisions.
“Having spent my undergraduate years at a large state school, and now after two years of med school, I definitely miss the supportive and interactive learning environment we had at Bennington. I feel fortunate to have developed my scientific foundation under the mentorship of the faculty at Bennington. To put it simply, they were excellent. We were taught in a way that made understanding complex scientific principles the natural progression of our education, as opposed to mere memorization. It was clear from day one that the faculty had our best interests in mind and put great effort into creating an environment where we could succeed in class, on the MCAT, and in the future.
“Looking back on my first year at UW, most of the year was spent building on the strong foundation that I developed at Bennington. The postbac program prepared me with the right tools to seamlessly take the next steps in my medical education. It’s no joke when I say that whenever I look at an EKG I still hear the Bennington Physiology Professor’s voice talking us through how an action potential works.
“It was important to me to spend my postbac year in a place where I didn’t have to commute long distances to do things that are important to me like biking, hiking, and skiing. Though the postbac year is busy, there’s always time for the things that are important to you. The Green Mountains were a beautiful backdrop when the time came to get outside.
“Med school has been a lot of fun, but also a lot of hard work. Not only did Bennington prepare me for the classroom, but the program also prepared me to manage a substantial course load alongside an intact work-life balance.”