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Does a BME Degree Really Prepare You for Medical School? - Duke's Kemi Oni Says Yes

Written in 2004Kemi OniAfter surviving a six-week med school boot camp, Pratt biomedical engineering student Kemi Oni says she’s more than ready for medical school.

Oni and 107 other minority students from around the U.S. gathered in New York City this past summer for the Minority Medical Education Program, sponsored by Columbia University. The MMEP is an intensive six-week course designed to emulate the first year medical experience. In addition to lectures, students get to observe doctors practicing medicine in a variety of venues–— from office to emergency center to operating room.

At the Harlem Hospital emergency center, Oni witnessed an emergency hysterectomy, gall bladder surgery, and saw doctors treat a gunshot wound.

She also talked at length with first-year medical students to get the real scoop about workload and advice on study habits. One-on-one career counseling and strategies for preparing for the MCAT medical school entrance exam round out the MMEP course.

“At first, I wondered how well my biomedical engineering training had prepared me for medical school, but now I’m sold,” said Oni. “The engineering orientation to problem solving is the key to success in medical school courses. Lecturers present pieces of information and then you have to make the connections to create the big picture. I’m used to that already from my BME classes.”

Students from undergraduate disciplines where learning is more route memorization really struggled, said Oni, who finished the 64-hour MMEP course and exams at the top of the class.

“I realize now how valuable my training at Pratt has been,” she said. Oni already has three semesters of hands-on research under her belt from working in William Reichert’s lab. Reichert is a Pratt professor of biomedical engineering with research interests in biosensors, protein mediated cell adhesion and wound healing.

“People don’t realize how number intensive medicine is,” Oni explains. Simple tests result in volumes of data, and learning to be comfortable with analyzing that data is critical.

The MMEP boot camp days were long and Oni calls the amount of required reading “absolutely insane,” but there were many moments of humor and self-discovery.

On one afternoon, Oni watched a laproscopic surgery. Laproscopy is a diagnostic and surgical method in which a laparoscope is inserted through an incision in the navel. The laparoscope, tipped with a small telescope-like instrument with a light, lets doctors see inside their patient and perform surgery. Afterwards, the doctor gave each student a chance to handle the laparoscope as he explained how he trains surgical residents.

“I discovered that I’m not a laproscopic person,” Oni said, laughing and miming awkward arm and hand movements. “I have no hand-eye coordination at all.”

Oni also got the chance to don the symbolic mantle of a doctor’s authority and responsibility during a white coat ceremony.

“It was amazing how differently people in the hospital treated us when we had the white coats on,” Oni said. “People really see you, look up to you. They will gently tug at your sleeve to ask for directions or start to explain their symptoms. They trust and expect that you will help them.”

Humbling, exciting, overwhelming, and motivating, “it was an amazing experience,” Oni said.

Oni said the MMEP course has helped her to better understand healthcare issues from a world context, and she is passionate about trying to change healthcare disparities.

“I know now that I want to be involved in shaping healthcare policy, both domestic and international,” she said. Oni plans to pursue HIV/AIDS research, and is interested in working for the World Health Organization in the future.

Kemi Oni is a senior in biomedical engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. She is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and serves as a role model and mentor to first and second grade girls in Durham, N.C. Her hometown is Atlanta, Georgia. Oni graduated in May 2004.

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