Fresh from CLAS Education, One Alumnus Finds Med School and Residency an Enjoyable Interlude on the Way to Her Calling
This semester nearly eight hundred students are studying in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with the goal of going on to a graduate level medical program. Whether they are pre-medical, pre-pharmacy, pre-nursing, pre-physical therapy or another pre-health specialization, many of them are drawn to the downtown campus because they are looking forward to applying to the University of Colorado programs on the Anschutz Medical campus.
With so many students vying for so few positions the competition can be fierce, and only the most qualified applicants advance. Anna Neumeier, now in her second year of residency at the University of California San Francisco, represents the success story that these hundreds of students aspire to replicate.
"I think that the commuter campus really fosters independent learning -- which is an important skill for people thinking about going into med school to develop," Neumeier posits. "I think that there has to be a lot more initiative when you have to drive to school. And then you are in class with people of all ages, with people who have had entire careers, and so that level of professionalism in the classroom fosters a fantastic environment. Though I was in class only a couple times a week, that time was very rich -- I actually didn't really realize until I was in medical school how valuable that would be."
Neumeier started her undergrad career at Smith College, a private, independent, women's liberal arts college in Northampton, Massachusetts. Uncertain if she would pursue her passion for dance or her life-long interest in medicine, Neumeier spent her first two years studying both. After moving back to Denver in 2002 she got a job in an emergency room and started taking some introductory level classes at Metro, "I really liked the urban campus, but I wanted a program with a little more academic rigor and reputation, so I decided to transfer to CU Denver. At that point I decided I definitely wanted to go on to medical school, so I chose the major I thought would best prepare me -- which was Biology with a minor in Chemistry, and then I did another minor in Spanish as well because I felt that that would be important."
Not daunted by the difficulty of her major and minors, she flourished with each new challenge. "Some of the upper division biology classes I took at CU Denver were actually more difficult than some of the entry level classes I had in medical school. I just felt really prepared." She credits specifically Dr. Kent Nofsinger's "intense" anatomy class and Dr. Michael Green's "exceptional" physiology class as being her best preparations. "They really encouraged students to delve in and really understand the science – which was a great foundation for my future studies."
She also credits the pre-health advising staff, including Dr. Nofsinger and Dr. Charles Ferguson, with helping to prepare her for her success. "They are very realistic. Medical school is extremely competitive, they know that to get in you not only need good grades, but you need to have a background in either research or volunteer and work exposure in the health care field, and they explicitly say that. So if you aren't ready, they don't have you waste your time applying. They will make sure you do the work you need, and they help you connect and figure that out. They are honest and supportive and tell you just what you need to do. "
For Neumeier, what made the most sense to gain that outside-the-classroom competitive edge was getting a job as an EMT and continuing to work in emergency rooms. She was so strong academically that in her last year of school she also worked at a tutor in the Learning Resource Center, helping struggling students gain a grasp on the difficult curriculum she herself had mastered. She graduated with distinction and Magna Cum Laude honors from the Biology department in December 2005, and with University of Colorado as her first choice for MD programs her transition to the Anschutz Medical campus was one she describes as easy. "I felt extremely well prepared. I had the study skills and the discipline to keep up with the classes, and it was great. I loved medical school. I was finally doing what I had wanted to all these years."
"Once you're in medical school there is a community to support you and get you thorough, so I thought it was a good challenge and I enjoyed medical school tremendously." She says choosing her specialty was the hardest part of medical school; ultimately, she decided to go into internal medicine. She is now in a residency program in internal medicine at the University of California San Francisco, where she puts in eighty hours weeks. It's not as dramatic as you see on television, she says, but that doesn't mean there aren't challenges. "Days go by very quickly, you are caring for a lot of patients, some of whom are really very sick, so your time flies. There's no life or death situations every ten minutes, but every fifth night there can be a 28 hour long shift. You build your stamina, and you build up to that... and after all, residency is only three years."
Neumeier says her time in the third and fourth year of medical school doing clinical rotations helped prepare her well for her current challenges. "You experience the long days on the ward, and then you rotate onto specialty services, to help you make decisions about specializing. University of Colorado Hospital students also get experience at Denver Heath, the county hospital – and that's exposure to underserved populations – and the VA Medical Center, to serve returning vets." Neumeier says that kind of diverse training makes University of Colorado medical students highly sought after when it comes time to apply to residency programs. UC San Francisco was her first choice, and she believes most of her cohort got into their first choice of programs as well.
Now that she is practicing medicine she says the patients are the best part of her job, "Working in San Francisco I see a diverse group of patients, from new immigrants to computer company CEOs. The breadth and depth of what I'm getting to do is really great. And then also I'm working with the County Hospital again here, so I get to serve a lower-income population, and the VA hospital where I serve the vets, like I did in Denver -- so I really love the diversity of the patients that I'm caring for."
The best advice Neumeier can give students hoping to get into medical school is simple: "It's a long process, but it's 100% worthwhile, and each step in the process is vital to becoming a physician. Enjoy your pre-med classes, enjoy your clinical or research experience – get some exposure so that you can know what you're getting yourself into and that that you enjoy it." She emphasizes, "You should enjoy it, because that would mean that you're meant to be in medicine. If you really don't like the classes and you don't like working in the hospitals – that's a sign."
Neumeier would love to come back home for the next step in her career, "I want to come back to Colorado, I grew up there." She will start applying in July for fellowships in cardiology or pulmonary critical care medicine, and she says University of Colorado Hospital will again be at the top of her list. Looking back on her experiences in CLAS, Neumeier sums it up neatly, "I knew coming-in what I wanted to do, and CU Denver made it possible for me to do that."