Incoming School of Medicine graduate students bring world of experience

Dec. 11, 2018

The OHSU School of Medicine welcomed 325 new Graduate Studies students for the 2018-19 school year, spanning the Ph.D., master's, physician assistant and certificate programs.

"We are fortunate to have such a large group of new students with a wide range of research interests and diverse paths that led them to pursue graduate degrees," said Allison Fryer, Ph.D., associate dean for Graduate Studies, OHSU School of Medicine. "As they settle into their classes, it is exciting to see them bring their talents and experiences to our learning community."

stats for incoming grad students 

Incoming students include:

Thomas Fernandez

Graduate Program in Molecular &Cellular Biosciences (PMCB)

2018 ARCS Scholar

What was your path to pursuing a Ph.D.?

I am a first generation Latino-American and high school dropout. I struggled mightily in the classroom throughout my teenage years. In stark juxtaposition, I loved to learn; so many things in the world fascinated me. I wanted to know how things truly worked, beyond what my eyes could see. However, the actualization between my inquiring mind and academic achievement was elusive. I ultimately dropped out of high school, took the GED, and entered the workforce.

My journey back to academia was untraditional and unexpected, but it was something I always sought to accomplish. I had not been in a classroom for five years, but by spring of 2009 I began community college as a philosophy major.

I was gaining momentum until I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) on Dec. 3, 2009. Despite the diagnosis, I was able to successfully transfer to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2011. I graduated in 2016 and spent two years at the University of Michigan in the Department of Pharmacology, working on a number of projects including creating a proof of concept for a safer opioid drug that produces less tolerance and dependence. My higher education began in philosophy, moved to neuroscience, and now in STEM related to drug discovery.

What attracted you to OHSU and what do you like about it so far?

The faculty, resources, and community culture at OHSU. It is an amazing place to learn.

Felicity Coulter

Graduate Program in Molecular & Cellular Biosciences (PMCB)

What was your path to pursuing a Ph.D.?

Felicity CoulterI'm from the South London. I started out by getting a B.Sc. in biology from University of Portsmouth, then getting my M.Sc. in immunology of infectious diseases from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Whilst studying for my M.Sc., I was convinced that my education would stop there, and I would just start working. So I got a job as a Research Assistant at University of Cambridge, and worked there for two years. During that time, I realized that progressing my career without having a Ph.D. would be difficult and slow. Plus, as an RA, I was already working on Ph.D.-level projects, so it seemed that I may as well actually put that work toward getting a Ph.D.! In addition to this, whilst I was working in the field of immunology, I really wanted to get back to infectious disease research.

What are your research interests and what do you hope to delve into here at OHSU?

Infectious disease immunology! The most important thing for me is to develop skills in research and basic science. I aim to do this in the context of human infectious disease as this will prepare me best for the type of research I'd like to be involved in once I graduate. For my M.Sc., I conducted my research project at the Medical Research Council in the Gambia, and I hope to one day be able to travel again and focus my research on the diseases that hit people of the developing world the hardest.

What attracted you to OHSU, and what do you like about it so far?

I love it! Exams have been hard work, but I had a great summer working in the Haigwood and Messer labs for my first rotations, and I can't wait to delve back into that.

Portland played a big part when it came to deciding between schools. I feel incredibly lucky to be here. My classmates are the best, and the older years are so supportive and welcoming.

Lauren Johnson

Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Dietetic Internship program

What motivated you to pursue the combined MS/DI?

My desire to enter the dietetic field originates from my early days spent coming of age in one of the most productive agricultural regions in America, California's Salinas Valley. My father is a prominent farmer, and as a result I grew up constantly immersed in an agricultural environment. My father's passion for feeding the world with his fresh produce directly inspired my own passion for healthy eating and has led to my desire to share this passion with others, to provide them with stepping stones toward healthy living.

Although the agricultural industry dominated our local community, the majority of our local population still struggled with widespread obesity and diabetes. I watched as family members and friends struggled with these diseases, and ultimately it was their lack of education on how to manage and treat these issues that led to increased complications. This profound experience revealed to me that not only could I recognize the warning signs of disease in others, but that I could utilize my knowledge to help others solve these problems. I wanted everyone around me to be educated on nutrition and love it just as I did, so I came to the conclusion that in order to share my passion with others, I first needed to educate myself as much as I could in order to give back the maximum amount I could.

What do you hope to do with your degree?

I would like to work in pediatrics, but with no specific emphasis or specialty at this point. I was initially interested in gastrointestinal disorders and cancer because my young cousin had GERD and my mother has cancer. I am looking forward to my clinical rotations because that will be the time in which I really develop my interests when working one on one with patients.

How are you feeling about the program so far?

This program has been beyond all expectations. The combined MS/DI at OHSU is so different from any other school I applied to. OHSU's personable and passionate staff have been so helpful in making this transition a positive experience. It is especially inspiring to see teachers that truly care about what you are learning and getting out of the material they are teaching. Their passion does not go unnoticed, they have sincerely inspired my whole cohort to be the best dietitians. The program has been really interactive, and I believe that makes all the difference when learning mass amounts of information.

Juvenal (Jay) Fils

Physician Assistant Program

What was your path to becoming a P.A. student?

Jay FilsA sequence of interconnected events led me to PA school. It all started after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010 and left hundreds of thousands of people either dead or with life-threatening injuries. I barely survived myself and so badly wanted to help alleviate the suffering of others, but I was a high school student and lacked the necessary skills to help.

Schools were closed after the earthquake, and I was fortunate to get a job translating English to Haitian Creole in an American-led urgent care clinic in Haiti. There I had my first exposure to the practice of medicine and I loved it. I shared my dream of pursuing a career in medicine with a physician, who helped me gain admittance to a liberal arts college in Massachusetts. After graduating, I went back to Haiti for a year to manage a pediatric clinic.

My time working in Haiti, both before and after college, made clear to me that many human diseases are manifestations of a diseased system. People who are poor in a resource-poor country have a higher incidence of treatable/preventable diseases that often result in premature death. After my time managing the clinic in Haiti, I returned to the U.S., worked as an emergency medical technician and then as an emergency department technician. I applied to P.A. school and here I am at OHSU.

Why did you choose to pursue the P.A. degree and what kind of setting do you hope to practice in?

I love medicine and I love community health. I particularly like the flexibility that the P.A. profession offers. Currently, I hope to practice in emergency medicine because of my life experience or in palliative medicine because I would like to be a positive presence for people dealing with life-limiting illnesses.

Aside from the hands-on aspect of the P.A. profession, I want to use my skills to revitalize communities with a scarcity of resources by first giving people access to care and then addressing the socioeconomic determinants of health. For example, I can help a community open a clinic in a remote area in Haiti with an emphasis on teaching good health practices and disease prevention. As time goes on, I can work with the local population to help them access resources to have a little bit of economic freedom and eventually help their children access quality education, changing their fate and the fate of their community. It may seem idealistic, but I have seen it done before, and I believe it is a worthy cause.

What attracted you to OHSU and what do you like about it so far?

Aside from falling in love with Oregon, I came to OHSU because of the emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention. I like the P.A. program because the faculty and staff genuinely care about our success. The program is very challenging and demands personal growth, and the faculty is always present to help us overcome our weaknesses by providing frequent feedback. This is often done over a cup of coffee or by going on a walk. OHSU is exceptional but not rigid. Professors share their experiences and views, creating an opportunity for open dialogue.

Grace Chang

Physician Assistant Program

Where are you from and what was your path to becoming a P.A. student?

Grace ChangI'm originally from California, born and raised in the Bay Area. I had been working as an account executive at a public relations firm in West Hollywood when I quit my job to pursue medicine. I went to UC Davis and majored in communication and Chinese. Like some other first-generation students, I did not go to college with a vision of a future career. All I knew was that I loved people and that I wanted to be surrounded by new faces and stories. I experimented with jobs in wedding planning, took classes in various subjects, and joined a pre-med student-run organization called Willow Clinic. With Willow, I worked with UC Davis physicians and homeless veterans at the Salvation Army. It was this defining experience that later drove me to switch careers years later. I moved back home with my parents (bless their hearts) and enrolled in a post-bacc program at UC Berkeley. I was originally on the M.D. track. A year into taking pre-med classes, I started working as an M.A. and saw a P.A. in action for the first time. She was a dermatology/primary care P.A., and she was an incredible teacher with a vast knowledge and skillset. It's been the P.A. profession ever since!

Why did you choose to pursue the P.A. degree and what kind of setting do you hope to practice in?

For me personally, being a P.A. is the perfect amalgamation of all the components that drove me to pursue medicine in the first place. I value and appreciate the breadth of our scope of practice and the team-based approach to medicine. The profession also caters well to my personality –while I plan to work in primary care, I do have interests in a variety of specialties and it's exciting to know that I have the flexibility to work in them if I want a change of pace.

I'm in the Oregon Rural Scholars program and my intention is to practice in a rural or urban underserved setting as a primary care P.A. My ultimate goal is to be trained as a Chinese medicine practitioner as well and to provide acupuncture treatment to patients. I grew up with Chinese medicine as a big part of my life so in my future clinic, I want to focus on integrative medicine.

What attracted you to OHSU and what do you like about it so far?

When I was a little girl, my family and I drove from San Francisco to the Columbia River Gorge and I fell in love with Portland's waterfalls and widespread greenery. As an adult and prospective P.A. student, my hope was to train at an institution renowned for their innovative research and primary care training. OHSU is one of the top institutions in the world for their discoveries in medicine and has one of the top primary care programs. Six months into the P.A. program and I am continually impressed by our staff, faculty, guest lecturers and their dedication to students.