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Interview with Trisha Mathelier, MD/MBA student at UCLA [Show Summary]

In today’s episode Trisha Mathelier, an MD/MBA student with the Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program, shares her medical school journey as well as what led her to decide on getting an MBA in addition to her medical degree. She fills us in on the uniqueness of the Drew/UCLA program, as it provides her with the opportunity to be part of a small and close knit community at Drew (just 24 students per class), but also with the wealth of resources at the large world-class research program at UCLA. Trisha then lets us know what she has planned for the immediate term and the future as an MD/MBA – she plans to be a clinician and also a serial entrepreneur.

An MD/MBA candidate speaks about her passions for both the clinical and business sides of healthcare [Show Notes]

Our guest today is Trisha Mathelier, MD/MBA student participating in the Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program. Tricia grew up just outside New York City and graduated from Harvard College in 2013. At Harvard she majored in Psychology, Social and Cognitive Neurosciences, and Global Health and Health Policy. She took a gap year between graduation and started at UCLA in 2014. She intends to earn her MBA in 2020 and her MD in 2021.

Can you tell us about your background outside of medicine? Where you grew up? What do you like to do for fun? [2:41]

I grew up in a suburb outside of Manhattan. I am an only child, and was very active in my church and youth group. I volunteered a lot through my church, but most of my time was spent cheerleading – I was on a competitive all-star team. Before that I did competitive gymnastics and dance. Every weekend practically throughout high school I traveled all over the east coast for cheerleading competitions on a nationally ranked team – from Maine to Florida. When I wasn’t in the gym I just enjoyed being a kid. I would go to the beach, go to the lake, essentially a typical suburban New York life. One piece of advice that I really took to heart around that time that I would pass along to your listeners is to do things that you are generally passionate about, because people will see the passion and know you are genuine and not just doing something to impress an interviewer.

How did you know you wanted to be a doctor? [5:31]

I had a really close relationship with my pediatrician – he was a close family friend. After every appointment he would take me into his office to get a sticker. Looking at all the degrees and awards I was so impressed and told him so, and he said I was smart and I could be a doctor, too. I decided I was going to be a pediatrician just like him.

My mom was studying then to be a nurse and as a single mom of an only child she didn’t always have a babysitter so I would sometimes go with her to classes or the lab or listen along to her audio lectures. She would play them nonstop like music, and there were times in the tape where the lecturers would stop and ask questions to keep the listener engaged. There was a failure to thrive question in newborns around jaundice. It was an open ended question, and I answered it and was right. My mom was amazed and asked how I got it right. I said, “I’ve been listening to your nursing stuff and think I kind of get it.”

You took a gap year between undergrad and med school. What did you do and are you happy you did it? [9:55]

I started working for an NGO my senior year in college called Physicians for Haiti. A Haitian hospital was designing a social medicine course to figure out the social determinants of health. They invited students from the US and other countries to participate, and so I was involved in interviewing students for the program, setting up the curriculum, and the logistics on how it would work. During the summer just after graduation I was in Haiti to help implement the course. I then applied to medical school and worked as a scribe, which was a great way to gain clinical experience and knowledge. A lot of the documentation I did was really relevant during my first year and made learning easier and a lot more fun. The gap year was one of the best decisions of my life.

Why did you decide to attend Drew/ UCLA Medical Education Program? [12:45]

I knew I wanted to work in urban underserved communities. I am passionate about that, and the Drew/UCLA program focuses on it. Of the 190 students who are UCLA medical students, 24 are also enrolled at Charles Drew University of Medicine. We get unique clinical opportunities that allow us to work in the underserved communities of L.A. and have a required thesis that targets urban underserved healthcare. It made sense to prioritize a program that allowed me to focus on that. A lot of other schools I applied to had similar tracks and urban scholars, but the Drew/UCLA program was a lot more comprehensive in my opinion.

What have you liked best about your medical school experience at UCLA/Drew? [14:54]

Drew is an HBCU that is really small – in terms of med students affiliated there are only 25-30 per class. HBCUs are known for having a more close knit family feel. I am pretty sure most of the administrators are in my contacts list in my phone, and the community feels like a family. Drew is in the heart of a very underserved community, and it is great to have those kinds of mentors. UCLA is in West LA and serves a completely different demographic. They have a lot of respected specialties, and I could do any kind of research I wanted to do, covering all of my expenses. The benefit of being in the program is I don’t have to compromise – I have a smaller tight knit school but the benefits of being at a research powerhouse, which to me is the best of both worlds.

What could be improved? [17:14]

I would love to see nationwide an improvement in the pipelines for those underrepresented in medicine – to have access to attend medical school and improve diversity. I would like to see more women and underrepresented groups as faculty. Medicine to me is a boys club, so I would love to see more female surgeons, neurologists, orthopedic surgeons, and I would like to see the transition happen sooner.

Where are you at in your medical studies now? [18:40]

I completed my third year of medical school and now am wrapping up my first year in the MBA program. For a second degree the program is typically more flexible, and you can double up on coursework to finish in a condensed amount of time. I have done the opposite and decided to take a complete leave of absence from medical school so am completely enrolled in the full two years for the MBA program and will graduate in 2020, returning to medical school to finish my fourth year. This summer I was afforded so many unique opportunities for my internship but ultimately settled on consulting, most likely on a healthcare project.

Why did you decide you also wanted an MBA? [20:50]

UCLA is a research powerhouse, and I was afforded the opportunity to go back to Haiti, where my family is originally from, to lay the foundation to pilot a research study. After the study was finished it was published, and essentially laid out that HIV positive pregnant women in Haiti have a high percentage of STDs, and they were not being treated. However, they wanted treatment and had to sometimes travel often as far as three hours away for treatment. The study confirmed there are STDs in Haiti and women are willing to do whatever it takes to get to a clinic for treatment, so how can we create large scale expansion to make treatment available in rural areas, not just the capital.

I realized I don’t have the skills to make these types of decisions, and I don’t want to be the researcher who just asks the questions. I want to see what the evidence says and develop solutions. During my clinical rotation I found myself interested in the hospital logistics and operational issues. One clinic was notorious for not having regular hours, and the reason was because the clinic had so many patients coming through each day, and it was understaffed. It seemed like the work flow could be redesigned to make things more efficient, but again I didn’t have the skills or background to answer those questions.

I also am very interested in entrepreneurship, healthcare startups, digital health, and a lot of the healthcare startups popping up. There are so many great gadgets and companies, how do you manage their impact? So ultimately, I realized I am very interested in the business side of healthcare, which I can’t learn more about in just medical school.

Why did you decide you wanted to do the full two-year MBA in addition to medical school, essentially elongating it? [24:41]

I had the option to limit the MBA experience but I wanted the greater connections and internship, which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I knew I wanted my career to be a balance of clinical and non-clinical, but in order to decide that balance I need to experience the non-clinical side, too. Like many premeds I initially had a rigorous timeline I was going to follow. When I took the gap year I realized that in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter. An extra year wouldn’t make or break my experience so I adopted that over time, realizing that an extra two years to get an MBA has more value than negative consequences.

You have a blog, Three Thousand Miles. Can you tell us a little bit about it? When did you start writing it? Why? [26:56]

I started it my second year in medical school and honestly started it out of procrastination – I was supposed to be studying for something. I’ve always been a blog reader, and one day I was sitting in my apartment and just decided to do it. It’s called Three Thousand Miles since that is how far from home I am. I shared admissions tips to start, because I volunteer with admissions and work with postbac students and lead workshops for them every month, so I had a lot of experience in medical admissions and wanted to share free resources. I realized that not everyone has access to great counselors like I did. Most of the time people reach out and say they found my blog when searching how to study for the MCAT.

Over time I realized there is more to my life than just medical school – I love photography, baking, cooking and travel, and I wanted my blog to highlight that you can go to med school and still do other things – you can have unique interests and hobbies and school doesn’t have to consume your life. The med school stereotype is that one is obsessed with med school, worried about getting in, staying in, block exams, etc., etc. I wanted to hold on to my freedom. I wanted to still have fun, not always being in the library and always studying. I wanted to show you can have diverse interests and pursue them and still be a great student and become a great doctor.

How do you see your career evolving after you finish at UCLA/Drew? [30:58]

I have a lot of interests in healthcare. Four classmates and I are applying to be a part of the business creation option at UCLA Anderson. We are working on building a company that we want to go live after graduation. Ideally I see myself as a cofounder of a company that has funding and being a resident. In the long term I see myself being a serial entrepreneur. I am really passionate about kids, especially those with developmental disabilities, and I see myself a practicing doctor but with multiple startups. Creating and innovating is definitely part of my future.

What would you have liked me to ask you? [33:18]

What has been the highlight of my experience so far. For me it has been forming this business creation option team. There are people so passionate about healthcare. We connected because we were all interested in putting together scalable solutions in the healthcare space. They all have worked in healthcare before business school, but seeing that you don’t have to be a clinician to have a meaningful role in healthcare is really neat. In business school there are people with all kinds of different backgrounds, and the interdisciplinary collaboration is really exciting.

Related Links:

The Ultimate Guide to Secondary Essay Question from Top Med Schools, a free download
Three Thousand Miles, Trisha’s blog
Accepted’s Medical School Admissions Services
Accepted MBA Admissions Services

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