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UVM Is: Chris Danforth Measures Data with a Moral Compass

Associate Professor Chris Danforth uses Twitter to occasionally share scientific research, post photos of his golden retriever, or upload videos of himself biking to work in the snow.

But more than anything, he uses Twitter to learn about the public’s collective well-being.

Danforth arrived at UVM in 2006 to join the Vermont Complex Systems Center, which crunches data and looks for patterns. Danforth and UVM Professor Peter Dodds eventually teamed up to start the Computational Story Lab at UVM, which sifts through public data—including social media—to discern the stories shared online.

Danforth’s research about measuring health and happiness on social media has received worldwide attention. His work has focused on everything from how Instagram photos can be a predictive marker for depression to how exposure to urban parks improves affect and reduces negativity on Twitter.

While the honeymoon with social media—Facebook, in particular—is over, he believes that data being amassed on social media means that mental health is on the verge of a digital revolution.

“It’s a really exciting time to be working on problems related to human behavior and have access to information that can help us be happier and healthier,” says Danforth, PhD, an applied mathematician whose background is in weather prediction.

Just as a sophisticated collection of data can help meteorologists predict hurricanes a week in advance, information that people are sending from their phones can reflect how they are feeling.

“We’re carrying around computers in our pockets every day, and the data coming from the different signals that we choose to send—whether it’s the words we share with each other in text messages or with the public on social media—they reflect a lot about our thoughts, opinions, and feelings about what’s going on for us and for the world,” he says.

At the Computational Story Lab, home to the Hedonometer, an instrument that measures on Twitter the happiness of large populations in near real time, Danforth, Dodds and researchers are working to build instruments and turn all of that data into useful public health signals.

For example, Danforth and his team are talking with doctors at the University of Vermont Medical Center about building a screening tool for the emergency room. The screening would involve asking people whether they would be willing to have an algorithm examine their social media history.

Danforth explains that if someone comes into the emergency room and is exhibiting symptoms of self-harm, the hospital needs to decide how to help that individual. That intake process currently can take up to an hour of a professional psychiatrists’ time. However, a piece of software that is in development would determine if an individual would need to meet with a psychiatrist. The contribution from Danforth and his team would be to add a social-media based component to risk assessment for self-harm.

“Suicide risk prediction has really not changed in 50 years. It’s one of the great unsolved problems in social science,” Danforth says. “With weather prediction, we’ve been marching our way forward because we have much better data, and we have equations and physics. But given how difficult suicide risk prediction is, the idea of using these other sources of information aside from just asking a person how they’re doing, that’s appealing to us.”

Embracing Privacy, Measuring Happiness

Data mining and election interference on social media have dominated the headlines over the past couple of years. Even though much of what is posted on social media is helpful to Danforth’s research, he supports changes to support online privacy.

It’s one thing to have Amazon show you a product you might like based on your previous purchases and quite another to feel like your voting patterns are being manipulated.

“It’s definitely time for people to start thinking more carefully about how their data is used. I’m in support of regulations being developed to help control how our social media data—and other types of data, such as our genetic history and our family health history—are used by corporations,” he says. “It’s something we talk about all the time here because we want to build technologies that will help empower people to be happier and healthier in their life. Yet if those technologies are deployed by nefarious actors, technologies like that could end up hurting people.”

For example, he says, take the emergency room screening tool. An individual may not be in the best state of mind to decide whether they should have their social media data viewed by an algorithm.

“How much access to what’s going on in our head should companies have or should doctors have?” Danforth says. “In the case of somebody who’s in crisis, you want to figure out how to help them.”

A Data Science Partnership

Last fall, MassMutual Life Insurance Co. gave UVM a $5 million gift, the largest donation the school has ever received from a corporation. The gift will bolster the Complex Systems Center, which is part of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and aims to improve the world through data science and analysis.  The data science initiative with MassMutual represents the largest single corporate collaboration with the Center since its inception in 2006.

“We’re very excited about this. We have new degree programs, an undergraduate in Data Science and both MS and doctoral programs in Complex Systems and Data Science,” Danforth says. “The goal is to train students and have them go into world, with an ethical and moral compass, to take the data that we produce and use it to help people.”

The ‘Dow Jones Index of Happiness’

Danforth is also working to create a suite of instruments for people working in public health. His flagship instrument is the Hedonometer, which measures tweets to see how the world is doing.

When the Hedonometer (dubbed the “Dow Jones Index of Happiness”) launched a decade ago, Danforth says it measured a very regular up and down cycle. Weekends were happier and the earlier part of the week was sadder.

“That was a very robust wave for the first seven or eight years we had it running,” he says. “Around the time since the election cycle, it broke down and has maintained a disorganization largely over the last few years. That’s not something we expected to have happen. The news cycle and political environment is why we see a lot less emotional regularity.”

Words like “not,” “can’t” “don’t,” and “won’t” were at one time more commonly used on a Monday or Tuesday. But now Danforth sees those words appearing more evenly every day of the week.

Some of the happiest days of the year in 2018, according to the Hedonometer, were Valentine’s Day and Christmas Day. Some of the saddest were the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation.

Danforth stopped using Facebook a few years ago and isn’t much of an Instagram enthusiast. Outside of work, he mostly uses Twitter to stay up-to-date with research and current events (and to share the occasional fun video or dog photo).

“I don’t use Twitter so much to express how I’m feeling,” he says. “One of the problems with social media is feeling like you’re missing out. In general, we all need to think more about what is good for our emotional and mental health, and whether (social media) is really helping. Yes, social media is free. But you’re paying, obviously, with your attention.”

The “UVM Is” series celebrates University faculty, educators, and the campus community.

To learn more, visit UVM Continuing and Distance Education at learn.uvm.edu.

Learning to Build Effective Healthcare Leadership Skills

After 20 years in the biomedical field, Theresa Bugbee wanted a refresher in healthcare leadership.

Bugbee is a biomedical services supervisor for UVM’s Technical Services Partnership (TSP), a leading provider of comprehensive healthcare technology management.

Healthcare Leadership Skills

She enrolled in UVM’s Healthcare Management and Leadership Professional Certificate Program last spring to enhance her supervisory skills. The program includes five, one-day seminars focused on project management, data-driven decision making, strategy and management, change management, and how to lead and develop employees.

At TSP, Bugbee provides management of nine hospitals and the biomedical team for the organization’s northwestern service area. She joined TSP in 2000 and is the organization’s first female manager of biomedical services.

Healthcare Leadership Skills to Support the Greater Community

The Healthcare Management and Leadership certificate connects participants with the UVM community and a network of peers in the industry. Participants gain valuable skills and a foundation of knowledge they can put to work immediately within their organization.

We asked Bugbee six questions about her work and how the UVM healthcare leadership program helped her career.

What are your job responsibilities?

I develop contracts for the hospital biomedical services, provide quality, and maintain cost effective equipment management. TSP helps achieve regulatory compliance.

Why did you decide to enroll in UVM’s Healthcare Management and Leadership Professional Certificate?

I wanted to become a better leader and realized I needed tools to achieve that goal.

What’s the most important thing you learned in the UVM program?

I learned that UVM wants people in the community to be successful. I was able to take some skills I learned in all of the classes and convert them into metrics my team could understand and see their success.

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

To put into place what I learned and see improvement in my team.

What’s the most challenging?

Figuring out how to be an effective leader using clear communication and facts.

What inspired you to work in healthcare?

I grew up in South Burlington and was a nurse aide in high school. I went to UVM and then started working in the operating room at the former Medical Center Hospital of Vermont (now UVM Medical Center). I worked there for about 20 years, and then I started working for TSP. I feel I’ve made a positive difference in the lives I’ve touched, and I want to continue to support my community.

Learn about the UVM Healthcare Management and Leadership Professional Certificate 

Health Care Management Program Helps Business Owner Prepare for Company’s Growth

Mohamed Basha hopes to expand his health care company nationwide over the next five years.

In order to do that, he’s working to enhance his business and leadership skills, recently completing the UVM Health Care Management and Leadership Professional Certificate program.

Basha is the founder and CEO of TLC Nursing Associates, Inc & TLC Homecare Services, Inc. TLC Nursing offers health care staffing services throughout New England area, and TLC Homecare Services offers personalized home care services to people of all ages, physical conditions, and cognitive abilities. Based in South Burlington, the company is one of the largest home care providers in Vermont and New Hampshire.

“At the end of the day, health care is a business. To work as a leader in this field, you need to understand the business side of things,” says Basha, who founded TLC in 2006 while working as a registered nurse. “When you’re working in leadership or management in a health care setting, you’re typically working with chief financial officers and comptrollers. You need to understand what they’re saying so you can speak the same language.”

Enhancing Health Care Management and Leadership Skills

The UVM Health Care Management and Leadership Professional Certificate program includes five, one-day seminars focused on project management, data-driven decision making, strategy and management, change management, and how to lead and develop employees.

One of the most important things Basha learned in the program was how to examine data to grow his business.

“I always looked at numbers in past, but now I view them differently,” he says. “Now I can see what we need to get to the next level in terms of staffing, revenue, and clients. Because of this program, I learned how to project where we are and what our capacity is for growth.”

While growing up in Burlington, Basha had his sights set on working in computer science. But he had a change of heart shortly after starting college. He transferred to Castleton State to study nursing, earning his degree in 2006.

That same year, his friend’s mother was in a nursing rehabilitation center and she wanted to return home and live independently. But she wasn’t strong enough. The friend’s family hired Basha, a registered nurse, to help with physical therapy seven days a week. Within a couple of months, she was well enough to go home.

“While working with her, a light bulb went off and I saw a real need for health care staffing in long term care facilities and acute needs for quality home care with nursing centered care,” he says. “She was my first client, and TLC was a one-man operation when it started.”

Basha employs between 250-300 people at his company, which offers services in homes, hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and other places of residence.

More than anything, making a difference in people’s lives is what Basha finds most rewarding about his work.

“In five years, my hope is that our company goes nationwide,” he says. “Right now, we want to be known as the best provider in the area and the Northeast. We want to be known as a Vermont company with Vermont values that is dedicated to our craft.”

Register for the UVM Health Care Management and Leadership Professional Certificate


Kelsey Gleason Donovan Joins UVM with a Focus on Global Health

Helping to teach public health in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border opened Kelsey Gleason Donovan’s eyes to the need for building capacity and empowering communities to improve sustainable health practices.

As a graduate teaching fellow in the Harvard School of Public Health four years ago, Donovan traveled to the Umpiem Mai refugee camp near Mae Sot, Thailand, twice—first to study public health with Burmese refugees and later to help teach a public health field course.

“The experience solidified my desire to teach global public health,” says Donovan, who joined the UVM Larner College of Medicine as an Assistant Professor and will teach in the UVM Public Health program.  “Most of the students there had never been outside of the refugee camp, but they were using a local public health program as a way to help their community.”

According to the World Health Organization, most low- to middle-income countries have to cope with a wide range of health problems that interfere with their economic development. Public health is a major priority, especially to address the spread of AIDS, tuberculosis and common infectious diseases, as well as the rise of chronic disease epidemics. A trained workforce of health professionals is essential in these countries. However, there is a lack of adequate capacity.

“There is a need for public health in the global health sphere,” says Donovan, who has researched and worked in countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Kenya, Haiti, Ethiopia, and East Timor. “What I’m passionate about is building capacity. It’s not about teaching and then leaving. It’s better to build capacity so community members can do things themselves. Teaching communities basic public health concepts can have a huge impact.”

Teaching at UVM

Donovan, a New Hampshire native, studied at Cornell and Harvard and is trained in environmental epidemiology. The flexibility and innovation of the UVM Master of Public Health online program—as well as an opportunity to help build the program’s global health curriculum—drew her to UVM.

The 42-credit online program can be completed in two years. Many students in the program are working professionals—including some who work outside of health care.

“What’s so great about public health is how broad it is. There’s no one career that is defined by public health. You can be a public health generalist or have a specialty. This program allows you to explore entirely different areas of public health and choose what you want to do.”

That’s exactly what happened to Donovan when she was a student. As an undergraduate at Cornell, Donovan assumed she would go into medicine. Then she learned about public health during her senior year, and it changed everything.

“I felt that public health better matched my style and what I wanted to do. Medicine is so wonderful and necessary, but I like the population health aspect more,” she says. “What I love so much about public health is that you have the ability to help and change communities.”

Learn about the UVM Master of Public Health Program.


Making the Leap from Working Professional to Nursing Student

Kim O’Leary made the leap from health care communications professional to medical student and never looked back.

After completing UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program in 2017, O’Leary will join the College of Nursing and Health Sciences this fall to pursue a doctorate of nursing practice degree.

O’Leary, who lives with her husband, Dave, and their two children in Essex, started the post-bac program at UVM with her sights set on becoming a doctor. But after one semester in the post-bac program’s pre-med track, she did some soul searching and switched to the program’s nurse practitioner track.

“I realized that being a nurse practitioner was a better fit for me. I really like the philosophy of nursing practice,” she says. “I want to work in primary care and I can do that as a nurse practitioner in much the same way as I could have as a primary care MD, without an additional three years of residency beyond the four years of this program.  It just seemed like a no brainer.”

O’Leary explains that nurse practitioners (NPs) tend to have more patient facetime than physicians and typically take a holistic approach to their patient’s overall health and wellness.

“The program track I am on will enable to me to provide primary care to adults, and in particular, geriatric patients. Older patients need a provider who can sit with them, understand their complex care needs, and help address social and environmental barriers to providing them the best possible care.”

Gaining Hands-on Medical Experience at UVM

To gain more clinical experience, O’Leary has been working at UVM Medical Center’s cardiology department as a technician, conducting stress tests, EKGs, and other non-invasive procedures. She works with patients of all ages, but has connected especially with the most senior patients. “They’re funny, smart, and they’ve got a lot going on health wise,” she says.

When O’Leary first applied to the post-bac program, she wanted to be an obstetrician.

“But having worked with older people, I realized how drawn I am to them and how I love listening to their life stories,” she says. “Older patients tend to have a healthier perspective, and I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Working in medicine is something O’Leary has thought about her entire life. As a child, her favorite book was a medical dictionary her parents kept in the house. While she was an undergraduate at Colby College, she was trying to decide whether to study English or medicine. “I was drawn to medicine, but I found it too intimidating at the time,” she says, explaining she opted to be an English major instead.

But medicine has been part of O’Leary’s career for more than a decade. She worked for the Vermont Agency of Human Services and later at UVM Medical Center’s marketing and communications office.

A Humbling, Life Changing Experience

She decided to take the leap to study medicine a few years ago. Still, going back to school in her 30s came with its own set of challenges.

“It was incredibly humbling. I hadn’t been in school in 15 years. I was required to delve into subjects that don’t come naturally to me, like physics and chemistry, and I had to really work hard to get good grades,” she says. “I was 36 and my lab partners were 18–young enough to be my children! I was used to working in the communications field, where I knew I was good at what I did. But as I headed into the post-bac program, I was starting from the bottom all over again.”

What has been the most rewarding for O’Leary is challenging herself and following her heart. “We’re all capable of doing great things—we just have to try,” she says.

Learn more about UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program.


Public Health Student to Champion Organ Donation at Miss America

By Amanda Brooks

Julia Crane is not your average 22-year-old graduate student.

While writing her thesis for her master’s in public health at the University of Vermont, the Colchester native has been juggling radio and newspaper interviews, conducting goat races, running with dogs for the humane society and speaking with young women about leadership all around Vermont.

Why is she so busy? On May 25, Crane was crowned Miss Vermont 2018.

The next day, Crane was launched into her “year of service” as Miss Vermont, a full-time job as a spokeswoman, advocate and community leader. Crane is already hard at work promoting her initiative titled “Be a Hero: Be an Organ Donor,” which urges people to consider registering as an organ donor.

“Every day, 22 people die who could have been saved with an organ donation,” Crane said. “Just one donation can save eight lives.”

Conversations about Organ Donation

Crane got involved with organ donation because of her best friend, Courtney, who lives with cystic fibrosis and is currently on the transplant list for a double lung transplant.

“When somebody you love is sick or hurt and they’re in the hospital, you want to do anything you can to help them,” Crane said.

Crane urges people to consider registering as organ donors and says it is an easy process through Registerme.org, Donate Life’s national donor registry. “You can even do it right on your health app on your iPhone,” Crane said.

However, the most important part about becoming an organ donor is having the conversation with your family, she said.

“If one of your family members isn’t comfortable with you becoming an organ donor, tell them why you want to be one,” Crane advised. “I know it’s a hard conversation to have, but by having that conversation, you have the ability to be a real-life superhero to somebody in need.”

Bringing Attention to Important Issues

Crane is eager for the recent changes to the Miss America competition, which she believes will help her to better promote her platform.

On June 5, The Miss America Organization announced it will drop the swimsuit portion of the competition beginning this year, replacing it with a live, on-stage interview.

Additionally, the evening gown section of the night will shift to evening attire in general, allowing contestants to wear an outfit of their choosing while discussing their social impact platforms. The competition will also no longer be called a pageant.

“Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment,” Miss America board chairwoman Gretchen Carlson said in a news release.

She noted these changes are in response to “a cultural revolution in our country.”

For nearly 100 years, Miss America contestants have been judged on talent, an interview and an on-stage question, as well as their performance in swimwear and evening gowns. This year’s changes will eliminate physical appearance from the judging criteria, a press release says.

“I am so excited that we get to speak more on our social impact issue and our platform,” Crane said. “I am completely behind the changes they have decided to make, and I want to be the Miss America that represents empowerment.”

The Miss Vermont Scholarship Organization will also alter its judging criteria to reflect changes to the national competition.

“The changes to the competition will allow the judges even more opportunity to evaluate each contestant’s ability to do [her] job,” executive director Barbara Wilkinson said. “We look forward to implementing the changes at our competition next year as we see our contestants and the organization grow together to redefine what it means to be Miss America.”

Vermont is the only state to never have placed in the Top 15 at the Miss America competition. Crane wants to be the first.

“Of course I have my eye on the title of Miss America,” she admitted. “My upbringing in Colchester really helped raise me and shape me into the Miss Vermont I am today, and I would want to continue representing Vermont as Miss America.”

What would it be like to be crowned Miss America this fall?

“It would be crazy,” Crane said. “It would change the impact I could have on a national level to promote organ donation and promote the program.”

-This story was originally published in the Colchester Sun.

Learn more about the UVM Master of Public Health Program


After a Devastating Loss, Making a Career Choice to Help Others

Caring for her dying mother changed Betsy Assoumou’s life in every way.

The MBA graduate had been working as a public accountant for a big four accounting firm when her mother entered hospice and died in 2016.  The experience left Betsy grappling with grief and the realization that she wanted to live a different life.

“I fundamentally wasn’t the same person,” she says. “My mother and I walked a path together and with her no longer physically by my side, I didn’t want to continue down that same path.  I wanted to be useful.”

Betsy eventually enrolled in UVM’s Master of Medical Science Program to return to her earlier career plan of working in medicine.

A New Direction

Betsy studied chemistry at Williams College as an undergraduate with plans to become a physician. By her junior year, she instead became interested in business and pursued an MBA at Northeastern.  After earning her business degree, she joined a large accounting firm and became an integral part of the company’s corporate accounting team that took a private software-as-a-service company public on the Nasdaq stock exchange.  For Betsy, it was a thrill to witness the company’s first trades and see pictures of herself and her colleagues in Times Square as part of the celebration.

“At the same time, I was caring for my mother who had a number of health issues over the years.  When my mother’s battle with metastatic breast cancer eventually put her on hospice in early 2016, I asked for a reduced work schedule so I could be present during the last weeks of her life,” she says. “This was a transformative experience.  I cared for my mother as she quickly lost the ability to care for herself as her body succumbed to the havoc of cancer. “

When her mother died, Betsy knew she no longer wanted to work for investors who relied on the financial statements that she helped to prepare as an accountant. She returned to her original career goal of caring for people.

“I wanted to help real people who I could see, touch, comfort, and empathize with,” she says.  “This desire motivated me to pick up where I left off to pursue becoming a physician before I took a detour into business.”

Enrolling in UVM’s advanced science graduate program

Betsy hadn’t taken a science course in nearly seven years.  So, she enrolled in UVM’s Master of Medical Science Program to prove that she could handle the rigors of medical school.  The most impactful part of the 12-month program was the gross anatomy class.

“First, for me personally it represented such a dramatic shift in my life.  On a Friday I was packing up my accounting desk and on the very next Monday I was placing scalpels blades on scalpels in order to perform my first cadaver dissection,” she says. “I learned a tremendous amount about the body and how it’s various structures and organism integrate to facilitate life.  Being able to hold a heart and see first-hand how the chambers interconnect is an experience I’ll never forget. Besides the hands-on learning, I gained tremendous respect for the cadavers and their gift to medical education.”

For now, Betsy is leaving her career plans open to all possibilities.

“I don’t want to get too focused on any one plan at the risk of ignoring what I really enjoy doing. My experience with my mom showed me that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to helping people through medically trying times,” she says.  “Whether that be in hospice or geriatric care at the end of life or pediatrics at the beginning of life, I’m open to learning more to see where I fit and could be the most useful.”

Learn about UVM’s Master of Medical Science Program


How Facing Our Fear of Death Fosters a Sense of Empowerment

By Kate Whitney

If your career involved conversations about life support options, meditations on death, and funeral plans for the dying, one might be surprised to learn that it’s not all gloom and doom. For death doula Alua Arthur, who recently shared her story on Refinery29, the idea that supporting palliative care patients through the process of dying is sad or depressing couldn’t be further from reality. “It’s the most invigorating and life-affirming thing I know how to do,” she explained. “I feel most alive when I am talking to people about their death.”

A law school graduate, Arthur’s interest in working as a doula began as she assisted her sister for two months while her brother-in-law was dying from terminal Burkitt’s lymphoma. Though she still chokes up recalling the memories of his sickness and death, she remembers that time as a precious, privileged, and happy experience. “It gave me insight into how we really can do better—and we really should do better.”

Honoring the wishes and hopes of the vulnerable and dying seems like it should be standard practice. However, this isn’t always the case. Studies show that the overwhelming majority of Americans would prefer to die at home, but 60 percent die in acute care hospitals and 20 percent die in nursing homes. And for many of us, death isn’t something we really think about until we’re faced with it. In fact, research shows that 4 out of 10 Americans age 65 and over have no advanced directives or written requests for their end-of-life medical treatment.

Arthur seeks to destigmatize discourse about death and dying, encouraging people to have the hard conversations and face their fears, empowering and giving her clients control over their experience. “Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant,” she states. “Talking about death won’t make you dead.”

Arthur assists her clients through guided meditations on dying and bodily decomposition and discusses everything from financial considerations to personal grooming preferences to final disposition, normalizing and lifting the veil on what so many of us would prefer to avoid talking about: our own fragile and temporary bodies, our mortality, and the ways in which we desire to leave it behind.

“It’s so human,” Arthur states. “It’s the most human thing we do, other than being born, or maybe giving birth. We’re born. We die. Let’s do both in ways that honor us, and honor humankind, and honor each other.”

Learn more about UVM’s online End of Life Doula Professional Certificate

-Kate Whitney is a freelance writer. 

Demand Grows for End-of-Life Doula Training at UVM

By Kymelya Sari
Seven Days

Roberta MacDonald guffawed when she remembered a riddle her friend once asked her: What’s the No. 1 cause of death? No, it’s not heart disease or cancer, as one might typically guess. “It’s birth,” said MacDonald. “That was Paula’s line — I love that.”

Paula Fives-Taylor, professor emeritus of microbiology at the University of Vermont, died in January 2015. In the last few months of her life, MacDonald moved into the octogenarian’s house to be her primary caregiver while still working full time at Cabot Creamery Cooperative.

The two women had met years earlier at a hospice volunteer training course led by Fives-Taylor. Through her own experience as her former teacher’s caregiver, MacDonald discovered gaps in end-of-life services. She decided she wanted to educate others on how to support individuals in their final months or days — as an end-of-life doula.

“Doula” comes from the Greek word doul, which means “female servant or slave.” In modern usage, the word refers to a nonfamily member who provides nonmedical emotional, spiritual and physical support during major life transitions, particularly birth or death.

In 2016, MacDonald approached UVM Continuing and Distance Education proposing an end-of-life doula program.

Read the full story in Seven Days.

UVM Student Gets Another Chance at Medical School

UVM’s Medical Science Degree Program gave Kristina Valentine a second chance at getting into medical school.

The McGill University graduate wasn’t accepted to medical school when she first applied two years ago. But this fall, she is heading to the UVM Larner College of Medicine with the goal of working in the primary care field.

We talked to Kristina about her plans for the future and how the Master of Medical Science Degree Program helped make her a desirable candidate for medical school.


After not getting into medical school the first time around, what made you decide to enroll in the Master of Medical Science program

Not getting into medical school last time was definitely tough, so I was able to think about my options and reaffirm that medicine was definitely what I wanted to do. I received feedback on my application and did some soul searching. One of my biggest problems was that I applied very late in the cycle and I did not understand how much that can affect your application. Some of my undergraduate grades may have given some admissions committees pause, too.

Beyond that, I also knew that it would definitely help my medical school application to have more experience in upper-level science courses to show that I could do the work. I also knew that I was much more equipped to excel in difficult science courses at this point in my life. After researching, the UVM Medical Science Degree Program seemed like the perfect fit for me.

What will you be focusing on in medical school?

As of now, my goal is to work in a primary care field—internal medicine or family medicine—and I see myself working in a community health center or other entity where most patients have difficulty accessing health services. I would also like to spend time working in a jail or prison.

You’re interested in serving the justice-involved population. Can you talk about why you are passionate about this particular area?

I became passionate about this particular area through my boss, Dr. Tom Simpatico, who works with justice-involved populations at MHISSION Translational Systems. I have met individuals who were either coming out of incarceration or going into jail diversion, and I heard so much about their often traumatic and heartbreaking pasts. Many of them just weren’t given the tools to succeed and had the cards stacked against them. Though many have done bad things, Dr. Simpatico treats them as people who deserve care. That really sparked a fire in me. I have seen that a lot of times that if individuals are provided with a supportive environment—including support from their physician—they can do much better overall.

Was the UVM Larner College of Medicine Your First Choice?

Yes. I ended up getting five interviews in all, and went to two other interviews besides UVM. I got accepted to one other school and withdrew from the other before getting my decision because I knew I wanted to go to UVM and was accepted early on.

How did the MMS program prepare you for getting into medical school?

It helped in so many ways. For one, I was able to talk to advisors and really get an idea on when I should have my application in and what I should focus on. The biggest thing, however, was probably that I excelled in my classes. I worked really hard, but also had great support from all of my teachers and fellow students. Whenever I didn’t understand something, I would go to office hours and talk it out with my instructor and talk to my other classmates. I now feel like I demonstrated that I can handle the science coursework that is required in medical school and feel much more comfortable because of all of the things I’ve learned.

What were some of the challenges you experienced?

Gross anatomy was really difficult for me at first because I had trouble understanding what I was looking at in the body. But now I won’t have to deal with that learning curve in med school as I’ll be able to pick up where I left off more or less. The same goes for physiology and biochemistry. I have the basics down and will be able to comfortably build on that in medical school.

What was one of the most helpful things you learned from the Master of Medical Science program?

The program gave me a lot of time to think about how to articulate why I want to work in medicine and what got me to this point. Being able to talk to advisors and other students and to think about my journey helped me write my med school application’s secondary essays and personal statements in a way that clearly showed my path and the type of physician I want to become.

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