Photo Credit: Photo by @yummypancakesphoto
Participants at JOWMA’s inaugural Pre-Med event in Manhattan in March.

“But what kind of ben torah is going to marry a girl in medical school?”

I had finally garnered the courage to tell one of my high school teachers that I wanted to become a medical doctor, and that was her response. My world was crushed in that moment, because I knew she was right. Starting on that path would inevitably make my life difficult; the threat of shidduchim loomed large and how would I be there for my future children? It then took me a decade to claw through the web of societal expectations around me and discover my own aspirations before I decided to pursue medical school.

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The truth is, the societal apprehension we have about women pursuing careers in medicine is somewhat warranted. The competition is fierce, the years are long, and the road tests your limits at every turn. In the 2021-2022 application cycle, only about 40 percent of people who applied to U.S. medical schools were accepted, with a mean MCAT score of around 512, which is the 83rd percentile. That means that on average, to have a fighting chance at getting in, you need to score better than 83 percent of the 85,000 ambitious and driven premed students who take the MCAT annually. Needless to say, it’s a lot harder to out-compete a collection of type A premeds than your typical college student group. Once you pass that hurdle, there are four years of medical school to undergo, then three to seven years of residency, depending on the specialty, and finally, some doctors pursue a fellowship which ranges from one to three additional years. Add in to this mix a Jewish Orthodox lifestyle that places a high emphasis on marriage and children during relatively younger years. Is it any wonder that those of us who are considering medicine are met with resistance and naysayers?

But there’s a critical point the naysayers, both actual naysayers and those that live within us, get wrong. They fail to see the buoyancy your entire life takes when you are pursuing what you feel you are destined for. The fulfillment, joy and satisfaction we get from actualizing our talents propel us forward and ameliorate the rough edges. Where other people might see burdens and risks, we see accomplishments and opportunities.

I often tell our premed members that while people around them right now may be expressing doubt and doom, the moment they are doctors, or even once they are accepted to medical school, the tables quickly turn and the same people will express respect and admiration. While respect and admiration should never be reasons to become a doctor, it helps to remember that perceptions easily shift, and an aunt at a bar mitzvah telling you that you are making the biggest mistake of your life shouldn’t deter you. In addition, Orthodox physicians are an incredible asset to the community and it is a truly unique privilege to be in that position.

In March of 2022, approximately 60 premed students from all over the United States attended JOWMA PreMed’s inaugural event in Manhattan. Run by 15 volunteer committee members, all medical students and physicians at various levels of training, JOWMA PreMed provides resources and support for Jewish women who aspire to become physicians. We intentionally built a large committee since medical training has frequent bursts of intensity, followed by calmer periods. Thus, when people get busy, those who are on a lighter rotation or stretch can pick up the ball. There is a collective agreement among us that, professionally, our medical training is absolutely our first priority.

We held two panels during our inaugural event, both moderated by Dr. Jackie Benayoun, pediatrics resident at Westchester Medical Center and our JOWMA PreMed College Outreach and Events Liaison. Our first panel consisted of Dr. Robin Ovitsch, associate dean of Clinical Competencies at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine; Dr. Marc Silverman, an orthopedic surgeon and special assistant to the Chancellor of New York Medical College; and me, anesthesiology resident at the Mount Sinai Hospital and cofounder/Chair of the JOWMA PreMed Committee. We spoke about strategies that can increase one’s chances of getting accepted to medical school.

On our second panel we had Dr. Miriam Knoll, radiation oncologist and cofounder/CEO of JOWMA; Dr. Jordana Goldman, allergy and immunology specialist and JOWMA Board Member; and Yarden Goldman Gollan, MD candidate and our JOWMA PreMed Project Manager. They all answered questions about work-life integration that are undoubtedly on every premed’s mind. They wanted to know how we managed our personal relationships, hobbies, mental health and physical health during the premed years, medical school and training. And we gave them answers.

A key theme that emerged was the critical role support plays in enabling us to accomplish our goals. As Sheryl Sandberg said, “The most important career decision you will ever make is who you choose to marry.” While the common cliché is that marriage often limits women in their careers, we offered a glimpse at a different angle, that having a supportive partner can make all the difference. In our previous webinars on work-life balance, we had speakers spanning different windows and life stages, from single to married, with and without children, and with various commitments and responsibilities outside of medicine. Our goal is to demonstrate that while medicine is a serious commitment, there are a myriad of ways to simultaneously have an integrated life.

While getting into medical school is hard, JOWMA Pre-Med can help. We have an active WhatsApp chat where members can post questions and get immediate answers 24/7; an Office Hours program where members can get personally-tailored advising sessions; bi-monthly webinars on an assortment of topics; a Specialty Spotlight podcast series that highlights various medical specialties; and most recently established in collaboration with CHEMED Health in Lakewood, N.J., our DocApprentice program, which affords students the opportunity to shadow physicians for two full-time weeks.

Readers can learn more by visiting www.JOWMA.org or emailing premed@jowma.org.

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Dr. Efrat Bruck is the founder of MDInspire, a consultancy that helps medical school and residency applicants craft stellar applications. For more information, visit www.MDInspire.com.