M.D. candidate Dania Joseph shares her alternative path to a career in medicine in MOSTEC webinar

By Lena Bae

Dania Joseph spoke with MOSTEC students about her winding journey from biology undergrad to M.D. candidate.

Last fall, students in the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) participated in a virtual webinar with Dania Joseph, an M.D. candidate at Drexel University College of Medicine. Dania shared the story of her path from a high school student with her heart set on psychiatry to her current aspiration of working as a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN).

Dania earned her undergraduate degree in biology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. She arrived at Johns Hopkins with a dream of working as a psychiatrist. As she told MOSTEC students, after doing relatively well academically her freshman year without significantly altering her high school study habits, she struggled as a sophomore.

“I was really overwhelmed with all the extracurricular activities I was involved in, and my classes took a back seat,” Dania said. After ending up on academic probation, she returned to school the following semester “with a vengeance” and earned a 4.0 in the courses she retook. “It showed me that I was capable of doing well,” Dania said. She advised MOSTEC students to take time management seriously.

As Dania told MOSTEC students, her lackluster performance during her sophomore fall would have repercussions. In her senior year of college, she realized that despite her strong desire to go straight into medical school, her GPA was not competitive enough for her to do so.

Nevertheless, Dania persisted in her dreams. She decided to remain at Johns Hopkins to pursue a Masters of Health Science with a focus on mental health. Dania had always intended to work as a psychiatrist, and in her master’s program, she learned to see mental health from the broader perspective of public health.

After completing her master’s degree, Dania applied to medical school but was discouraged to learn that she had not been accepted. “It was a really tough time for me,” Dania said. “I wanted to go to medical school so badly.” Refocusing on her dream, she completed a post-baccalaureate program at Drexel University called the Drexel Pathway to Medical School Certificate Program. As part of the program, Dania took the same courses as a first-year medical school student and retook the MCAT.

The Pathway program was a time of intense focus for Dania. “I worked my tail off,” she said. “I made a lot of sacrifices.” Dania said that it was at times difficult to balance school and studying for the MCAT once again. She set a strict schedule for herself, always prepared with flash cards for idle moments on the train or in a friend’s car. After a committed period of study, she completed the program successfully and was accepted to Drexel Medical School.

As a medical student, Dania was surprised to find that during her clinical rotations, in which she shadowed and assisted physicians, she found her psychiatry rotation interesting, but she found her OB/GYN rotations even more fascinating. OB/GYN, she found, mixed surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, adolescent medicine, and her longstanding fascination with mental health. “I absolutely loved it,” said Dania, “It incorporated everything I was interested in.”

Dania is especially interested in high-risk obstetrics, and helping women who have difficulties maintaining pregnancy due to conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure – conditions for which African-American women are at higher risk. “A lot of these problems affect a lot of people that look like me,” said Dania, “and I think that’s really important, at least for me as a future physician.” She is currently involved in a high-risk obstetrics research project, investigating whether giving blood thinners to obese women either during or immediately after a pregnancy can help prevent them from developing blood clots the year following childbirth.

Student Karen Pulido of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, asked Dania about her priorities since medical school. Revealing the insight she has gained since her tumultuous sophomore fall, Dania said she now focuses more on her own health and needs. “I have done really well, but it took a lot of time and effort,” Dania said. “But at the same time that I say that, it’s also important for me to stay balanced. … So if I’m studying for 18 hours, I need to know when to give myself a break.” She also focuses on succeeding academically and receiving high scores on the licensing examinations so that she can soon enter a top OB/GYN program.

Dania advised students interested in medicine or medical research to work hard academically, engage in shadowing opportunities, get involved in research that’s personally compelling, and be passionately involved in one’s community.

Looking back at her own path, Dania advised students: “If you are really considering going into medicine, and if anyone tries to discourage you from doing so, don’t let them. It’s not a matter of when you get to medical school. It’s just a matter of how you get there.”