Preparing For Medical School: A Q&A With Eric Pinkston (‘20)

Currently pursuing a medical degree at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Eric Pinkston (‘20) details what led to his decision to become a doctor, how he was prepared for medical school while a student at Southern Virginia University, and offers advice and suggestions to students interested in pursuing a field in medicine.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Why Did You Decide to Pursue Medical School?

“A lot of things. My grandfather and other family members are doctors, and that showed me that a career in medicine is rewarding, you can do a lot of things with it, and you can have a good life for you and your family. But what really got me into it was my mission [for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] in Russia. 

“Having dedicated time serving people and realizing that I wanted that one-on-one individual service and care as part of my career. And after that, it was an easy decision when I found out that I really loved science. It was a marriage between a good career for my family, science, and an ability to help people in a one-on-one type of relationship.”

What is the Process for Applying to Medical School?

“It’s a difficult process. On paper, it’s doing all of the prerequisite courses for the schools you’d like to apply to—history, the biologies, and some schools require physics, others require biochemistry. So, you need to understand what kind of schools you want to apply to and make sure you get those prereqs. But, you don’t necessarily have to do a science major. There’s lots of students here [at the UACM] that did different kinds of majors, like politics or art. 

“Then, you need to show that you understand what it means to be a doctor; that you’re prepared and know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s because it’s both a big investment on your part as well as an investment for the med school. So, having quantifiable time that you can tell the admissions committee, ‘I did this amount of time shadowing a doctor, so I know what it’s like to be a doctor, and I know what it’s like for the hours they work and the interactions they have,’ is important. The more experience you have, the better. 

“It’s also important to have a good amount of volunteer experience, because a lot of what we do as medical students, and even as residents, feels like volunteer work. But honestly, the hardest part is just buckling down and preparing for the MCAT because that, unfortunately, is a big deciding factor of whether you get an interview or not.”

Did Attending Southern Virginia University Help You Prepare for Medical School?

“For sure. Dr. [Roger] Johnson was my biochemistry professor, and he taught at a medical school prior to teaching at SVU, so he was able to talk to us about the process and the rigor of medical school. The material he taught was very helpful when I first started school because [at the UACM] you have to jump right into biochemistry and the molecular side of life and disease. So taking classes from him and having a good conversation about chemistry helped me tremendously. Aside from Dr. Johnson, more than anybody else Dr. [Barbara] Van Kuiken gave me confidence and just showed me that I could do it. She made me feel like I was worth it, that I could apply to a big school and get in and be successful.”

Beyond Classes and Professors, What Else Helped You Prepare for Medical School?

“Absolutely. So RAM [Remote Area Medical] clinics by far were the most impactful thing. I probably spent about 200 hours volunteering at different RAM clinics in my two years at SVU. It was a tremendous opportunity and a lot of the professional connections that I made came from RAM. There was an orthopedic surgeon I worked with at the RAM clinic in West Virginia, and he invited me out to shadow him on a separate occasion so I could see more of what he did. I also had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Dane McBride, who used to teach at SVU. He’s an Asthma Allergy and Immunology specialist and practiced in Roanoke until he recently retired. I spent a lot of time at his practice and I really enjoyed my time there. He was a great mentor to me and was very encouraging.” 

What Are Some of Your Post-graduation, Pre-medical School Experiences?

“Immediately [at the UACM], we were brought into different research groups depending on our interests. My group is currently working on a project about specific bacteria that cause infections with joints that are replaced. I’ve actually joined another research project with a resident at one of the orthopedic residencies in the area, and I might have an opportunity to go down to Tampa to present our project. I am also part of the Global Health Group in the UAE, and in late May this year we went down to Mexico to do some clinical work for some people there who really needed our help.”

What Are Your Plans After Medical Schools?

“When I finish at the University of Arizona, I’ll be a doctor. I’ll have an MD and will apply to a residency program to be trained to be some sort of specialist, whether that be some specialty surgery, or family medicine, or emergency medicine. I’m really interested in orthopedics; I’ve had a lot of experiences with orthopedic surgeons that have been excellent, as well as some personal experiences being treated by orthopedic surgeons that were very impactful. But it’s a really competitive specialty, so fingers crossed!”