Tiffany grew up in PG County, Maryland with both parents and her younger sister. She described her family as “close nit” and said, “You couldn’t go two days without seeing another family member or taking a trip somewhere around town.” Her parents split when she was 12 and a lot of things changed. Tiffany’s father really buckled down on her education. She explained, “Receiving a B on my report card in high school started to become unacceptable.” He told me I would represent our family in some way positively. He always said to me ‘Either you will be the Sheep or the Shepard.‘ I still live by that.”
Tiffany and I met up at her office in Hampton Roads. It was very cool to walk in and see the doctor at work! Tiffany is an Osteopathic Medical Student for Riverside Hospital. She studied medicine at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM). Tiffany has completed 8+ years of school and is still one of the youngest physicians in her field. She has traveled intentionally to research and battle diseases. Which led to her experiences being published in multiple medical journals. Tiffany has an informative story to tell. We take a journey inside the mind of a medical visionary in this weeks #ShineHard conversation.
What is your passion & when did you know?
Tiffany: To heal the world of course! *laughs* But, seriously, it started off with this deep passion to do what seemed like the impossible. To shut down all doubts and kick down doors. I think my family knew I would be a doctor before I did. I guess any kid opting to suture a dissected pig after class in elementary school had to raise some flags. As time progressed I knew I wanted to be a doctor. I was determined to not only be a first generation college graduate but the first Dr. Garrett in my family. I solidified going into medicine after my freshman year at Hampton and that fire inside of me to succeed opened so many doors!
Who did you look up to as a kid? Any mentors?
Tiffany: As a child, my family was definitely my biggest support system. All members keeping in close touch with me and helping me over the years. But really, three people came to mind when you asked this question initially. My mom had “the golden touch.” She excelled at everything she did and is the only person I know with a constant smile and a continuous positive and motivating attitude. That women is a living super hero! Second, was a post grad PhD student at UVA who took the time out to listen to me every time I came to him. He ultimately helped to open doors in my early academic career that I’m forever grateful for. Lastly, a medical professor, who mentored me through the process of applying to an osteopathic medical school to eventually being accepted. She added the lighter fluid to my flame.
Tell me about your experience at VCOM?
Tiffany: My experience with VCOM definitely took some getting used to! In my experience I was always the majority, never the minority in my academic work place. When I arrived I had a lot of support from staff and students that helped things run smoothly. I appreciated the fact that in a high stress environment students came together to pull each other up by sending out helpful information for upcoming tests and practicals to the entire class. Everyone wanted to see their fellow classmate do well. It was a zero competition zone.
Tell me about your current rotations and how it works?
Tiffany: So a brief overview about medical school. In general a student will do 2 years in the classroom and 2 years in “rotations” before graduating to start residency. During rotations, which is where I am currently, you get 4-8 weeks in each field of medicine. During that time you get the full experience of what it means to be a physician! You are assigned patients to assess, you write your own diagnosis, and you assist in performing a variety of procedures with the senior resident. This is your first real experience on the responsibility, time, and commitment it takes to become that doctor you always dreamed to be! I absolutely love rotations. No more sitting on your behind reading about how to perform a cesarean section you actually wake up, scrub in, and assist in doing one! No better experience than that!
What inspires you to succeed?
Tiffany: I have a duty to change the face of what a physician looks like in my community. There is a need to diversify healthcare in America. Here’s an interesting fact; Blacks make up 14% of the US population but less than 4% of physicians, with 63% of black physicians being women. I love to pull up the facts to marinate on the need. I’m helping to fulfill that need not only to bump the statistics we have in the US but to be a positive face for our people, their children, and my baby sisters. We need more black men and women at the top!
What’s been the biggest challenge in your medical career thus far?
Tiffany: Opening what seemed like closed doors during the pre-application process. I was not a 4.0 student in undergrad, but I did the best I could to increase and maintain my GPA every semester leading up to medical school. I specifically remember the experience that truly motivated me. I visited one of my top choices for medical school. I was introduced to the admissions office and I eagerly started my spill on why I loved the school. I showed her my transcript, a half completed resume, and my study plan for the MCAT and she smiled at me and shut me down! *laughing* I was shocked to almost tears! She told me that students that were admitted only had cumulative 3.6 or above GPAs, with MCAT scores only in the 90th percentile, and years of prior medical experience. I met none of these qualifications. She, in short, tried to convince me that maybe this wasn’t the right path. That was just the beginning of rough roads; I took the MCAT more than once, I applied to over 30 medical schools before being accepted, and put in over 100 applications to the NIH before getting my wanted position. Although I have other challenges now, I wanted to share the pre-application process to help others interested in a medical career. Just because one door has closed, another will ALWAYS open.
What are the ultimate plans for your medical career?
Tiffany: I want to go into private practice with a group of like-minded physicians. I’m passionate about treating the whole patient. A private practice will give me the opportunity to do this in an environment and time slot that I deem appropriate for each patient. I want to make a mark in healthcare and to be recognized as a unique type of care. I’m going to take myself out of the system and create an office that I feel will have the better results. I will provide international healthcare through localized clinics and partner with organizations like, “Doctors without borders.” Ultimately, I plan on overseeing a few practices and clinics both nationally and internationally providing affordable or non-cost service to certain communities.
What’s your most memorable experience as a Doctor thus far?
Tiffany: So it was close to 95 degrees outside when I started my volunteer position at a local clinic in Tanzania. The lines were wrapped around the building to potentially be treated for Malaria. I made hundreds of microscope slides smeared with blood and marked with a number to represent each patient. I knew could not pronounce anyone’s name and I barely knew Swahili at the time, but I wore this lab coat & gloves and instantly everyone trusted me. They looked at me to treat their sickness and to somehow communicate to them that they weren’t dying in the 5 minute window I had to see them. They needed help and I could provide them with more than just medication but with hope, lifestyle changes, and a shoulder. In 5 minutes I became a friend, a provider to their family, and a caregiver to their children. After medications, or I said they were going to be OK, I got an instant smile of satisfaction. And BOOM that was it! I was like there is no other way to my happiness!
What frustrates you most about today’s culture?
Tiffany: Oh My Gosh, Today’s youth seem to be content with mediocrity, easily influenced and swayed, and no riveting passion to do anything. I really want to cut the cord to their dependence and push them along!
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Tiffany: Over the course of my journey, I was able start several of my own research projects, publish my work in a few medical journals, travel nationally and internationally for free! I gained employment at the national institute of health as a biologist, served on the executive board for the student national medical association, become a mentor for the student internship research program at NIH/NIDA, and I was granted acceptance into VCOM which starts an entire different list of successes. There’s a song I like, “I just wanna be successful!”
What would you say is the #1 factor behind your success?
Tiffany: Determination. If you’re not up to your eyeballs or fully immersed in your goal your not ready for success.
Advice for the aspiring Doctors out there?
Tiffany: Perfection will never be achieved and failure is inevitable. Recognize that early on and you will have no problems. You need to have an outlet whether it be God, family, or a hobby, you have to treat yourself to that outlet sometimes. See your goal and focus on it until it becomes your future, you start to see yourself walking into your dream job wearing your white coat with the stethoscope and do not let anything deter you from that. Use your resources, network, and get a mentor in the field. Other peoples opinions and ideas of you is none of your business. Learn how to study, cope with anxiety, and imperfections. And once you have finished no longer put off things for tomorrow, it will be then time to live for today!
Johnny: Exactly! Don’t put off for tomorrow the things you can do RIGHT NOW. Heal the World Tiff! Welcome to the #ShineHardFamily.