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Women in Science Project
6243 Parker House, 2nd floor
(Located in a two-story white frame house)
Hanover, NH
03755-3529
Phone: (603) 646-3690
Email: WISP@Dartmouth.EDU
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Allison Hargreaves '02

An interview by Jane Viner '05, May 12, 2003

Spring at Dartmouth is amazing! Just as we honestly gave up hope that the snow would ever melt, spring explodes in Hanover! Excitement and anticipation set the campus abuzz. This term is especially exhilarating for seniors as they prepare to leave Dartmouth and embark on the next stage of their life, whatever it may be!

For those seniors who diligently pursued the rigorous Dartmouth pre-med track and are planning to start medical school in the fall, the transition can be daunting. Some may desperately cling to their last moments of relative freedom before they dive into medical school. After all, everyone has heard the terrifying horror stories about first year of medical school. For those who harbor these trepidations, fear not! Dartmouth ’02, Allison Hargreaves, has just successfully completed her first year of medical school at University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA and shares her story about her transition from Dartmouth to medial school. Allison’s questions, struggles, resolutions, and successes during her path to medical school can be an aid to students no matter where they are in the process. Read on about Allison’s first-hand success story of accomplishing her first year of medical school.

Dartmouth — The College Years: What Was Your Major in College?

Major: Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Minor: English

How Did You Decide What to Focus On?

Much of it was decided for me. I knew I wanted to cover all of the pre-med courses. Since most of those courses fell into the BBCM major anyway, I chose that as my focus, which left time to complete an English minor and to pursue other courses that were of interest to me. For some, college is the only chance to study random topics like the American Civil War and Chinese religion. I didn’t want to pass that up.

Did You Ever Doubt Your Capabilities in Your Major?

Oh yeah. I went through a mid-college crisis at the end of my sophomore year in which I had two major cards in front of me — one for Bio and one for English. English always came pretty easily to me and I really enjoyed it. The sciences were much more of a struggle for me, especially any form of chemistry. By sophomore spring, I had had far too much exposure to chemistry and I was feeling very discouraged. I ended up having a talk with Mary Pavone that made me feel better about my lackluster performance in chemistry. I don’t know if I was inspired, encouraged, heartened….but whatever it was, I decided to stick with my plan to major in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and I never looked back.

The Precipice — What to Do After Dartmouth? During College, Did You Have an Idea of What You Wanted to Do After Graduation?

I was pretty sure throughout my four years that I wanted to attend medical school. There were a few shaky moments along the way, but I knew what I wanted and stuck to it. Going straight to medical school after college is a big decision. I did my best to make sure that it was what I truly wanted. I did some shadowing at DHMC through the Nathan Smith Society. I did a Dartmouth Partners in Community Service internship through the Tucker Foundation in which I worked at the Massachusetts Hospital School and was paired with a Dartmouth alumnae mentor at Children’s Hospital in Boston. I tried to learn more about medicine and I came to the conclusion that I wanted to pursue it as a career. Since becoming a physician is a long journey, I decided to get started right away.

Outside of the Dartmouth Bubble — Did You Feel Like Dartmouth Prepared You for the "Real World?"

My days at Dartmouth have certainly paid off. I feel well prepared for the course work in medical school. Many of the topics are familiar and those that are not, I can pick up quickly due to my background in science.

Right now, my medical education is largely science-based. In the first year I have taken Biochemistry, Genetics, Anatomy, Physiology, Histology, and Neuroanatomy as components of the basic science curriculum. (FYI — some Dartmouth courses that have been very helpful to me include Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Endocrinology, and Immunology).

I definitely had a little trouble adjusting to anatomy lab, mostly emotionally. I was slicing into a cadaver during my very first week of school, which was disturbing to me. I’m glad I had the opportunity this spring to help organize a memorial service for our cadavers and their families.

It was also a little difficult to get accustomed to focusing only on sciences, particularly since I was used to having a balanced schedule of sciences and humanities at Dartmouth. But I have found some ways around it. I have contributed to publications, taken some optional enrichment courses (including medical Spanish and American Sign Language), and participated in several extracurricular activities such as Book Buddies (reading to kids in the hospital), working in free clinics, and leading a Family Medicine Interest Group. I am also staying in touch with Dartmouth by conducting admissions interviews here in Worcester.

What Were Challenges You Faced?

I was prepared for the academic challenges and the hectic schedule. However, I was not quite as prepared for the personal and social adjustment. Making new friends was a little rough at first. The people in my class are of all ages, but it seems that many of the students are older. Many of my fellow students are married or engaged and several have children of their own. I feel very young, which can be a little intimidating at times, but fun too. I’ve realized that it can also be fun to have older friends who have been through a lot of transition in their lives already. Quite a few people have told me that they could not have gone straight from college to medical school without taking at least a couple of years to adjust to real life first (something to keep in mind for anyone who is uncertain about taking time off).

Advice for Others — What Advice Do You Have for Current Students Who May Be Interested in the Sciences?

If you feel yourself getting a little discouraged, talk to someone who has been through this before. Chances are you’ll feel much better about yourself and about your decision to pursue science. As far as medical school in particular is concerned, the same advice goes. Do not get discouraged.

The admissions committees make what they believe are the best decisions, but they are far from perfect. If you don’t get in the first time around, try again. If you are admitted off a wait list at the last possible moment, don’t think that you were the school’s last choice and do not underestimate yourself. I gave up the chance to go to a school that had admitted me in early December to attend a school that felt I was not qualified for admission until the last week of July. I thought I was destined to be the dumbest person in my class, but I found that to be far from the truth. People have different strengths and abilities, and in reality, medical schools have to say no to many qualified candidates. And if you are successful on the first try, make the most of your experience. You earned that spot, one that many others would like to have, and it’s up to you to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Also, don’t be afraid to take some time off. That wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I’m realizing now just how common it is. Many of my classmates are much older than I am and have had multiple jobs or even careers before coming to medical school.

One last bit of advice: give it time. Whether you go on to medical school, graduate school, or your first job, leaving Dartmouth and entering “the real world” will be an enormous adjustment. It’s only natural for it to take time to get settled in your new surroundings. But it’s pretty easy to keep in touch with your fellow Dartmouth grads, no matter where they end up, and since you’re all in the same boat, you can lean on each other.

If you are interested in talking to Allison about her Dartmouth experience, or her medical school experiences, you can contact her via e-mail (AHargreaves@Alum.dartmouth.org). Take advantage of wonderful Dartmouth resources such as successful alumni who have been through it and are there to help!

Last Updated: 8/23/12