kaljit atwal headshot

Postbaccalaureate Premedical Certificate Alumna Kaljit Atwal Headed to Optometry School

Although Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Certificate (PPC) program is primarily geared towards students bound for medical school, graduates pursuing other health professional programs like dentistry, optometry, podiatry, pharmacy, and public health have found success. Case in point—Kaljit Atwal, PPC ’21, recently got accepted to the College of Optometry at Western University of Health Sciences, where she will be starting in the fall.

Atwal initially became interested in pursuing a profession as an eye doctor when her grandfather was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor. Upon learning about the different fields within the profession, she decided to focus on optometry as it would allow her to have more one-on-one interactions with her patients and create a bond.

After receiving her bachelor’s in Biology from California State University, Sacramento in 2020, Atwal enrolled in KGI’s PPC program to become a stronger candidate for optometry school.

“Whether you’re applying to medical school, dental school, or optometry school, the application process is similar,” Atwal said. “The content we learned is broad enough to help with anybody’s application process.”

Atwal found that the Premedicine Professional Development class—along with the support of PPC directors Dr. Joon Kim and Elba Muñoz—was particularly helpful in guiding her through each step of the application process. One of the most important lessons she learned was transforming information in her personal statement that schools might see as a potential weakness into something positive.

“The first time I wrote my statement, I was negative about my past experiences,” Atwal said. “For example, I was worried about not having that many volunteer hours because I dedicated most of my time to working in an optometry office.”

However, Kim helped her to see the value in committing to one job for four years and developing her skills in that position.

“I’m glad I was able to understand the mistakes that I made on my application the first time, which helped me to see the application process with a whole new mindset,” Atwal said. “Also, through this class, I discovered just how important the supplemental questions are. They allow you to reveal more details about yourself beyond what’s already on your personal statement. I spent about three months working on those answers.”

Another good learning experience for Atwal was working on team projects, which helped develop her interpersonal skills.

“I had some difficulty at first because I’m used to doing work on my own,” Atwal said. “But I kept an open mind because I knew that I was going to be pushed to my limit and out of my comfort zone, and I was ready for that. I had been in my bubble for a long time, and it was time to step out.”

This included navigating scheduling and meetings with classmates over Zoom and learning how to share her feelings, including issues she was struggling with.

“Here, everybody is an open book,” Atwal said. “We all share our experiences and help each other to reach our goals.”

Another way Atwal went out of her comfort zone was to become a Pre-Health Representative. She acted as a liaison between faculty and students in the Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences, represented all Riggs School students in Student Government, and helped organize fun events for her cohorts, such as game nights and movie nights. Additionally, as an Admissions Ambassador, she talked to incoming students about KGI, helping to prepare them and sharing her positive experiences.

“I think the classes need to be emphasized more when we tell students about KGI because the opportunities are so amazing,” Atwal said. “Being able to make connections with big pharmaceutical companies as well as small local startups was a really cool opportunity to enhance my professionalism and communication skills.”

Along with Kim and Muñoz, Atwal enjoyed working with Riggs Professor of Management Dr. Steve Casper for a team project with Covenant Health Network.

“Dr. Casper is one of the best professors I have ever had,” Atwal said. “He gave us so much support and trusted us to represent him as a teacher when meeting with these big companies. He never sat in on our meetings, which motivated us to represent KGI in a favorable light.”

Atwal’s long-term goal is to open a private optometry clinic in her home city of Sacramento, where she will take special care to provide resources for bilingual patients.

“I know how hard it can be to understand medical jargon in another language,” Atwal said.

In her clinic, she plans to represent as many demographics as possible through the people she hires.

“Kaljit is a wonderful person, and it was a joy to have her in my class at KGI as well as a special project organized by Covenant Health Network,” Casper said. “Kaljit has all the qualities of KGI students. While humble, she is hard-working, intelligent, and works well on teams. We are all so happy that her dream of going to optometry school is coming true, and we wish her well.”