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PPC Graduates Take the Next Step Toward Becoming Doctors

Five years ago, the first sizeable group of students completed the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Certificate (PPC) program at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI). Now they’re marking another significant milestone, graduating from medical school and beginning their residencies.

Among these early PPC students is Erin White, PPC ’12, MBS ’13, who will soon start the Yale General Surgery Residency Program.

“I’m both nervous and excited to really start being responsible for patients and their care,” says White, who attended the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University. “I’m looking forward to learning a lot and getting my career started.”

When she first arrived at KGI in 2011, White was simply seeking to position herself for admission to medical school. She had earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology three years earlier and needed a strong record of more recent grades.

White started college as a premedical student but wasn’t ready to commit to the additional years of education required to become a doctor. Instead, she worked on Wall Street for a summer and considered a finance career before taking a position as a high school chemistry teacher. Six months later, White says, “I realized I wasn’t going back to Wall Street. I missed the scientific community.”

White says of choosing KGI’s PPC program, “I wanted an experience that would give me a different skill set from undergraduate and medical school. KGI’s focus on business appealed to me. A lot of medicine involves business, and I already had that mindset.”

She stayed on for a Master of Business and Science (MBS) degree after completing the PPC program, and her entire KGI education proved beneficial in medical school.

“It helped in unexpected ways,” White says. “I’d wonder why I already knew about a particular disease and then realize we had talked about it in a case study at KGI.

“I have a level of comfort with healthcare as a business. I also think that because of the camaraderie between faculty and students at KGI, I see attending physicians as future colleagues rather than being intimidated by them. That’s been valuable because I’m comfortable questioning the physicians. I think this will lead to a better education for me and better healthcare for my patients.”

Like White, Jessica Costales, PPC ’12, MBS ’13, came to KGI in 2011 and completed a master’s degree while applying to medical school. But she remained in Southern California and will receive her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from Western University of Health Sciences. Now Costales is also starting her residency at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center, where she will specialize in infectious diseases as part of program combining internal medicine and research.

“I did a lot of research at KGI, and that strengthened my candidacy for this residency,” says Costales, who held a summer internship and published a paper with Professor Ian Phillips, director of KGI’s Center for Rare Disease Therapies and faculty director for its premedical program.

Though she always enjoyed science, Costales began college as an English major and didn’t decide to go into medicine until late in her undergraduate education, after her mother became ill. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at UC Irvine and then applied to medical programs without success.

“I saw the PPC as a way to strengthen my application, and the program helped me get into medical school,” says Costales. “I feel I received the extra help I needed, learned how to work in teams, and got great advising and letters of recommendation.”

Among her PPC program classmates to also go on to Western University of Health Sciences is Kathleen Coquia, PPC ’12, whose longtime interest in medicine led her to start a health careers club for Filipino students at UC San Diego. Coquia’s desire to become a doctor grew during her undergraduate years, when her mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.

“I’ve gone into medicine because I want to be the doctor my mom and dad deserve,” says Coquia, who plans to go into family medicine. “My father has diabetes, and only recently did he find a doctor who sat down with him and explained how to change his lifestyle. I saw the difference one doctor can make.”

Yet Coquia initially struggled to gain admission to medical school. She says, “I went to KGI because I felt the PPC program would strengthen my resume. I also felt the teamwork would strengthen my leadership skills and challenge me. It really helped me learn how to work with different types of people.”

At KGI, Coquia became part of a team of students that submitted a successful orphan drug application. She also spent a summer conducting research with Professor and Dean of Research Larry Grill.

“Larry is one of my heroes,” Coquia says. “He’s so intelligent and passionate about medicine. He taught me three keys to success: focus, self-discipline, and small wins.”

Among her first wins was her acceptance to medical school. Aside from offering her opportunities to enhance her resume, Coquia says, “KGI helped me in writing my personal statement. I learned how to communicate what’s unique about me and why I’d be a great doctor.”

Now Coquia is earning a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree and heading up the California coast for a residency at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria. She is pleased to take the next step in her path to a medical career.

“My residency incorporates osteopathic medicine, so I’ll learn all the modalities while seeing real patients,” Coquia says.

Aside from pointing to accomplishments that coming to KGI made possible for them, these women express pride in being among the first students in the PPC program.

“Doing something new gives you a chance to shape a program and leave your mark on history,” White says. “You also develop strong relationships because you’re building it together.”