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Rising Tide of Medical Professionals

MIT was not a typical premed path in decades past, and women faced additional challenges. When Debra Judelson ‘73, a ­Beverly Hills-based cardiologist who was one of the first to focus on women’s heart health, interviewed for a desirable cardiology fellowship, she was told that they accepted a woman every other year–and sorry, they took a woman last year. So she moved to Southern California to do her fellowship.

Three decades later, the MIT Careers Office shepherds about 190 students and alumni through the medical-school application process each year. About half the applicants are grad students or recent graduates. The other half are seniors–about 10 percent of the graduating class. Some 75 percent of applicants are female. Most MIT applicants are successful. In 2007, students and alumni had a 74 percent acceptance rate, compared with a 45 percent average nationwide.

MIT’s support of students and alumni who want to pursue medical careers doesn’t end there. The MIT Alumni Association places dozens of undergraduate and graduate students in January externships with surgeons, attending physicians, and specialists. And in addition to offering workshops and advice on the complex process of applying to med school, the MIT Careers Office also pairs students with local practicing physicians who serve as mentors. In 2007, nearly 87 percent of MIT applicants with such advisors got into medical school.

Michael Bailin ‘80, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, is one of many alumni now serving in this role. His experiences with his own advisor inspired him, he says: “He was the first person who truly took an interest in my plans and had the knowledge to guide me through the process. It was a formal and vital relationship for me, and I will always be grateful for his help and patience.”

Problem Solving as a Diagnostic Skill

As a student, Judelson approached medicine indirectly. A materials science and engineering major, she took several typical premed classes–such as an introductory biology class taught by Salvador Luria, who had just won the Nobel Prize in medicine–simply because she was interested. And her major taught her problem-solving skills that have served her well in diagnosis (see “Mind and Heart,” July/August 2007 and at technologyreview.com).

“The traditional way people are taught to solve problems in medicine is to simplify the parts and work your way through a flow chart,” Judelson says. “At MIT, we were encouraged to get as much information as you can and try to find common threads. If someone comes in with back pain and you only think of back pain symptoms, then you’ll never find atypical appendicitis. You have to pay attention to not just the obvious but the less obvious solutions.”

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Credit: John Wu ’06

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