By Katarina Fiorentino Klatzkow
The University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions was Shruti Kolli’s first stop on her medical education journey.
During her undergraduate studies at PHHP, Kolli, Bachelor of Public Health ’23, participated in a variety of research and service projects that solidified her dedication to the pursuit of medicine and public health. She co-founded the Gainesville chapter of ContraCOVID, Inc., a student-led national non-profit dedicated to assisting Latinx and immigrant families during the pandemic through social and financial aid; created CHOMP, a mentorship group for aspiring public health students; and traveled to Madrid, Spain with UF’s Summer Undergraduate International Research Program, where she conducted a nanotechnology research project that she later presented at Harvard University. Outside of her research and service endeavors, Kolli interned with the Health Disparities and Health Promotion Internship, where she was performed research on obesity and cancer disparities in Black/African-American patients. These practical experiences in the field of public health have informed her long-term goals of addressing large-scale health disparities among vulnerable communities through clinical practice.
Now a first-year medical student at the UF College of Medicine, Kolli shares how a background in public health helped prepare her to train to become a practicing physician.
from PHHP to Medical School
Question: What drove your interest to become a doctor and why did you choose PHHP to help you achieve this dream?
I was always fascinated by the intersections of socioeconomic disparities and disease. As I grew older, I had a lot of conversations with friends, as well as personal experiences with reproductive health issues, and I started to figure out that there was still so much we needed to learn. That helped me determine what direction I wanted to go in, but also made me want to pursue it in a way where I’m advocating for patients who are underrepresented in some way. I caught that angle of medicine going into high school, when I happened to started babysitting for a professor of public health. She told me she did research, and I was trying to get into research at the time as a high schooler. She talked about how she was looking at the health impacts of gun violence in Chicago, which really interested me. That’s how I found out about the field of public health, and it was perfect timing as I began applying for colleges. Already knowing I wanted to help, wanted to become a doctor– that’s always guided me to public health.
The Application Process
Q: What is the process like to apply for medical school?
I started on my medical school application at the end of my junior year. During the months of April and May I worked on my primary application, which is essentially a personal statement, basic personal information, work experience and extracurricular activities, such as leadership and volunteer experiences, both clinical and nonclinical. Any research that you’ve done, any awards you’ve won. You also have to submit your transcripts and grades. You can also choose to write about your hobbies – I wrote about art, for example. You have approximately 12 to 15 slots to describe everything you’ve done during your undergraduate years. Most people try to submit their primary application as soon as it opens, and then after that you have two weeks to relax before you start having to think about secondaries, which are more program specific essays. For example, ‘why do you want to go to this school?’ Some of the essays you may be able to reuse, but there is a lot of writing for secondary applications. I tried to submit all my secondaries by the end of summer to ensure my application would be reviewed in a timely manner, although two weeks within receiving them is the recommended deadline.
In the fall I received my first interview invitation and by March I had received five interviews. I spent the month of May going back and forth between UF and another school. UF has such a welcoming environment in terms of every student I met, and I felt comfortable with the curriculum and environment, so I chose to stay here for my medical education.
Public health in Medicine
Q: Something unique offered at PHHP is the educational approach of learning about health at community or policy levels. How do you think a background in public health or health science, as opposed to say a hard science degree such as chemistry or physics, can help a medical student in their journey to becoming an independent practitioner?
Even though my medical classes so far have not been labeled as public health, there are so many things that we discuss that I have used my public health background to understand and contribute. We’ve recently been discussing a lot of medical ethics that we’ll need to be aware of as future providers, such as greatest potential benefit for the greatest amount of people. And so having that systemic awareness of what is going to benefit the larger community is very important because it’s interactive with your patients as well.
A whole morning was dedicated to learning about health disparities and how different health systems are integrated in medicine, which are core public health concepts. Knowledge of health disparities and the social determinants of health will make you a better health care provider and you can tell your patients that you care about them more than just what’s going on. A lot of patients leave the clinic, and they either don’t know what their doctor just said to them or the resources that their doctor mentioned. So, being able to know what resources your patients have, and how to tailor care for them, and also how to tailor how you speak to them, can help them understand their care, and actually follow through with their care plans with better outcomes.
Tips for Success
Q: What advice do you have for current PHHP students who are thinking about or planning to apply to medical school?
- Consider a gap year. Although it is not required (and I did not take one), a gap year can be a huge benefit, especially because undergrad can feel so rushed. Many take this extra time to acquire clinical or research experience, study for the MCAT, and/or take a much-needed break to do things like travel.
- Remember your why. There’s a lot of other factors with the medical school admissions process. I think a lot of people stress about their GPA and MCAT scores, but it seems like medical schools are going more holistic with their admissions. What are your life experiences? Why are you passionate about medicine? Schools want to have applicants that are genuinely passionate, but also have something specific about them that makes them stand out.
- Emphasize what makes you, you. How has that influenced your passion for medicine? For me, I was really passionate about public health and had been studying how people interact on a larger scale, and how social and cultural processes impact health. That’s a really unique yet important angle to medicine. I also talked a lot about my hobbies and tried to focus on things that made me more than just someone who likes to study and wants to go into medicine.
- Don’t be afraid to share personal anecdotes. Schools want you to get personal with these essays and think about how your unique experiences have shaped you into a future doctor.
- Live in the moment and be present! If I could give my younger self advice, I would say to live in the moment. Being a person that plans the next four years of life in advance, I learned that when you’re so focused on where you’re going, you sometimes miss the present. Even when you get to medicine, there’s always going to be harder times ahead. Focus on the positives and appreciate the exciting journey you’re on to becoming a doctor!
For information regarding the path to becoming a physician and applying to medical school, please check out these resources:
- Connect with one of PHHP’s academic advisors and make an appointment for pre-health advice and planning.
- The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) applying to medical school resources
- Admissions and application advice from UF’s College of Medicine