Nicole McLean, MPH, HSA '09: “It’s important to stay in touch."
Nicole McLean, Heath Science Academy Alum, Class of 2009, graduated from James Madison High School, to enter an honors biology program at Howard University. She returned to Howard in September 2016, this time for medical school. “When I really love a place,” McLean says, “I want to get as much out of it as I can.” The Brooklyn native, now a 2nd year medical student, had most recently completed, with distinction, a Masters Degree in Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.”
Refusing to be discouraged by an administrator who told her that delaying med school to complete the Downstate Masters’ in Public Health wasn’t “a smart move,” McLean says “Using my public health background to study internal medicine directly serves my goal of practicing in the community where I grew up, working with underserved people who really need the help.”
“It’s important to stay in touch because you never know what role you can play,” she says of her time at Downstate, close to the neighborhood where she grew up. As an MPH graduate trainee, McLean designed and conducted community-based research projects, independently and with Health Science Academy students. “It was great. I felt proud to come back and be able to mentor Health Science Academy students on their research projects.”
At Downstate’s Health Disparities Center, McLean built research skills, forged collaborative relationships and gained knowledge about what local CBOs had to offer to support community health. Last summer she worked on a project with the Caribbean Women’s Organization assessing community perception of breast-feeding and with Diaspora Community Services on the disconnect between adolescents’ knowledge about condom use and their practices. “Dr. Joseph was my MPH advisor, so he directed me to the CBOs and helped develop the projects, but I designed the instrument and helped prepare the presentations for Research Day at Downstate. We submitted an abstract on the Diaspora project to a conference in Denver and it was accepted. So I am a co-author.”
McLean feels she entered medical school as a more seasoned student, better able to manage her study time, while maintaining a balance in her life during the rigorous course of study. “I was able to hit the ground running,” she says. “The Health Science Academy helped me understand the factors that affect health, which has helped me in medical school, but it also made me identify and improve my study habits, taught me how ask for help and to collaborate.”
McLean addressed the graduating HSA class of 2012 as the keynote speaker, and was struck by how the Academy had grown. “Our class started out big too, but people dropped out. HSA students have a lot more opportunities now. The program keeps them interested and inspired!”