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March 30, 2018

Spotlight on First Year Students Justin Kim, Meredith Thomley, Poojitha Balakrishnan, & Tony Meza

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At UAB School of Medicine resources and opportunities are boundless, however our best asset is our students. We are proud of the diversity of experience, background, and interests that our students hold and contribute to their class each year. Read about and get to know four of our current MS1s.


Where are you from and where did you grow up?

JustinKimJustin KimJustin Kim: I was born in Los Angeles but moved to Rio Rico, a small border town in southern Arizona, when I was about 2 years old

Meredith Thomley: I am from Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and I grew up just down the road from UAB.

Poojitha Balakrishnan: I’m from California and grew up mostly in the Bay Area.

Tony Meza: I grew up in Florence, AL, which is located in the northwest corner of Alabama.


Where did you study for undergrad?

JK: University of Arizona, Go Wildcats!

MT: I graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Biomedical Sciences.

PB: At UC Berkeley. I then did my MPH and PhD in Genetic Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University.

TM: I started off at the University of North Alabama and halfway through I left to do missionary service for two years. Once I returned, I finished up my schooling at Brigham Young University.


Why did you choose to attend UABSOM?

JK: There is no one clear answer as to why I chose UABSOM. I had applied to several schools all over the country; what really influenced my decision to choose UABSOM was how kind and awesome the people here were!

MT: Growing up in Birmingham, I have dreamt of going to UABSOM since I knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine. UAB emphasizes ideals which align with my own, specifically, serving the local community through excellent patient care.

PB: I am very passionate about public health, research, and academic medicine. And UAB has one of the strongest programs with a specific focus on research during medical school.

TM: I decided to attend UABSOM after considering multiple factors. One benefit is that UAB provides their students with several opportunities to get involved through various student organizations and interest groups. I also felt that UAB provided flexibility to allow students to learn in a way that is best for them. Additionally, I had been away from my family for quite some time, so living close to them was an added benefit.


Are you in-state, out-of-state? Traditional student, non-traditional student? If non-traditional student, what did you do before medical school? If you are married or have kids, could you discuss what that has been like for you as a medical student? 

MeredithThomleyMeredith ThomleyJK:  I am an out-of-state (expensive, I know), non-traditional student. Before matriculating into medical school I worked at a research tissue bank, continued to volunteer, and conducted clinical research.

MT: I am in-state and traditional. I applied Early Decision to UAB, knowing I wanted to matriculate immediately following graduation from Auburn. Coming straight into medical school was a smooth transition for me, as I was still in the rhythm of study/test/repeat and retained a good deal of information from my undergraduate courses.

PB: I’m an out-of-state, non-traditional student. I was working towards tenure track in academia before matriculating to medical school. I also had a 4 year old dog and a 2 month newborn when I started school in July. It’s been challenging balancing family and career, but I’ve had a great support system that makes it all possible. My husband has been phenomenal and makes it possible for me to be at my best everyday.

TM: I am an in-state, non-traditional student. I did missionary work for two years and I also spent a year after college doing research while my wife finished up classes at BYU.  Being married while in medical school has some unique pros and cons. My wife is super supportive and gives me motivation to study hard. It is also nice to have someone I can talk to about things other than medical school every day. On the other hand, it is important to me to spend time with her which requires me to organize my time properly and study efficiently.


Tony, you’re in the MD/MPH program--could you elaborate a little on that? 

I am currently doing the dual four-year MD/MPH program. I take most of my MPH classes in the summer and a few co-enrolled classes online throughout the year. I was a little worried about how I would manage adding more work, but it hasn’t been overwhelming. I feel that I am getting out of it what I intended.


What has your experience at UABSOM been like? 

JK: My first year at UABSOM has been simply amazing. Medical school has definitely been challenging, stressful, and demanding. However, it has been so much fun to learn about what my future will be like with the great friends that I have met. There is always time to have fun and relax, but also to shadow, volunteer and research!

MT: This year has exceeded all expectations. Looking back on our first year, I am amazed at how much information we have crammed into our brains. But even more so, I am blown away by how much FUN it has been. A day does not go by that I am not doubled over in laughter on the 4th floor of Volker.  

PB: It’s still hard to believe that our first year of undergraduate medical education is already almost done! It’s been a challenging and rewarding year. I’m so proud to see the amount of professional growth in all of our classmates.

TM: My experience has been amazing and this first year is passing by quickly. There is a diverse group of students that are easy to get along with because of our shared experience of being in medical school. Medical school is hard, but I am grateful to have this opportunity to be here at UABSOM.


What kind of physician do you want to be?

JK: I am not completely sure, but I am leaning towards cardiothoracic surgery or invasive cardiology.

MT: That is the million-dollar question! I have always been particularly interested in working with kids; however, I am looking forward to clinical rotations to decide for sure.

PB: I’m still figuring it out! I’ve loved most of the organ modules so far and I’m sure it will be true next year too. I hope to figure out the exact track during 2nd and 3rd years.

TM: With my specific interests in public health I am leaning more towards internal medicine. I hope that the more I learn about medicine and what I want to do within public health, the more I will know exactly what I want to do.


What do you like about Birmingham?

PoojithaBalakrishnanPoojitha BalakrishnanJK: What I like about Birmingham is how versatile it is. I love that it has a wide array of restaurants, breweries, cafes, etc. But there are also areas to go out and enjoy the outdoors. One thing I have really enjoyed are the Baron’s baseball games! The games are cheap, the food and beer is cheap, and it is always a great time!

MT: I love Birmingham so much that I moved back home for med school! The foodie scene has been up and coming for a while, and it is now even a point of tourism for the city. Other than the dozens of hip places to eat, I have really enjoyed going to concerts at some local venues like Iron City or Workplay.

PB: I love that Birmingham is a city with a great low-key vibe without the hustle-and-bustle of city life. It’s been a great place to raise my son. We enjoy exploring Birmingham and Alabama.

TM: I feel like Birmingham has really changed a lot since I was last here. The downtown area seems to have more excitement. A lot of new things have been brought to the Birmingham area to cater to a diverse, young population. Birmingham really has everything you need from restaurants, entertainment, and outdoor activities.


Tell me something unique about you.

JK: Growing up in a border town, I sometimes like to consider myself of American, Korean, and Mexican heritage.

MT: One of the great joys of my life is traveling. I have always had a desire to use my medical training to pursue missionary work in the future.

PB: My husband and I got married in Seville, Spain and took our amazing little pup to celebrate with us! It was the best trip and holiday that our 10 pound canine has ever taken!

TM: My freshman year in college I built a raft with my friends. We then took it down a river for a couple of miles just to have it sink a couple of feet from our destination.


What is your favorite thing about UAB?

JK: I am a class-goer! So being at Volker every day, I love the free candy in the ODI office and Dr. Van Wagoner’s office. The free coffee is also awesome!

MT:  My favorite thing about UASOM is the genuine community of people that I get the privilege to be surrounded by day in and day out. Whether it be my classmates, the faculty, or our physicians, each person cares deeply about bettering not only my skills and knowledge as a physician-in-training, but also my character as an individual. Oh, and the chocolate.

PB: The best thing is that no matter what specialty intrigues you, there is someone at UAB working in that area. It’s a great place to gain exposure to various specialties. Also, the free bottom-less coffee and my ICM group!

TM: My favorite thing is that UAB does a great job of making sure the students are well taken care of and that our voice is heard. We have several opportunities to give feedback on the curriculum to make changes that will help us and incoming classes. Medical school is hard, and the faculty and staff just want to make it the best experience possible while making sure we learn what we need to.


Do you have any advice for rising first years?

TonyMezaTony MezaJK: Studying hard is absolutely important and necessary to succeed in medical school. You get out what you put in. However, do NOT let school be the only thing in your life. Do not let it consume you. Take time for yourself every week, whether that is to go hiking, hanging out with friends, watching Netflix, or sleeping. Furthermore, I believe it is important to keep your family and friends (new and old) within your life. Don’t lose touch of what has made you, YOU!

MT: On the first day of orientation, it will be far easier to keep to yourself and stay in your comfort zone. I want to encourage you to get to know as many people in your class as you can! The folks sitting around you are some of the very few people who will know exactly what you are going through in this season of life. Over the next four years, they will be your late night study partners, impromptu lunch dates, post-test cheerleaders, dearest confidants, and truest friends. These relationships are some that should be met with great excitement and anticipation for incoming students because they are some of the best friendships that I have made in my life.

PB: The best advice as a first year is what my mentor actually said about being a mom – everything is a phase. If you’re doing the worst you’ve ever done in school, it will pass. And if you’re scoring the best in the entire class, it will pass too. Sometimes it seems like that one quiz or that one milestone is the make or break point of your career. Keep everything in perspective, work hard, and remember why you wanted to be a physician in the first place!

TM: Hold on to what makes you happy and remember why you chose to go to medical school. Your ultimate goal is not to go to medical school, but to become a doctor. Maintaining this bigger picture will help you when you face the small bumps along your path to becoming a physician.


Interviewed & written by T. Alinea Esensoy (MS1).