Finding a PI

Penn Med offers a wealth of research opportunities and experiences, but finding a research project can seem overwhelming at times. MS1 Andrew Becker shares his perspective. In an upcoming post, an MS4 will be sharing her experience getting involved in research during medical school.


I’ve got a theory that whoever first used those two letters to mean “Principal Investigator” meant it in a completely different context:

A first-year Penn medical student is sitting with his friend at a hipster coffee shop wondering if dogs have human teeth, like people have canine teeth. Suddenly, Andrew blurts out:

“Hey Esther, do you want to get a Playful Irish Setter?”

Esther laughs and replies “That sounds great! You can never have too many dogs in your life!” She writes down in her planner “Find an awesome PI (Playful Irish Setter)”

Next day, an unsuspecting classmate asks Esther what her plans are for the day. Esther reads off her tasks list:

1) Study cranial nerves

2) Figure out why Angry Birds are so angry with circular green pigs

3) Find an awesome PI

The classmate, unaware he is about to change the world, hears “PI” and doesn’t ask for clarification. He says goodbye to Esther, and starts towards the gym. Midway through his workout, somewhere in the Fox Fitness center, it hits him.

“Esther is looking for a Principal Investigator to work with!”

He could not have realized the magnitude of what he said. In that moment, PI entered the mainstream of acronyms med students will forever use.

I came into Penn Med with “PI” so burned into my vernacular that it ached. However, I learned quickly there is no rush to find one. The search does not start until the end of the first semester, at the very earliest (talking from the MD track perspective here). Most first year students start looking in the spring semester if they so choose.

In December, I started sending some emails to physicians whose work I found interesting. What I wanted to say was:

“Hi Dr. John Dorian,

I think you’re cool, how can I become you?”

But instead wrote something to the effect of:

“Hi Dr. Turk Turkleton,

I am an MS1 really interested in [insert cool interest that will probably change next week here]. If you could find time in your busy schedule, would you mind meeting to discuss your career path and interests?”

After some quick reply emails and a bit of scheduling, I set up a few informal meetings. I knew I loved surgery, but what type? Might as well have asked me what my favorite type of grilled cheese was… there’s no such thing as a bad grilled cheese. I had the opportunity to sit down with physicians in departments from Transplant to Trauma Surgery. We talked about career paths, life as a surgeon, and the place for medical students to help.

I joined a Trauma Surgeon running simulation exercises for nurses at the new Presbyterian Hospital trauma bay. The project sounded engaging and the commitment during the semester was minimal. Further, I decided not to stay and do research this upcoming summer; instead opting to do some traveling. All these questions were answered through some quick conversations and short emails with engaged doctors.

The word PI will be different for everyone. To some, their Playful Irish Setter will fill their lives with hard work and endless generosity. To others, their Purple Iguana will be what helps them decide their future career. To most, their Pricey iPhone case will be around for a short time until they find their own path in medicine (or decide to make their own to sell on Etsy). Many students may opt for none of the above, instead finding other commitments just as important.

The point being this, Penn Med is wonderful in that it fully recognizes the breadth of medical student interests. Whatever type of PI you are looking for, you can find it here at Penn.

Just be careful about using that acronym at the pet store, you may just find yourself with a new Playful Irish Setter resting on your couch while you play Angry Birds after a day of research.

Andrew is a 1st year medical student at Penn planning to take a year out for his MPH. He graduated from Ithaca College majoring in Biochemistry and Sociology. Andrew is interested in surgery, running, grilled cheese and hipster coffee.


Parenthood in medical school

MS4 Anna Jesus shares her experience becoming a mother during medical school. Also check out previous posts from this week written by MS4s, one on Penn Med’s student body, and one on exploring interests in primary care, both locally and globally.

The medical school registrar knew I was pregnant before we told family and friends. I was over-the-moon happy and hopeful…but I was also knee-deep in my internal medicine clerkship. I honestly didn’t know how my third-year clerkships would play out with a first-born wedged somewhere in the middle. Within ten minutes of nervously emailing the administration my news, I received a reply with the subject heading “Congratulations!!” The registrar then proceeded to amend my schedule so that I could tackle the most demanding rotations prior to having a dependent.

That summed up the attitude I experienced after disclosing my pregnancy. But my favorite reaction was from the head of my trauma surgery rotation, a heartfelt mixture of hardcore, goal-oriented wonder surgeon with a softer papabear-like figure who is always in your court:

Do not think for a second of keeping this secret. Make your pregnancy known to everyone in the Trauma Bay. Wear two layers of lead. There’s a blue line surrounding each bed that is 6 feet away. Double that distance when an x-ray is called. Don’t forget that we’re a team. We will protect you. I will protect you. Oh, and realize that your life is going to get SO much better. You thought you life was good now; well, it’s going to skyrocket come–when is your kid due? October?! That’s even better. Read Outliers. She’ll be top of her class. 

He was understating it. Our eldest is only two, so likely too soon to tell regarding her future academic performance. But I can honestly say that life is better than I could have envisioned. I’ve never smiled so much in my life.

Encouraged by our experience with number one, we elected to have a second child in med school. There are plenty of days when a shower doesn’t happen or when most of my calories are consumed off the floor, scraps discarded by a fickle toddler and uncoordinated infant. Unlike my personal hygiene, my medical school performance has not regressed. If anything, personal commitment and fulfillment have made my work and studies more efficient, in addition to more joyful.


If there had to be a downside, what’s the worst part about parenthood in med school? It’s a tie.

1) Lactation rooms: Though every single person with whom I’ve worked has been supportive, a few affiliate hospitals have less than ideal pumping environments. The experience that takes the cake was having a psychiatric patient walk in on me half-dressed, hunched under rusted sink piping.

2) Med student-itis by proxy: Think med students are hypochondriacs? Mothers are over-protective? Imagine a med student mother who accidentally dropped her 10-month-old head first onto a cement floor, especially after having learned all about traumatic brain injuries… That’s a whole new kind of crazy.

But the best part? Loving both your personal and professional life, and believing that your kids will be better for having a mother who is happy and passionate with her career in medicine.


Anna Jesus earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia in 2006, her M.A. in English in 2007, then completed her premedical coursework at Goucher College in 2008.  In medical school, Anna incorporated her writing background into the blog Anna In Med School.  With her husband, she enjoys CrossFit, play cafes, and the trial and (so many) error(s) of parenting.  She will be beginning a residency in pediatrics in Summer 2015.

Caring for the Underserved: Penn Med and Beyond

In honor of Match Day, we are publishing pieces written by MS4s. On Monday, we published a piece on Penn Med’s awesome student body. Today, MS4 Kenji Taylor shares how he explored his interests in primary care and family medicine for the underserved, at Penn Med and beyond.

“Dumela Ra!” (Good day, sir)

The young man greeted us politely yet anxiously, with the characteristic roll of the ‘R’ that we had been practicing for the past four weeks in Botswana. He had traveled two hours to see the specialist doctors from the United States because he was concerned about his heart. With the Botswana doctor and a medical student from Germany, we examined the patient and reviewed his EKG.  Assured by the physical exam and other data we had, we suggested that he come back in the next two weeks to provide continuity in care and make sure he was well. As he thanked us, my attention turned to the hot room overflowing with children, men and women of all ages who had been waiting patiently since the early morning to be seen by the primary care specialists.

I am living a dream: providing full spectrum primary care to underserved communities.


Through the Botswana-UPenn program, I am spending seven weeks in several different hospitals, both in urban and rural settings, practicing inpatient and outpatient medicine with local clinicians, Penn residents and faculty. Already almost four weeks in, I’ve learned so much about diseases endemic to the region like TB and HIV, adjusted to relying purely on a history and physical exam when other tests aren’t readily available, gained an appreciation of Botswana customs around health, and developed a better understanding of the system of primary care.

I credit my time at Penn Med as the reason I was able to develop my interests in the specialty of Family Medicine and practicing medicine with undeserved communities both in the US and abroad. During my first three years of medical school, I helped build The Cut Hypertension Program with fellow classmates. This program sends students of all health professions into African American barbershops in our West Philadelphia neighborhoods to provide blood pressure screenings. Ultimately, the program aims to reduce the stark disparity of cardiovascular disease that African American men face. I’m proud to say The Cut Hypertension Program continues to flourish in Philadelphia, and most recently in Atlanta, with the help of grants from the Schweitzer Foundation and United Health Foundation.

Faculty mentorship from across the University in Family Medicine, Nursing, the Center for Public Health Initiatives, Wharton, General Internal Medicine and the Center for Behavioral Economics has been immense. It is a real strength of the medical school program that cannot be understated. With support and encouragement from faculty, I decided to take a year out from medical school and accepted a paid fellowship position with the Centers for Disease Control in the global maternal-child HIV group. It was during this year I augmented the excellent clinical training we receive as Penn students with the perspective of public health. I kept in touch with faculty mentors throughout my time with the CDC in order to help me keep my experiences in the context of patient care and help me transition back into my final year.

The strengths of medical education at Penn extend far beyond a second-to-none curriculum and training facilities. The exposure, leadership opportunities and faculty mentorship are phenomenal. I often did not fully appreciate these things until I left the University and realized how lucky we were to have so many resources and opportunities at our fingertips. Regardless of what your interests are in medicine, you can find the mentorship and guidance you need to help you realize those dreams.

Kenji Taylor is an MS4 from small towns in rural Kansas and Pennsylvania. He graduated from Brown University in 2008 where he majored in Neuroscience and East Asian Studies. He then worked for a couple of years in finance in LA, London and Tokyo before coming back to medicine. Outside of class, Kenji enjoys hiking, fitness, cooking and watching Hulu with his girlfriend.

Our Student Body—Then and Now

Last Friday, March 20th, MS4s and their friends and family gathered in Dunlop Auditorium for the Match ceremony. One by one, students were called up to receive the envelope that would reveal where they matched for residency. To celebrate their amazing accomplishments, this week Penn Med Voices will be publishing pieces written by some awesome MS4s.

Intimidating…diverse…loud. These were the first things that came to mind when I was introduced to the student body at our medical school. Looking back upon the last 5 years I’ve spent here, I can say my impressions have drastically changed—for the better. Instead of the word intimidation, I should have used future stars, or better yet, leaders.   It’s not everyday that a medical student is the centerpiece of a NY Times article about game-changing HIV research. And seeing other classmates with editorials in journals like NEJM and JAMA so frequently, you would’ve thought they had their own editorial column.

With diverse, I should elaborate further. In my class, about 42% of people were considered underrepresented minorities—that’s almost half of the class. While this is something that every medical school should strive to achieve, there are so many other ways to be diverse. Age, schooling, political beliefs, etc. I found I’ve learned the most from my classmates who did not attend an Ivy in the northeast, or from those who have worked in finance or a non-profit during their gap years. I cannot overstate how much I have learned from them, how much they have shaped me into a better doctor, and more importantly, a better human being.


Loud—I was right on the money with that one. Think back to all the fun and crazy times during your college’s “new student orientation” week. I would say my med school class continued our new student orientation week for all 4 years. There was always a pregame going on somewhere, a dance party downtown, or an intramural team to join. The best part about our social life was that it was social. We didn’t talk about school or work. We really got to know one another as friends.

Senior Bar Crawl
Senior Bar Crawl

And this word—friends, or more accurately, lifelong friends, is what I really want to impress upon you, the future medical student at XXXX Medical School. When I was starting my second away rotation last fall, which was also my 3rd “audition” rotation in a 3rd new city back-to-back, I needed a break. (By the way, away rotations are month-long sub-internships at other programs that are required for more competitive specialties. They’re seen as a 24/7 interview for the month and they basically make-or-break your chances of matching.) So at that point, all I wanted was to sleep in my bed and know where I could go to do my laundry. That didn’t happen. But when I saw who the intern was at the beginning of the month, I knew then that I had caught a huge break. You see, I took a year off for research, watching my classmates graduate and become doctors in the meantime. So when I found out my intern for the month was one of my best friends from school, I was overjoyed. He let me in on all the little things that would expected from me, showed me where everything in the hospital was, and put me in the best position to succeed. More importantly, he became my biggest advocate.

The comforting thing is that I know any of my schoolmates would have done exactly the same as this intern. And that is truly rare in today’s world. I can’t overstate the incredible impact my classmates have had on me and how they’ve changed the way I approach both work and life away from the wards.   For that, I will forever be grateful.


Marten Basta is a graduating MS4 pursuing a career in Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, originally from small town Georgia. He graduated from the College at Penn in 2009, majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior with a minor in creative writing.  

LEAPP: 2 years later

In our previous post, MS1 Chris Corbett shared his experience so far with the LEAPP program. Today, MS3 Sarah Huepenbecker shares how LEAPP impacted her medical education over the last two years.

When I first met my LEAPP patient, Ms. M, I knew I was going to have an enjoyable experience. She was easily the most gregarious patient in the dialysis unit, and greeted my LEAPP partner and I with a huge smile and hugs. Her outfit and accessories were completely color-coordinated (a recurrent theme), and her blonde curls swung jauntily (a non-recurrent theme, as each subsequent visit introduced a new wig).

She launched right into her life story, telling us all about her career as “the dancing barmaid,” her two trouble-making sons, and her new fiancé. It took us a while to steer her towards telling us about her chronic disease: end-stage renal disease secondary to hypertension and diabetes.

In some ways, she had remarkably good insight and knowledge about her disease process—she could explain why she needed a low-salt diet, how the dialysis machines purified her blood three times a week, and the specific symptoms of uremia (a term I only vaguely understood at the time). I was struck by how upbeat Ms. M was about her diagnosis and prognosis—she enjoyed seeing her friends at dialysis three times a week, loved her nephrologist, and had lots of plans for her future.

This initial impression was a lasting one, and I always looked forward to my sessions with Ms. M. As my LEAPP partner and I met with her more often, we were able to get to know Ms. M as a vibrant person instead of just as a patient. By learning about Ms. M’s life outside of her disease, I was able to appreciate how various psychosocial, emotional, religious, and financial variables factored into her health.

For example, a few months after our initial meeting, Ms. M moved into a new apartment, which was both more affordable, allowing her to spend more money on fresh foods and maintain a renal-friendly diet, and closer to the bus stop, allowing her to travel to and from dialysis more easily. On the other hand, when Ms. M’s brother died unexpectedly midway through our LEAPP experience, she was deeply shaken and skipped several dialysis sessions and doctor’s appointments, which ultimately led to a few ER visits. During our year and a half with Ms. M, she went to the ER 5 times and was hospitalized twice (once for a clot in her dialysis fistula, once for a leg wound infection). It was a humbling experience, as a budding medical student, to see the progression of end-stage renal disease up close and personal. The bigger lesson, however, was seeing how the disease impacted Ms. M’s life and hearing her perspective on her own health.

Ultimately, my LEAPP experience gave me valuable insights that I will carry with me throughout my career. I had the privilege of getting to know a patient who was alternatively incredible, smart, energetic, non-compliant, scared, hopeful, and frustrating. I was able to see my patient as an utterly and beautifully human person with a life outside of her disease, and I hope to never forget that lesson as a physician.

Sarah Huepenbecker is an MS3 who is interested in OB/GYN and General Surgery. She is originally from Minnesota and completed her undergraduate degree at Penn in 2012, majoring in Biology and minoring in Hispanic Studies. In her free time she enjoys running, reading, good happy hours, and guilty pleasure TV.

Introduction to LEAPP

Longitudinal Experience to Appreciate Patient Perspectives, or LEAPP (quite the acronym, no?), is a program that aims to allow students to learn about what it is like to live with a chronic illness, and to introduce students to medical systems that provide care to patients with chronic diseases. Pairs of MS1s are matched with one patient (pediatric or adult) and stay in contact with the patient throughout their 1.5 preclinical years.

Today, an MS1 shares his experiences so far with the program. On Thursday, an MS3 will be sharing how LEAPP has impacted her medical education.

As I began my first year at Penn Med, I looked forward to the LEAPP program, although I wasn’t all that sure about what to expect. I knew I would have the opportunity to interact closely with a patient and their family during my first year and a half at Penn. Throughout that time I would have the chance to learn how different aspects of patients’ backgrounds and personal experiences shaped their care and personal approach to their illness.

From the day we first met our LEAPP preceptor and pediatric patient, I quickly realized how fortunate we were to have this opportunity and how invaluable it would be. Our LEAPP preceptor carefully spoke with and selected families that he had the pleasure to work with during his career and that he believed would be open to this experience. They were willing to answer our questions and were genuinely kind and caring people.

It was immediately evident how much our preceptor cared for his patients. At our LEAPP check-ins, he encouraged us to consider how our patient’s experiences and our own experiences influenced the provision of care. While it could be easy to get lost in all of the science we were studying the first semester, these experiences allowed us to maintain our perspective on what were equally, if not more, important lessons that would truly develop our ability to provide competent, exceptional care to our patients in the future, especially those facing chronic illnesses.

Above all, the interaction my LEAPP partner and I have had with our patient and their family has been invaluable. We have not only been able to learn about our patient’s experience, but also how the family deals with their child’s chronic illness. We’ve witnessed how hard our patient works to overcome numerous obstacles and heard stories of how the parents went out of their way to provide their child with rich and diverse opportunities. They have expressed their gratitude towards the care our preceptor provided and have refused to succumb to the constant pressure and stress. Most importantly, they have generously given their time to answer our questions about how their personal beliefs and background influence their perception of their child’s illness and their interaction with medical system. After just one semester, the LEAPP program has already proven to be one of the most interesting, insightful and meaningful experiences I’ve had at Penn, and I look forward to learn even more from my LEAPP patient and preceptor.

Chris Corbett is an MS1 from Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from Williams College in 2013 where he majored in chemistry and math and then spent one year working at Boston Children’s Hospital before starting at Penn. Outside of class, Chris enjoys hiking, swimming, running along the Schuylkill River, and exploring Philly’s awesome restaurant scene.

Medical Student Government (MSG) welcomes you to Penn Med!

One of the great things about Penn Med is the huge range of student groups we have, from student-run clinics to specialty interest groups to music to sports. One best things about Medical Student Government (or MSG, as it’s referred to) is that we get to work with students and projects from all of these groups throughout the year!

A little bit of background: MSG is made up of five class boards (MS1, MS2, MS3, MS4, and combined-degree/year-out, or CDYO) and an executive board. The class boards each have 2 Co-Chairs and multiple Class Representatives, and the executive board is made up of President, Vice President, and heads of Communications and Finance. Elections for the executive board and MS2, MS3, MS4, and CDYO boards take place in the spring, and MS1 elections take place a few weeks after school starts.

MSG board members

Each of the class boards meets every few weeks to plan all sorts of class events, such as post-exam parties at bars, the Pre-Clinical Teaching Awards and the End of Clerkships Semi-Formal, and other activities such as broom hockey tournaments, baking competitions, class talent shows, class ski trips, and more! The class boards and the executive board all get together once a month for the MSG General Body Meetings, where we meet over dinner to discuss big-picture issues affecting the student body, update each other on things we’ve been working on, and just catch up with our friends in other classes. There are also some events that we plan all together as a group – such as the annual school-wide Penn Med Formal, a favorite among Perelman students!

The beautiful Curtis Center, where the 2015 Penn Med Formal was held.

Certain members also meet with the medical school administration at least once per month to discuss changes or events in the school. The administration is wonderful to work with – they actively seek out student input on every important decision, so these meetings allow us to make sure that student views and preferences are represented. For example, when the new Jordan Medical Education Center (JMEC) was being designed, the administration asked for our thoughts on every aspect of this new space, ranging from classroom design to the types of chairs we wanted!

In addition to allowing me to learn a lot about how the medical school runs and to be part of some interesting conversations, what I love about MSG is the camaraderie and friendship that develops among the members. We collaborate closely across all classes and have a lot of fun at our meetings. We also become close friends, and love to get together outside of school.

MSG dinner fun!

We hope to see you at the Student Activities Fair when you arrive on campus next summer. Whether or not you choose to become a member of MSG, we look forward to getting to know you at school events or through other student groups!

Yael Nobel is an MS4, originally from the suburbs of New York City. She graduated from the Princeton in 2010, majoring in Chemistry and Global Health and Health Policy. In her free time she enjoys running, exploring new restaurants, and hanging out with friends.