“Make an impact, be patient and work very hard,” was the overarching theme of the interview I had with Ali Hachem, a recent medical residency graduate from Central Michigan University. Ali walked me through his journey and I started to pick up on some common themes. Well, first off, he is quite passionate about the field and was excited to talk about the different aspects of medicine that he got to explore throughout his journey. Secondly, Ali is fueled by his determination to see his dream materialize and is consistently putting himself out there to gain the necessary experiences. Through his story, he demonstrated time and again how these qualities are indispensable to an aspiring medical professional.
Ali is a first-generation doctor that committed to the field from a very young age. Born in Detroit, Michigan and raised overseas, he decided to return to Detroit to pursue his post-secondary education. Growing up, math and physics were what Ali excelled at, two subjects many premeds don’t particularly enjoy. But, knowing what his goal was, he persevered through biology and other courses that would prepare him best to succeed in medical school.
Ali’s passion can also be observed in his undergraduate journey. Ali completed his undergrad at the University of Michigan, where the premed program was still up and coming at the time. Ali managed to carve out a competitive transcript for himself. His first MCAT exam, however, did not show a similar result. Remembering his goal, Ali decided to take the MCAT a second time and he was able to achieve a competitive score. Realizing the importance of having a well-rounded application and wanting to strengthen his technical skills, Ali decided to develop his research skills. Cancer research was where his interest lied and therefore, he approached a cell bio instructor asking for a research opportunity. Ali urges other premeds to find a field they are passionate about, approach a faculty member, and stay persistent with your efforts while trying to secure a research opportunity.
A key example of Ali’s determination and persistence was made evident when Ali recounted the time he was told that he was not good enough. Ali had an academic counsellor who was sure that Ali did not have what it took to gain admission into medical school. Unfortunately, the counsellor’s words were not reassuring, like a needle popping an elated balloon. However, Ali refused to allow her negative affirmations to kill his dreams and was poised to complete his applications on his own. Fortunately, Ali’s perseverance proved successful, and he reaped the fruit of his labour, finally gaining admission into medical school later that application cycle. Later on, Ali came to the realization that in addition to his strong profile and application, Ali’s honest conversation with the Director of Admissions at a Medical School fair proved productive. Ali’s actions further highlighted his proactive and go-getting nature.
I couldn’t help but appreciate the importance that Ali’s passion played in his journey. I mean, holy cow! 11 years of schooling, with periodic examinations and mental challenges, and this man was still considering further schooling for his fellowship! As he put it: “Medical school is not a field that you just roll into. If you don’t love it, you won’t enjoy it.” I could definitely sense that he did! Much like many aspiring medical doctors, Ali consistently looks for areas where he can leave his mark. Having joined a new medical program at Central Michigan University, he had the chance to assist in revamping the curriculum, setting blueprints for future classes. He also had the opportunity of taking part in founding the student council at the school, at which he was assigned as a VP. But do not go assuming that he had ample time to achieve the above. He described being in med school as “drinking water out of a fire hydrant - you get a lot of knowledge thrown at you but you also miss a lot”.
I noticed how that statement prompted a micro-reflection on Ali’s part, generating a statement that resonated with me: “your life [as a medical doctor] would go at a slower pace than everyone else”. A statement that couldn't be more true. I look around me, and at the age of 24, I sometimes feel behind. Most of my friends are in coveted positions, excelling, investing, or even getting married while I'm still attaining higher education. But it seems like we both landed at a similar realization - you need to zone out the unnecessary, falsely perceived sense of pressure burdened upon you. One of Ali’s med school classmates is a 44-year-old doctor of engineering! Everyone moves at their own pace; you just have to make sure you're moving down the right path.
If time-travel was a thing, Ali said that there was one thing he would have done differently. He would have taken a year off between his undergrad and medical school. He thinks it would have allowed him to mature some more, perhaps better preparing him for the long road ahead. Reasoning with that logic, he will now be taking a break before pursuing his fellowship.
When asking about what advice he would leave you, pre-meds and aspiring doctors, he struggled to give me just one. He asserted the importance of being patient: “don't be discouraged if you don't get in from the first time. You need to compete with yourself, not try to be better than someone else. Work towards strengthening your weaknesses and thrive off of the strengths that you have”.