Trinity School of Medicine has always prided itself on the strength and ambition of its students. So many future physicians come our way looking for something new; whether that’s a unique learning environment built on support and a strong relationship with the faculty, a curriculum with an emphasis on clinical skills and service to patients, or just a true opportunity to live up to their potential.
In this next special edition of our alumni spotlight, meet Devon Charlton, MD, MPH. He’s a member of our inaugural class, and, as such, has a great perspective on Trinity’s own past, as well as insight for future students. Most recently, he has completed his residency and wrapped up his rheumatology fellowship and tenure as chief fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Later this month, he’ll be speaking at the annual American College of Rheumatology Conference.
Read on to hear from an excellent physician on his path from MIT to Trinity and beyond in this insightful, thoughtful interview!
Why medicine? What made you want to be a doctor in the first place?
Since I was young, I’d always wanted to be a physician, in particular, a surgeon. I found all that the field encompassed fascinating and I loved the few experiences of surgery I had observed growing up. However, during college I had tossed the medical pursuit aside, since I thought I was meant to go down the engineering path while at MIT. During my junior and senior years, the interest in medicine was rekindled. However, this was after delving into biomaterials and physiological sciences/research. During senior year, I was awarded a research internship in organ transplantation, which then transitioned into research in tissue engineering and orthopedics at another academic hospital in New York City. Finally, I ended up transferring into clinical research in rheumatology for a more hands-on patient experience prior to medical school. It was during those four years after college that I was convinced medicine fulfilled my altruistic and personal interests, and therefore was my calling.
Did you apply to any US schools? If so, what was the application cycle like for you?
I applied to several US schools twice (two cycles). I interviewed once at the University of Southern California, but was ultimately wait-listed. I had sub-par MCAT scores (27) [ed. that’s roughly a 502 on the current scale] and 3.0 GPA at MIT with average grades in pre-med courses – I was not actively pursuing pre-med at the time, but rather an materials engineering degree. While working at a renowned academic hospital doing research for ≈4 years, I tried to take additional classes and publish papers to make up for the bad grades during my undergraduate years. I had no guidance and I was too stubborn to seek adequate help. Therefore, I was quite delayed and poorly organized with regard to putting together a decent application. Ultimately, despite my excellent experiences and an ability to do well once I got into a medical school, the foundation I should have built made it very difficult to get into a US school.
What made you ultimately choose Trinity School of Medicine?
I wasn’t sure what else I could do at the time since I failed applying to US schools and my grants at work were up for renewal. I wanted to get started on a path to medicine rather than continue research, therefore, I found the advertisements for a Caribbean pathway. I felt the large schools would just be a circus where I would get lost in the cut-throat system. I researched my options and was intrigued by the smaller class sizes, guidance, etc. that would make up the experience Trinity offered. I admit, it still brought its own challenges with Trinity being a brand new international school.
How would you describe your experiences as one of Trinity’s first students?
Being the first group of students was extremely trying and occasionally distracting. Additionally, we were actively participating in designing the program to our needs as well as helping to build local and US relationships, retaining excellent faculty, obtaining quality rotations, and overcome licensing obstacles in order to build a strong foundation going forward.
Overall, we were treated fairly as IMGs while on US rotations. Rotations at the time were limited and we had to move more than we had desired [ed. Trinity School of Medicine is now one of the only Caribbean schools that has a single city for its rotations. Cores are done exclusively at a network of affiliated hospitals in Baltimore, Maryland. There is no more moving required, unless students seek a separate away rotation they organize outside of Trinity].
Nevertheless, I found that we could match or exceed the performance of other US and foreign medical students.
What is your advice for incoming medical students?
I have a list, actually.
1) Minimize your footprint when coming to the island. You don’t need much. I found that you can get all that you need on the island and look to the more senior students for advice on what they found to be helpful.
2) Your goal there is to learn, to ace the board exams and to prepare for clinical rotations. Focusing daily on these goals and your personal purpose will help you get through each day.
3) Take every opportunity you can to get hands-on medical experiences as well, for these will prove invaluable in the future. [ed. Trinity’s student experience has heavy clinical experience, starting in the first term at Milton Cato Memorial Hospital but also through a wide variety of global health initiatives].
4) Build relationships with faculty and members of the medical field in SVG. This will provide much more depth to your development and experience as you progress.
5) Realize that there are some obstacles as an IMG compared to a US medical graduate, but there are a lot of unique positives and you will see that you are no less of a physician for going this route.
6) Explore the island and even nearby islands, since this part of the world has some amazing beauty.
Is there anything you’d like to say to current Trinity students?
Ace the Step-1 exam as this will be one of the top factors in moving forward and matching. Second, get those A’s! Third, build great relationships with faculty and your rotation preceptors so that recommendation letter writing will be effortless for them and for you. Additionally, there are great books on preparing for US clinical rotations, The Nerd’s Guide to Rounding was one of my favorites, and in planning your 4-year approach to residency, see The Successful Match: 200 tips to Succeed in the Residency Match. I call it a four-year plan since you need to start from day one of medical school.
Of course, don’t forget to enjoy your time on the island and explore as much as you can in your free time. Your two years will go quickly and you’ll have amazing adventure stories for years to come. For example, while there I became advanced PADI certified [ed. SCUBA certification] and even found an ale bottle from the pirate era during a dive!
On a side note, when in your 3rd and 4th years, look into additional degrees like an MHA, MPH, or MBA and what you can do with these degrees. When I interviewed for gastroenterology fellowships, the interviewers suggested that as an IMG I should do something “extra special” in addition to an excellent academic background/performance; and my pursuit of an MPH at Johns Hopkins during residency was that extra special achievement. I pursued the MPH since I was interested in healthcare policy changes, global health, and clinical research.
Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Charlton!