As we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, we invite you to get to know some of our current students who have embarked on the challenging, yet rewarding, journey of becoming a physician. This week’s Q&A profile features second-year student Madeline Dixon.
Tell us a little bit about your background, including where you are from and how you decided to move to El Paso.
I’m originally from Houston (Spring) and I grew up there my whole life. I went to Texas A&M for undergraduate school, where I majored in biomedical sciences and minored in neuroscience. I came straight from undergrad to medical school, which is called a “traditional student.” A lot of my colleagues had other careers before coming to medical school, so our class is a mix of traditional and nontraditional students, which adds to the diversity.
TTUHSC El Paso was the first school I heard back from. I did some research on the border region, as I was unfamiliar, and learned that El Paso has a unique patient population. There is a blend of cultures here, which I was not exposed to in Spring, Texas.
TTUHSC El Paso was my first medical school interview. I had no idea what to expect when I came out to visit, but the city and the people really blew me away. I loved the school immediately.
The students at the school in my interview were incredibly friendly. They were all excited to tell me about the city — from where to eat, to where to visit when my family was in town — the outgoing personalities of everyone we met with immediately put me at ease. I pre-matched at TTUHSC El Paso and got an early acceptance during my senior year of college.
I continued to interview at other medical schools in the state, but didn’t have the same experience I did when I was in El Paso. The more I started looking into everything El Paso had to offer, I knew it was the right fit and the best school for me.
Have you always wanted to be a doctor? What are you currently studying?
I think I have always wanted to be a doctor. In high school I took advanced science courses that I loved. It was exciting to me to find something you are passionate about so young. Once I started college at Texas A&M, I began shadowing physicians. I was able to see firsthand the opportunity to connect with people every single day and really make an impact on their lives.
I am pursuing a degree in maternal fetal medicine. I would like to do my residency in OB/GYN and then further specialize in high-risk pregnancies. While in college I worked at the student-run clinic and there was a women-only section that I took an interest in. Being able to educate young women and help them through important medical decisions and journeys is a huge opportunity. I know that to specialize requires additional years of study and residency work, but I am ready for the challenge.
What year of medical school are you currently in and tell us about your first year.
I am currently in my second year of school. My first year in El Paso was a little hard. I was not familiar with the city, and as students, you jump right into classes. I was expecting it to be a hard transition, but it was not as bad as I thought it would be because I quickly learned we were all in the same boat. Everyone comes in nervous and with very similar ambitions.
The other students in my class, they know me so much better than some of my friends in college who I have known for four years. We have the same goals and interests and underlying passion for what we want to do. There are hard times, but we are in it together. We are all working so hard, but we are a family and committed to the same cause.
What makes the Foster School of Medicine stand out?
The first thing I noticed is that our school has one of the smallest class sizes in Texas (98 students total in my class). A lot of other medical schools have over 200. That in itself makes the professors and staff that more accessible.
At TTUHSC El Paso, the professors are accessible to students not only inside the classroom, but also outside.
I still remember one time, the day before an exam, there was one concept I had a really hard time understanding. My professor was teaching another class so I visited a neighboring faculty member and he told me, “Leave your notes here, let me look at them and come back in 30 minutes.” When I came back, he sat down with me, one-on-one, and helped me understand the concept.
He gave me a personal lecture and because of that, I did well on the exam. That is a perfect example of how dedicated they are to the students.
Also, in terms of curriculum, TTUHSC El Paso is the first of its type in the country to do presentation-based content. For example, let’s say we are learning about a reproductive unit that week. At the start of the week, an OB/GYN will come in, give a talk and then role play as a patient: how they come into the office, what their symptoms are and what you do next. Then you learn about pathology and science and medication.
We are able to learn the material in a way that’s easy to digest, using real-world scenarios. You’re not just going subject by subject; it’s very comprehensive in relation to what’s happening in a patient. I’m better at understanding the mechanism behind a sore throat because I’ve studied it a unique way versus individually by topic. Other schools are moving toward this approach as well because of the success rates.
Were you involved in the student-run clinic? Is there a moment or story that stands out as being memorable during your time at the clinic?
Yes, I was involved at the clinic. The clinic is run by second-year students, but anyone can volunteer. The clinic services people from across the region. On clinic days, people get on buses from Van Horn and Fort Stockton and drive all the way to the Sparks community because they would otherwise be unable to get care.
As a first-year student, your job at the clinic is triage, and then you hand over the patient to a second-year student who then takes them into a room and evaluates initial findings, then a third- or fourth-year student will do the exam and review medical history.
It’s unique in that we are all working together – students and faculty. Faculty will expect you to do a patient presentation within a couple of minutes – basically everything that’s important with the patient. It’s up to you to pick out important pieces of a patient’s history and then give it to the senior doctor to make the recommendation on care.
We provide service to those who can’t afford it. Because of this, we are exposed to a lot of diseases not found in a hospital, as some patients haven’t seen doctors that would have caught the problems sooner.
What do you hope to achieve through the Foster Scholarship?
This scholarship is incredibly helpful as I will be able to graduate from medical school debt-free. Because of this fact, I have more options with pursuing my career. This scholarship is also allowing me to pursue my Masters in Public Health (M.P.H.).
A lot of people come out of school and they’re concerned about residency and specialty programs so they can pay back massive loans. I don’t have to choose because of financial reasons. I’m able to pursue my passion and not be confined to accepting the job that pays the most so I can repay a bank. I can do a residency program and specialize in an area that is best for me and not be confined by the financial burden of paying back loans. I can do what’s best for me. This scholarship opens up my possibilities and allows me to spread my wings a bit more.
What is a memorable experience during your time at school?
My best experience thus far in El Paso is when I was working at the clinic and really trying to practice my Spanish skills. I am not a native Spanish speaker, but unique to TTUHSC El Paso is that Spanish classes are mandatory. I was nervous, but halfway through seeing a patient she told me (in Spanish), “You’re doing great.”
I was able to complete the exam completely in Spanish and I gave her everything she needed. After the exam, she pulled me aside and thanked me for being her “doctor for the day” and a person with her. She said it was nice to have someone approachable and trying to communicate, even though she knew very little English.
It’s easy to get caught up in the work, treating patients, not people. At the end of the day we are in the people business.
Ten years from now, what would you like to see at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine?
With the addition of a residency program at The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus, I look forward to seeing more residents for El Paso. Residents are very good teachers. They are just out of school and know what it’s like to be in our position.
I think expanding residency programs, making them more competitive and adding more specialties would help grow the school and add doctors in the area. When it comes to doctors, where they do residency is usually where they stay. You’re older, making more money and start to “set your roots in residency.” That can be the success of El Paso.