By Becca Camp. I am a pre-med student. In the last year, I’ve had the unique opportunity to attend several conferences that shaped my sense of vocation. Perhaps most significant was Mayo Clinic’s TRANSFORM Symposium, hosted by their Center for Innovation; over the course of a weekend, my calling to study care delivery (how to get high-quality care to people who need it the most) was unearthed. Volunteering at TEDMED first left me feeling discouraged; surely there was no way I’d ever make the same impact as the Dean Kamens and Craig Venters of the world. Almost immediately, though, I found myself surrounded by attendees who looked at me plainly and asked, “Why not?” They had no doubt in their mind about my potential, and as the conference progressed, I was able to tamp down my own doubt. With my newfound determination in place, I went to DC10 Summit Series where I was introduced to the people of my own generation who have a concrete plan for changing the world. This year I’ve been able to meet invaluable mentors, and been exposed to incredible ideas.

These opportunities came about largely from my use of networking on blogs and Twitter. I continue to be surprised and delighted by the people who reach out when I talk about things that interest me, and who offer to get me more involved in the conversation at these conferences. Once there, I become the pupil of every person I meet. But naturally, I tend to be one of the only students, if not the sole representative, at every conference I attend. I’m surrounded by very few peers.

The result of these conferences was the discovery of my mission: effecting a paradigm shift in the culture of health in this country. It’s the vision that keeps me committed to writing, studying, and applying to medical school. But when I go back to class, and try to talk to my colleagues about what I’ve learned, I have trouble finding anyone interested in listening. It’s clear that the lack of a shared experience precludes shared enthusiasm. Inevitably, my professors are the only ones willing to engage in conversation about what drives me–and I go right back to being a solitary pupil. Broaching topics such as care delivery with my pre-med colleagues is often met with blank stares or flippant remarks about helping people being a means to a financial end. Additionally (and I hesitate to generalize), but in my experience, it seems that the women I encounter in my classes are difficult to engage about larger matters of vision. Older generations of feminists remember a time where young women were afraid to show their intelligence and competence in conversations that go beyond daily life and relationship issues. Could this still be going on?

Of course, the internet gives me the ability to connect with passionate women and men of all ages who are as eager as I am to teach and learn. However, the absence of face-to-face interaction nags at me–savvy as I may be at building relationships in my social networks online, those professional relationships become the most meaningful and permanent only after meeting in person. All this leaves me in a sort of liminal space, somewhere between the students I spend time with every day and the mentors who show me what is possible.

So here’s an open question for Disruptive Women: How does one go about establishing a peer group, one that gathers like-minded young people (women, in particular)? With or without access to the internet, during college as well as later in life, how did you find the people who engaged you?

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One Response to “What’s Next: On Conferences and Coming Home”

  1. Gabriela Pauli Says:

    Becca,

    I cannot tell you how happy I am to have come across your post. I relate so much with your frustrations in finding support among peers (and advisors) in the pre-med setting. I also completed my science coursework after having majored in a non-science field, psychology. A year out of college, I was teaching English in rural Spain, and I knew that I loved the one-on-one educational component inherent in teaching and counseling. However, I felt a need to continue educating myself in something, so that I would have more to teach. With a natural curiosity for physiological processes, I was very drawn to medicine for the content matter but scared to death of the process of getting there, as well as being discouraged by many physicians about the unhappy reality of their practice. I reassured myself that I had always done things unconventionally, and that medicine would be no different. I will be ready to apply this summer, having just taken the MCAT, but I am still short on one major goal: I am very much lacking mentors in healthcare. I am shadowing and doing research with some passionate pediatricians where I live (Fresno, CA), but they are not at a point in their lives where innovation is a priority. Of course, I read as much as I can about how creative physicians are challenging the status quo, but not until reading your post did I feel that I could and should get in contact with them. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts… they were so similar to mine and you’ve given me much inspiration to move forward in a similar direction. I’d love the chance to talk to you about some of my current “projects” and see what we can learn from each other. Thank you, once more, for your courage and foresight! Hope to hear from you soon.

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