Name: Elyse Love
Hometown: Bessemer, Al
Current city: New York, NY
Undergraduate with major: University of Alabama, B.S. Biology, magna cum laude
Medical School: Emory University School of Medicine
Residency programs: The Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology New York University School of Medicine (dermatology), Baptist health systems (transitional)
Take me back a decade, what did you want to be when you grew up? A pediatrician. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I can remember. I have no idea why. My pediatrician was the only doctor I knew as a kid, so by default, I wanted to be a pediatrician.
Tell me about your college application process? How did you decide on a school and major? The University of Notre Dame was my first choice. It was the only school I really wanted to go to. Otherwise, I didn’t have much guidance in choosing a college. Neither one of my parents went to a four year college (at the time, my mother has since earned her bachelor’s in science). I applied early action to Notre Dame, The University of Miami, and The University of Alabama and I was accepted all three, so I cancelled all of my pending applications to the few other schools I’d randomly applied to.
I really wanted to go to Notre Dame with all of my heart, but my parents eventually convinced me that UA would be the best decision for me, financially, in the long-run. So, I chose a full scholarship to Alabama knowing that medical school (and all the debt that comes with it) was in my future.
My high school computer science instructor encouraged me to apply to a small honors program horribly named the “computer based honors program."* At the time, the program accepted 40 incoming freshman a year. The program guaranteed computer science training (I’d taken 3 years of computer science in high school and really loved it), research time, and improvement on presentation skills. The program offered the benefit of a small, intimate environment (like a private school) with the resources and exposure of a large state school (i.e.: Alabama football and Greek life).
*the program was created back when computers were a new thing and they refuse to change the name because of “legacy."
Deciding on biology as my major required a lot of angst. I really did not want to be a biology major. I thought – “Here I am at some big state school with a generic major. Why would anyone look at my application??” I entertained health care management and nutrition as potential majors, but at the end of the day, my favorite classes were my biology classes. I thought about minoring in nutrition, but I didn’t think I could handle two minors (my honors program was also a minor) with extracurriculars and research. I did really like economics, and I do wish I’d taken a few more classes just for fun. I was just very stressed about getting into medical school in undergrad. I did not stop to smell the roses.
What was the hardest part of your undergraduate studies? How did you get through it? I took honors chemistry the first semester and it WAS SO HARD, seriously. It is the only A- I made in my entire undergraduate career. I graduated with over a 4.0 GPA because I made a lot of A+, but for medical school the science GPA is calculated separately and an A+ is a 4.0 not a 4.3 BUT a A- is a 3.7, so my science GPA was a 3.8 or 3.9 because of that grade and it absolutely killed me. I think maybe 5 people took honors chem II. haha. The rest of us dropped down to good ole general chem II.
Organic chemistry and physics II were also hard, I think. I’ve really kind of blocked those moments out of my life. I can remember that our physics II teacher was French and he was completely incomprehensible - partly because of his broken English and partly because of physics. I remember thinking I would understand the world completely if I could figure out what that man was saying. Organic chem lab was a time where I came and put some things together and occasionally made a white powder substance that weighed so many grams, but I have no idea why I spent eight hours a week doing that. I’m sure it made me a better doctor?
Did you take time off between undergrad and medical school? Why or why not? and if you did take time off, how did you spend it? I did not. There was a bad tornado in Tuscaloosa a few weeks before my graduation that completely devastated the city and its residents (including the students who considered Tuscaloosa home), so May 2011 graduation was postponed until the summer. Emory med starts in July, so I actually walked in my undergraduate graduation ceremony after starting medical school. I drove down, walked across stage, took a picture for my mother, and then went back to Atlanta.
How and when did you decide on medical school? Medical school for me was always the goal. I was all of 5 when I decided I wanted to be a doctor. It was completely arbitrary, but it did push me to explore the field of medicine early, and I liked what I saw. When I was in elementary school, TLC was still “The learning channel” and I would stay up late at night watching surgeries. I had a really strong high school science curriculum, and I always excelled at biology. As a kid I wanted to be a physician because I thought disease pathology was really cool. It wasn’t until college that I became interested in the healthy adult.
This paragraph was a poorly worded, condensed version of my medical school personal statement. That makes me feel good. I’m not too jaded!
What did you do to be a good medical school applicant? I only did a few of the things on the how to be a strong medical school applicant list, but I did them VERY well. My GPA was perfect, so that helped. My MCAT score was okay, kind of the minimum I needed to be considered by a few of the top schools. I had volunteer/extracurricular service out of the wazoo, and I had a ton of research experience - although no big meeting presentations or publications like Soohee.
For volunteer/extracurriculars - I did a lot of tutoring and teaching. I led fitness classes at a nursing home near my house. I started doing it weekly in high school and continued to do it monthly while in college. That was a great experience for me. I learned a lot about the reality of Alzheimer’s disease and it was really fun (imagine aerobics but everyone is in a wheel chair and at least eighty). I also volunteered at an after school program for “gifted, at risk youth” because once upon a time I was considered a “gifted, at risk youth” and so many people showed an intense amount of interest in me for no reason other than for my benefit. It wasn’t a tutoring program. I just hung out with the kids. I also had a little sister through Big Brother Big Sister of America that I would have lunch with once a week. I also planned educational events hosted by my sorority and planned the sorority volunteer activities (and by plan, I mean I led a team of really awesome women who did all of the work). Lastly, I was really involved in the Minority Association of Pre-health Students. I was event planner junior year and president of the organization my senior year. Related: Ask Elyse: volunteering and medical school admissions
For research - I spent a year working on a statistical analysis of Alabama’s high infant mortality rate and how it differed between rural and urban counties. It was a really amazing project with a lot of potential, but my mentor was not at all responsive, so the math major also working on the project and I both dropped it. I then joined a lab that focused on snake metabolism. haha. yeah, I don’t know. I interviewed at a few labs and it was all boring bench work until I walked into Dr. Secor’s lab. The team was in the middle of a snake dissection and there was loud music and people were using their hands, so I joined a lab whose interest was completely irrelevant to medicine (but has gone on to produce quite a few doctors). I stayed on for a paid summer research fellowship in the lab and it really burned me out with snakes. My senior year, I went back to computer science work and started to develop an open-source, online database for fly phenotypic data related to metabolic syndrome.
My letters of recommendation were by far my weakest point. I wrote about it here. It’s a topic that I never discuss because it makes me angry just thinking about it.
Why did you choose your medical school? oh this is a long story... Emory chose me and I was so annoyed by it. haha. At the time of medical school applications, I was dating my college sweetheart and his dream career was investment banking in NYC.
I read about all of the northeast schools and applied to a handful of them - there’s a Princeton Review book that goes through every medical school in the country in detail. Emory was the only medical school in the South outside of Alabama that I applied to. Their program just seemed so perfect on paper.
My Emory interview was my one of my last interviews, and I really didn’t want to go to it. I’d been accepted to my #1 and #2 schools by then. I was moving to NYC. Done and done. My friends all encouraged me to go to the interview, and I didn’t have a real legitimate reason to cancel… until it snowed! I couldn’t make the drive into Atlanta for my scheduled interview. The admissions staff was so kind.* They rescheduled later that day, so then I HAD to go. When I returned from the interview, my friends wanted to know how it went and my only response was “It’s not real. No one in medical school is that happy” and then I scratched Emory off my list.
*I can’t say enough kind words about the Emory Admissions staff. They became family over the next four years.
UNTIL I went to revisited in New York, and Emory’s name kept coming up! First, it was a medical student who commented on how much she loved Emory and would have loved to go there, but her fiancé was in finance. Then, there was the unbelievably gorgeous fellow accepted applicant who was only in NYC for the free food. He’d just spent a weekend at Emory and couldn't imagine training anywhere else.
All of this Emory talk convinced me to go to their revisit, and well, apparently people can be that happy. It was the least flashy revisit of them all. No wine and dine. We went to class and small group with the current 1st years, and I knew at the end of that day, I needed to become a physician at Emory…which meant I had to go home and scramble to get in all of the financial aid paperwork by the deadline because I hadn’t done any of it.
Oh did I mention my college sweetheart and I broke up right before those New York revisits? I eventually started dating that beautiful boy who wooed me to Emory and became my medical school classmate. We broke up 2 weeks into medical school, and I am forever grateful to him. I feel very strongly that his purpose in my life was to introduce me to the place that taught me how to be a thoughtful and knowledgeable physician and the place that I met my lifelong best friends - including the love of my life. Funny how life works, eh?
How and when did you decide on dermatology ? What other specialties did you consider? There’s a full post on the practical and non-practical factors that went into my decision to choose dermatology here, but in short - I'm interested in the quality of life impact of disfiguring dermatologic diseases. I suffered from severe acne for all of high school, so I understand what it feels like when people avoid eye contact with you because of how you look. I empathize with those patients, but most importantly, I enjoy making them better.
I had a pretty good idea I wanted to go into dermatology coming into medical school. I actually narrowed down the list of medical schools I would apply to based off of their dermatology match. I didn’t fully commit to dermatology until about April of application year, though. I wanted to learn something more because it's so competitive, and I'm not much of a risk taker.
I considered internal medicine followed by allergy/immunology fellowship for a minute, but dermatology is a better fit for me in terms of my broad interests. I also really enjoyed my ob/gyn and psychiatry rotations and considered careers in women's health and eating disorder medicine.
It's a huge decision, and I definitely think I made the right one. Clinic is exhausting and overwhelming at times and there is so much to learn during residency, but I absolutely love what I do.
Dermatology is a very competitive specialty. Any tips on how to be a strong applicant? yup. I’ve got a blog full of them. haha. My biggest advice is to accept the fact that you have to work harder than everyone else to get something that everyone else can’t have. That means you have to miss the parties, the day drinking, and sleeping in - not all the time, but most of the time. You don’t become the top 10% by doing what the middle 50% are doing. BUT it’s also a choice. I have dear friends who are so not into the idea of being in the top 10%, and that’s totally fine. Whatever you decide, it’s important that your actions line up with your aspirations. Related: Tips to match a competitive specialty part 1 : timeline, part 2: components of your ERAS application, How to excel in medical school and match urology from a urologist, how to be successful
How did you go about making your rank list? I did a nice long post on all the factors I considered in making my rank list, but basically I ranked programs based off of clinical reputation. NYU is consistently ranked in the top 3 dermatology programs in the country (it was ranked #1 my application cycle) with probably the most diverse patient population in the country. I absolutely loved my home program, and I would have been equally happy to train there. Honestly, I would have been grateful to train anywhere. I really hit the jackpot with my program though. The clinical training is excellent and the people are amazing. Related: How the NRMP works and how I made my rank order list
What's been the best part of your training so far? The worst? My cousin was in a devastating car accident the night before my medical school graduation. It was a horrible, horrible situation that required multiple life-changing surgeries and weeks on weeks in the hospital. I spent my first few months as a doctor at his bedside, and that, for me, has been the biggest reward medicine has given to me - his life and the medical knowledge to be an interpreter and sense of calm for my family during that time.
The worst part of my training was my ambulatory rotation in medical school. It was my first rotation of third year. I was a bright-eyed medical student and all of my illusions of medicine were abruptly destroyed. The physicians in the practice were very unhappy - not all of them, but enough to make the environment very negative. I would come home everyday drained. I began to look into career options other than practicing medicine. My subsequent rotations resparked my commitment to practicing medicine, and my ambulatory rotation my intern year resparked my interest in primary care. It was a very happy, light, and caring environment where we cared for the entire patient – both as a patient and as a person.
One year ago, a sweet soul, who happens to be related to me, was run off the road by a reckless driver. Saving his life required amputation of both his legs - without his knowledge - one amputation a complete disarticulation of the femur from the hip. He woke up days into his hospital stay, forever physically changed. Our family had prepared for depression and rage, ourselves burdened with guilt for what we had let happen to him and for what we couldn't prevent from happening to him. Instead, he responded to the news with gratitude, grace, determination, and humor. Somehow becoming our support system as we tried to support him. That week, he set the long-term goal of walking across the stage to receive his high-school diploma, and with that goal in mind, he started rehab. Yesterday, with the help of his new prosthetics and a physical therapist who went above and beyond her job requirements, my beautiful cousin walked across stage and received his diploma - bringing everyone in the theater to their feet in ovation - except me; I was paralyzed with joy and overwhelming pride. Carlos, I am more than proud of the man you are. I am in awe of your unique mix of smarts, determination, self-confidence, humility, and humor. You have overcome more in your 18 years than I would have ever wished for you. Your story continues, but for now, we celebrate the closing of an incredible chapter. I love you, sweet boy.
What advice would you give to a freshman premedical student? explore careers in medicine to make sure the physician route is the route you want to take. There are so many other options, like nurse practitioner, physician assistant, etc that didn’t exist to the extent that they do now when I was applying. If you do decide becoming a physician is right for you, continue to do the things you love and enjoy. Don’t feel like you have to be a premed robot (however, whatever you choose to do, you still must strive for excellence). Related: career profile – Andrea – Pediatric ICU physician assistant, career profile – Nina – Urgent care physician assistant
What about a 1st year medical student? If you think you’re interested in a competitive specialty, seek it out. Also, shadow as much as you can. First year of medical school is this glorious period of life where you have all of the access of a medical student, but no one expects you to know anything. Of course, don’t spend all of your time shadowing. This is your time to learn the basics. Don’t think about step 1. Learn for the sake of leaning. There are so many horrible things happening in the word, and your only job is to consume knowledge – what a privilege! Related: Tips to match a competitive specialty part 1: a timeline
life outside of medicine
What does work-life balance look like to you and how did you maintain it during residency? Dr. Mary Jo Lechowicz has given me a lot of great life advice, and her view on balance is now mine. Think of work-life balance as a see-saw - sometimes work is on top and life is neglected a little, sometimes life is on top and work is neglected; occasionally they’re perfectly equal. As long as the seesaw is moving up and down, it’s fun.
Work-life balance is tricky as a first year dermatology resident, a blogger, half of a long-distance relationship*, and a new New Yorker. There’s just SO MUCH for me to learn – about dermatology and blogging. It’s difficult to focus at time, and I’m still trying to figure out what my schedule will be. *we broke up
The most essential thing to being productive is to block off time and keep a lot of lists* – and I have not done the best job of this.
*a list of my current lists: Things to do today, things to do tomorrow, things to do the next day, things to get done eventually, things to buy for the apartment, future blog posts, what I saw in clinic today, tings to read about, ways to improve the blog reading experience
Do you have any tips or rules to keep you healthy during residency? I drink a lot of coffee, which isn’t the best source of hydration. When I’m being good I try to drink two glasses of water before my first cup of coffee and then go one to one. I also have this huge Nalgene bottle that I use at home and occasionally take to the hospital with me. That helps me hit my goal of 2-2.5 L a day.
Also, I eat the same salad everyday for lunch. The more you eat salad, the more your taste buds will become accustomed to it. I only use olive oil as my salad dressing.
Oh yeah, fiber! I’m all about fiber. Everyone talks about how lean protein keeps you full, but that doesn’t work for me. Only high fiber or high fat foods make me feel full (but high fat foods also make me feel heavy and lethargic).
Soda is bad. Sweet tea is bad. Try to stay away from sugar. It takes a good 3 weeks of withdrawal, but your taste buds will adapt and your life will be better.
What does your ideal career look like? My clinical interests are in disfiguring dermatologic conditions and their psychosocial impact. I also really like doing procedures! My ideal population would be a mix of those whose quality of life is significantly impacted by their disease (acne, severe psoriasis/atopic derm, pemphigus vulgaris, other systemic rashes) and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures. Dermatology, and every profession in general, has really niched down, so I don’t know if that would be feasible.
My research interests are in using technology to increase the efficiency and efficacy of the dermatologic clinical encounter and patient-centered education.
I also have a dream of being a program director one day, maybe back in Atlanta. I went into medical school thinking I would own my own practice, but that no longer seems like a reality.
What does you ideal life outside of medicine look like? Me, Alex*, two little curly haired kids, a standard poodle, a labradoodle, a Labrador, a nanny, a maid, lots of dancing, and lots of hugs in a to be determined city. We’re between Texas, Chicago, Atlanta, Wisconsin, New York, and San Diego right now. Basically, we have no idea. Alex* and I both made life-long friends in medical school, so ideally, we would all travel to see each other and our kids will be friends. *we broke up
Where do you see yourself in five years? with a job.
I figured out my life last night while driving home (when I have my best ideas). I'll do a year fellowship in NY then move back to ATL with this badass beauty (she's in Boston completing ENT training). We'll start a joint practice, take out our IUDs, and start families. We'll have au pairs so that the kids can spend time with us at work while they're young and eventually we'll join the long line of adorable families walking their kids to morningside elementary and clogging up traffic. Done and done 👭 #womeninmedicine #leanin #weloveatl #lats_lovenotes
What sacrifices have you made for your career? Time with my family. I’m embarrassed at how little time I spent with my niece and nephews during my year home for intern year. Although, the year home made me feel a lot better about moving to NYC. Everyone has their own things going on. I’m not the only busy bee. I do miss them like crazy though. Between you and me, I almost cry every morning because I’m so home sick.
In medical school, I thought love was a sacrifice required by the successful and ambitious, but I obviously don’t think that anymore.
oh money - I'm broke and in debt. #truestory