But I’m not an engineer! Why I still applied to an engineering-based medical school

Two-thirds of my classmates are engineers. I’m not one of them.

I’m one of 32 students who make up the inaugural class at the world’s first engineering-based college of medicine. Two-thirds of my classmates are engineers. I’m not one of them.

I studied biology at MIT and worked extensively in a cancer research lab during my junior and senior years. After undergrad, I conducted clinical research at Massachusetts General Hospital and received my master’s degree in biomedical sciences from Tufts University. So while I’m not an engineer, I am a problem solver, and as I gained experience in medical research, I began to see how engineering could play a key role in solving pressing medical problems. Then came Carle Illinois, this new engineering-based medical school. I was intrigued, because I knew it was aligned with what I believe is the future of medicine.

Roxana Azimi, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
With my research mentor, Dr. Tyler Jacks, at my graduation from MIT.

Getting Here

When I applied to Carle Illinois, the pre-requisites were a barrier. With a biology degree, I wasn’t confident that I could prove competence in some of the quantitative requirements, and I felt I had to indicate that I could not prove competency in differential equations. But, after a conversation with the admissions team, I dug up my syllabus from my time at MIT, and found that differential equations was integrated into my coursework. I could move forward. And in fact, I was admitted.

Now That I’m Here

One of my professors, Dr. Oliphant, called me after I received my admittance into Carle Illinois. I told him that I wasn’t an engineer, and I wanted to be sure this acceptance letter wasn’t a fluke. He told me, “This is more about an engineering approach, not about being an engineer.”

Now that I’m here, I see what he means. And, I don’t feel any different from my peers. My strong background in basic science and research enriches the experience of many of my classmates, who have strong backgrounds in engineering. It’s a diverse student body, so we’re figuring it out together. When one student knows a concept better, they take the lead. When it’s my expertise, I step in. We’re all fast learners, and we offer our expertise when it’s our particular turn. We’re a team, and together we’re working to build the future of medicine.

Where I’m Going

In the end, I believe that physicians need to be problem solvers. And as I pursue a future in cancer-related translational medicine, I know I’ll need to be excellent at this skill. Identifying problems in health care and searching for the tools to address the problem is exactly the type of physician I want to be. Stepping into an engineering-based medical school with a biology degree hasn’t stopped me yet.

Roxana Azimi