Fitz Gerald Diala is a second-year medical student (MS2) at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM). He is enrolled in the medical scientist training program (MSTP) — pursuing concurrent research and medical degrees (MD and PhD) — and was happy to share stories and advice to current premedical students.
Diala is keenly aware of the challenges facing premedical students. Born in Nigeria and having moved to California as a teen, he observed how difficult it was adjusting to a new life in the U.S. Luckily, his teachers were instrumental in helping him pursue a career in clinical medicine. He applied to DGSOM because he found the DGSOM faculty supportive of his research and clinical interests, and he wanted to live near his family.
Clinically relevant courses
The second year of medical school, according to Diala, is designed to move students one step closer to their future roles as physicians. Many students enjoy this year of medical school because of its focus on courses that integrate basic and clinical science. Diala considers the second year especially interesting because DGSOM uses an integrated approach in the curriculum: "We are [currently] learning about the heart — the anatomy, diseases, drugs, causes of diseases — [and how it relates to] smoking, environmental [factors] and genetics."
Clinical skills, training and exposure
Students are given opportunities to learn and practice varying clinical skills during their second year, and are matched with preceptors who are clinicians. They work in clinic every two weeks to practice skills such as interviewing, physical examination and formulating a differential diagnosis. Diala noted that students have the opportunity to practice more independently by volunteering. The UCLA Mobile Clinic Project is an interdisciplinary program supported by the David Geffen School of Medicine, the Jonathan and Karin Fielding School of Public Health and the UCLA campus. Under the supervision of UCLA Health faculty physicians, medical students, public health students and undergraduate students work together to address the complex health needs of some of Los Angeles' most vulnerable populations, including runaway youth and the homeless. Students learn about the complex health and social needs of individuals living in poverty. Volunteering in this program affords students the opportunity to make a difference in their community by providing meaningful service, contributing to the health of patients, helping to connect them to social services and helping them overcome barriers to accessing the healthcare system.
Balancing the academic with the personal
The demands of being an MS2 require that students consider what matters most in their personal life. Diala jokes that he doesn't have the "time to do everything, but there is time." Medical school is admittedly his main priority, but he also makes time for sports and the gym. Medical students are encouraged to take full advantage of all of the opportunities offered through the UCLA recreation program. Diala particularly enjoys friendly competition during the annual "Grad Games," where he mingles with students outside of DGSOM.
Many paths to a medical career
Diala is a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program, which is a combined MD/PhD degree program at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He became excited about doing research as an undergraduate and wanted to integrate clinical care with laboratory research, and Diala's desire to become a physician-scientist was a major part of why he chose DGSOM. Although MD-level physicians can perform research, the MSTP offers more in-depth training that will enable him to consider a variety of career paths. "Getting [research training] adds another dimension to the clinical degree," he says.
Advice for premedical students
Diala advises students to prioritize work in such a way to meet their goal for a medical career: "My philosophy is doing [work] that prepares me for what lies ahead." He also encourages premedical students to not give up, even if they don't get accepted the first time. He is currently a volunteer mentor for DGSOM's Re-application Program, an initiative that helps disadvantaged students improve their chances of successful reapplication to medical school.
Visit the department's MSTP page for more information on DGSOM's dual program.