Applying to out-of-state medical schools didn't faze Heba Elnaiem. Growing up, the Sudanese native moved around frequently due to her father's job; her family immigrated to the East Coast when she was 12 years old. Although she was comfortable with the idea of moving to a new place, Heba still considered her medical school application to UCLA a lofty aspiration.
"I thought it would be fun, not a realistic option in which I would leave my family and travel as far away as possible across the country to attend medical school," she says.
Heba offers advice for students considering an out-of-state medical school.
Evaluate the available opportunities
Once Heba learned she got into the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM), she couldn’t ignore all the incredible reasons to attend. She knew DGSOM had strong primary care and research opportunities, and the sunny Los Angeles weather called to her.
"In a place as bilingual as Los Angeles, I felt there are so many opportunities to interact with diverse populations," Heba explains. "When UCLA clinicians break into Spanish, to help communicate with people about their health in their native language so they can understand, it is so admirable to me."
She also loved UCLA’s community engagement opportunities, such as the UCLA Mobile Clinic, a student-run health clinic serving the homeless population in Los Angeles. The clinic’s volunteer medical students partner with social work undergraduates and physicians to provide care.
"We help the patient get necessary medications and connect the patient to other helpful community services and resources," says Heba. "It's exciting to apply everything we are learning about in medical school to the real world, as well as learning firsthand and having a real impact on the surrounding community's day-to-day struggles."
Follow your instincts
Heba’s admissions interview with Theodore Hall, MD, Associate Dean for Admissions, made her decision easy.
"Dr. Hall was warm and inviting. UCLA seemed like a place I could definitely grow more and had such a different feeling from the other institutions I have visited. It was so enticing."
Heba knew it would be difficult to be so far from home, but she also knew pushing herself would lead to incredible growth, so she packed her bags and made her way west without a single contact in Los Angeles.
"Home might be nice and comfortable, but ultimately, I wanted to push myself to learn and experience something new," she says.
Reach out to find a community
Heba worked hard to find groups where she belonged. She met people who encouraged her to make the cross-country leap and helped her work through her anxieties about being so far from home as part of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), a group interested in increasing the number of underrepresented students in medicine.
"Another group I reached out to that helped me feel more at home was the Muslim Student Association at UCLA. I attended Friday prayers — and still do — and get to meet other UCLA students who share my faith," she says.
UCLA Student Organizations, Leadership & Engagement (SOLE) put her in touch with many upperclassmen who could help her with the adjustment to medical school, UCLA, and living in California as an out-of-state student.
"At UCLA, you are never really alone," says Heba. "There's so much help available to out-of-state students that when you actually reach out to the UCLA Community, you are immediately drawn in."