Completing medical school during a pandemic is no easy task, but Duke University School of Medicine students rose to the challenge. We interviewed members of the Class of 2021 about what it was like to be a medical student during the COVID-19 pandemic, their favorite memories from their time at Duke, and their aspirations for the future.
Kirsten L. Simmons, MHSc
Hometown: Elizabeth, NJ
Match: University of Michigan (Kellogg Eye Center)
Q: What inspired you to become a physician?
A: In 1962, my grandmother was one of 187 arrested for protesting segregation laws in South Carolina. They appealed their convictions in the Supreme Court case Edwards vs. South Carolina, which favorably declared that states may not make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views. The brave activism of many elders in my family has inspired me to become whatever I’ve dreamed of. The decision to become a physician was comprised of these historical examples, familial encouragement and a will to achieve greater health equity within healthcare.
Q: In what area of medicine do you hope to practice?
A: I look forward to practicing within ophthalmology (a.k.a the best specialty on earth!). No matter the sub-specialty, the clinical and surgical encounters always center around improving quality of life through the preservation and restoration of sight.
Q: What is your favorite memory from medical school at Duke?
A: Serving as Co-President of Duke’s SNMA chapter has been a joy! The Student National Medical Association is a national organization that aims to support, uplift and empower underrepresented medical students and underserved communities. Our leadership board led anti-racism initiatives across the School of Medicine and planned events that strengthened pipeline programs extending from pre-medical students to attending physicians. We even established the 2020 Inaugural Pan-African flag raising event in honor of Black History Month!
Q: How do you hope to impact patient care and/or research in your career?
A: Matching into this field means that I will be joining the 3% of Black ophthalmologists in the country. I’m excited to collectively change that narrative to one that makes our dynamic workforce more reflective of the populations that we serve. Additionally, I’ve had the pleasure of attending Duke Divinity School, where I studied the intersections of medicine, theology and culture. I look forward to expounding on the humanistic roots of ophthalmology through ethnography and storytelling for patients.
Q: What about your experience as a student during COVID-19 will you carry through to your career?
A: Although mastery of medical knowledge is important, becoming a better healer depends on actively practicing empathy at all times. The motto that will stay with me through my career is “to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.”