My Road from Muhlenberg to Medical School

In my second year at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, I’m still benefiting from what I learned as an undergraduate.

By: Amanda Tompkins ’10  Tuesday, December 11, 2018 10:52 AM

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Amanda Tompkins '10 now attends the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Photo by Matthew Kaskavitch.

During my time at Muhlenberg as a psychology major, I was considering a career in ordained ministry in the Lutheran Church. I wasn’t completely sure whether that was the right path for me, so I spent a year in South Africa through the Young Adults in Global Mission program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That year of service taught me a great deal about vulnerability, community and human connection, and I felt more ready than ever to go into ordained ministry.

When I returned, it was a tumultuous time. A longtime ministry mentor was expressing doubts about his own calling, and I was feeling frustrated by my lack of ability to connect with strangers and with communities in which I’d previously felt comfortable. Suddenly, ordained ministry didn't feel right. People weren't vulnerable towards one another in North American culture—not in the way that I had experienced in South Africa.

I started working in a hospital as a patient transporter in my hometown of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. I discovered that people were more willing to connect when they were struggling with a new diagnosis, suffering or facing their own mortality. I loved setting people's minds at ease or just having simple, lighthearted conversations with them. It made me feel that connection that I had been seeking. I started thinking about going to nursing school or being involved in the healthcare field in some way, but in my small town, I was feeling like I needed to experience something more. So I went on a six-week, cross-country road trip with a friend, visiting national parks and cities where I might move. When I got to Denver, it just seemed like a good fit.

I moved in the fall of 2012, got my nurse aide certification, worked in home healthcare for about six months and then got a job in the emergency room at a Denver hospital. They paid for most of my prereqs for school while I worked full time. While there, I also earned my EMT certification to become more involved in the care of patients. Over time, I realized nursing would be an incredibly frustrating profession for my personality: Even the most brilliant nurses in our department were often at the mercy of a provider's decision-making. So, I decided to pursue medical school.

I am now in my second year at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. I'm a student representative to the Association of American Medical Colleges, on our student council and trying to keep perspective on why I'm working so hard on the lectures and exams right now: so I can really thrive in clinical rotations and as a future physician.

Recently, we have been learning about psychiatric illness and the interface of psychiatry with neurology. It's been very interesting, and I have had many flashbacks to my Abnormal Psychology class with Psychology Professor Alan Tjeltveit (must have been in 2007!) when we first talked about tardive dyskinesia, psychosis and so on. I can't believe how much of what he taught is still so clear and fresh in my mind. He and the other faculty in Muhlenberg’s Psychology Department had a profound and meaningful impact on my life, and the lessons they taught still stick with me to this day.

I know that without the foundational liberal arts education I received at Muhlenberg, I would not be where I am today. Muhlenberg's faculty taught me the value of thinking critically, keeping an open mind to the thoughts and perspective of others and learning to see a problem from multiple angles for creative problem solving. Without the academic challenge and faculty's confidence in my talents and abilities, I know I wouldn't have started out on this journey that has led me to what I consider to be my true calling: medicine.