A story of one student

James WhitbreadJames Whitbread, one of WSU’s 2018 Top Ten Seniors, is now attending Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“Medical school is everything I ever hoped it would be and more than I ever expected,” he shared in a post on the Department of Mathematics and Statistics website. Read on to learn more about his journey. >> 

At Johns Hopkins

“After so many years of studying the sciences, I am now applying what I’ve learned. I’m learning to interview and partner with patients to diagnose illness, while at the same time learning treatment protocols for disease that range from the molecular level to the organ level, or to the entire body. In seven weeks of human anatomy class, I dissected a body head to toe, elucidating all aspects of macro-anatomy while learning the detail of human movement, innervation, vascularization, function, physiology, and much more.

“I feel a passion to provide exemplary care to improve the lives of my future patients, and I know this is what I was born to do. I have never learned so much in so little time, and I treasure every day at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.”

Before graduating from WSU in 2018, James shared some insights on his college career and plans for medical school:

“WSU provided me with opportunities I would not have had anywhere else and prepared me for a medical education with an affordable undergraduate education. I am grateful to WSU and everyone who works here, especially my professors, all of whom have helped get me to where I am today. Coming here really is like living in a huge family, and that’s something I’ve appreciated most about WSU.

“My career aspirations are to become a cardiac surgeon and to contribute to the surgical discipline in some manner through research. Hopkins is known for training world-class surgeons, and their practice and research of cardiothoracic surgery is paramount in the nation. I will not only be able to watch some of the best surgeons work, but I will also be able to create my own research study next year that will investigate such cutting-edge topics as bio-3D printed vessels made from patients’ own tissues for transplant purposes. [Attending Johns Hopkins] still feels sort of like a dream every time I think about it. I know this opportunity will allow me to be the physician I want to be.

“As far back as I can remember, I have loved to learn. I used every opportunity that my K-12 schooling gave me. AP classes, bands, clubs, sports, any extracurricular activity; I did them all. Even at a young age, I wanted to make sure I was a well-rounded person. I never could have imagined how much that would come to define me in later years.

“Having doctors and nurses throughout my family, I’ve always been drawn to medicine. In high school, I shadowed emergency room physicians for more than 200 hours. The physicians showed me procedures and taught me about the field, and I loved it from the moment I started.

“I entered WSU as a pre-med student. I dove in head first, researching and understanding all of the pre-requisites for applying to medical school, and planned out each semester’s classes for the next 4 years. I came to school originally wanting to study chemistry, but quickly realized I didn’t want to spend endless hours in labs. I floundered my first semester, worried about not knowing what I wanted to study.

“It was in linear algebra, that I found a passion: mathematics. Numbers are beautiful, and the way we manipulate and utilize them even more so. Studying linear algebra was like learning a new language and way of thinking. Understanding and using definitions and concepts in a larger-picture problem was an entirely new concept. My teacher simply provided the tools for me to use to understand and work with problems, and I was left to do the rest. I loved this about mathematics and knew it was what I wanted to study.

“Building logical arguments for novel methods of proving a statement is one of the most creative yet analytical processes. Mathematics has expanded my mind beyond what I thought possible, giving me a unique and diverse perspective on problems. I would not be the person I am today had I not studied mathematics. Even aside from the content, my instructors have shaped me over the years. They have stretched my mind in ways I could never have conceived and I am grateful for this every day. The department itself also does its part in creating this atmosphere and the entire staff is willing to help a student at a moment’s notice.

“The mindset developed by studying mathematics has guided all of my studies. I love to think about social contexts, and have completed a minor in sociology because of this. The logical and analytical grounding that mathematics has given me makes this a much more insightful task. I also completed minors in biology and chemistry, and received a certificate in molecular biosciences.

“Throughout my college career, I devoted myself to my academic studies and expected the best of myself. A lot of hard work and long nights have allowed me to maintain a 3.9 GPA. This has given me a work ethic I never imagined possible. This really aided me in my studies for the medical college admissions test (MCAT). My study schedule was 3 months long. The first two months, I studied 3 hours a day, and in the last month I studied 5 hours a day. Additionally, every Sunday of those three months, I took a full length (7.5 hour) practice test in preparation. All the work paid off, and I ended up scoring in the 98th percentile on the MCAT.

“Aside from educational and personal pursuits, I have held jobs throughout my entire 4 years of college. I have worked in the marching band, on research studies, and for the math department to fund my own education. The most rewarding work experience I have had, though, was my teaching position. During the fall semester of both 2016 and 2017, I taught Math 103: Intermediate Algebra. I had my own section of 32 students, and I lectured, created lecture plans, graded work, administered exams, with all the responsibilities of a university instructor. Teaching has taught me many lessons, including patience, perseverance, and commitment.

On a personal note

“I grew up in a small town in Northeastern Washington called Colville. With a population of only 4,500, it is the true definition of rural Washington. My mother became very sick when I first entered college, and throughout my 4 years here, I helped provide for her care. This helped me realize that I love to care for people and I started to volunteer in my community. I love it, and I’ve given my time in hospital, advocacy, health education, and community roles.

“One of the most significant of these has been my work in mental health awareness. College students undergo one of the starkest transitions they will ever have in their lives. Understandably, it can be difficult to cope with this change. In fact, 1 in 3 college students will deal with debilitating depression at some point this year (NCHA data). Experiences with mental illness are common, and I have endeavored over the past 3 years to help students understand they are not alone, and they can seek help without judgement. Eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness is difficult. The university has recognized this work in their 5-year action plan, and there is an entire board devoted to mental health advocacy (the Mental Health Advisory Committee) in ASWSU. The experiences with my mother and volunteering for my community have shown me my passion for service, and have made me indescribably excited for the clinical aspect of medicine.

My mother was the most kind and caring woman I’ve ever met. She never let me believe I couldn’t accomplish what I set my mind to, and she taught me to be a good and caring person along the way. My father is a role model I’ve aspired to: a hard-working civil engineer who is incredibly brilliant and a good leader. My two sisters have kept my attitude and ego in check, and are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I have a special bond with my family, one that has been tried and tested in many ways, but one that will never diminish.”

Read more about James in a WSU Health and Wellness student story (scroll down), and a 2016 WSU News article.

Top image: James Whitbred.

Adapted from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics website.