The Doctors Are In: Anatomy of NWU’s future physicians

Complex medical decisions

Lauren Gengenbach (’09) added her name to the binder’s female minority this year as a biology major entering medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center next month. You might guess Gengenbach would take some offense at the suggestion that many women in her position take a look at what medical school and residencies require and say, “No thank you.”

But she concurred.

Lauren Gengenbach studies in NWU CoffeehouseGengenbach left for South Africa last summer and spent her fall semester studying at Stellenbosch University through the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP). “When I left for Africa,” she said, “four of my best girlfriends were solidly premed. When I came back, I found out three were planning on PA school and one’s not sure.”

Gengenbach wasn’t chiding; she can relate to their decision to change plans. In fact, her decision to pursue medical school was also a bit of a reversal. While Dappen said many students progress through their undergraduate careers with medical school in mind and switch to become PAs, Gengenbach did the opposite. She thought for a time as a sophomore that a physician assistantship might suit her well only to reevaluate as she progressed.

“In the end, I didn’t see a reason not to go on to med school,” she said. “There was nothing holding me back. And an MD will open more doors.”

Gengenbach was attracted by some of the elements of medical school that intimidate others. “I need a challenge,” she said. “I know that about myself. I need something to push me. But it’s not a decision to make lightly.”

She weighed all the factors in deciding what to do. “I had to block everything out and make my own choice.”

But the MCAT nearly made the decision for her. As Dappen said is so often the case, Gengenbach’s first MCAT score would have limited the competitiveness of her medical school applications. It was good, but maybe not good enough.

“I had everything else,” she said. “The GPA, the research, the volunteering, the experience abroad.” But she’d have to tackle the MCAT again to be assured a spot. And, because of her ISEP study, she’d have to do it in Africa. Dappen had compared the MCAT to an athletic event, and this was not the home field advantage Gengenbach would have hoped for.

“There’s only one place in all of Africa that you can take the MCAT,” she said. “And that’s Johannesburg,” a city she described as less than safe for a woman traveling alone to take the most important test of her life. Stellenbosch is about as far away from Johannesburg as any city in South Africa, but at least she had only to cross the country, and not the continent, to get there.

Despite her nerves and travel weariness, Gengenbach nailed the MCAT in Johannesburg. The last obstacle to medical school fell away.

She doesn’t know exactly where she’ll go from here on her way to becoming Dr. Gengenbach. She could become an OB/GYN; she could work in infertility; perhaps endocrinology; maybe teach. She looks forward to making those decisions as she learns more.