Meg Kulikowski’21
October 31, 2023

Pathways to Medicine

Successful careers in medicine, research, and public health are not uncommon among Beloit College graduates. 

The new School of Health Sciences, announced this fall, will build on this deep tradition, providing current and future students a clear pathway between college and their careers as health professionals. The School of Health Sciences and the School of Business will launch later this academic year, combining and expanding academic programs and courses in new ways to meet the market demand while still maintaining the core of a liberal arts education.

The School of Health Sciences will prepare students for health sciences professions with a range of curricular and co-curricular tracks while offering professional and skill-based certificates, internships, and community-based opportunities.

Here are just a few recent alumni who are making a difference in the world as health care professionals. They recount how their Beloit education prepared them for their work in powerful and sometimes surprising ways.

Melissa Pelkey’19

  • Currently: Fourth-year Medical Student, Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Majors: Biochemistry and Spanish
  • Activities: Theta Pi Gamma sorority, track and cross country, teaching assistant, Pre-Health Professions Club, Programming Board, Senior Class Officer, study abroad (Alicante, Spain)

Why Beloit?

Melissa Pelkey'19 I was driving back to my hometown after touring a college in Illinois. I had heard of Beloit and decided to stop just to take a look. I was so charmed by the little campus; it was a winter night and the brick buildings were all covered in snow.

Even though it was late, one of the admissions officers happened to be in Middle College, and he invited us in to talk. The sense of warmth and welcome I felt right away on the campus sold me!

What was your path to medicine after Beloit?

I took one gap year after graduating. I returned to Milwaukee, where I worked in an emergency department as a tech. This was one of the best career decisions I have made. Getting hands-on clinical experience before starting medical school was a great advantage when I started clinical training.

I highly recommend taking a gap year to any student thinking about medical school. It can be filled with clinical work or engaging in a field outside of medicine that you are passionate about. It provides space to decompress after a full four years of undergraduate education and prepares you to enter medical school ready to thrive.

Did you have a mentor or activity from outside of your major that deeply impacted you? How did that affect your time at Beloit, or after?

As a first-year, I was given a Field Experience Grant and a Weissberg Human Rights Grant, which I used to spend the summer in Guatemala working with Mayan Medical Aid, a free clinic in the village of Santa Cruz. Having this experience early helped me be confident in my decision to pursue medicine and global health. I shaped my curriculum around these interests and pushed myself to seek out volunteer opportunities, like becoming an English as a Second Language tutor.

My passion for global health has continued throughout my training. This spring, I will be completing an international rotation in Bolivia as part of the Mayo Clinic International Health Program. I hope to continue working in global health throughout my residency and to make it a significant part of my career.

What will you do next?

Melissa Pelkey'19 I’ll be applying to residency this fall and plan to match into anesthesiology with fellowships in Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology and Critical Care. I hope to work in both the OR (operating room) and ICU (intensive care unit) in my career.

I chose anesthesiology because it’s a field that combines an intimate knowledge of medicine and physiology with advanced procedural skills. I enjoy the team-oriented environment in the OR and the ICU and helping patients at an intense and delicate time in their medical care.

What are you most proud of in your current work?

One achievement from medical school that I’m proud of is my research in the safety of inpatient use of hybrid closed-loop insulin pumps. My PI (Principal Investigator) and I published a paper on this topic. I was honored with the opportunity to give a podium presentation on the paper at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology annual meeting.

This is an important topic for physicians and patients alike as more diabetic patients begin to use this technology.

Taja Hereford’15

  • Currently: Human Resource Manager at Responsible Business Initiative for Justice
  • Hometown: Beloit, Wisconsin
  • Majors: Health and society major, Spanish minor
  • Activities: Residential assistant, Kappa Delta sorority, Black Students United, and a plethora of other activities and events … I was all around at college!

What was your path to medicine after Beloit?

Taja Hereford'15, Then I went to graduate school to pursue my master’s degree in public health at the University of South Carolina. During my time at Beloit College, I realized I wanted to focus on prevention with public health, instead of in a more reactionary role with medical school.

Both are very important fields, but one day I hope we invest more in prevention than in reaction.

Who were some professors at Beloit who influenced you, and how?

Ron Watson, Katie Johnson, Laura Parmentier, Marion Fass — these professors were instrumental in shaping my path for what I would do post-undergrad. They believed in me, taught me things I still think about, and gave me a voice when I felt unseen by a lot of other professors.

I attribute a lot of my success in college to the student affairs professionals I came in contact with, but these professors also played a big part in my success. I still talk about classes I took with these professors.

What are you most proud of in your current work?

Taja Hereford'15 In the public health field, I’ve worked in state and local government, in nonprofits, and in higher education. Currently, I’m working for a nonprofit organization that works to establish economic mobility for youth and young adults and give a second chance to formerly incarcerated individuals.

One of the greatest things I took from my time at Beloit was how to marry passion and education for the betterment of society. I learned to find my voice and use it to speak up on behalf of those in society who do not.

What advice do you have for future students of medicine at Beloit?

I encourage students who are in the health and society major to continue to press into this degree and to take advantage of all that college has to offer. Public health is a great field to work in, and we need more future leaders like you!

Josh Smith’15

  • Currently: Internal Medicine Resident, University of Michigan
  • Hometown: Downers Grove, Illinois
  • Majors: Biochemistry major, science education minor
  • Activities: Track and cross country, Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, tour guide, residential assistant, teaching assistant

What was your path to medicine after Beloit?

Josh Smith'15 Medicine was a second career for me. When I was at Beloit, my plan was to be a high school science teacher. I was set up to student teach my senior year at Beloit, and I realized that while I liked teaching and science, I didn’t actually like working with kids that much. So I moved to Madison and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for a little bit, thinking that kind of career would match my interests. I liked it, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do long term.

I had to apply a couple of times to get into med school, which is an awful process. I did a one-year master’s program in Chicago to bolster my resumé, got into a number of schools, and ended up choosing the University of Colorado. I absolutely loved living in Colorado and being able to hike and camp in the mountains on my weekends off. I was there for four years and then came to the University of Michigan for my internal medicine residency, and I plan on doing a fellowship in gastroenterology. There are a lot of different paths to get to medicine.

Why gastroenterology?

It has a good mix of inpatient and outpatient medicine. I get to care for patients admitted to the hospital, but also get a fair amount of time in the clinic. I’ll get to do cool procedures like colonoscopies and endoscopies. A lot of specialties don’t get to do procedures, and I like to work with my hands. Gastroenterology encompasses so many organs. It’s a specialty but very broad in my mind. I’m not going to be bored.

What were some favorite classes at Beloit, and why?

Josh Smith'15 A couple come to mind. One is Biochemistry of Nutrition and Metabolism. While I definitely don’t remember the nitty-gritty molecular details about that class, it piqued my interest in nutrition and metabolism, which is a huge part of treating patients with G.I. disorders.

The other class was Molecular Biology of Cancer. I was actually able to find people here in Michigan who focus on cancer and genetics of G.I. — people who get colon cancer from hereditary disorders. It’s my niche area of research.

What are you most proud of or excited about in your work in medicine?

I’m really excited to be at this well-known internal medicine program. A lot of the doctors and professors here that I’m learning from and working with are thought leaders in their fields, so when there are new guidelines that everyone in the country looks at to guide their clinical management, the person who wrote them is someone I’m working with and learning from. It’s a cool place to be; it’s cutting-edge. Ann Arbor is also just a great town to live in.

Liz Chiquoine’13

  • Currently: Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow, Children’s Minnesota, Twin Cities
  • Hometown: Reedsburg, Wisconsin
  • Majors: Health and society major, biology minor
  • Activities: Beloit Public Health Initiative, Girls and Women in Science, study abroad (South Africa)

Why Beloit?

Liz Chiquoine'13, Then My parents met at Beloit, my older brother went to Beloit, and at 17 I was determined not to go to Beloit. I went through my college touring experience and couldn’t get that nagging feeling out of my head that Beloit was for me.

The college allowed me to explore academia the way I wanted, with an incredibly well-rounded education. I’m so glad I listened to my gut, because Beloit was exactly what I needed and helped me get to where I am today.

Were you already interested in medicine coming in as a first-year?

I was not interested in medicine. While I liked biology and anatomy/physiology, I was a social sciences person. It wasn’t until my first biology class freshman year (which I was taking just to fulfill requirements!) that my professor, Dr. Marion Fass, enlightened me: I did not need to be a hard science major to go to medical school.

This is when I was introduced to the health and society major, where I could combine love of the human sciences. This major allowed me to understand health at a cellular and global level. It was the perfect combination.

What are the most important things that you learned at Beloit? How have they influenced your path to medicine?

I remember learning about how your zip code affects your health more than anything else. We learned about the systemic and structural societal issues that impact health. This has affected me in my career as a physician, because it encourages me to always remember that while I know I am doing good by seeing patients, I also need to remember that my impact is greater when I try to affect structural change. This concept was just beginning to be taught when I entered medical school.

What was your path to medicine after Beloit?

Liz Chiquoine'13 I decided to take two years off from college before medical school and I have never once regretted it. I took the opportunity to do an Honors Term about community health at Beloit and then lived abroad for six months. I returned to the U.S. and lived with some of my best friends from Beloit and worked as a waitress while applying to medical school.

It was a great experience living and working in the real world before entering medical school. I know it has made me a more understanding and compassionate physician.

What advice do you have for current and future Beloiters interested in medicine?

While you need to take the “required courses” for medical school applications, also take advantage of all the opportunities Beloit offers — including study abroad and internships — to understand other aspects of life.

Take your time to decide if medicine is for you; explore your other interests. That exploration will make you a better, more well-rounded physician or practitioner one day.

Mary Evans Dunkin’11

  • Currently: Attending Family Medical Doctor, Advocate Aurora Health, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Hometown: Beloit, Wisconsin
  • Major: Biochemistry
  • Activities: Women’s basketball

How were you able to balance sports and academics?

Mary Evans Dunkin'11 I’m so glad I did it. I played basketball in high school, but when you’re in college, the courses are a different degree of difficulty, so learning to balance my time with playing basketball and my science course load helped me along the way.

When I eventually went to medical school and residency, I already knew how to prioritize my study time, my activity time, and my family time.

What were some favorite classes at Beloit, and why?

One of the classes that brought about camaraderie was my genetics class. That was a crazy class; it was so hard. All the pre-med and science students knew we were going to have super late nights and projects, and I definitely made new friends in that class. I remember the Science Center was fairly new then, and we made a lot of friends there. We would literally stay there overnight to complete projects and show up to class the next day in yesterday’s clothes.

The other classes were Laura Parmentier’s Organic Chemistry I and II. They were not easy, but the labs were awesome. Laura would have the radio on. That was the class that turned me on to Jack Johnson! I remember going back to my room and trying to find the song that had been playing in class that day. It was a hard class, but we were all in it together.

What are the most important things that you learned at Beloit? How have they influenced your path to medicine?

At Beloit, there are so many different types of people. It’s very diverse, not just ethnically and racially, but people from all types and walks of life. I’ve tried to carry that on in my practice and embody it — welcoming the diverse type of patient population that I really enjoy caring for, whether that’s age or gender or race or medical conditions.

I enjoy hearing everyone’s stories. As a primary care doctor, I love the opportunity to hear their stories when I’m treating them, where they’re coming from and meeting them where they’re at. I really love what I do.

Why family medicine?

Mary Evans Dunkin'11 I always knew I wanted to do primary care, but I have no idea why I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I had no one in the medical field in my large immediate family, and we weren’t very well off financially. When I said that I was interested in medicine, my parents definitely encouraged it.

My mom was working in finance at a community health center in the area and recommended I talk to someone there. I ended up shadowing Dr. Lee as a sophomore or junior in high school, and he was amazing. His personality and interaction with his patients was how I wanted to be. He didn’t see the same kind of problem with the next patient or every single day and did different procedures, and I like that kind of diversity. I knew that I wanted to be able to address a lot of different things.

Primary care is the window to everything now in the medical field. I really love being able to go to my clinic knowing that I have the opportunity to help my patients on their journey to a healthier life.

What advice do you have for current and future students of medicine at Beloit?

It’s a long journey. There might be some bumps in the road; there certainly were for me. I didn’t do great on my MCAT and didn’t take it that seriously at first. I hadn’t struggled with exams before. I had to take it again and had to be serious about getting into medical school and take time to study.

During that time while I was waiting and trying to figure it out, I was a substitute teacher at a few elementary and middle schools in Beloit. Then I realized medicine was my calling. After I took the detour, I got back on the road.

If it’s something you’re really passionate about, stick with it. There are so many resources available for you out there to get you on the right path. Be open to receiving and seeking advice. It’s definitely worth it.

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