Unlike many medical students, Honors College alumna Kendall Bielak (BS Neuroscience 2016) didn't grow up with the dream of being a doctor. Nor did she wake up one day with a clear vision of her future.
“I always knew I wanted to work in healthcare serving others,” says Bielak, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee. How, though, was unclear.
Bielak was able to discover her path through a gradual process – one that happened, in part, through opportunities offered by Mason's Honors College. Her commitment to service led her to participate in Honors College Connects, a student-led program that connects local nonprofits with teams of Honors College students, who organize a plan and produce a product, service, or solution that serves the community.
In addition, the flexibility of the Honors College curriculum allowed Bielak to both explore multiple fields of study and to take on rigorous upper division courses at an early stage. “Learning to be a better student provided me with the confidence to explore other career options,” reflects Bielak. She was also able to study abroad twice. An internship in a Moroccan women's shelter, as well as later travels in Tanzania, Ghana, and Portugal, offered her a broader, more grounded understanding of the impact healthcare providers can have.
Bielak was also able to have first hand experience with the work of research and discovery in healthcare. Through HHS 492 – the Clinical Research Internship for Honors College students – she was placed her on a team at the Inova Hospital's Beatty Liver Center for Chronic Liver Disease. This lead to a second research experience with Inova's Biomedical Internship Program in Neuroscience.
“I was fortunate enough to meet doctors who put their heart into their work just for the opportunity to care for people,” shares Bielak. “To me, it seemed their daily goal was to embrace the meaning of altruism as both life-long learners and healthcare providers.” Interacting with healthcare professionals and observing their altruism helped Bielak solidify her aspiration to pursue a medical career.
After her positive experiences through the Honors College, Bielak landed an interview with the UVA medical school faculty, which stands out as a vividly memorable experience for her. “I realized that UVA was not going to be a place of competition but of learning and growth,” shares Bielak, now a student in their medical program.
Bielak reflects positively on the Honors College as “one of [her] greatest sources of refuge from undergraduate life.” Bielak recounts that Patricia Granfield, the STEM coordinator and advisor, was “always helpful in puzzling through my chaotic schedule.”
As Bielak’s former Honors College advisor, Prof. Granfield recalls watching Bielak grow as a student. “Bielak finally decided that, as a doctor, she could have the impact she wanted,” explains Prof. Granfield.
Now a UVA medical student, Bielak is exploring her interests in a variety of fields ranging from immunology to pediatrics to general surgery. “The best part about starting medical school is realizing that you have so many options and opportunities to try something new,” says Bielak with the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store, adding “for now, I am going to keep exploring until I find my calling.”
Article by Jimmy O'Hara