I’m balancing contract work with going to medical school, and you can, too!
Like many others, I took time during the pandemic to consider my career. I have a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, but I have always had an interest in medicine, so I did a lot of reading about medical issues. This inspired me to consider medical school so that I could potentially have a greater impact on other people’s lives. I was not alone on my path to upskilling: By April 2022, graduate-level degree programs in public health had drawn almost 24,500 applicants—a 40% increase from 2021, according to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. Medical schools saw an 18% jump in applicants in 2021 compared to applicants in 2020, and there are currently historical increases among underrepresented minorities.
Luckily for me, the CEO of UWorld, the company where I work, is an MD who supports employees who want to practice or learn medicine. When I was accepted at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso, the company allowed me to move from full-time to contractor status so that I could work my way through med school and still have an income. Balancing work, life, and school has been a challenge, but I have learned several valuable lessons about upskilling that can help students or mid-career professionals achieve their dreams.
3 keys to successful upskilling:
Now is the time to think big
First, it’s important to keep pushing past your current abilities to achieve new limits of self-growth. Don’t limit yourself! It’s definitely not too late to accomplish your goals. Your story doesn’t have to be like everybody else’s. Your path doesn’t have to be the same path everyone else takes. Age is just a number.
Sometimes, you are put through situations that may challenge you mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. When you overcome these challenges, you realize why the challenges presented in the first place. I was unable to apply for medical school since, in order to apply in the United States, you need either citizenship or permanent residency. I didn’t become a permanent resident until I was 25 years old, and it took me until 10 years after the day I moved to the United States to become a permanent resident. It took finding an employer that would sponsor me to help me get there. At no point in that process, however, did I see myself as too old, or let myself give up. Instead, I kept pushing forward. It’s been well worth the effort to help build those new skills and learn more about where I wanted to be. There are several keys to success that I have found as I’ve pushed through and developed those vital new skills.
A motivating, energizing environment
Second, it’s important to surround yourself with the right people in both your personal and work life. Having people behind you who will push you to excel is critical to your eventual success. I’m very blessed and fortunate to have been able to meet a number of fantastic people who have helped me get to where I am today. You have to be in the proper environment to excel because it will help your drive, especially during times when you may lack motivation or are going through hardship.
When you’re trying to balance work, school, and life, during your reskilling or upskilling process, it’s important to have highly developed time-management skills. I schedule everything from study time and working out to mental health breaks, all with a 10-15 minute cushion in between.
It’s important to have a well-balanced life. You won’t be able to sustain that drive if you aren’t able to enjoy the people and things you’re passionate about. When you work and go to school at the same time; however, you have to be very efficient. I always know exactly what I need to be able to do in 24 hours: when I’m going to sleep, when I’m getting up, and when I’m exercising. In addition, I need to know what I’m going to do at work, when I’m going to study, and, of course, when those all-important mental health breaks come in. Clearly, scheduling my day ahead of time makes it much easier to accomplish my tasks.
Balancing school and work
Be upfront with your employer about your goals, especially when you’re going back to school. Ideally, you need an employer that fits your values, supports your ambition, and inspires you. If you don’t have that, you may find it much more difficult to maintain that critical balance or even propel towards positive growth in your career.
Working for UWorld has meant being surrounded by people who have supported me at every step on my journey. In addition, UWorld Medical’s platform offers a great array of study materials, which have helped prepare me for this new course of study. I’ve been fortunate to have study tools that have supported my time-management plans and helpful colleagues to support it all. I made the decision to put myself out there and then dedicate my abilities, talents, and skills to actually impacting lives directly. After the isolation caused by COVID-19, I’m looking forward most to that component of the clinical setting: helping people one-on-one.
—Qusay Alfaori, PhD, MS is an MD candidate at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso. He is also a content developer at UWorld, where he works in the health education department. Qusay has a deep passion for medicine and a desire to help future generations pursue careers in the healthcare industry. He can be reached at email@example.com or LinkedIn.