An Unconventional Path to Medicine

Victoria Dai, Jayce Park, and Anthony Terraciano walk to class at Einstein. (Photo by Scott Jones)

An Unconventional Path to Medicine

Nontraditional students bring fresh perspectives to the classroom

By Ginger Skinner

About 90% of medical students know they want to become physicians by the time they finish college, according to a recent questionnaire by the Association of American Medical Colleges, while the other 10% take a more winding path before donning their white coats. 

“Career changers bring a different perspective to medicine, which is good for healthcare,” says Noreen Kerrigan, Einstein’s associate dean of admissions. “Their range of experiences helps us prepare a physician workforce that is sensitive to the needs of a varied patient population.” Here, we describe how three such Einstein students made the leap, the challenges they faced, and the valuable lessons they learned along the way.

Anthony Terraciano, Class of 2026

Former Career: Professional Actor

At just 6 months old, Anthony Terraciano, 23, of Pelham, N.Y., was already destined for the spotlight. “My cousins were modeling at the time, and my mom had a hunch I might do well at it,” he says.

Mr. Terraciano began starring in commercials for major brands, such as Chuck E. Cheese and Verizon, followed by a role as the voice of Charlie Brown in MetLife commercials. In second grade, Mr. Terraciano landed a role as the voice of Wilson on the Disney Channel’s animated TV series Chuggington. His big acting break came just two years later when he joined the cast of Blue Bloods, which is filmed in New York City, working alongside actor Donnie Wahlberg, who plays his father, and Anthony’s real-life younger brother, Andrew, who plays his brother, on the TV show. “I loved so many aspects of working with professional actors and taking direction from the producers and directors, while getting to hang out with my brother,” he says.

Blue Bloods became Mr. Terraciano’s second home for an entire decade, making him a recognizable face on television screens. But he knew he wanted to attend college; he went to Vanderbilt University, where he continued his acting career while majoring in neuroscience. Balancing the demands of a popular TV show and his college coursework proved challenging. “I was flying from Nashville back to New York every single week,” says Mr. Terraciano. “When I started doing poorly in my classes, I realized I needed to prioritize school. It was a really hard decision, but ultimately, I’m happy at how it turned out.”

From left: Anthony Terraciano as a baby and child model; on the set of TV's "Blue Bloods" over the years; and wearing his white coat as an Einstein medical student.

Deciding to apply to medical school was a very personal decision, he says; it meant following in the footsteps of his father, Anthony Terraciano, M.D., a Mount Sinai physician and clinical instructor in Einstein’s department of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and his grandfather, an ophthalmologist who practiced in the Bronx for decades. But his decision to attend Einstein extended beyond family ties. “The Bronx feels like home to me,” he says, “and I see myself being of service to this community.”

He credits his years of acting with helping him keep up with the rigorous demands of medical school. “Whether on set or in the classroom, you have to be ready to learn quickly, think on your feet, and be very adaptable,” he says. “You also have to work well on a team.”

For his next act, he is considering specializing in neurosurgery or ophthalmology someday. “And I hope to practice in New York,” he says with a smile. “It’s in my blood.”

Victoria Dai, Class of 2027

Former Career: Registered Nurse

After one year of college, Victoria Dai, 29, was set on becoming a nurse. Nursing, as it turned out, wasn’t just a job for Ms. Dai; it grew into a fulfilling career where she found deep satisfaction in helping others. “I think healthcare is a basic need,” she says. “And it’s been gratifying to play a role in that for other people.”

But after years of working as a registered nurse, driven by the desire to do even more to help her community, she began to feel pulled toward becoming a physician. “I did not expect this,” admits the Brooklyn native. “But here I am.”

Ms. Dai began her nursing career at Johns Hopkins Hospital, working on a bone marrow transplant floor, followed by a role at New York Presbyterian in outpatient oncology. From there she moved on to the clinical trials department in oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine and later to Mount Sinai Hospital, working on multiple-myeloma clinical trials.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a conversation with a mentor, a physician-scientist, changed the trajectory of Ms. Dai’s career. While working on a study of remdesivir, an antiviral COVID-19 treatment, she remembers, she asked why patients experienced varied outcomes. Her mentor’s response surprised her. “He told me he was not sure, but maybe I could figure it out.” Initially taken aback, Ms. Dai realized that the conversation had planted a seed of possibility for her. “It felt good to hear that he thought I could get to the bottom of it,” she says. “It was then that I realized I might need additional training to answer these questions.”

At the time, Ms. Dai was pursuing a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner, but with the encouragement of family and colleagues she left the program to focus on prerequisites for medical school instead. “They kept pushing me forward,” says Ms. Dai. “Because of them, I knew this goal wasn’t out of reach.”

When it came time for Ms. Dai to apply, her multicultural upbringing—growing up in New York City as the child of immigrant parents from China—and Einstein’s commitment to patients with diverse needs made the decision an easy one. “I believe in the work they’re doing here, and I wanted to be part of it.”

Ms. Dai credits her nursing experience with positioning her for the path ahead. Working in clinical trials gave her a firsthand look at barriers to enrollment often unaddressed in research. “I think many people are reluctant to participate in clinical trials because of previous mistreatment of marginalized populations,” she explains. “There’s so much room for improvement, starting with more-equitable inclusion of diverse communities. It’s crucial that our patient population in the clinical trial setting reflect the real-world patient population to ensure that results can be generalized.”

As a slightly older student, Ms. Dai draws inspiration from the diverse perspectives of her peers. “I get a lot of motivation from the traditional students and their enthusiasm,” she says. “At the same time, the students who are closer to my age bring a mix of experiences and professional backgrounds that I also deeply appreciate.”

To those contemplating a similar career change, Dai offers this advice: “It’s never too late to pivot and start a new chapter if you want to, especially with a great group of people supporting you, which I’ve been lucky enough to have.”

From left: Jayce Park as a South Korean airman, posing with his grandparents; with his business colleagues at an event in New York City; and wearing his scrubs as an Einstein medical student.

Jayce Park, Class of 2027

Former Career: Chief of Staff

Jaewoo “Jayce” Park, 28, experienced a childhood marked by constant change because of his father’s career as a professor. Mr. Park lived all over the United States—New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Oregon—before returning to his birthplace of Seoul, South Korea, for middle school and high school.

After high school he joined the military as part of a mandate that requires men in South Korea to serve for 18 to 21 months. “Back then, I could have opted out because I’m a dual citizen of the United States and South Korea, but I wanted to do my service as a Korean,” he explains. Mr. Park took his duties as an aviator seriously, rising through the ranks to become base president, where he worked to implement new policies aimed at improving the mental-health care of service members.

After his two years of military service, Mr. Park returned to the United States to study finance and statistics at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He then held an internship in banking, followed by chief of staff positions at two health technology companies. But his initial satisfaction with the finance and tech sectors turned into existential angst after four years, leading him to question his path. “When you choose what you want to dedicate your life to, I strongly believe you need to have very clear reasons for it,” he says. “I didn’t have them.”

He felt that a better match for his strengths was a career in medicine, where he could make a real impact on people’s lives. “The higher up I went in business and tech, the further I got away from solving people’s individual problems,” he says. “But it was when I had the opportunity to work closely with people on an individual level that I found deep joy and satisfaction.”

The COVID-19 pandemic provided Mr. Park with time to reflect and reassess his priorities. “I learned what I wanted, and it was to live a more human life than I had been living,” he says. That period solidified a big decision for him: He would officially make the switch and apply to medical school, with Einstein as his top choice.

“I had lived in New York for 12 years, and I really wanted to provide care in a community like the Bronx,” he says. He plans to pursue specialty surgery after medical school, seeing it as an opportunity to navigate complex patient cases while also making a very direct and lasting impact on patients’ lives.

Now in his first year at Einstein, he says his time spent in the military and in finance helped prepare him for the rigorous pace of medical school. “Turns out that juggling so many different priorities and understanding 20 different motivations has helped me in more ways than one in my coursework and long hours of studying,” he says.

As for being a nontraditional medical student, he sees it as a strength. “There’s a lot of pressure and stress that comes with pursuing a career in medicine,” he says. “And I think being a bit older gives me perspective. It has taught me to see the bigger picture and know that I don’t have to be 100% perfect every time, but if I strive for it I may attain excellence.”

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