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Kristy Tefft, M.S. ’20, SOM Class of 2024, Puts a Premium on Patient Relationships

Ms. Tefft Looks Forward To Using Her Prior Experience In Health Care To Become A Humanistic Physician

June 20, 2022
Kristy Tefft, M.S. ’20, SOM Class of 2024

What inspired you to pursue your master’s degree? And your medical degree?

I have wanted to become a doctor since I was a teenager. I always gravitated towards the sciences, but when I took anatomy in high school I was especially intrigued by the complexities of the human body. I decided to volunteer at a local hospital and shadow an orthopedic surgeon. After seeing what I learned in anatomy class come to life in the operating room, I was enraptured by the notion of being able to physically fix various parts of the intricate “machinery” within the human body that were not working. While volunteering I realized that not only is the science behind medicine a captivating challenge, but health care can have a direct and intimate impact on peoples’ lives in ways I had never previously imagined. Other career options paled in comparison.

My interest in medicine continued throughout college, but some personal challenges arose which got me somewhat off track from going to medical school. After graduating, I worked as a medical assistant in a dermatology office for two years. The relationships I built with the patients during that time confirmed for me that medicine was what I was meant to do. As a healthcare provider, you not only provide the tangible service of healing, but you also serve as a support system for your patient during a difficult time in their journey. It is this unique intimacy shared between doctor and patient that draws me to this field.

After being out of school for a few years, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in order to gain a more solid foundation in medical sciences to prepare for medical school. I am so grateful for the opportunities graduate school gave me not only to learn but also to participate in research, engage with the community through student leadership and maintain patient connection through volunteering in a children’s hospital.

What has helped motivate you along your educational journey? Have you encountered any challenges along the way?

What motivates me most is knowing that all the work I am doing now is one day going to help my patients. Whenever I feel fatigued from sitting in front of my laptop studying for days on end, I remind myself that I’m not doing all of this just for me, I am doing it for the patients who will one day come to me looking for help. It is the knowledge and skills I am building now that will allow me to provide that help.

After you graduate, what is your dream career?

In general, I want a career in which I am able to build long-term relationships with my patients as well as have acute problems to solve. From my experiences volunteering in nursing homes, a children’s hospital and working in the dermatology office, I have found there is something special and interesting to learn from every age group. Therefore, I hope my future career allows me to treat patients of all ages and genders. At some point, I would also love to work for Doctors Without Borders or a similar organization to help bring medical care to underserved communities around the world.

What made you initially choose NYMC? What led to you coming back for your M.D.?

When I was researching master’s programs, I was looking for one that offered rigorous coursework and strong faculty mentorship. When I spoke with Dr. Ken Lerea [Ph.D., associate professor of cell biology and anatomy and assistant dean of M.S. programs] on the phone after I applied, I felt that he had a genuine interest in helping me succeed and I knew that this school was the right fit for me. I know many other master’s students who spoke with him before deciding to come here and who felt the same. I wanted to return to NYMC for my M.D. because of the positive experiences I had throughout graduate school. Learning is much more enjoyable when faculty are enthusiastic about what they teach and about helping students achieve their goals. I also appreciate that the administration actively responds to students’ needs and opinions. Students have a strong voice in changes to the curriculum and other aspects of the student experience here.

What has been your favorite aspect of being an NYMC student?

The community here has been my favorite aspect of being a student at NYMC. Before COVID-19, the Basic Sciences Building was always buzzing with people and activities, and I enjoyed bumping into my classmates and professors in the hallways for a chat about classes, life or social hours at Captain Lawrence. I am glad that campus has been returning more to normal this past year.

What faculty member has had the greatest influence on you here?

I would have to say Dr. Lerea has had the greatest influence on me. During graduate school in the pre-COVID era, his door was always open and I definitely took advantage of that. Whether I came to him with questions about class material, medical school applications or personal challenges, I always felt better when I left his office. It really helped ease the transition to medical school having him as course director of one of the first classes we took.

What advice would you give applicants or incoming students?

My advice to incoming students is to take things one step at a time. The path to becoming a physician is long and complicated and it can quickly become overwhelming if you focus too much on all the steps you have to take—both figuratively and literally‑before you get there. Try to be present and take advantage of all the great opportunities we are given as students here; it goes by faster than you think.

Outside of your studies, what are your hobbies or interests?

Given that we have limited free time as medical students, I usually spend it catching up with friends and relaxing, but I also enjoy practicing yoga, painting and traveling.

Are you a part of any student organizations or interest groups?

I am co-president of the Dermatology Interest Group, executive board member of the Medical Student Research Forum planning committee, a Peer Learning Partner, and member of the Wine Club.

What is a fun fact about you?

I studied abroad at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland for a semester in college and lived in the same dorm where Prince William and Kate Middleton lived when they attended.