Author Archives: Cheryl Chun

An RWJF Scholar's Non-Traditional Career Path from Public School Teacher to Medical Student

Apr 13, 2012, 1:00 PM, Posted by Cheryl Chun


Before I was a medical student, I was a teacher. I taught high school mathematics for two years in the District of Columbia.

Being a public school teacher was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. I spent my days trying to not only excite my students about mathematics, but also to help change their life trajectory by encouraging them to go to college.

Neither of these tasks was easy. Many of my students cited math as their least favorite subject in school. And despite the college atmosphere my colleagues and I worked diligently to create, many of my students struggled to accomplish the necessary coursework and SAT scores they needed for college.

I realized that teaching high-needs students was more complicated than having a good lesson plan. While I will always believe in the importance of having a good teacher in the classroom and up-to-date resources for them to use, my time in the classroom has showed me that often good students fall behind in school because of obstacles they face outside school. My students had to deal with guns and gang violence, not enough money for basic needs, and inadequate access to medical care. Many had no medical insurance and would miss class to spend all day waiting in line at free clinics to translate for their sick parent; or be too exhausted to come to class after spending all night with their sick child in the Emergency Room. I also saw how inadequate nutrition could affect students’ behaviors and their ability to learn.

Witnessing these needs in my classroom inspired me to go back to school and become a physician.

While I hope that I made an impact on my students while I was their teacher, I know they made an impact on me and changed my life trajectory. I hope to one day practice in a medically underserved area and help provide care to those who need it most.

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