Navigating Medicine: A Journey with Non-Physician Parents 

17 Apr 2024

By: Emma Barham 

Growing up in a household where medical jargon sounded like a different language and stethoscopes were sparse, my journey into medicine was an uncharted territory. My parents always valued education, and I was taught from a young age that knowledge is power and can take you far in life. Although my parents were always supportive of me pursuing medicine, but they were unfamiliar with the intricacies of embarking on a career in the medical world. Their lack of firsthand experience in medicine meant that I had to chart my own course, relying on my own determination to navigate the challenges ahead.

As I started my pre-medical journey, I quickly realized the importance of seeking guidance from mentors within the medical community. I gained invaluable insights into the realities of a career in medicine through my interactions with physicians and healthcare professionals. During sophomore year of my undergraduate education, I was able to shadow an orthopedic surgeon in my hometown, who has tremendously impacted the trajectory of my career. He had two sons, both interested in pursuing medicine, and I was constantly in awe at the magnitude of support and advice he was able to provide them in managing their own future careers. Although my parents were not in medicine, I want to emphasize how impactful they have been on my medical career. I have greatly appreciated their ability to help me disconnect from the world of medicine and enjoy the outside world. It sounds cliche, but they have kept me humble through this journey and are constant reminders of how important it is to maintain good relationships and a life outside of medicine. My parents served as pillars of strength throughout my journey, though the absence of medical expertise in my immediate family has presented unique challenges. As I have progressed through medical school, I have learned to overcome the challenges of navigating this journey as a first-generation medical student through following these three tips:

Seek Mentorship

Seeking mentorship during medical school is crucial for many reasons. Mentors are able to provide invaluable guidance and wisdom from their own experiences, helping students understand the complexities of medical education and clinical practice. Through mentorship, I have gained access to diverse perspectives, professional connections, research opportunities, and immense support. I cannot imagine coming as far as I have in my medical career without the advice I have received from mentorship. I sought out mentorship through the Medical Student Orthopedic Society MSOS and am currently a mentee with their program. Additionally, I have found mentorship at my school through forming relationships with professors and other faculty members. Ultimately, mentorship enriches medical education and empowers students to thrive academically and professionally as they embark on their own careers in healthcare.


Networking in medicine is indispensable for professional growth and establishing connections within the medical community. Great opportunities to network can be found through attending conferences, joining professional organizations such as the Association of Women Surgeons AWS, and participating in extracurricular activities related to medicine like volunteering in the NICU at my local hospital. In an ever-evolving healthcare landscape, networking not only enhances individual careers but also contributes to the collective improvement of patient care. For example, I have had the privilege to attend a couple of conferences hosted by the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons and another conference hosted by the Student American Osteopathic Academy of Orthopedics. I understand not every medical student has the opportunity to attend conferences, but I think they are great opportunities to network with like-minded individuals in your field of interest. 

Stay Informed

It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of studying for examinations, preparing for practical exams, and balancing life outside of medicine. It is crucial to keep up to date with developments in the field, journals, and continuing medical education. I believe being well-informed helps students make educated decisions about their career paths, learn about what specialties speak to them, and allows us to stay naturally curious. For example, I am an orthopedics subspecialty writer with The Keats Surgery Newsletter, which is a student-led newsletter dedicated to providing medical students with current surgical knowledge. This opportunity has allowed me to stay up to date with orthopedic knowledge and has also helped me collaborate with other students and residents interested in surgery. 

Emma Barham grew up in Monroe, Louisiana. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Biology and minor in Public Health from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA. She is currently a second-year medical student at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Louisiana. She is passionate about pursuing a career in orthopedic surgery and is excited to get more involved with AWS.

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