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Perelman School of Medicine third-year students (from left to right) Cecilia Zhou, Anitra Persaud, and Michaela Hitchner created "Med Legs". (Photos from Cecilia Zhou, Anitra Persaud, and Michaela Hitchner)

Three medical students at the Perelman School of Medicine teamed up to create a podcast about the experiences of being first-generation, low-income in the medical field.

The podcast, called “Med Legs," began in June 2020 and currently has eight episodes. The team consists of co-founders and hosts third-year medical students Michaela Hitchner, Cecilia Zhou, and Anitra Persaud, who all previously led the FGLI student group Penn Med FGLI — previously known as Lift Us Up — at the Medical School.

The eight episodes, which occasionally feature guest speakers, vary in topic from applying and interviewing for medical school to navigating academics as a FGLI student. 

In the seventh episode of "Med Legs," the co-hosts invited Damon Tweedy, an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine and a practicing psychiatrist, onto the podcast to speak about his experience as both a Black and FGLI student.

Tweedy is also the New York Times best-selling author of "Black Man in a White Coat," a book which explores how he dealt with "race, bias, and the unique health problems of Black Americans," including coming from a working-class family and being the first in his family to attend medical school.

Tweedy said that the single most influential moment in his life's trajectory toward becoming a doctor and professor was when his eighth-grade teacher encouraged him to take an exam to attend a STEM-oriented magnet school in his district.

"When I was approached to take this exam, my initial reaction was to scoff at the idea and to not think that it was something that I would fit in. I had a vision of all the students there being — first of all, not being Black — but also of being of parents who were successful and educated," Tweedy said.

Tweedy said that being the first generation in his family to attend medical school meant that those in his family could not support him when he ran into academic difficulties.

"When I would have struggles later on, they'd have no idea what medical school is about or how to relate to what my struggles were," Tweedy said.

Other guests that have spoken on the podcast include Associate Dean of Admissions in the Medical School Neha Vapiwala and fourth-year medical students Cheyenne Williams and Michael Perez.

The idea for the podcast was born out of a desire to pursue a creative extracurricular activity that could connect to FGLI medical students, Hitchner said. The COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine meant the students had more free time, which they used to launch the podcast once they realized that none existed about the unique experiences of being FGLI in medical school.

“With [COVID-19], we were going to classes, but they were all online. We just had this extra time on our hands, and we all were looking for ways to get more involved in our FGLI community,” Hitchner said.

In total, the eight episodes that have been released so far have garnered more than 700 streams, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Hitchner said that the team has received positive feedback from students and Penn professors who listened to the podcast.

"The amount of support that we've had from faculty members at Penn has been very encouraging," she said. Hitchner added that undergraduate students from other universities have also reached out to say that the podcast was helpful, as well as to request mentorship from her and her two co-hosts.

Hitchner said that being from a first-generation background has given her a unique perspective on patient interactions. She said that when dealing with patients who may not have the medical literacy that more privileged individuals have, her background helps her better explain complex concepts. 

“Whenever I'm talking to a patient, I can imagine where my parents or my grandparents might get lost in the explanation that doctors are giving,” she said. “And I feel like that helps me relate to the patients a little bit better.”

Hitchner said that the podcast has given her a creative outlet, and she recommends that other medical students similarly find something outside of medicine to pursue.

“For anyone in medicine and higher education in general, just having this creative outlet [and] finding something that you're passionate about is really important,” Hitchner said. “To me, it's what keeps me human and reminds me that ‘Yes, I'm a medical student and I’m going to be a doctor someday, but I also have other interests as well.’”

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