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Student Spotlight: Maria Leighton

Where are you originally from?

Oregon, WI

Where did you attend/or currently are attending school? (high school, university, etc)

I attended Oregon High School. After, I spent three semesters at George Washington University and then transferred to UW-Platteville in January of 2012. I graduated from there in May of 2015 but continue to take a course each semester as well as volunteer in the Human Gross Anatomy Lab on campus.

What are you future career/school goals?

My future goals consist of attending medical school and eventually practicing medicine in a rural area. As of right now, my primary interest is in psychiatry. Not only does the field spark my interest, but there is a severe shortage of psychiatrists in many rural areas. By pursuing this route, I have the opportunity to make a positive impact for those in rural areas suffering from mental illness. It's definitely an issue that does not receive enough attention.

What was your first experience with AHEC and what did you learn from it?

My first experience with AHEC was my participation in the Community Health Internship Program (CHIP). For the internship, I worked at the Grant County Public Health Department in Lancaster, WI. Most of the work I completed was with the Safe Actions For Everyone (S.A.F.E.) Coalition as Youth Substance Use and Abuse Prevention Intern. As a result of the internship, I learned a great deal not only about public health, but also about myself. While gaining a better understanding of the importance of public health and the impact it can have on a population, the internship solidified my desire to go to medical school.

Did you continue to participate in any AHEC programs such as counseling, AHEC alumni or AHEConnect? I have signed up to be an AHEC alumni. I was a camp counselor for the Health Career Camps both in Platteville and LaCrosse this past summer. If possible, I would love to be somehow be involved in next year's Health Career Camps!

Do you have plans to take advantage of AHEC programs in the future? Because I am currently in the process of applying to medical school, the number of opportunities for future participation in AHEC programs is limited. However, there are possibilities for affiliation with AHEC if I were to matriculate into medical school at the University of Wisconsin - Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. All UW medical students must complete a Primary Care Clerkship (PCC) their third year of medical school. Although it is a requirement, I would participate in the PCC with enthusiasm! Since the PCC's primary focus is on health disparities, I know the project would be right up my alley. Another requirement of UW's medical students is to participate in a preceptorship as a fourth year student. Again, this is affiliated with AHEC and is an opportunity that I'd be thrilled to take part in! The focus of the preceptorship is gaining a better understanding of the connections between clinical care and public health as well as how resources within a community can be used to provide better patient care.

What advice would you give to younger students starting to navigate their future in a health care career?

I could give a million pieces of advice to younger students about pursuing a career in health care! There is so much I have learned over the years, and I know there is so much yet to learn! I will never know it all, but no one says I cannot try, right? If I had to pick what I'd say to them, I'd say this:

"Keep an open mind and be cognizant of the fact that you can always learn something. Everyone you meet has had different experiences than you and can teach you something that you do not already know, regardless of their education level, occupation, socioeconomic status, age, etc. Additionally, GET INVOLVED and seize as many opportunities as possible, even if it's not exactly what you are looking for! You may be pleasantly surprised by the ending result. It could lead to other opportunities, or even help you determine what's most important to you and what you want to ultimately do with your life."

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