Laboratory Manager at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
Pre-Health Post-Baccalaureate Programs, University of Pennsylvania ’23
Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts, Columbia University ’20
“I was a science kid when I was younger,” says Pre-Health Post-Baccalaureate Programs student Anneka Allman. Though she took a different path in college, majoring in visual arts, she decided to return to the sciences after graduation. “I came home to Philadelphia and started volunteering at an immunology lab at Penn,” she says. Not long after, she was hired as a full-time technician. The experience working in basic and translational research on bone marrow transplantation led her to an important decision about her career future. “I realized that my mindset was more in line with the physician-scientists than the fundamental scientists,” she says, convincing her to pursue a degree in medicine.
Anneka chose the Penn Pre-Health Core Studies Program to prepare for medical school. The curriculum offers a world-class education in the foundational science courses missing from her undergrad transcript that she would need to meet med school admissions requirements. And as a bonus, she notes, she was able to keep her lab job at Penn Medicine while taking classes on the same campus. She started the two-year course of study in September 2021.
“I’m not sure if I really knew how much I was biting off,” she admits. “Working full time while in the program is very hard, and it’s not for everyone,” she says, but her motivation to succeed remained high—much higher, she’s realized, than when she was an undergraduate. Plus, she had a network of support at Penn.
“One of the things I appreciate most about the Pre-Health Programs is that the advisors are your professors,” she says, which is a drastic difference from her undergrad experience. “They really understand what you're going through on a day-to-day basis. But in the classroom,” she adds, “they don't pull their punches. They really challenge us. It’s frustrating when you're going through it. Then as soon as the final is over you’re immediately grateful for just how much they pushed us to learn.”
The camaraderie among her peers has been important, too. “I made great friends in the program. Some of my closest friends now are the people that I was assigned to sit with on my first day of physics class,” she says. “We’re all at the stage where we’ve taken the MCAT and we’re asking, ‘Do I apply now?’ It's been absolutely invaluable having their ear to talk about the experiences we're all going through.”
Anneka is also grateful to have had the support and encouragement from her principal investigator at work, research scientist and physician Dr. Ivan P. Maillard, as well as the relevant experience she’s gained in his lab, which, she says, complimented her coursework. “The program does a great job directing the foundational sciences to physiology and medicine,” she explains. Whether she was studying reagents in chemistry or the kinetics of cell signaling in physics, she says, “I could always apply what we were learning to research in the lab.”
While that pre-clinical lab work has been valuable, clinical experience is vital for a strong medical school application. So this summer, with her coursework complete, Anneka began volunteering with an emergency medicine clinical and translational research program open to Penn Pre-Health and premed students: Penn Medicine’s Academic Associates Program (AAP). The active practice of patient interaction that the program provides, she says, is a skill you can’t acquire from a textbook. “It’s very different to look someone in the eye and talk to them as they experience symptoms. It can be very emotionally delicate for people.”
Insights on the doctor-patient relationship have fortified Anneka’s commitment to becoming a doctor. “Medicine is fascinating,” she says, “There's something about that interaction of bringing together both the scientific understanding of what patients are going through and an acute awareness and empathy for their situation. That is my favorite place to live in and I think it is incredibly important.”
For the next few months, Anneka will be busy finishing a second semester with APP, wrapping up a research project at work, and focusing her attention on medical school applications. Her path may have been nontraditional, but she says, “I am absolutely more prepared than I would have been as a premed undergraduate. Now that I have taken the time to get through it, I feel much more capable and confident. I’m very committed to what I want to do.” And what she wants is to improve care and quality of life through translational medicine. “Pushing toward better treatments for patients who are suffering—that’s my goal.”