Second-year medical student Michelle Walls was featured on “The Dr. Oz Show” on Nov. 25 after winning a “Diversity in Medicine” scholarship for Dr. Oz’s #MoreBlackDoctors campaign. Walls spoke with reporter Morgan Womack about her experience leading up to the scholarship.
Q: What was it like finding out you won the scholarship?
A: I found out that I was actually the winner while taping for the show. It was extremely exciting. It was kind of a lot going on because I’m talking to Dr. Oz, he’s on set, I can see myself on the screen and it was just kind of a lot to take in at once. In my mind, I’m like, "keep composure, make sure you don’t say something out of place." Also, I was just excited that I actually won and surprised. I called my sister and told her right away, ... then after that, ... I put it in the (family) group chat that I won, and just spoke to my mentor who has kind of taken me in as her daughter since undergrad. So, I called her and told her about it as well.
Q: What details did you share on your scholarship application?
A: I talked about my experience growing up in the foster care system. Over the years, I have done a number of foster care advocacy on the state and national level, and I’ve learned to use my story as a tool to encourage change in the child welfare system, as well as to inspire other foster youth who are coming up after me.
I also talked about my interest in the medical field, which involves lifestyle fitness. In medicine, there is a certificate program called lifestyle medicine, which involves holistic approaches to patient treatment. More specifically, it relates to encouraging patients to exercise and eat healthy, reduce stress and live a healthy lifestyle for their health to steer away from more procedural and medication-based health care.
Q: What was your overall motivation to join the medical field?
A: My overall motivation has to do with, like I said, with lifestyle medicine. I have personal experiences with obesity and family history of chronic illnesses like diabetes, also obesity and other things. ... I found interest in getting healthy, exercising, practicing better nutrition and I transformed my health and I wanted to find a way to bring that more into medicine. There are lots of efforts to increase it, but not enough. So, that’s what drove me to really go to medical school and try and do this.
Q: If your younger self were to see you right now, what would you think?
A: I was more cold and introverted, so I think my undergrad self would say "finally, you learned to get out of your comfort zone and be who you are deep inside and just kind of live out loud." I never was athletic growing up. I was just really scared doing everything as a kid. I didn’t want to get hurt. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t want to do anything. I think my younger self would probably be like "you should’ve got into some sports." Everyone would always say "you should play basketball" just because I was tall. My younger self would be happy I’m active and wish I had done it sooner.
Q: How is the scholarship going to help you in the medical field?
A: Depending on how I choose to go about things, I can develop a stronger platform in encouraging lifestyle fitness and later lifestyle medicine, also being able to share my story to show people who are interested in medicine that they, too, can still get there despite the challenges they have. Not even just people in medicine, just this blueprint toward life that, just because you have a certain set of disadvantages or your situation seems so low that you can’t get out of it, I’ll be able to let people know that you can overcome.
Q: What do you think your journey in the medical field and this lifestyle can do to inspire others?
A: I think what I’m realizing is my unique message in lifestyle fitness and lifestyle medicine is giving people a greater sense of the practicality of health and fitness, even with myself. The journey, it has ups and downs and it is a lifestyle. You may go through periods of life where you aren’t able to go to the gym and get a whole lot of gains. You may just be able to do two to three workouts a week at a low level. I can bring this idea of, it’s not about being super fit, super buff and looking a certain way, but it’s more so about a lot of the internal aspects of being healthy.
Q: What advice would you give to others who are pursuing that lifestyle?
A: Start over as much as you need to, but start over quickly. Because if you’re starting over like every year, then that’s different. It’s not a lifestyle. But recognize that you’ll set goals for yourself and you may not meet them. A lot of times, just that idea of "I didn’t meet my goal" is discouraging enough for you to just not get up and keep going. If you switch things up, if you have to pivot and make a change, if you keep making those pivots and changes you’ll look up and you’re like "I’ve been doing this for months. It’s a lifestyle now."
Q: How do you see yourself implementing this into your medical practice in the future?
A: LiFE Inc. is a nonprofit I founded myself. ... I would like to continue with that. I can do community service and build upon it and have different components of it. Right now, I’m conducting an independent research study that explores how primary care physicians can evolve their treatment models as it relates to obesity or chronic illness. So, maybe I can develop a blueprint that physicians can take on when they’re trying to treat a patient with lifestyle medicine. So, I’m going to research for that, and I can take that on and actually maybe implement it in health care and practice it myself when I’m a physician.
Q: Do you think this scholarship will help you move closer to your goal?
A: Definitely, for sure. It gives me increased credibility. A lot of times, people don’t know what things you’re involved in, so it’ll allow me to get more players involved who are already doing these things and connect with mentors because I’m not the only one. Lifestyle medicine is a certificate that physicians can get later, a certification, but it isn’t a specialty yet. So, that’s something people are working on, making lifestyle medicine a specialty. So, I could partner with people who are doing those kinds of things and advance the mission all together.
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