The Power of Possible
Caitlyn Riehl ’13 came to Washington College to study biology, and perhaps to pursue a career in marine biology. But medical school? “I thought it was something that would never be possible,” she says. If college is about anything, though, it’s about exploring that word. “Possible” has taken Riehl down paths she had never imagined until she came to Chestertown.
“If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said I wouldn’t have gotten a single interview,” Riehl says of the two med school offers she was considering before graduating (she actually had four but turned down two because they were too far away). One of the first of her family to attend college, Riehl was accepted to medical school at Jefferson in Philadelphia and at Penn State; she started at Penn State in July 2013. Such an accomplishment—carrying a premed biology major and chemistry minor, and scoring so well on the MCAT right after her junior year—seemed crazy impossible to her, too, when she first came to Washington College.
She credits much of her success to the culture of personal involvement and learning she realized was embedded here from the moment she arrived. Her advisor, biology Professor Kathleen Verville (also the premed committee chair), immediately motivated her to jump in with both feet. Verville “was one of the people who opened my eyes to the possibility of going to medical school.”
“It was just the overall attitude of all the professors here; they really push you and encourage you to do your best,” she says. “Every professor knows your name within the first week and they’ll notice if you’re not there. You know they want to be there, and they love their job and are great at it, and it really encourages you to want to go to class and succeed. That’s been my favorite thing about Washington College, is just how close-knit everyone is and how personable it is.”
Riehl also got quickly involved on campus. She helped classmate Devin Reilly start Relay for Life, raising more than $100,000 in two years—and this, after the American Cancer Society “thought we couldn’t even raise $10,000, and if we did that it would be a miracle.” She joined Zeta Tau Alpha, which busted yet another myth for her. Though she had a stereotypical notion of Greek life as party life, she says Zeta Tau has offered her opportunities to help in ways as varied as participating in Race for the Cure and singing Christmas carols to elderly residents at Heron Point. “We have the highest GPA on campus and that’s something we all work toward together,” she says. “I think it says something for the mentality that everyone encourages each other.”
Riehl has spent the past two summers interning at UPenn in Philadelphia as part of SUPERS—Summer Undergraduate Program for Educating Radiation Scientists. While there, she’s participated in research in a brain cancer lab and in radiation oncology, and she’s shadowed oncologists in clinic. The experience has shown her that while it’s a fascinating, challenging field, she might not be emotionally capable to be a cancer doctor. “I really like to get to know people personally and be on a compassionate level, and I think it would be hard for me to get that connected to patients who are going through such a hard time.”
Still, she’s come far enough to follow that comment with, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Score another one for possible.
Read more stories of Purpose and Passion here.