One Year Out: Yefri Baez ’15, Harvard Medical School

Yefri Baez ’15 says he’s always been intrigued with the medical profession because he views doctors as “basically detectives who are solving mysteries all day long.” Baez has begun that detective work at Harvard Medical School after graduating from Vassar in 2015 and spending the next year working at an urgent care center and a neurobiology lab. “I thought it would be useful to get some hands-on experience in the field before applying to Harvard,” Baez says.

Yefri Baez ’15, MD candidate at Harvard Medical School / Photo: Gretchen Ertl

Shortly after he graduated from Vassar, where he double-majored in biology and Italian, Baez landed a job as a medical scribe at an urgent care center in Staten Island, NY. He also secured a position as a research assistant at the Neurological Institute of New Jersey, which is affiliated with Rutgers University. He says the two positions offered him a glimpse into two vastly different aspects of medicine.

The job at the urgent care center put Baez on the front lines of the profession with doctors and nurses who were treating patients in crisis. His duties included taking patients’ medical history and taking notes as physicians and nurses assessed patients’ trauma and ordered X-rays and prescription drugs. “Having that front-line experience was really helpful,” Baez says. “I learned a lot about the frustrations primary care doctors have about the lack of information about their patients. It was helpful during my medical school interviews because I had so many stories to tell, and when I interviewed my first patient at Harvard, it wasn’t all that scary because I’d done that kind of thing many times before.”

Baez was exposed to a completely different side of medicine in the neurobiology lab at Rutgers. Working with doctors who specialize in the treatment of aneurisms, he used a 3D imaging machine that translated images from a CAT scan, enabling surgeons to simulate blood flow. “This helped surgeons determine the risk of a rupture and decide whether an aneurism was worth treating,” Baez explains.

Baez says he enjoyed shadowing the surgeons as they gathered the information they needed and talking with them about their work. “I was able to learn the language of neurosurgery and to learn a lot about the anatomy of the brain,” he says. “It was helpful having this experience before I got to medical school.”

A native of the Dominican Republic, Baez moved to Perth Amboy, NJ, when he was six years old. The public schools there were “overcrowded and under-funded,” he says, but his grades and test scores prompted a school counselor to enroll him in a summer program at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. Through the program, Baez took courses with other gifted high school students at Roger Williams University, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and at Johns Hopkins.

At the start of his senior year in high school, his Johns Hopkins counselor recommended he apply to Vassar. “I’d never heard of it,” Baez says, “but my counselor said it would be a great fit for me, and once I saw the financial aid package, I fell in love with it.”

In his freshman year, Baez took part in Vassar Transitions, a program for low-income and first-generation college students, and he later became a mentor for other Transitions students. He says that program, the breadth of the curriculum, and the small class sizes set Vassar apart from many other colleges. “The individual attention and close relationships you have with your professors cannot be overstated,” he says. He noted he worked on several microbiology projects with Associate Prof. of Biology Jennifer Kennell, “so by the time she wrote my medical school recommendation letter, she had been spending 10 or 15 hours a week with me for two years.”

Baez says his first year at one of the most exclusive medical schools in the country – there were more than 6,000 applicants for 145 positions -- has been both demanding and rewarding. “Prep work for our classes takes six to eight hours of studying per day, and the students are really interesting people,” he says. “There’s someone in my group who has a PhD and used to run an immunology lab. All of us have our own passions. Mine is languages, and I’ve met people who were in the army and others who are chess masters. There’s a lot of diversity of interests in the class.”

Baez says he is enjoying living in the Boston area – both his girlfriend and his best friend from Vassar live nearby. “The only bad part is I live near four hospitals and get awakened by sirens all the time,” he says.

Baez is still a long way from deciding what part of the detective work of medicine he’ll concentrate on when he graduates. “I’m still considering everything,” he says, “from neurosurgery to primary care.”

--Larry Hertz

Posted Monday, September 26, 2016