From her earliest days as an undergraduate, Sonia Kershaw knew that she wanted to help the world and challenge herself at the same time.
Not that long ago, that drive took her to the US army, and a deployment to Iraq during a crucial chapter of the US campaign. Today, that drive is taking Kershaw towards her dreams of acing the MCATs and entering medical school.
Kershaw is driven by a sense of responsibility towards others, and a desire to see how far she can push herself. Kershaw, who grew up in Ecuador and moved to the US with her family when she was 15, joined the Army National Guard during her sophomore year at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, in 2005.
Her story shows how military service can mold an individual sense of purpose and responsibility. For Kershaw, serving in the Army convinced her to go into medicine, and sharpened her idea of what she wanted out of life.
“I wanted to be part of something big. I was a sophomore at college already and I wanted to join the Guard so I could continue my education while serving my country,” Kershaw recalled. “I wanted to be challenged physically, mentally. I wanted the crazy experience they portray in the movies and I wanted to do something good.”
Kershaw enlisted in 2005, then served out her six-year contract with the National Guard until its completion in 2011. Her first three years of service were spent training on weekends and in her spare time, and she completed her education before being sent on a one-year deployment to Iraq in 2008.
Serving in Iraq during the “surge” period of the war, Kershaw helped handle logistics for a ramped-up US military campaign just a few months after finishing her undergraduate education. “I basically did scheduling for the UH-60 Black Hawks. I scheduled their timing when they brought in supplies, food, medicine, and people,” she told BI.
The conditions she witnessed within Iraq fully cemented Kershaw’s plans to go into medicine. Her post-deployment goal had originally been to go into psychology, but that all changed.
“When I was there, everybody lived in close quarters, I saw a lot of disorders up close. It changed my mind on medication and how it could play a positive role for mental disorders,” Kershaw told BI. “So that changed my mind from applying for a psychology graduate program to a pre-med degree.”
The first step: Kershaw decided to change professions within the service and start training as a medic in 2010.
“Training as a medic in the National Guard was very challenging,” Kershaw said. “Out of 40 people, only 10 of us graduated [and served as that specialty]. It was a challenge, and every week we had a test or a challenge situation for three months. If you failed the test you were out of the program.”
At first, Kershaw told BI, becoming a medic was a steep challenge for other reasons, too. The training took place in Texas, and fellow Guard members would tease her over being a vegetarian and her small size, openly wondering if she would be capable of carrying a wounded man while in full gear.
They got their answer: Kershaw persevered and graduated the training program.
“By the end of the training, I had people coming up to me saying ‘I would definitely go [into combat] with you because I know you would keep me alive,'” Kershaw recalled.
Thanks to this newfound drive and interest, when she returned to the US in the summer of 2009, Kershaw dove into a pre-med program at Hunter College in New York City. But she found that she couldn’t keep up her grades between a long commute and the pressures of reintegrating into life in the US.
“I live in Long Island, I got married, I had a child, and I transferred to Farmingdale State College,” Kershaw said. Back on track, she’s now in her last semester of pre-med, and plans to apply to medical school this year. She hopes she can go to Hofstra, in Long Island, for medical school.
She is in an excellent position: At the end of the 2014 academic year, she was one of 24 students in the Sciences-Health Professions to be listed on the Farmingdale President’s List for academic achievement, meaning she had cumulative GPA of over 3.75 in the intensive science classes needed to complete premedical studies.
Kershaw also co-authored two research papers during her time at Farmingdale. “I do research on carbohydrate-based chemicals for the university,” she said.
Her most recent paper, A Practical Synthesis of Various 2-Deoxy-N-glycosides by Using D-Glucal, was published with the European Journal of Organic Chemistry.
Today, Kershaw is managing a full slate in stride: raising a child, volunteering on ambulances, tutoring and studying for the MCATs — with a medical doctorate likely not too far off in the future.
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