Vanessa Prokuski Talks Med School and Viral Videos with

Like many med students, Vanessa Prokuski (a second-year at Drexel University) is concerned with things that go viral. But it's not just illnesses that have her attention - it's also web videos. Prokuski has garnered some media notice (and about 17,000 views) with her 'Doctor' parody of the Kanye West/Nicki Minaj song 'Monster' rewritten about - what else? - med school. contacted Vanessa to ask her more about her experiences both in the classroom and behind a camera.

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By Eric Garneau

vanessa prokuski Where did you get your bachelor's degree? What did you study? Were you involved in anything besides classwork there?

Vanessa Prokuski: I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and studied anthropology and English. Outside of school, I was involved in a lot of performances. For example, I was a member of Potted Meat, a fantastic sketch comedy group. We wrote and performed several comedy shows a year and I have so many hilarious memories of the sketches and those amazing people. I did a lot of theatre in college as well, much of it with the spunky New Revels Players who perform classical works and who gave me some of the best roles I've ever had. I also volunteered at a hospital and an elementary school, and taught creative writing at a junior high. What drew you to medical school in general, and to Drexel in particular?

VP: I was always interested in medicine, but it was a theoretical interest more than a practical one. I loved the idea of becoming a physician to be able to help people in so fundamental a way, but I've always had an adversarial relationship with math so I never thought pursuing medicine would be feasible for me. Plus, I loved arts and humanities so that's what I focused my effort on until halfway through college. When I took an internship at a coroner's office and was allowed to view autopsies, everything changed. Watching autopsies was enthralling; I was fascinated by the beautiful machine that is the human body. I couldn't get enough; I wanted to see more, learn more. My experience with autopsies provided the impetus for me to get over my lack of confidence and start on the path toward medical school.

I was drawn to Drexel Med for several reasons. Firstly, students seemed happy there. The students I talked to described Drexel as having a fun, supportive student community, which was exactly the type of environment I was looking for. In addition, Drexel's strong Medical Humanities program was a great draw for me. I was so happy to encounter a school that considered humanities a valuable part of the process of becoming a physician. I also found Drexel to be exceptional in the volunteer opportunities it offers its students. Community service is part of the curriculum and many interest groups provide chances to volunteer, but I was most excited about the four student-run clinics Drexel operates to provide primary care to the community. Being involved in those clinics has been one of the best parts of medical school so far. Finally, the students I talked to spoke highly of the Drexel professors and administrators as people who are approachable and care very much about their students, which I have definitely found to be true. I can't imagine a school where I'd be happier. Have you decided on your medical specialization yet?

VP: There are many fields that I'm interested in, but I haven't decided anything yet. I think it's likely that I'll pursue a surgical field. I love working with my hands and building and creating, so the hands-on aspect of surgery is very appealing. But my mind is open; maybe some other discipline will sweep me off my feet. What provided the inspiration for 'Doctor'?

VP: The wig! The wig started it all. There was some sort of promotion at a pub where I was having dinner and I was given a free purple wig which I delightedly accepted. I adore wigs; I'm a theatre girl after all. The wig reminded me of Nicki Minaj, who wears wigs and outfits in all sorts of maddening colors. I had been listening to Kanye West's song 'Monster' around that time, and she's featured in it. After several preteen-esque episodes lip-syncing to Monster in the mirror with the wig on (marginally embarrassing to admit), it dawned on me that I could write a parody of the song to play at my school's Pediatric AIDS Benefit Concert, a charity talent show Drexel Med puts on every year. I've done some song parodies in the past and really enjoyed the process, so I was excited to get started on it. This seems like an involved project. How did you squeeze making a video into going to lectures, studying for tests and all the other things med students have to do?

VP: Med school is tough, but you can absolutely make time for things that are important to you. For me, creative expression is a priority and it's one of the things that refreshes me and helps me enjoy my time in school. In all, the video took months to put together but it never felt overwhelming because I loved doing it. I worked on it little by little, jotting ideas and rhymes down in between lectures or walking to school or on the shuttle ride to the hospital. The video was shot in a weekend with the help of some great professors and film students, and we did the editing the next week. I had to shuffle my schedule around and pull some late nights to finish it, but on the whole the project didn't have too much impact on my schoolwork. It's fairly rare, I'd imagine, for medical school students to create a viral video that gets media attention. Has this had any affect on your day-to-day school life?

VP: My everyday life hasn't really changed; a bit of media attention unfortunately doesn't give me a Get Out of Exam Free card. The video has gotten great responses from people, though, and that makes me absolutely glow. I put a lot of myself into this project so it's very gratifying to get positive feedback about it. My family and friends and folks at school have been so complimentary and enthusiastic. Professors and students who I didn't think knew who I was have come up to me to congratulate me on the video, so it's been quite a thrill to feel like a mini-celebrity. The press was exciting, and I also got an internet love note or two from strangers, which I can't say I was upset about. While my day-to-day life is the same, the attention the video has gotten has been really fun! Do you intend to pursue any other music or comedy projects in the future?

VP: I'd love to! I don't have any concrete plans for it right now, but we'll see. Finally, is there anything you'd like to tell our readers about the life of a med school student, comedy writer or anything else?

VP: I used to think that once I started school I'd have to give up everything else and be a study-bot for the next four years. This couldn't be further from the truth! Med school, like so many other things, is all about balance, and it's essential to find time to do things you love. My friends and I have been delighted by all the creative projects, volunteering, socializing, performing and more that we've been able to do here while still staying focused on our studies. Experiences like these are valuable for students on a personal level to keep us emotionally healthy; they're also important professionally to help us stay grounded in the humanity of medicine and not to let us be so consumed with the impersonal hard science we learn that we see the patient only as a case to be solved. As we're taught in school, we treat the person, not the disease.

Check out Vanessa's 'Doctor' video on YouTube.

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