When Kristin Kahla ’19 received a white coat at the start of medical school, it marked an important milestone in her journey. But it wasn’t easy getting to that point, she says.
“I had to work very hard and overcome many challenges in order to reach my goal and be where I am today,” says Kahla, who joined the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont in the fall of 2022. “Sometimes you’re unaware of how much you are capable of.”
Kahla grew up in Damascus, Syria, and enrolled at Damascus University in 2010 to study pharmacy. Less than a year later, the Syrian civil war began.
“Witnessing the brutality of the war and how it took so much from people was very sad, but seeing how physicians brought hope back to their patients during the tough time changed my perspective on life, and I came to realize that satisfaction and joy stem from giving rather than taking,” she says. “Physicians embodied the highest humanitarian values and never wavered in their mission to help, despite the destruction and the injuries. This inspired me to gain the skills I needed to become a physician.”
She left her home country and Damascus University in 2012 to move to Germany before relocating to Massachusetts, where her grandparents and extended family resided. Kahla saw the move to the United States as the perfect opportunity to pursue a pre-med track.
“I changed my path and started working on my goal to become a physician,” she says.
Accepted into UML’s biological sciences
program for the fall of 2014, Kahla initially enrolled as a part-time student so she could adapt to the changes that come with moving to a different country, including adjusting to a different educational system taught in English.
Supportive faculty members helped, Kahla says. She appreciated the tutoring and office hours offered to students, as well as the smaller class sizes.
“There is more attention given to each individual,” says Kahla, who continuously found herself on the dean’s list. “It helped me with the transition tremendously.”
Kahla took advantage of UML’s Pre-Health Advising
, which assists students on their journey to medical school by giving them guidance on what courses to take, how to write personal statements and tips for medical school interviews.
Even after graduating from UMass Lowell, she continued to get medical school advice from Carol Myers
, UML’s director of pre-health programs and a biological sciences associate teaching professor.
“To have that support and feel someone is by your side makes all the difference,” Kahla says. “Applying to medical school is a long and stressful process, and the fact that UMass Lowell offers this advising to students and alumni is very important.”
After graduating, she worked at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, where she interned while a college student. She then moved to Vermont and became a research assistant for an AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine study taking place at UVM.
Now a UVM medical school student, Kahla is excited to dive into clinical rotations to explore different career opportunities. She enjoys outpatient work that allows her to develop long-term relationships with patients and currently co-leads student interest groups at UVM in family medicine and dermatology.
“Some people told me that getting accepted into medical school was going to be hard for someone like me who did not grow up in the United States, but that didn’t stop me,” she says. “I kept focusing on my goal and working toward it. Nothing is impossible if you put the hard work in and believe in yourself.
“I hope one day I will be able to inspire others who are in similar situations to reach their dreams.”