Alumni Spotlight: Alejandra Gutierrez, UVA '17

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When did you graduate, what was your major, what was your post grad experience like (gap year, clinical experience, postbac etc)

I graduated in 2017 with a double major in biology and psychology. After graduating, I did a 1-year postbac program at the University of Pittsburgh. During the program, I was involved in research, clinical observations, and volunteering. After graduating from that program, I took another gap year and worked at a pediatric rehabilitation hospital as a rehab technician and was also applying to occupational therapy schools during this time. I’m currently a first year grad student in the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy Program at Washington University in St. Louis!

What inspired you to change from pre-med to pre-OT?

One of my classes in my postbac program, Career Planning and Development, had me think of my journey and future as a physician from perspectives I never considered before. I thought of how my personal and professional life would compare to my values and personal qualities, and I realized that they would not align. I wouldn’t be getting the type of patient interaction and collaboration that I truly would be satisfied with, and that’s when I came to the conclusion that pre-med was not the best course for me. I was still interested in the healthcare field so I started looking into other options within that area. I came across occupational therapy and I knew instantly that that was what I would love to do. It was such a perfect fit for me and I had never felt so sure of what I wanted to with my life until then.  

What are some challenges you faced during your post grad time?

One of the biggest challenges that I faced after graduating was when I started to doubt whether med school was truly what I wanted to do before I had found an alternative profession to pursue. I was scared of making a transition because all throughout undergrad, I thought I was certain of what I wanted to do, and now I was having doubts about my future, and that uncertainty made me feel a bit lost. Despite these challenges, I’m so glad that I was honest with myself, because it ultimately led me to where I’m meant to be.

Any tips regarding taking the GRE?

To prepare for the GRE, I would highly recommend going on the official GRE website and doing as many timed writing prompts from the pool of issue and argument essay topics. Even just reading through the prompts and thinking of specific claims and examples you’d write about, especially for the issue essay topics, would be beneficial. On the actual test day, the essay prompts you are given will be from those pools, so already being familiar with the prompt is a huge advantage.   

What are some of challenges you faced during your time at UVA?

Managing my time effectively was a challenge for me during my time at UVA. As a result, I struggled with maintaining a healthy work-life balance, because I would often be too preoccupied with my academics that I wouldn’t have as much time to spend with people that were important to me.

Is there anything you would’ve done differently?

I would’ve been more open to other professions and really taken the time to learn about all my options within the healthcare field. I also wish I hadn’t compared myself so much to my classmates. I’d often worry if I was doing as well as my peers and if I felt that I wasn’t, I would lose confidence in myself and in my abilities.

What is some advice you’d give to current UVA students? / What is something you’d encourage current students to do?

Don’t be afraid of switching career paths or looking into other options! I know it can be scary, especially for 3rd and 4th years. You may feel as though if you switch, you’d be starting over, or that everything you’ve done up until now in your college career would be for nothing. But this is far from true, all the classes you’ve taken and experiences you’ve had hold value and have helped you grow, regardless of whether they seem relevant to a profession. Switching career paths could mean that you may have to take one or more gap years to get all of your prerequisites and any additional experiences you need, and if taking a gap year was not in your initial plan, that is okay! There is no rush in going to grad/med school. Focus on which journey will make you the happiest!