Hello! My name is Sonia Francone. I was born and raised in Colombia until I was 7 years old, at which point my mother decided that we would be the first in our family to immigrate to the United States in search of opportunity. When we arrived, we had nothing but hope and no one but each other. We settled into a tiny room that we rented near an elementary school; I spent most afternoons in childcare while my mother rotated between three or four jobs to put food on the table. I remember being incredibly excited on the few occasions when my mother was able to take me to work with her, especially when she had her shifts as a hospital janitor. I sat perfectly still in the center of her cart so as to not disturb the towels that she draped over the sides of the cart to keep me covered. I enjoyed peeking through the small slits between the towels and catching glimpses of the action-packed hospital scene. Aside from my initial exposure to medicine, going to work with my mother demonstrated to me the reason why she insisted that I stay focused on my education. She knew, and I quickly learned, that education was my “way out.”
Despite the threat that my legal status posed on my ability to pursue higher-level education, I studied intensely and was a committed learner. By the time that I became a U.S. citizen, I had established the groundwork that allowed me to apply for college scholarships. During my senior year of high school, I received my first life-changing phone call from The Posse Foundation congratulating me on my selection as a recipient of a full, four-year merit and leadership based scholarship to attend Sewanee: The University of the South. As an undergraduate student, I had the unique opportunity of obtaining my EMT license and serving my Sewanee community through a local EMS agency. Throughout college breaks, my duty to expose myself to a career in medicine continued as I shadowed physicians across various specialties. Over the summer breaks, I worked as a summer student in a multi-drug resistance laboratory at the NIH. I was able to see the direct translation of research into the clinical setting through my time shadowing in the Clinical Research Center.
Upon graduating from college, my professors and peers expected me to be directly admitted to medical school. This was because I graduated with summa cum laude honors and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. However, little did they know that behind these academic distinctions stood a 5-foot-something girl with significant holes in her academic strategies. These weaknesses may have been hidden in my GPA but were apparent from my MCAT score. I struggled with my time-management because I tended to fixate on small details that would steer me on academic tangents. I found myself grappling with my ability to apply my understanding of different concepts in a test-question scenario, which made each question feel like an uphill battle. These critical-thinking and test-taking competencies were areas that I urgently desired to improve but felt that I did not have the adequate resources. Refusing to give up, I searched for programs that could help me address my weaknesses. I came across GEMS and decided to apply once I learned how invested the program was to help students like me achieve a career in medicine. In May 2017, shortly after graduating from college, I received my second life changing phone call from Dean David Taylor, Director of the Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies (GEMS) program congratulating me on my acceptance into the program. At this moment, I knew that my life would embark upon a path full of the support I needed to ultimately become a physician.
I feel that GEMS has had a tremendous impact on my skills as a student. Through the help of Dean Taylor and Dr. Kaingo, I am consistently challenged to become a better student and to have more confidence in my abilities. They have helped me learn how to organize information into concept maps such that I can better understand and track difficult concepts. This has strengthened my ability to recall the appropriate language when presenting at the board or to my peers. I have also improved my ability to apply my understanding of basic science principles to different contexts depending on what the question is asking. I have been able to improve as a student thanks to the supportive learning environment that is GEMS. Dean Taylor, Dr. Kaingo, and Dean Cheng are constantly advocating for GEMS students and do everything in their disposition to help us move forward. Upon completion of the GEMS program, I aspire to matriculate in Georgetown’s School of Medicine to pursue my Medical Degree with the ultimate goal of a career in Internal Medicine. I feel forever indebted to the GEMS program and feel honored to be part of the GEMS family.