MCW Graduate Strives to Decrease Mistrust of the Health Care System Through Representation

MCW graduate strives to decrease mistrust of the health care system through representation

Growing up in Waukegan, Illinois, Ashley Pittman, who will graduate from the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) in May, had a hard time envisioning herself in medicine due to personal experiences.

“I didn’t think I could do it because I didn’t have role models or a doctor that I saw who looked like me,” she says. “It was just never an option that I thought I could achieve.”

But Pittman did have interest in a medical profession, which led her to the University of Kentucky, where she studied for a bachelor's degree in health science with a concentration in medical laboratory science. During her time studying in Kentucky, she met a friend who was pre-med, who encouraged her to attend different meetings and events. During one she met a surgical oncologist.

“He told us if we wanted to do this, we could do it,” Pittman says. “Here are the steps, here are the tools you need to go after something if you want to be in medical school.”

At the end, she says he gave them his card and invited them to shadow him or someone in another specialty. Pittman took him up on the offer and said she immediately fell in love with medicine.

“At that moment I realized this is something I want to do,” says Pittman, who was a sophomore at the time.

Betting on Herself

Ashley Pittman and fellow medical studentArmed with the confidence she needed, Pittman set out to pursue her new dream of becoming a urologist. There were several pit stops along the way. As an undergrad, she failed her MCAT. She graduated and found a great job as a medical technologist at a Veterans Affairs hospital. She was happy there but knew that at the end of the day her goal was still to attend medical school. Pittman left the hospital and entered a post-baccalaureate program at the University of Southern Illinois-Carbondale to beef up her skills and apply for medical school.

“I decided to take a leap of faith and bet on myself,” she says.

While she completed that program, Pittman met a recruiter from MCW and followed that up with a phone call to Jean Mallett, program director for the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity. She fell in love with the school and applied.

Pittman still remembers finding out she’d been accepted to MCW. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she was getting ready to head out to dinner with her mother and saw an email from the school.

“I was so shocked; I stopped and I cried,” she says. “MCW was my number one choice for medical school, so it was really a full circle moment for me.”

Experience at MCW

Arriving on campus with COVID-19 restrictions in place, Pittman and her classmates' experience was different than any other cohort. They had scheduled times to come to campus and labs. They were very isolated. As restrictions lifted, Pittman was finally able to experience the relationships and interactions she came to medical school seeking.

“I would say some of the highs of medical school have been the ability to meet, study and gain friends with some wonderful people who are going to be amazing doctors and real change-makers in the field,” she says.

Pittman says she was lucky to have the support of several strong mentors from the MCW Department of Urology during her time in medical school, including Jay Sandlow, MD, professor and chair; Jonathan Ellison, MD, associate professor and pediatric urologist; Meghan Schaefer, MD, assistant professor; and Kenneth Jacobsohn, professor.

Ashley Pittman and colleagues

“The urology department at MCW has been nothing short of amazing,” Pittman shares. “They have really put me in a position to shine as a medical student, to further my knowledge and gave me tons of opportunities in research.”

She also credits Malika Siker, MD, associate dean for student inclusion and diversity, Mallett and others for their support at MCW.

Future in Medicine and the Community

Having experienced disparities in health care and other challenges in access to underrepresented communities, Pittman’s goal is to help address those challenges as a medical provider. She believes that having a provider who looks like you or comes from a similar background can make a huge difference and help address mistrust in healthcare.

“When you go into a room, you can feel relief just by seeing who your provider is,” she says. “There’s a lot of mistrust between the health care system and underrepresented minorities, so I think having doctors and having a more diverse physician workforce really helps to address the mistrust that occurs.”

Match Day 2024 MCW Milwaukee Ashley Pittman and Colleagues 2_Article

Pittman also hopes to serve as the mentor she never had during her childhood, helping young people access the field of medicine and research.

“That’s kind of what propels me to keep going and keep fighting when things are tough,” she says. “Throughout training and even after, my goal is actually to go back and serve as a mentor to those students.” She even hopes to create a pipeline program someday.

As she continues toward that goal, Pittman is ready for her next step in the journey. She’ll be heading to Nashville soon to complete her residency in urology.

“After that I hope to serve as a physician in an urban environment,” she says. “that’s where I feel I am most needed and will be able to help and treat underrepresented patients.”

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