It was 20 years ago that Dr. Cristina Bunton-Young graduated with a degree in biology at the University of West Georgia with the hopes of becoming either a physician or a veterinarian. After shadowing doctors during her time in college, she decided that the physician track was the right decision for her and she hasn’t looked back.
Currently, Dr. Bunton-Young is an internal medicine physician in Pensacola, Florida working as a hospitalist.
“There are no other doctors in my family,” said Dr. Bunton-Young. “I have always strived to push myself as far as I could with my studies. I decided that the medical path was best for me after I realized that I enjoyed talking to people more than dogs, so I went for it.”
As a premedical student, Dr. Bunton-Young shadowed physicians and volunteered in a hospice facility to gain clinical experience for medical school admissions. She also tutored on campus and was on UWG’s cheerleading team in addition to intramural softball and flag football.
She credits her pre-medical advisor and a physician that she knew as being instrumental in her success during the medical school preparation process. Following her graduation from UWG, she took a gap year to study for the MCAT and gain more clinical experience working in a doctor’s office.
“For me it all worked out and I wouldn’t do anything different,” said Dr. Bunton-Young. “Everyone’s path will look different. Few paths are seamless but it’s your unique path that shapes you into the person and physician you become.”
Dr. Bunton-Young attended Howard University for Medical School, which she says challenged her significantly. The workload was more intense than she was used to in undergraduate.
“It [medical school] requires a lot of time, focus, dedication, sacrifice but it is all worth it in the end,” said Dr. Bunton-Young. “You’re with a group of likeminded students all pushing through it together and the students can support each other. Medical school consists of 2 years of straight studies then 2 years of clinicals. It is fun to get to the clinical portion because you can start to put what you have learned into action and see what you’ve learned firsthand.”
Following four years of medical school, she graduated and attended University of Miami for her three-year internal medicine residency.
“It seems like a long time, but it is an adventure and it goes by quickly,” said Dr. Bunton-Young. “I learned so much and it now amazes me how much I know and understand, even though of course I am still always learning.”
“Residency was lots of fun,” continued Dr. Bunton-Young. “This is the first time you get paid to learn and it starts to feel like you are taking on the role of a doctor.”
Despite the fun, residency also came with its hardships.
Dr. Bunton-Young says that she has always struggled with standardized testing and had to work through challenges to do well on the many major exams presented to physicians in training, including the USMLE STEP exams (the official physician medical licensure tests) and her post-residency board exams. However, she was able to navigate these challenges successfully and wants pre-medical students to know that if she could do it, anyone can.
The most important thing, according to Dr. Bunton-Young, is to know and understand your specific path and recognize that there is no one size fits all on the road to becoming a doctor.
“The need is out there for physicians and if you’re a good candidate there is always a way to make it happen,” said Dr. Bunton-Young. “The majority [of medical students] go to U.S. schools for allopathic medicine, which is the most typical route. However, some will attempt an Osteopathic medicine route as an alternative, less competitive route. Others will choose to go internationally to schools like Ross on the Dominica island as a path to make their dreams of becoming a doctor still come true. I work with physicians from all these paths, and we are all at the same level.”
“I love my job and my life,” continued Dr. Bunton-Young. “If you have a care for people and are interested in science, students should consider this career path. It is not easy but I feel it was so worth it. It pays well and you can support your family with confidence and pride.”