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September Alumni Spotlight L.J McKenzie

LJ McKenzie M2L.J McKenzie, M2, Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine,  Boise State Alumni

LJ Mackenzie is an M2 at Western University of Health Sciences in Lebanon, Oregon pursuing his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). He graduated from Boise State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, a Minor in Biomedical Engineering, and the Honors College with summa cum laude highest honors in May 2018. He has always excelled in his studies and received awards such as the Venning Pre-Medical Scholarship two years in a row and the Ruch Health Science Award during his time here. LJ’s is originally hailing from the Tri-cites, Washington. At Boise State University, he shared his experiences as a research fellow in our Dr. Ralph R Jones MD FACS Pre-Medical Summer Fellowship and working closely with Dr. Ken Cornell in his Biochemistry Lab. His relatable and friendly personality allowed him to volunteer at Keystone Hospice and St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. Even today, he shares a strong passion for scientific inquiry and educating those interested in the pursuit of medicine.

Three adjectives that describe you:

Those who know me best have described me as “whole-hearted,” “inquisitive,” and “genuine.”I also like to think of myself as “well-rounded,” “team-centered,” and “consistent.”

What is it like being a Medical student during a pandemic?

As first and second-year med students, the day-to-day isn’t really changed for us. In many ways, I feel we are among the most privileged in our current position–I don’t have to think about how I am going to pay the bills, I don’t have to wonder if I can or can’t keep my “job,” there are few people that I currently need to keep track of outside of my classmates and family, and for the most part, I simply have to keep working away at my studies and extracurriculars.

But as budding healthcare professionals, this pandemic has called us to recognize those privileges, accept the challenge to model and educate in balanced and scientific ways during the opportunities that we do have, and continually work toward understanding the various disparities in healthcare and society as a whole that we will soon be called to face.

With that, I happily am preparing to wrap up my pre-clinical time, step outside, and start putting into practice these things that I am learning. See first hand the way the pandemic is affecting us out on the front lines.

More to report on that end this summer/fall… :)

What resources did you use at Boise State to prepare you for D.O School?

I really leaned into upperclassmen on similar journeys as me, the Honors College family, and of course, the pre-med advising team.

What do you think was the most important experience you had at Boise State?

The Dr. Ralph Jones Summer Pre-Medical Research Fellowship.

It set me up with my biggest mentor and advocate while in Boise, Dr. Cornell.

It got me outside of my comfort zone, expanding beyond the cookie-cutter, everything works out, labs that come in one’s curriculum, into the messy, problem-solving, fail and try again over and over the thing that wet-bench, pre-clinical research *life* is.

It brought me some of my closest relationships, opportunities to teach and be taught, present, be questioned, have answers, ask questions, get answers–everything I feel I am working through as a medical student.

Seriously don’t know where I would be if it didn’t all line up the way it did after receiving this amazing summer fellowship. So grateful to the Jones family, the Pre-Med department, and Dr. Cornell for taking a shot on me.

Do you think Boise State prepared you for D.O School?

Yes. 200% yes.

Being a part of the Honors College was a big part of that for me, allowing me to have smaller classes, closer access to professors, courses that I wouldn’t have thought to seek out myself, and igniting new passions and interests and ways of thinking that are still growing–I specifically sought out a small, close-knit, family-feel osteopathic medical school largely influenced by my experiences in that portion of my Boise State life.

Outside of that, so many of my biology and chemistry professors treated us like medical students. The pace is a lot slower than medical school (just part of the game–I like to describe one hour of lecture in medical school as three hours in undergrad, and we spend around 30 hours in a lecture a week), but the content was geared toward an awareness of their audience–pre-meds and nursing students for the most part. With that, I felt confident going into medical school content-wise and have been able to handle the pace change since day one. My foundation was solid.

And again, my time spent working in the biochemistry department under Dr. Cornell taught me all the practical skills I am using to interact with myself, my peers, and my professors day in and day out. Critical thinking.

What’s more, my advisors were AMAZING. Cassidy to Glenda, Glenda to Erin, each met me where I was at each and every semester to make my time at Boise State what I wanted it to be all while helping me learn how to ask for help (perhaps one of the biggest lessons we all can continually be working toward).

What would you tell yourself now knowing what you know now about applying to your medical school?

Just show up and be yourself.

The grades. The applications. The essays. The MCAT scores. Those all matter.

But in (and out of) that interview room, just be you. You don’t have to talk about everything ever. You don’t have to put on a mask. Just show up. That is what those on the other side of the table are looking for. I put a lot of pressure on myself for interviews (not unsightly so–they are SCARY and IMPORTANT), but at the end of the day, it is just another conversation with people who want to just get to know you.

The rest of the factors shake out how they will, and you don’t have control over that. There is a bit of luck mixed into this process (SUPER grateful to have been given this opportunity that I have).

But going through this all as a version of yourself that feels like YOU, is important. Because on the flip side of applying for medical school, is applying for residency, and then a job, and then other jobs. Continually leaning into and checking in with yourself and who you want to be (rather than just WHAT you want to be), makes each day’s steps so much easier and ultimately, fulfilling.

*deep breath*

Stopping. Breathing. Gratitude. Those never hurt either ;)

What do you wish you would have known before becoming a medical student?

Honestly, just that I could do it. The application process is brutal. There is a lot of unknown. There is a lot of waiting. There is a lot of learning as you go. And if you find yourself in a situation–like me–where you are applying multiple times, it just wears on you and your self-confidence.

But that acceptance letter, especially one to a school that you felt really connected to, changes everything. You are in. And with it, I felt so many of my uncertainties fall away and haven’t looked back since.

With that, I wish I would have known how extremely amazing my peers, professors, and future profession really would be. I knew it would be cool, exciting, self-fulfilling, but I can’t put into words just how neat it is to be a part of a med school class family. It is so special, and to me, worth it.

And finally, that it really is just a continuation of everything you are already working toward in listening to your pre-med advisors–volunteering, researching, varied course loads, working to find balance, enjoying the process. I went from managing the lab, volunteering in a few different places a week (both in medically oriented and church-oriented capacities), managing a new marriage, a new dog, and playing soccer and golf as much as I could spare (which wasn’t much) to essentially doing the same amount of “day’s work” in med school. Picture your busiest, yet most well-rounded day as a pre-med, where you went to bed tired and smiling, and that is a med school day in and day out.

Would you like to talk to L.J about his pathway, if so please reach out to Erin Colburn at