Fashion Designer Finds Fulfillment and Success on Path to Medical School
The Columbia University Postbac Premed Program gives students with their bachelor’s degrees—whether they’ve built a successful career in another field or are just realizing their passion—the opportunity to complete the necessary requirements for medical school with tailored support. Alumna Sheng Chow left behind her career in fashion and was able to accelerate her path to medical school through the Program’s linkage partnerships after enrolling in 2015. Now, three years later, Chow is fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a doctor at the Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Sheng Chow grew up in Fresno, California, and as a little girl, she dreamed of helping others and becoming a doctor when she grew up. This dream changed in high school while she worked as a sales associate at a Belk department store. She observed how clothing could empower others and became fascinated by the psychological impact of fashion.
“I made up my mind that I’d do something unconventional that would still benefit others, and I set out to create clothing that would make the wearer feel beautiful and empowered,” said Chow.
After high school, Chow studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She graduated summa cum laude in 2007, winning several awards recognizing her emerging talent, and was later offered the opportunity to work with Carolina Herrera. Herrera happened to be her top choice of fashion ateliers to work for, and this opportunity set the tone for her career. Chow continued to hone her design skills and over several years, also worked as a designer for other brands including Janet Nelson Kumar, Pamella Roland, and Isaac Mizrahi.
I honestly do not believe I would be in my third year at Columbia VP&S without the Postbac Premed Program. The rigors of the Program greatly prepared me for medical school, and the support I received from my advisory dean, my professors, and fellow classmates were invaluable.
While building her career in fashion, Chow and her husband, who she had married during college, decided to start a family. Chow’s pregnancy proved to be a turning point in her personal life, as well as her professional life. After delivering her daughter in 2012, she suffered life-threatening complications, which she believes she only survived with care and dedication demonstrated by her physicians.
“During and after this extremely tense and traumatizing experience, I started looking back at my life and my goals, and realized that working in the fashion industry was not fulfilling,” explained Chow. “During recovery, I reflected on my work as a designer and realized the effect I had on touching lives had been minimal. I wanted more impactful interactions like the one I had experienced with my doctors.”
With her family’s support, Chow left the fashion industry behind and enrolled in the Postbac Premed Program. Although she was accepted to multiple programs, she chose Columbia because of the connection she felt with the administrative staff and advising dean.
“I felt like I would get the support that I needed to get through this and make it to medical school,” said Chow.
Having been out of school and in the workforce for over a decade, Chow was expecting a challenge when starting the Program. During her time as a student, Chow was named to the dean’s list every semester. She also served as a member of the Premedical Association and the Integrative Medicine Club, and volunteered on the Financial Incentives for Smoking Cessation (FIESTA) study at the VA Hospital and NYU School of Medicine.
The fashion industry is not an easy industry to work in. I believe that my experiences have taught me so much about life: how to stand up for what I believe is right, how to be resilient, how to be humble, and most importantly, how to discern what is most important.
“It took me quite some time to get myself accustomed to the teaching methods, grading, and the environment. The first year was especially taxing, both physically and mentally,” said Chow. “I made some wonderful friends in the program who gave me great emotional and academic support, and whom I know will be lifelong friends.”
With her success as a Postbac Premed student, Chow was able to take advantage of the exclusive linkage program opportunities offered to highly-qualified students at Columbia. Through formal agreements between the Postbac Premed Program and top medical and dental schools across the United States and abroad, students with a strong interest in a specific school can accelerate the application process. She linked with the Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S) and began her first year of medical school just after graduating from the Program in 2017.
“I honestly do not believe I would be in my third year at Columbia VP&S without the Postbac Premed Program,” said Chow. “The rigors of the Program greatly prepared me for medical school, and the support I received from my advisory dean, my professors, and fellow classmates were invaluable.”
Chow is now in her third year of medical school at VP&S and is deciding which field of surgery she will pursue. She credits both her time as a designer and as a student at Columbia with preparing her to be successful in medical school.
“The fashion industry is not an easy industry to work in,” explained Chow citing the long hours and the motley crew behind the scenes. “I believe that my experiences have taught me so much about life: how to stand up for what I believe is right, how to be resilient, how to be humble, and most importantly, how to discern what is most important.”