Onward to medical school

Derrica Ferguson graduates USF; readying for studies at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine

Derrica Ferguson was in the library on a Friday afternoon, completing her final paper for her honors thesis, when her phone rang. It was a member of the admissions team for Michigan State University (MSU) welcoming her into the class of 2026. After expressing her gratitude and hanging up, she recalls sitting in her chair and staring incredulously into space while she silently thanked God and shed a few tears. Then, she called her parents.

“My mom [Assistant Superintendent Veronica Ferguson] seemed proud but not surprised. She just said that it was nothing less than what she expected.”

The first thing Ferguson said her mom asked her about was scholarships, to which she had to reiterate to her mom that she had just gotten in. But not only did she get in, she was accepted into what has been her dream school since she was a student at St. Augustine’s College (SAC).

“My dad [Commander Derrick Ferguson, Sr.] wanted to know everything from how they told me to what I was doing at the moment.”

Ferguson said her family believed in her.

Moments after she spoke with her mother, Ferguson received an email from Nova Southeastern University with the greeting “Dear Future Student Doctor. …” She was ecstatic she had received acceptance from two medical schools.

“With the second acceptance, I knew for sure that God’s grace and mercy was with me through it all. Even up to this day, I have reoccurring moments of incredulous realization that I am going to medical school and I am one step closer to achieving my dream.”

Ferguson, who has a 3.98 Grade Point Average (GPA), will pursue osteopathic medical studies at MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine in June. MSU has awarded her financial aid to the tune of $30,000 per academic year for four years, as long as she maintains good academic standing. The award covers approximately half of the institution’s annual tuition which stands at $66,000 per year. She will have an avenue to additional scholarships for which she can apply, once she is a first-year student.

Ferguson came to the realization that she wanted to study medicine because of her observations and frustrations in different medical situations in her life. She decided on osteopathic medicine, which is synonymous to allopathic medicine. The difference in training between the two paths is that osteopathic medicine engages in an additional 200 hours of osteopathic manipulative medicine which is used to treat and diagnose some medical conditions.

“Osteopathic physicians intentionally take a more holistic approach by treating beyond the symptoms. For example, a patient that comes in with chronic migraines will not only be prescribed medication to alleviate those headaches but may also have an osteopathic manipulative technique performed on them or be recommended some relaxation practices or foods to include in their diet. I believe that this can enhance the medical care that is accessible to the Bahamian community,” said Ferguson.

Her observance and frustration with treatment for a knee injury that she suffered led to her initial interest in osteopathic medicine.

“The physician who I saw [for my knee injury] assured me that I just had some sprained ligaments after a physical examination. After three months, it was confirmed that I had torn my ACL – a ligament in my knee – through MRI and after suspicions from my physical therapist.”

Ferguson recalls feeling overwhelmed because she had not expected such a serious diagnosis, especially months after she suffered the injury. She also remembers feeling frustrated because she believes a torn ACL could have been diagnosed earlier.

“Osteopathic physicians are trained to diagnose and possibly treat certain injuries. With such familiarity with the musculoskeletal system, it may have been possible to get an earlier diagnosis.”

She recalls watching her mother suffer with back spasms. Seeking medical attention late at night and being unable to get her prescribed muscle relaxants filled at that hour, meant her mother had to suffer through the night.

“I remember feeling so helpless and wanting to try anything to help her. I remember being frustrated with the situation and the helplessness of it all. After researching osteopathic medicine, I realized that this was something that could have alleviated her pain. It wouldn’t have prevented it like the muscle relaxants would, yet, it would have been a beneficial complementary aspect that would have made that experience less painful for my mother.”

Ferguson has no personal experience with osteopathic medicine beyond researching the practice, and shadowing various osteopathic physicians.

The 2018 All Bahamas Merit Scholar runner-up attained her undergraduate degree with the $25,000 per year award, coupled with a University of South Florida (USF) Presidential Award at $4,000 per year and a Latin American and Caribbean Scholarship.

While she excelled academically at USF, Ferguson said she also ensured that her life was more than just “the books”. She served as vice president and treasurer of Bahamians United; impactful outreach coordinator for the University Emergency Medicine Student Association (UEMSA); student health services support staff volunteer; medical standby volunteer (emergency medical responder); USF herbarium volunteer; Jenkins Scholar tutor; and played intramural soccer.

She also served as a community outreach officer in the Pre-Med American Student Association, and was a member of the Caribbean Culture Exchange and Jamaican Alliance Movement. During school breaks, she volunteered with Bahamas Feeding Network (BFN) while at home.

Knowing that the medical field was her goal, Ferguson said all activities she engaged in from her freshman year were with that end in mind.

“I joined the pre-med association and got my medical certification as an emergency medical responder, which is a step below an EMT (emergency medical technician). I engaged in many community service activities. I also began trying to find research opportunities while simultaneously trying to maintain a social life and indulge in my hobbies. Unfortunately, COVID greatly affected my momentum, including preventing me from obtaining my EMT certification and getting shadowing hours [at a hospital]. Nonetheless, I was able to get some shadowing hours from Dr. Graham Cates at the Family Medicine Center and various virtual platforms. I also engaged in a two-semester research project as part of my honors thesis.”

Ferguson’s advice to students preparing for university is to align themselves with like-minded individuals with similar aspirations and work ethics; find a professor or advisor whose expertise matches their interests and ask to be mentored; and not to limit themselves.

“Something that I wish I took advantage of is OPT [optional practical training]. This allows international students to be employed off-campus for a year after they have graduated. You can use this time to get the medical exposure you need to demonstrate to medical schools your commitment to medicine,” she said.

And if you need to let off steam, Ferguson suggests playing volleyball at 12 a.m., going on spontaneous spring break trips with friends and trying to find balance, whatever balance may look like to you.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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