As a University of Maryland student, Shapiro, 22, originally studied medical theology but switched to psychology. Mental health was important to him, but he wanted to learn more about the biological aspect and pursue a medical track. He graduated a semester early and now is a teacher’s assistant living in College Park. He will move in a year, after he applies for medical school in May. Until then, he would like to practice clinical care as a medical assistant or scribe.
Shapiro is active with Meor, a Jewish organization at U-Md. Students gather weekly to discuss the parshah with a rabbi. Shapiro went to Israel on Birthright in 2017.
“It was a great experience. I’m not extremely religious, but it was a nice opportunity to see where my roots came from, to go to Jerusalem, to see how the religion is flourishing today,” he said.
Where does your interest in medicine come from?
My brother is about to finish medical school, and he will start residency soon, so that was one influence on me. I had always been interested in science; the human body really interested me. I took an anatomy class in high school that was really intensive, taught by a college professor, so it made me more interested in the field. In general, the idea of helping people and doing selfless acts drove me to this profession.
Do you volunteer often?
I’ve been involved in a couple of tutoring programs. The one which had the most impact on me was America Counts. I would tutor about four to six [third- and fourth-graders] in math or science. It was students who really needed individual help, so I found my personal skills allowed me to be successful there.
[I was also] a counselor, lifeguard and swim instructor. I was able to interact with the kids and teach them because they trusted me. I would absolutely recommend [volunteer work] to others. One, it’s one of those altruistic things that just makes you feel good. I’m dealing with underprivileged individuals who don’t get sufficient medical attention or education, so having these extracurricular programs is great. A nice thing to do is repetitive volunteer work at the same organization. Each time you come back you see the same individuals and see the change you’re making in the community.
Tell us about your TA work.
As a TA, I [work] in a psychology lab called Helping Skills. What we do is kind of a mock therapy class. We talk about different ways to help people with their problems. We discuss tactics to make people open up to you. It’s definitely challenging because it’s not similar to how you talk to people in everyday life; you ask more open questions. It made me reflect about myself and my values, what I say to people without realizing. I’m always aware that people are struggling and you need to check in with friends. It made me more empathetic.
Another tip in a similar vein is to be culturally competent. Come with an open mind and understand we are in a changing, diverse world. We need to accept that and embrace it.
What does being Jewish mean to you?
To me, it is a cultural identity rather than a religious identity. I believe the Jewish culture is a community I can find myself in. I know it’s a small community that is often discriminated against. It’s nice to know that when I come to a community like U-Md. that has a large Jewish population, that there are people like Hillel’s office I can go to study or talk to someone. [It also means] the morals and values behind Judaism: to stick up for each other, be influential in society and make a difference.
You’re given a free ticket to anywhere in the world. Where do you go?
Somewhere that’s been on my mind recently is Poland. I want to travel to Kraków. Some of my friends went there while they were studying abroad. They went to a concentration camp. … To see that part of history — I’m not much of a history buff so I don’t know that much about it — seeing it would expose me to that history.