Pipeline Program Leads Single Mom from GED to MD/PHD

Emma Wallace’s life is a study in unexpected outcomes, so it shouldn’t be surprising that she will soon graduate medical school with a dual MD/PhD degree. Yet, it is.

“I didn’t think women in my situation could have these opportunities,” she said.

Born in England to a West Indian mother and British father, Wallace spent her teen years in Brooklyn. The first of those unexpected outcomes occurred when she got pregnant and dropped out of high school. But knowing that she wanted more for herself and her unborn son, she earned her GED and immediately enrolled at the City University of New York Medgar Evers College where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology. It was at Medgar Evers College that Wallace’s mentor convinced her to pursue her life-long dream of becoming a doctor.

As a first step, Wallace enrolled in the medical education and science research diversity pipeline programs at SUNY Downstate during the summers. The dual programs prepared her for the rigors of medical school and exposed her to medical research for the first time. Wallace became hooked by the prospect of conducting her own studies someday.

“I absolutely fell in love with research, it wasn’t something I expected,” she said.

Wallace ambitiously decided to pursue a dual MD/PhD degree at Downstate, completing her first two years of medical school before shifting into her PhD program in neuroscience. In order to complete her research, Wallace, with the help of her family, would take her son to school in the morning and have him spend the early evening with her at Downstate so she could finish her projects. In 2015, Wallace completed her PhD, and this fall she entered her final year of medical school.

Wallace knows her story is atypical, and is grateful for the mentors that saw her potential and the programs that opened doors. “If I didn’t have the pipeline programs, I’m not sure where I’d be,” said Wallace. “It absolutely changed my life, and it changed my son’s future.”

When Wallace completes her MD next year, she aims to enter a residency in neurology, and go on to both see patients and conduct research in the field. Since her now 14-year-old son is a born and raised Brooklynite, Wallace hopes she’ll be able to continue her career in New York. She gives credit for that career to the pipeline program at Downstate.