Taylor Prechtel grew up in Birdseye, Indiana, a small southern Indiana town, population 415, with nearly no racial diversity and educational and income levels below the state and national averages.
“It’s the type of place where it’s not unusual to get stuck behind a tractor on your way to work,” she said.
Today Prechtel is among 165 current Indiana University School of Medicine students who identify as first-generation, meaning they are the first in their families to achieve a four-year degree and the first to enter medical school. She is co-president of the First Generation Committee, along with Thian Hnem.
Prechtel shared what her first-gen identity means to her and why it’s important for first-generation med students to have a supportive community.
What would you like to share about your first-gen experience?
My dad dropped out of college after a semester under his belt to fulfill obligations at the family furniture store, and my mom has an associate’s degree from a community college. I am the oldest of three children, making me the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Without anyone in my family having acquired much higher education or venturing far from home, attending college at Butler University—three hours from home—for my undergraduate degree was a huge leap for me.
What challenges did you face on your educational journey, and where did you find support?
At Butler, I found myself in a completely foreign environment, socially, culturally and politically. Although it was foreign, I adapted quickly and thrived there, enriching myself in my academic work and through a wide range of extracurricular activities. But there were also times when I felt out of my depth, including during the process of applying to medical school, which I found difficult to navigate without the support of parents and close friends who had gone through the process. I took two years off before attending medical school, working two jobs to earn money before going back to school and building my resume with relevant experiences. I truly didn’t find a great support system, with peers who had similar backgrounds and experiences, until joining IU School of Medicine’s First Gen Committee.
What does your first-gen identity mean to you?
I believe my first-gen identity allows me to look beyond what’s visible on the surface. My background as a rural citizen, my experiences growing up in a single-parent household, and my status as the first person in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree make me alert to the range of challenges faced by individuals and communities. These experiences have taught me to connect with patients on a personal level and recognize community issues that affect well-being. I find that the most “disadvantaging” elements of my background have actually been advantageous to me in many ways, and they have shaped my character as one in which determination balances with compassion, sensitivity and humor, giving me a humane perspective on health care. I think many of us who identify as first gen can say the same. We know what it’s like to work two jobs to pay the rent or raise a child amid the craziness of clinical rotations. Our perseverance and our ability to overcome what is expected of us is what brings us together.
How does the First Generation Committee support its members?
The First Generation Committee at IU School of Medicine aims to support its members in a number of different ways. We let MS1’s know we’re here for them from the very beginning of their medical school journey by attending First Year Experience’s affinity group event, New Student Resource Fair, and by putting on a first-generation breakfast during orientation. New this year was an event called “Balancing it All in Med School,” where older first gens gave advice on study strategies and tips on academic success and mental well-being. Each year, we also put on a host of events during First Gen Week in November. We hold a financial literacy presentation, have a spring wellness activity, host a post-match residency panel, and have a graduation celebration.
Who is eligible to join the First Generation Committee?
The traditional definition of a first-gen student is a student who is part of the first generation in their family to achieve a four-year college degree. We understand that family ties and upbringings can be complicated, so we welcome IU School of Medicine students to self-identify as first-generation students. Additionally, the resources shared may benefit students who are the first in their family to attend medical school or who have a parent who earned a college degree outside the United States where university experiences differ greatly. Out of all IU School of Medicine students (graduation classes 2024 through 2027), we currently have 165 students who identify as first generation.
What is your vision for the First Generation Committee?
We recruit students to serve on the committee through Fall Interview Day, sponsored by the Medical Student Council. This year, we are recruiting campus representatives with the hopes of fulfilling spots at all nine campuses, allowing us to support first gens and promote initiatives at all IU School of Medicine campuses. Excitingly, we also added a vice president of research this year, and our vice presidents of mentoring are in the process of setting up mentee/mentor pairings.
Where can first-generation students find more resources?
We have a one-stop shop for first-gen resources on MedNet. It includes links to external resources like the AAMC’s Tools and Resources for First-Generation Medical School Students, along with research on first-generation medical students.