Ola Hadaya, School of Medicine Class of 2016.
Ola Hadaya entered medical school before most of her high school classmates even earned the right to vote.
The New Jersey native started her first year in the Wayne State University School of Medicine in August at age 17. She turned 18 on Aug. 25, but still gets reactions of shock when she reveals her age to older peers, most in their early 20s.
So how did she do it?
Her mother, a Syria-born mechanical engineer, taught Hadaya math and science after school. By age 9 she qualified for seventh-grade English, but skipped the opportunity because she didn’t want to be in the same grade as her older brothers, she remembers with a laugh. By sixth grade, the middle child of three boys and two girls, then 9, was taking advanced science and math classes. Hadaya loved learning so much that she would skip ahead in her textbooks, absorbing enough by second grade to make it apparent to teachers that she could skip the next grade. In fact, she skipped third, fifth and seventh grades, and entered high school in Princeton, N.J., at age 11.
“I remember looking up at people. They were so much taller than me,” she said. “It was a whole new environment.”
She stopped skipping grades after that. “I needed more time mentally to reach up to everyone else. You need that social experience,” she said.
She graduated from high school four years later, leaving with plenty of knowledge and a newfound appreciation for electives, something she hadn’t experienced before because of her accelerated academic path. She realized she loved to draw, especially in the Japanese art style of Manga, and liked competing in Science Olympiad. She took advanced placement classes in high school, and did well enough in related exams to earn one full year of college credits. She passed the AP Spanish and Chemistry tests before taking the courses, and completed a Chemistry class at Princeton University while in high school.
Hadaya started at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, when she was 15, with an “almost-full” scholarship, she said, a spot in the honors program and enough credits to qualify her as a sophomore. She received an undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies, with a minor in Biology, in three years. She applied to medical schools across the country, and learned she was accepted to WSU in June.
More than 4,500 people applied for a spot in the School of Medicine’s Class of 2016, and fewer than 300 were accepted, Hadaya among them.
“I really like WSU’s clinical program. I think they prepare you very well for clinical experiences,” she said.
WSU also offered two of her extracurricular passions – government health care advocacy through the Medicine and Political Action in the Community organization, and working with underserved populations in a major city. “It’s all of that combined,” she said.
No applicants are asked their age, so it is likely the admission officer who interviewed her didn’t know she was 17. “They test your maturity and ability to live on your own,” she said.
Her father, a doctor of Internal Medicine, bought a book titled “How to Get Your Child into Medical School” the year she was born. She’s pretty sure he never read it, but maybe he skimmed it, she joked.
“He always pushed sciences,” she said. “I love sciences and I also love people. Combine the two, and you have doctor,” she said.
Hadaya lives in Detroit now and is enjoying the independence – although she misses her mother’s cooking. She admits her courses – Anatomy, Histology and Embryology – require an outstanding amount of reading, even for her.
“I have never in my life studied so much. Your life is studying,” she said.