Interview with USC Alumnus Jonathon Lerner – Keck School of Medicine


by Janie Chen

THC: What did you not know as a freshman at USC that you wish you did?

Lerner: It might seem like it when you see the number of required classes, but pre-med is not a major! You really should take your time to immerse yourself in other majors and fields. While I did graduate with a major in biology, I also majored in political science with a particular interest in political philosophy. I would have never known about this other interest if I hadn’t explored my options as a freshman! Basically, don’t blow off your other classes just because you think you want to go to medical school. It’s a cliché by now, but getting a well-rounded education really will make you a more interesting person.


THC: What advice did you hear as an undergraduate that wasn’t necessarily true?

Lerner: This isn’t necessarily a “piece of advice” but I would highly recommend finding out about the application process from current medical students or others who have gone through the process recently. While you might hear some rumors and half-truths from them, nothing compares to the perspective of someone who has recently been through the process. Applying to medical school is grueling by any measure, and the motivation you can derive by talking to those who have made it is invaluable.

On that note, I have to plug an organization I am co-President of: The USC Allied Health Mentorship Program. Last year we invited pre-med students to tour the medical school and meet with medical student mentors to find out what medical school is actually like. We’re hoping to repeat that program this year. Based on the feedback we heard, pre-meds really appreciated the ability to see the day-to-day life of a medical student. Sometimes, as an undergrad, medical school can feel worlds away. In this program, we hope to show these students what their life could be like if they ultimately decide to attend medical school, without stressing the particulars of the admission process.


THC: Research– is it a must? How do you get started?

Lerner: Some kind of research is essential for a pre-med, but it should be in something you are passionate about and interested in! I did my research at the Gene Therapeutics Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai on gene therapy based treatments for glioblastoma, the most prevalent and deadly type of brain cancer. I started as a summer intern doing basic wet lab tasks. Over the course of my years at the lab, I gained a repertoire of lab techniques and the ability to critically examine scholarly literature. Eventually, I ended up completing my own research project as an independent study at USC.


THC: Did you take a gap year?

Lerner: I didn’t take a gap year.


THC: How much of your social life did you have to sacrifice as a Pre-med? How did you do it/stick with it? Any tips?

Lerner: While you’re definitely going to miss a few parties studying for organic chemistry tests, your social life is really what you make of it. Time management is key, and good time management can really set you apart from other students. If you can stay on top of your work and studying, you can make time to do whatever you desire. Having free time is key to staying sane through your hardest classes!
For me, remaining connected to my eventual goals was key. I found that shadowing at LAC+USC Hospital was particularly motivating. Being able to see health care delivered in clinics and the OR reminded me why I ultimately wanted to become a physician.


THC: Did you study abroad?

Lerner: I didn’t study abroad, but that’s probably my biggest regret of undergrad. It is certainly feasible to fit it into your schedule, but you have to start planning your classes early!

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