Keemarr McKinney-Van Buren

Keemarr McKinney-Van Buren

College of Education and Human Development, Class of 2023

Keemarr McKinney-Van Buren is a senior at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, studying Physical Activity & Health Promotion and minoring in African/African-American Studies. In addition to being a student, Keemarr also works in the Pre-Health Student Resource Center as both a Teaching Assistant for the AHS courses, and a Peer Mentor. Recently, Keemarr was accepted into the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities' School of Public Health, and will be looking to start his Public Health Policy & Administration (MPH) degree in the fall of 2023. Keemarr is from Brooklyn Park, MN where he attended Park Center Senior High School. Outside of school, he enjoys playing basketball, writing, and spending time with friends & family.

Can you describe your journey from being a pre-med student for the majority of your undergrad experience, to pursuing public health? What was it like to change your mind?

In describing my journey from pre-med to public health, I think it really was a time of growth. Sometime early on in my academic experience, I no longer felt the goal of being a doctor was worth the countless late nights and exhaustion. Pride played a huge role in why I spent so much time being pre-med, because a lot of peers I'd met freshman year were pre-med before changing their path; I wanted to stick it through and show that it could be done, that I could achieve this goal I'd set for myself in spite of all the hurdles I'd had to overcome being a first-gen college student. For a while, I convinced myself that it wasn't the pre-med path itself, but the career I was trying to go into: I went from Sports Medicine, to Family Medicine, to Anesthesiology, and the stress of feeling so unsure weighed on me. After praying about it, I spoke with my parents about everything and they gave their love and support for whatever path I chose, as long as I was happy. Feeling an enormous burden lifted off of my shoulders, I went on to have a meeting with a mentor of mine (Tricia Todd), telling her that I wanted to pivot from medicine but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. When we were talking, she'd mentioned she was pre-med herself until she found out about public health, and when she said that something inside me clicked; I found myself thinking, "why didn't I think about that?".  After looking into what the field entailed, I found myself really engaged and interested in learning more. In all, the process of changing my path was nerve-wracking/stressful, but once I found public health, something I believe in, I found that pivot to be easier for me.

What experiences have been particularly meaningful to you on your pre-health journey?

In my pre-med journey, one of the most important things was the time I got to spend with doctors, asking them questions and hearing their thoughts on things. Whether it was through shadowing, the AHS 1101 course I took, or just informational interviews, all of those tidbits of information were appreciated. Another experience I feel was really important to my pre-med process was going to the PHSRC. Honestly, having the chance to ask any/all of the questions I had was really important for me, especially being a first-gen student that also happened to be pre-med. Outside of that, I just made it a point to be in spaces where I could grow; I did research, participated in a seminar for multicultural students in medicine, went to MAPS events, and [overall] just asked questions when I could.

Any advice you'd give other pre-health students?

In terms of advice I'd give, the main thing I'd say is to be patient with yourself. This isn't just advice for pre-health students but advice for every person. Having gone from pre-med to public health, and having had pre-med friends, I understand and can see a lot of the stressors pre-med/pre-health students endure. In truth, some of those stressors are rooted in just being a student, regardless of career path or interest. All in all, above all else, I would say be patient with yourself, with your journey, and trust that everything will happen as it should.