Commencement Spotlight: Carla Baaklini

NEOMED’s 2023 Commencement Ceremony was held Saturday, May 6, at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall. Among the graduating class was Carla Baaklini, who received a Doctor of Medicine degree.

Born and raised in the Cleveland area, Carla Baaklini, M.D., was a student in the final cohort of NEOMED’s six-year B.S./M.D. program, earning a bachelor’s degree in integrated life sciences from Kent State University before matriculating to NEOMED.

As a student, Dr. Baaklini got involved in campus life immediately, joining multiple student organizations during her first and second years in the College of Medicine, and taking the initiative on projects like a letter-writing campaign for nursing home residents at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also took campus-wide leadership positions, first on Student Conduct Council and later on the Committee on Academic and Professional Progress (CAPP), which evaluates academic performance, assesses intellectual readiness and reviews professionalism concerns.

Her leadership skills were apparent from the start, according to Sandra MacPherson, Ed.D., senior executive director for Academic Affairs and Student Services.

“From the start of her program, Carla was a born leader: thoughtful, committed and intelligent,” Dr. MacPherson said. “On Conduct Council, Carla would speak up as a leader and represent the students’ perspective with the highest level of respect. I have always valued her input and loved watching her grow into an amazing leader and physician!”

Dr. Baaklini recently shared her story with the Pulse.

What did you want to be when you were little? What changed your mind?

When I was a young kid, I wanted to be an artist, but as I took more science and math classes I discovered my interests in health. It also helped that I was much better at my science courses compared to art.

When did you decide to pursue an M.D. degree? What inspired your decision?

I decided to pursue an M.D. degree in high school when I chose to attend the B.S./M.D. program. My mother has always been an inspiration to me. She is an internal medicine physician and whenever we were out running errands in the community, we would run into her patients who would thank her for the emotional and medical support she provided to them during difficult times.

You’ll be doing residency in ophthalmology at University of Missouri-Columbia. What inspired you to choose ophthalmology?

I chose ophthalmology after much specialty exploration up until my fourth year of medical school. As I explored the different specialties through rotations, I found myself the happiest and most interested in ophthalmology. Helping patients manage something as important as their sight is so gratifying. Additionally, the specialty allows me to have a mix of clinical and surgical care.

What are your plans after residency?

I have not yet decided whether I will pursue fellowship after residency. Regarding my career, I hope to be working at a teaching institution where I can interact with medical students and residents. I also hope to stay living close to my family in the future.

What was your favorite thing about NEOMED?

My favorite thing about NEOMED is how supportive my classmates and the faculty have been. My classmates have made these tough four years much easier to get through and I have great memories with them.

What inspired you to take on leadership roles on campus? How did you manage that while keeping up in coursework?

I got involved in Student Conduct Council starting my M1 year, then CAPP starting my M3 year. I was a part of student organizations in my first two years as well. These activities were very important to me so there was no question of whether I would stay involved. I made sure to stay on track on the schedule I would make for myself for studying, but also allow myself to enjoy these outside activities.

Did you have a favorite class or learning experience? What made that stand out? 

My favorite classes at NEOMED were neuroscience and anatomy. Both involved collaboration with my classmates and hands-on labs. The faculty in these courses were especially supportive, always offering their help in any way, and enjoyable to interact with.  

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The best advice I’ve been given is to always lead with kindness. You never know what your patients, coworkers or anyone you meet are going through and being kind and patient can make could make a big impact on others.

What would you tell your M1 self – or your undergraduate self – about medical school?

I would tell myself to be less hard on myself. Always make time for hobbies and spending time with family and friends. Continue to work hard, but don’t give up the other things you enjoy in life.

What advice would you give to a high school or undergrad student who is considering medical school? What should they be doing now to prepare?

I would advise them to get involved early in shadowing and meeting with physicians. This will help them with their decision of whether to pursue medical school.

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