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Isaiah Banken ’21 paves the way to medical excellence from PLU to UW School of Medicine

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Student folds their arms and smiles into the camera and is standing in front of a purple UW Medicine sign.
January 16, 2024

Meet Isaiah Banken, a ’21 graduate who set his sights on a career in medicine. With a B.S. in biology and a minor in mathematics from PLU, Isaiah began exploring diverse medical opportunities near his hometown of Wenatchee, WA. From being a compassionate force in hospice care and a backup medic – Isaiah immersed himself in the world of healthcare experiences. He’s kicking off his next chapter at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in July. Get ready to dive into Isaiah’s story!

Tell us a little bit about you and your educational background.

IB: I’m from Wenatchee, Washington. My mom homeschooled my brother and me for most of my education until 11th grade, when I began Running Start at Wenatchee Valley College. I completed a B.S. in biology with a minor in mathematics at PLU. I graduated in 2021 and applied to medical schools the following year while working as a ski patroller and volunteering in various capacities, including as a backup medic at Holden Village. After finding out that I got into the University of Washington School of Medicine, I traveled extensively before starting school in July of this year.

What are some of your fondest memories from PLU?

IB: I was on the PLU Men’s rowing team for three years. The sunrises and the foggy mornings on American Lake are very memorable. Other moments like running on the golf course, eating dinner with my friends in Red Square in the fall, and the PLU Christmas concert are also up there. In my first year, it snowed just enough, so my friends and I built a jump and skied from upper to lower campus.

I studied away in Windhoek, Namibia, for one semester (though it was cut short by COVID). Learning about the history of Namibia was fascinating and eye-opening. Traveling to National parks and seeing elephants, giraffes, zebras, and cheetahs is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Being able to study away without it costing more than my regular cost of attendance was amazing.

In Namibia, I started a biochemistry research project on the potential chemical properties of certain indigenous plants and helped two other PLU students, Ben Soderling, and Elizabeth Larios, with an observational hand hygiene study in one of the hospitals. Elizabeth returned to Namibia to continue working on that project as a Fullbright scholar. Being around people like them at PLU was really motivating and inspiring.

How did PLU prepare you for medical school?

IB: PLU is very special in how available the professors are to students, which is something I’ve appreciated while talking with my classmates in medical school. I remember attending office hours with nearly all my professors at least once at PLU. I saved myself many hours of frustration by talking with my instructors and finding the areas in my knowledge where I could improve. Being able to connect with my professors helped a lot when I was exploring different career ideas in research and medicine.

Was there a professor or advisor who was influential during your time at PLU?

IB: It sounds cheesy, but all the professors I had at PLU were influential in that their passion for their field fostered my curiosity. I bounced back and forth between majoring in biology and math and considered chemistry because my instructors’ excitement was contagious. If I had to highlight three people, Dr. Auman, Dr. Nervo, and Dave Harvey, my rowing coach, were the most influential in my development.

Dr. Auman taught my Intro BIO 225 course and was very patient with my weekly office hour visits. She helped advise me throughout my time at PLU and during the application process to medical school after graduation.

I attribute my development as a scientist to Dr. Nervo. I spent two summers researching in her lab, learning an incredible amount, and having a lot of fun. Specific skills such as reading journal articles and interpreting dense figures have helped greatly in medical school.

Dave Harvey is one of the biggest reasons I loved rowing at PLU. His coaching helped me develop confidence and approach challenges with an energy that I didn’t know I had. I still frequently apply lessons in grit and teamwork to my daily life in medical school that Dave taught during rowing practice.

Do you have any advice for current PLU students interested in attending medical school after PLU?

IB: I am happy to talk with anyone at PLU who is interested in medical school! It sounds crazy, but even though it’s a lot of work and very exhausting, you get to meet incredible people, and though I’m biased, I don’t think there’s a cooler career out there. A pastor once gave me the career advice to choose a career where you get back up when you’re knocked down. This goes for anything you see as your vocation or calling, but for me, there are many points in medicine where I get knocked down. It’s my passion for it that gets me back up every time.