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What's Your Story?


Anna Kokayeff

Anna Kokayeff (BS'01; MD'07, UIC)

I attended UIUC 1996 to 2001 (I went pre-med the last semester of my junior year, and had to stay an extra year). The most valuable aspect of my education in the psychology department was the tremendous variety of courses available. I focused primarily on neuroscience but took some courses in abnormal psychology, child psych, and special needs populations as well, and spent a year and a half in the psychology paraprofessionals program. I worked for 3 years in Dr Jeff Mogil's pain and pharmacogenetics lab and completed an honors thesis (we recently re-connected over coffee at a conference in Buenos Aires), and took several classes in pharmacology. I loved my small "special topics" seminar on the neurobiology of the visual system. Some of the most memorable classes were ones"cross-listed" in psych and  Industrial Engineering; they emphasized a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. Of these, Dr Nadine Sarter's class in Aircraft Accident and Crash Investigation was by far my favorite of my time at Illinois. With her assignments, she fostered logical thought processes, conclusions based on evidence, creativity, and curiosity.

After graduating, I moved to the U of IL Chicago campus (though at times wished I had stayed in Cham-bana) for my medical education. After that, I completed my psychiatry residency at the University of Michigan. The foundation I got in critical thinking in a wide variety of related but very different areas at Illinois was extremely valuable, and I credit it (as well as my experience in Dr Mogil's lab) with my pursuing an unusual career path -- I was accepted to U of MI's interventional pain management fellowship through the anesthesiology department. After completing my training, I moved to the Twin Cities where I worked at University of Minnesota/Fairview Hospital for several years, and in January, joined a private practice. In my day-to-day practice, I synthesize my knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, psychology and addictionology with interventional procedures. I credit a large part of my pursuing an atypical career path, as well as being able to consider problems from multiple perspectives, to the incredible diversity and quality of coursework I had at Illinois.

As far as "pearls of wisdom" to current students: get outside your comfort zone. Look at classes outside your major, and embrace the joys of learning. And never let someone tell you that something "has never been done before" or can't be done...with preparation and confidence, it can.


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