Alumni News

Applying Science, Serving the Community

Charles Dong postbac '18 discusses how Bennington College’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program prepared him for medical school.


Image of Charles Dong in white coat

As an undergraduate student, Charles Dong postbac ’18 studied Music Education. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 2015, he taught elementary school music and middle school band during the day, and he played trombone in wedding bands and at bars on the weekends.

“I liked serving the community through teaching, but I felt like I would be able to have more impact doing something else,” said Dong. “I felt like I wasn’t using my brain in quite the right way.”

It had been years since Dong had studied a subject other than music, but he remembered how much he enjoyed studying science and the challenge of learning new concepts in high school. 

A Google search for postbac programs connected Dong with Bennington College’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program. Dong was drawn to Bennington’s small class size and one-year program. 

“There were other programs I looked at that were more flexible, which you could do in 18 months, or 2 years—the timeline was all up to you. To me, that felt wishy-washy,” said Dong. 

Many of the other programs he researched were also much larger than Bennington’s tight-knit cohort. “These programs would have classes with up to 180 students, and you’d take classes with undergraduates in giant lecture halls. That didn’t  appeal to me either.”

After visiting the College and talking with current postbac students, Dong decided on Bennington’s postbac program, where he bonded with other students in his cohort, including Jack Jenkins postbac ’18. 

“If I had advice for current students going through the program, it would be to find one or two people that you can be friends with or study with to really motivate each other,” said Dong.

At Bennington, Dong found himself studying under the guidance of “super motivating, super passionate” faculty members like Janet Foley and John Bullock

“Every class was a discussion. You weren’t sitting there just listening to a lecture,” said Dong. “Faculty members were great and helpful—if you didn’t understand something, they were really approachable.”

Among the courses Bennington offered that prepared Dong for medical school was biochemistry. 

“Biochemistry is not required for medical school, so in many programs, it is the first class you take. I felt like I had an edge on my peers, which helped with my transition into medical school,” said Dong. “Bennington forces you to do your work everyday because you are participating in class everyday. Many other schools rely on online classes, so if you don’t have good discipline, you can easily fall behind.” 

As part of Bennington’s program, Dong participated in Field Work Term, a winter program in which postbac students go off campus to find jobs, internships, or volunteer positions that add to their experience in the field. 

“My brother lived in Austin, TX, so I contacted him to see if he knew anyone who needed students to help research,” said Dong. “I worked on two different retrospective chart reviews with an anesthesiologist, who became a great mentor for me, and who gave me my first experience with clinical research.

After graduating from Bennington’s postbac program, Dong returned to Texas and worked as a technician at an ophthalmology clinic for a year as he applied to medical programs.

Currently, Dong is entering his second year as a student at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Science, where his studies are inspiring an untold number of future plans.

“Medical school gives you so many options—the world is so open,” said Dong. “At the beginning of this year, I thought I would want to do either pediatrics or OB-GYN, but now, I’m finding that psychiatry and urology are both really cool.”

For prospective postbac students, Dong emphasizes reaching out to peers and faculty during their time in the program, and to start early on their MCAT studies. But at the same time, he advises students to “find what makes you happy, and find time to relax while you’re at Bennington.” 

“Enjoy Vermont, especially if you’re from the suburbs or the Midwest,” said Dong. “It’s gorgeous every time you step outside.”

By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer