The former critical care technician will return to Michigan State University, her top choice, with her son as her biggest cheerleader
Match Day is often one of the most significant moments in a physician’s journey. There is tension and restlessness all throughout the week between finding out you matched and where you will spend the next four years of your residency. With that level of buildup combined with the significance of the moment, it would be hard to believe Tishanna Ferguson, MD, slept through it all. Granted it was because she worked third shift, and the early hours of Friday morning were the only time she would get to rest. It wasn’t until endless texts and calls from family and friends that woke her up to a real-life dream come true.
Born in Benton Harbor, Michigan and growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, there was no version of Dr. Ferguson’s future that didn’t include Michigan State University (MSU). All she had to figure out was how to fit MSU into her plans to become a doctor.
“I first knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was seven years old. We took care of my great-grandmother when she was ill in her remaining years and that was my first exposure to health care. When I was 11, my mother was really sick with my younger brother; he was born at just 28 weeks gestation, and remained in the hospital for two months following delivery. That was a big moment for me that I talked about a lot in my residency application as a moment where I knew what medicine looked like,” recalled Dr. Ferguson.
Through these familial inspirations, Dr. Ferguson had formed the foundation she needed to pursue her dream. She enrolled at MSU for her undergrad in 2007 and upon graduating in 2011, decided to work for Spectrum Health at MSU as a surgical and critical care technician instead of applying straight to medical school. She would work for Spectrum Health for six years until 2017 when it was finally time for the next step. Of course, MSU’s medical school was the first choice and everything she knew and dreamed of. Dr. Ferguson would learn that the path to her dreams isn’t always easy.
After two rounds of applications and interviews, MSU had waitlisted Dr. Ferguson. “I applied as a nontraditional student having been out of school for six years, raising a child, and I was never a great test taker, so my MCAT scores were lower.” Having to seek new options, Dr. Ferguson found Ross University School of Medicine (Ross Med). She interviewed one month after applying and was accepted through the Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP), a 15-week preparatory program focused on preparing aspiring medical students from diverse backgrounds for success in medical school. “I’m happy to have gone through the MERP program because it really helped me. I’m so grateful to Ross Med and the chance they gave me through MERP to get my foot in the door,” said Dr. Ferguson.
With a background in surgical care from her six years at Spectrum Health, Dr. Ferguson initially started at Ross Med on the path to a residency in surgery. It was not until one of her last rotations in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) that brought her back to a senior high school project where she created a full business plan to open her own OB/GYN clinic. At the same time, she had been pregnant with her son, Shannon. “He is my pride and joy. Even having him at 17 in high school, I never doubted being able to go to school. We lived together off campus at MSU, and at Ross Med it was like second nature to care for him and go to school at the same time. There was no other way I could be successful without balancing my life at home and in school. I would always dedicate time for Shannon and my studies, and our Sundays were only for us. I’m a person of faith and put all my trust in God, so Shannon and I would go to church together and do whatever activities we wanted afterward. When medical school got hard, he would tell me we came this far already, we can’t turn around now. There is no quitting, we are making it to the end. I instilled these beliefs in him, and him using the same encouragements on me was so impactful.”
As she fell in love with the OB/GYN rotation, Dr. Ferguson immediately started changing her residency applications and personal statements to change her specialty from surgery to OB/GYN. On Match Day 2022, amidst the flood of calls and texts that woke her up, she opened her email and became overjoyed to learn Spectrum Health MSU, once again her first choice, is where she would return for her residency in OB/GYN. It was the only specialty she considered as she knew in her heart her dream would come true.
“I love MSU, the program, and the chemistry I’ve built with the program directors. I am returning home where my parents are, and where Shannon and I can be supported. I know doctors and other residents that excelled in this program, and I appreciate how active the program is in community support,” said Dr. Ferguson. “I would have been alright with any of the four OB/GYN programs I interviewed at, but once I found I matched with MSU it was so exciting. I’m happy Ross Med gave me this opportunity because it’s so surreal to be here.”
As her son would always remind her on hard days, this is going to be worth it at the end. “The trials and tribulations are challenging, but all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other every single day. If I can get through today, I can get through tomorrow. It is hard work but it is doable no matter your circumstances. I’m proud to be a doctor, a black woman, a mother, and a women’s health advocate; I’m so excited to play all these roles and make a greater impact in my community.”