Skip to Content
A medical student's Rx for success: scholarships, planning and smart choices
FIU medical student Brenda Abreu Molnar is taking a gap year to do dermatology research.

A medical student's Rx for success: scholarships, planning and smart choices

Brenda Abreu Molnar is taking a gap year to conduct research as part of her strategy to become a dermatologist.

August 16, 2022 at 2:19pm

The road to becoming a physician is long, expensive and challenging. Sometimes, to get there, you have to take a detour.

Brenda Abreu Molnar, a medical student at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM), recently moved to Chicago. She's taking a gap year to do research and then plans to return to finish medical school.

Brenda wants to be a dermatologist. And to become a dermatologist, you must do specialty training after graduation in what's called a residency. Getting into a dermatology residency is highly competitive.

"I was afraid of going through four years of medical school only to not match into the residency program I wanted," she says.

Prior research experience improves the chances of being selected. So, she asked a schoolmate for advice. Thomas Vazquez, who graduated this April from HWCOM, faced the same dilemma and took a year off to do research. It paid off.

He landed a top dermatology residency at the University of Pennsylvania. Following Vazquez' suggestion, Brenda reached out to Dr. Amy Paller, a renowned pediatric dermatologist and clinical researcher at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. And bingo!

Under Dr. Paller's mentorship, Brenda is working on a study of Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa (RDEB) — a rare, incurable and often fatal genetic disease. It develops in children causing severe blistering throughout their bodies.

"It's very painful — just a bit of contact with skin can cause damage, and their life expectancy is usually in their twenties. So, we are looking at different pathways to develop a drug to address the pain and itch the kids suffer."

She's also drafting clinical guidelines and best practices for managing patients with RDEB. "Because it's such a rare disease, when they go to the hospital, sometimes the technicians, nurses and even some doctors are unfamiliar with how to care for their wounds or feed them."

At 27, Brenda hesitated about tacking on extra time and expense to an already lengthy and expensive education. Still, she feels this gap year will be critically important to her career in the long run.

While some students inevitably amass large debt, Brenda is managing thanks to scholarships, careful planning and intelligent choices. For example, when Vanderbilt University offered Brenda a free ride for her undergraduate education, she took it, saving thousands in tuition alone.

After graduating with a degree in neuroscience, she took two years to teach science to seventh and eighth graders at Doral Academy. And again, saved "a lot of money while teaching and living at home."

One of the reasons she chose FIU for med school is because she got a partial scholarship. Also, her sister recommended it. Dr. Diana Abreu Molnar graduated from HWCOM in 2017 and is now a pediatrician in Miami.

Both young women's decision to pursue a career in medicine was influenced, in part, by a sad chapter in their lives. Their mom was very sick while they were growing up and passed away when Brenda was in high school.

"Diana and I were in the hospital so much that, in a way, we were motivated by the experience thinking how much we could do helping other people."

This continues to motivate her today. And although taking a gap year means she won't graduate with her classmates, Brenda says she's happy with the decision. She's learning a lot, working with great people and investing in her future.