Actress and writer Bianca Di Cocco ’20 is blessed with an abundance of talent and creative energy. Active in theater since childhood, the New York native performed in an off-Broadway production last year and had completed her first novel by the age of 16.
Yet in spite of her devotion to the arts, a steadfast love of biology emerged during high school. Briefly, she thought about becoming a physician—most of the biology majors at her college were pre-med—but unsatisfactory interactions with pre-med biology students and doctors soured her interest in medicine. Though it was something she continued contemplating, she pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind. Post-college, Di Cocco spent a few years writing and performing while exploring career options, and it was during a two-year stint working as a clinical research coordinator at New York University (NYU) for Lupus clinical trials that she unexpectedly changed her attitude toward medicine.
“I had an incorrect assumption about medicine based on what I’d seen—the poor relationship so many doctors had with the people in their lives,” says the first-year Geisel School of Medicine student. “It appeared to me that the human aspect of medicine had been lost to them over the years.”
At NYU, Di Cocco worked closely with a small team of doctors, a nurse practitioner, and every patient in the clinical trials—50 patients were involved in 25 trials over a two-year span. Accepting both insured and uninsured patients, the clinical trials also provided a deeper look into the business and political aspects of medical care.
Di Cocco was impressed with what she saw, particularly the way the doctors created a thoughtful balance between their professional and personal lives. She realized it was possible to care for patients without sacrificing other life interests. Her artistic pursuits need not be abandoned.
“Seeing how much the doctors cared about the patients, and seeing the strong, beautiful bonds they formed with them was something I really liked,” she recalls. “I wanted to be sure I would have that kind of bond with people as a doctor because that’s something I value.
“One reason I was so focused on the doctor-patient relationship while trying to figure out if I wanted to practice medicine, is because theater is all about empathy— understanding your character’s motivations and creating a bond with both your fellow actors and the audience,” she says. “In making people feel connected everything is interwoven.”
This parallel between theater and patient care is not lost on Di Cocco. In theater, she notes, you learn to make strong choices, “in order to impact the audience and be true to the story you are telling.” Recognizing what was important to her and what truly made her happy, Di Cocco made a choice—she decided to become a physician.
Amid the flurry of applying to medical school, Di Cocco, unsurprisingly, continued to act. She participated in an industry reading of a new musical written by a former Cornell classmate based on one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales “about wanting to create your own story and not having it written for you,” she notes.
Originally written and performed as an undergraduate thesis, he rewrote the musical and recast two of his former classmates from the college production, including Di Cocco, who were living and working in New York City. In 2015 Far From Canterbury was picked up by the New York International Fringe Festival—FringeNYC is the largest multi-arts festival in North America and presents nearly 200 performances by emerging theater troupes and dance companies each year. The musical was one of only 12 productions invited to return for an encore performance later that year.
Though Di Cocco was thrilled to be on stage again as part of a cast of professional actors, she knew medicine was the right choice for her. “Although I love theater, I never liked the idea of constantly going to casting calls between jobs,” she says. “And the same is true with writing—I love writing, but if you have to force out something creative to meet a deadline it doesn’t work out well.”
That being said, Di Cocco continues feeding her creative muse. She is now working on a light-hearted teen fiction story and has completed a new urban fantasy novel, Shift, about two people who are magically bound together against their will that she began writing as a teenager, which is published on Wattpad.
“Wattpad is a nice online venue because you can get immediate feedback on what you’ve written—right now the novel has more than 31,000 reads,” she says.” Shift will be added to the site’s “featured list” in mid-December. The list, the result of a competitive process, showcases a small selection of stories chosen by the website’s staff.
Di Cocco brings the same creative spark to medical school. For a challenging class with a large volume of histology slides, Di Cocco created a PowerPoint study guide using clip art and personal comments that she shared with classmates. “I try to make the slides funny because it helps me to learn,” she explains. “I’ve had people come up to me after the exams to tell me that they not only find the presentations helpful, but they look forward to them every quiz weekend. It feels nice to not only help my classmates, but to entertain them during those weekends.”
Because Geisel faculty work hard to create an atmosphere of collaboration, rather than competition, Di Cocco and her fellow medical students have developed strong bonds of trust with each other and freely share their study guides. “Second-year students also share their resources and they teach an anatomy review class for first-year students prior to each quiz,” she says. “You feel not only connected to your class but with the class above you. There is a true spirit of giving here.”
For Di Cocco, choosing Geisel was a strong choice. “Once here, I quickly realized it was the right choice. I was worried that going back to school was going to be difficult, but I’ve found a way to balance coursework with my other interests,” she says. “It’s really going well, too—the professors at Geisel take the time to get to know you, and they have a holistic approach to teaching, which I like. Overall, I’m very happy here.”