Many paths lead to medical school in DuluthIn a solemn but uplifting ceremony, 58 first-year medical students received white coats and stethoscopes Saturday at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Weber Music Hall.
By: John Lundy , Duluth News Tribune
In a solemn but uplifting ceremony, 58 first-year medical students received white coats and stethoscopes Saturday at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Weber Music Hall.
“You wouldn’t be here if the admissions committee didn’t already think you have the right stuff,” said keynote speaker Dr. Alan Olson, a graduate of the program who has been practicing medicine for 20 years in Redwood Falls, Minn.
The students, along with two classmates who were unable to attend, comprise the 41st class of the University of Minnesota Medical School at Duluth. The students will spend two years on the Duluth campus before transferring to
It was the 17th white-coat ceremony at the Duluth campus, said Gary Davis, dean of the campus.
Dr. Kathleen Watson, an associate dean from the medical school, said the ceremony has its roots in 1993 at Columbia University, intended as a visual reminder to first-year students that compassion is as important as knowledge in their field.
That was a message Olson underscored.
“There are some things we can’t treat with drugs,” said Olson, who is battling colon cancer. “Sometimes the most therapeutic thing we can do is just be there and hold a hand and care.”
The students survived an arduous process just to begin medical school. The 60 who were admitted were winnowed from 1,500 applicants, including 500 from Minnesota, said Heather Heart, director of development in Duluth for the Minnesota Medical Foundation. But all came by different paths.
Here’s a brief look at three of them:
Eric McDaniel, 28, said he wanted to go to a medical school with an emphasis on American Indian needs. That would have made Oklahoma State University a good choice, said McDaniel, who is Cherokee and is from Ontario, Calif. But Oklahoma State doesn’t accept out-of-state students.
The University of Minnesota Medical School gives preference to candidates from the state, but does accept some out-of-state candidates. A grinning McDaniel said he was happily surprised to find himself in Minnesota.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “It’s kind of a mystery to me, too.”
Minnesota has the third-highest number of American Indian medical students in the country, Davis said.
McDaniel, who has a ready sense of humor, said he’s terrified of the Duluth winter.
“I am not going out in that snow any more than I have to,” he said. “I will be holed up, like a bear, hibernating in my apartment.”
But McDaniel is serious about his career choice. He was inspired, he said, by the doctors who treated his favorite uncle, who died of AIDS when McDaniel was 10.
“His life was made better by the efforts of his doctors,” McDaniel said. “He would go to UCLA and sit in front of a classroom of doctors and describe what was going on with him, because it was even new for the doctors.”
McDaniel’s goal, he said, is to be a doctor to an underserved community, such as American Indians, Hispanics or GLBT individuals.
Medicine has been a lifelong dream for Susan Gerchman Hoyum, but she said that when she graduated from college she wasn’t ready. So she got a degree in electrical engineering and worked as a project engineer on large industrial projects. She and her husband, Roger Hoyum, own JDI Contracts in Grand Rapids.
Now, at 45, Hoyum is embarking on her medical studies. “I’m firmly in the nontraditional column,” she said, laughing.
The key for Hoyum, she said, is her support system, headed by her husband and her sister, Sharen Gerchman. The latter made the trip from her home in San Diego to attend the white-coat ceremony. “I wouldn’t have missed it,” Gerchman said. “It’s so important. It’s such a big deal.”
Hoyum has been working toward medical school since 2005. That included a three-year detour while the Hoyums’ company was working on a project in North Dakota. Now, Roger Hoyum’s focus is on his wife reaching her goal.
“Sharen and I consider it our job to make sure that Susan doesn’t get distracted with anything else,” Roger Hoyum said. “We made a decision that we were going to go for this, and you get what you ask for.”
Leah Kay, 24, perhaps has a better idea than some of her classmates of what to expect at the medical school in Duluth.
After graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., the Dassel, Minn., native traveled abroad, living in Peru for a time and doing medical work, she said. But during the past year she lived in Duluth, where her boyfriend was in his second year of the medical school.
“I got to see a lot of the program and really enjoyed seeing how the system was set up here,” Kay said. “Just seeing the faculty and how passionate they were about the students — that was probably one of the biggest reasons why I decided to come.”
Contagiously enthusiastic, Kay was elected class president by her fellow students. Her goal is to practice in primary care in a rural area, a match for the focus of the Duluth campus.
Like Hoyum and McDaniel, Kay said that after the first month of classes, the legendary medical school workload seems challenging but manageable.
“You’re told before you go to medical school … that it’s not that the material is hard, but there’s just so much of it,” Kay said. “I was told that so many times, but it was so different to actually get into school and live it.”