Roanoke College students in healthcare

We talked with Elaine Lydick on July 31, 2019.  Elaine had a more circuitous route to the healthcare field than some of our other featured alums. Elaine graduated in 2010 with a degree in Sociology and Spanish.  Having studied in Costa Rico during her time here, she wanted to work further in South America and pursued a master’s degree in Global Health at George Mason.   She then realized that nursing would be a good fit for her goals and entered a nursing program at George Mason that was specifically designed for people who already held a degree.  Today, she is a public health nurse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Elaine specializes in the baby care program and is a field nurse, meaning that she goes out to see women who are pregnant and/or have new babies.  A lot of her work involves educating these new mothers and providing resources so that illnesses and problems can be prevented, which is obviously far preferable to treating an existing disorder (to use Elaine’s example, a person with diabetes who lost a leg can be treated to control blood sugar, but that’s not going to bring the leg back).  Many of her patients are immigrants from Central America and thus Elaine’s Spanish-speaking ability and her experience in Costa Rica have been invaluable.

What is the rewarding aspect of nursing?  Nurses are very trusted and in many settings  they spend a lot of time with patients, far more than does a physician.  They can get to know a patient and advocate for that patient when necessary.  Elaine noted that in her experience, physicians respected nurses and their experience with patients and frequently asked for input or opinion.  What kind of person might be suited to nursing? Elaine pointed out that the skill set needed depended very much on what kind of nursing one was doing: office nurses, hospital nurses and field nurses have pretty different work experiences.  So there is a range of “sweet spots” for someone who wants to pursue nursing.

Most of the science classes that Elaine took were in nursing school, so what did skills or knowledge did Roanoke College provide?  Elaine credits RC with helping her develop critical thinking skills, and the emphasis on classroom discussions and writing were very useful as well.  Often in nursing one needs to “think on your feet”; she’d gotten good practice with class discussions and essay exams.  Plus, the variety of classes that she took and the engagement with professors was also really helpful.

Best of luck to Elaine Lydick in continuing her career in nursing!

We talked to Rebecca on August 21 at Mill Mountain Coffee.  Rebecca was visiting before returning to the University of Connecticut for her second year of medical school.  Rebecca graduated in 2017 summa cum laude as a valedictorian with a degree in biology and minors in chemistry and music and a concentration in neuroscience.

Rebecca has been interested in medicine for a long time but came to it as a culmination of multiple other interests: engineering, biology, wanting genuine human interaction…all adding up to a keen interest in surgery, maybe general or maybe a specialty.  She found that the range of classes she’d taken at Roanoke helped her stand out and impress upon interviews that she is a well-rounded person.  The music minor particularly so: she was asked to beat-box in her interview at U-Conn!

We talked about the fact that she had pushed her medical school application too late for the expected application cycle (she was a candidate for a Rhode’s scholarship her junior year when one would have completed the application process), and thus she took a gap year before starting medical school.  She was not happy about it at the time but now says that it was one of the best things she could have done: She did interesting research on Alzheimer’s disease, took a much-needed break, thought carefully about what kind of program she wanted, and worked on applications during that period AND saved up some $$.  Thinking about the program led her to one of the things Rebecca was most enthusiastic about regarding U Conn:  it has a pass-fail system for medical school.  Rebecca feels strongly that the pass fail approach made for a much more cooperative and mutually helpful cohort group of students, which she found invaluable.  And it helped prime the students for teamwork, which is essential in medicine.

That first year:  It was very challenging, and a lot of material she’d never encountered before with a steep learning curve.  But the flip side is that it’s really interesting to learn all that new material and very rewarding to have mastered it.  When asked about advice for prospective medical school students, Rebecca talked about the need to know what a person’s most effective way of working and studying, because you’re going to need to maximize effectiveness.  And it’s important to set high but reasonable expectations because -there’s that firehose/waterfall analogy – there is just no way you’ll get every bit of the information the first time around.  Similar to some of the others we spoke with, Rebecca emphasized applying early, especially the secondary applications, and to have some idea of what appealed to her about specific programs so that she could mention them.  And remember that there are other areas in medicine other than being a physician; if you want to care for people, there are lots of ways to do that.    Rebecca was confident in her decision to be a physician but she also learned a lot about other professions that are part of a medical team: professions that might be better fits for some people.

Thanks and best wishes for the soon-to-be Dr. Hudon!

A determined Dannielle Allen is on her way to becoming a doctor of osteopathic medicine.

We talked with Dannielle Allen on July 1, 2019.  Danielle is a RC graduate of 2016 with a major in Biochemistry.  Dannielle exemplifies the power of determination: She didn’t get into a medical school upon her first round of application but got into several after two gap years and hard work, and is currently starting her second year at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine.  We spoke to her the day before her second year of classes began.

Dannielle’s situation was particularly interesting because while she was a good student, she wasn’t quite at the usual level GPA-wise for students entering medical school.  So how did she overcome that issue? She credits both solid coursework and research experience at RC followed by dedicated shadowing of a physician, volunteer work, and scribing in getting her where she is now.  And she was very persistent in pursuing efforts to make herself a better candidate.  She actively sought feedback from the persons on admissions committees about how to make her application stronger. She took an online course in public health during her gap period and she also retook the MCAT.   These activities made her a stronger candidate, and also impressed medical school committee members with her determination.

When asked for suggestions for students who want to apply to medical school, Dannielle had several: take the Kaplan course for the MCAT and really study for it, start early on one’s personal statement, take some notes when doing research or other extracurricular activities for later reference when putting together the applications.  She also mentioned understanding how the application was formatted and how to present yourself optimally (for instance, she progressed toward describing the field hockey team in terms that would make her a more capable physician) and that she wished she’d taken a pharmacology course because medical school covered a lot of drug information.

Like other medical school students, Danielle agreed that the first year was “like drinking from a fire hose”.  Dannielle readily identified ways in which the liberal arts helped her during medical school itself: smaller classes at Roanoke helped her become more confident in speaking up and participating; because of the smaller student body she had a wide range of friends and a variety of personal interactions.

We asked her why she wanted to pursue a DO program.  “I really liked the DO philosophy of dealing with the person as a whole” rather than just the symptoms and isolated problems; after all those problems are seldom really isolated.  Some of the practices she learned were about helping the person without necessarily resorting to medication immediately, which also appealed to her (and us, frankly).

Best of luck and congratulations to Dannielle Allen!


Three Dr. Berensons: Marc, his aunt Jennifer, and his beloved grandfather

Three Dr. Berensons: Marc, his aunt Jennifer who is a professor at Roanoke College, and his beloved grandfather Murray Berenson

The busy Dr. Berenson finds some time to enjoy the Pride Parade in New York City.

We talked to Marc Berenson on July 26, 2019 about his path to medical school and residency.  While he’d long been fascinated by medicine, Marc hadn’t exactly been ready for college his first time around, and eventually left to become a paramedic. After 15 years he decided to return to college and aim for medical school.  Two semesters and two summer sessions later, Marc graduated with a sociology degree and was accepted into the medical school at Rutgers University, where he earned an MD in 2019.  Now he’s a first-year resident in Emergency Medicine at Rutgers.

In talking to Marc, the theme of making a difference in people’s lives was ever-present and the precipitating factor in his decision came from seeing his grandfather, a retired gastroenterologist, at his eightieth birthday, surrounded by former patients who spoke of how he had helped them.  Marc was touched and inspired.  Now he’s helping and supporting patients himself.

Marc identified several aspects of the liberal arts nature of Roanoke College as being helpful: first, the support and occasional push from the “phenomenal” faculty, such as Dr. Poli’s insistence that he gain some shadowing experience and Dr. Sarisky’s honor symposium on medical evidence.  Also, the critical thinking skills that he developed in various classes served him in very good stead in medical school in terms of understanding and remembering material.   Other useful decisions: while taking Organic Chemistry over the summer was, well, painful, it allowed him to hone in on the material without distractions and he found Cell Biology particularly useful.

Marc’s advice on applying to and surviving medical school: Be flexible and “expect the unexpected” as there will be many challenges of many kinds; be ready and willing to reward yourself and to remind yourself that you’re here because the faculty believe that you can do it.  That was particularly important, Marc noted, given that the amount of information in the first year of medical school is staggering: “like swallowing Niagara Falls” and it’s pretty easy to feel overwhelmed.

Best wishes and congratulations to DR. Marc Berenson on getting his MD and in his residency!