See the White Coat Ceremony
(Aug. 12, 2011) The 160 new medical students gathered on the lawn of Boettcher Commons Friday morning to don their white coats, drape their new stethoscopes around their necks and steel themselves for medical school.
The next four years will be filled with quizzes and boards, said Gary Grasmick, MD, president of the CU Alumni Association.
"But more important, those buildings are filled with patients," he said, pointing to Children's Hospital Colorado and University of Colorado Hospital.
The students are entering medical school at a time filled with changes. A show of hands showed that most of them had been warned by physicians in their communities to avoid a career as a doctor.
But guest speaker Jennifer Tamblyn, who matriculated 10 years earlier and is now a CU assistant clinical professor, reminded students that they were not chosen just because they had great scores and high grades.
"You were chosen for your humanism. You were chosen because you want to treat people; because you want to ease people's suffering."
During times of struggle she predicted, "Your patients will give you perspective. They will be your light at the end of the tunnel."
Meet some of our new students:
Erik Arellano’s life looks like it’s built on one success after another.
A former Navy nuclear engineer, he’s now entering medical school with bachelor degrees in biology and nuclear engineering and technology.
But when he talks to poor high school kids in Albuquerque and the nearby pueblos, he lets them know that he has a lot more in common with them than they might think.
“I came from a poor neighborhood where it seemed like everyone was on drugs or in prison,” Arellano, 31, says. “My family was in shambles. I have two sisters with felonies and my father died in prison. But these things don’t define you. You can get out. I joined the military, but you can also go to college. There’s good financial aid money, but most don’t even apply.
He enjoys watching his young audience slowly tune in.
"When kids first get there they couldn’t care less about why they’re in this room. Then, if you do it correctly, they’ll settle down, lock in and you have them and you can do what you want. You can tell they’re thinking, ‘Wait. This guy is talking to us.’”
His escape to the military meant assignments to submarines and amphibious ships.
“I liked it. It was nice and quiet, and you get everything you want - cookies, cake whenever you want it. But I knew I didn’t want to do engineering, and that’s where you end up – in a power plant as a nuclear engineer. I just couldn’t sit at that console for eight hours pushing buttons. Besides, I always thought I was going to be a doctor.”
Long before the military, medicine was the plan, but it took a while to get there.
“You know how it is. People ask you, ‘Would you like to help out with this?’ And then you’re good at it, and they keep moving you along. I advanced really fast in the military. But after eight years, I realized I have got to get out now or I’ll never do it.”
Cameron Barton, 23, spent the last year preparing for his career in medicine by watching hundreds of surgeries at bioskills labs in Boulder.
“I talked to a lot of surgeons,” he says. “I got to see what they do on a daily basis, and I really enjoyed the critical thinking that goes on. I could see that these doctors had to know different ways to heal an injury or disorder. I really like that. That’s why I chose medicine as opposed to working for a nonprofit.”
The pull to a nonprofit was strong after a trip with a friend to Ecuador during his sophomore year.
“We volunteered in a little village for a couple weeks where there was no electricity. We helped them plant crops and did normal service work. We cleared a field for a clinic they were putting in.
“Afterward, I realized that a lot more could be done to help the underserved population here and internationally.”
Upon his return, he created a 501(3)c and started fund-raising efforts.
“None of them really worked. I learned the hard way that it takes a lot of work.”
He finally raised $10,000 mainly through t-shirt sales, Facebook, friends and family, and plans to partner with an established charity in Haiti for a trip that now will have more of a medical nature, given his new plans.
“I definitely like helping people in general, and I’m obviously attracted to science and medicine overall.”
There’s something Doug Brennan is really looking forward to in his career as a physician that was hard to come by as a law enforcement officer.
“In law enforcement, when people see you, they get nervous. I never enjoyed that aspect of the job. As a doctor, I realize it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but people walk in to see you and when they leave, you hope at least that they walk out a little better.”
His military career started with the Marines with stints in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, with no inkling he’d end up in medicine.
“The Marine Corps was fun,” he says. “I always say that the best thing I ever did was become a Marine. The second best thing was to get out.”
He describes that career as not very family friendly and one where he “spent a lot of time with people who want to hurt you.”
He then worked on the San Bernardino, Calif., police department, which was “a good young man’s career. It was a lot of fun, you get to drive fast and deal with bad guys.”
But he was looking for more intellectual challenges, so he trained to be a medic as part of a SWAT operation.
“I didn’t volunteer to be a medic, I’m pretty sure I was recruited.” But he liked it. “If I shot someone, then I could patch them up.”
The medical side of his work began to interest him more and more, both intellectually and physically.
“It looks like something I could do until I’m an old man. I can help people and get a good feeling of reward. It’s not all negative.”
Between medical school and becoming a father for the first time later this year, Brennan, 45, is looking at some major changes.
“I’m very excited about doing this,” he says. “I feel like a kid again. I haven’t been in a situation in a long time where everything is really new to me.”
In her 31 years, Jane Stewart has been a yoga and pilates instructor, a personal trainer and earned a law degree.
But if you really want to hear her passion, talk to her about her volunteer work as a labor doula.
“I loved it,” she says of three years she spent helping women in labor. “It’s a lot like yoga and pilates, where you work with one person through an event that is pretty long and you see a big evolution. You get to know that person quickly. It is very, very intimate. “
But her first interest was a career in the FBI. To get in, she entered law school at 20, not because she wanted to be a lawyer but because a law degree was one of the few ways to get into the agency at such a young age.
Then 9/11 happened.
“The job changed. It was a very different animal. Everyone I knew who worked for the FBI was now in counter terrorism and that wasn’t the job I wanted.”
Years as a yoga teacher and personal trainer in southern California followed, and she learned some skills that could help her when she becomes a physician.
“By teaching pilates and yoga, I can look at people and see how they move and walk and I can tell a lot of strange things. For instance, people walk differently when they’re in different types of pain. Or I can tell when people are pregnant before they’re showing. My friends hate it when we’re watching a movie, and I’ll say ‘She’s pregnant.’ And then we’ll look it up, and we’ll find out she was pregnant while filming that movie.
“It’s helpful because there are a lot of things people can tell you, and there are other things that it’s nice to be able to see. You can’t always learn everything from asking questions. When you train people long-term, you can see that everyone needs to be approached differently. (As a personal trainer) I had people who wanted to be yelled at – that was their thing. They wanted a drill sergeant. Other people, unless I got them talking about what was going on with them, they wouldn’t give me any physical work. You can’t use the same approach for everyone.”
Vail ski instructor, head milker at a dairy farm, furniture maker and boat builder were all occupations that brought Emma Templeton closer to medical school.
Following her varied interests helped her to realize what she really wanted in a career.
“Going to medical school is such a big choice. I wanted to make sure that I was 100 percent sure.”
On the way to that decision she built a 14-foot sailboat as a wedding gift for her sister. She didn’t know how, so she volunteered with a maritime museum in Burlington, Vt., and started asking questions.
Using the same approach, she became interested in farming and talked the manager of a Vermont dairy farm into letting her work there.
“I like working with my hands,” Templeton, 27, says. “And I like working in such a variety of fields in all different walks of life. I think it will help me have a broader understanding and help me look at situations a little bit more holistically. Being a doctor, you have to look at the whole picture of the patient.”
Now she’ll need to concentrate on becoming a doctor. Will it be hard focusing on one thing after being a jack of all trades?
“I thought about that a lot, I honestly think it will be hard for me, but there are so many different aspects to medicine, and I also feel that people are people and not everyone is going to be the same, they won’t have the same story.”