Denisonians in Health Professions: Med Student

Denisonians in health professions: med student - andrew-groff-234x300.png image #0Andrew Groff ’16

Role: 2nd year medical school student

Professional School attending: Penn State College of Medicine      

Fun Fact: My favorite book is The Alchemist, written by Paulo Coelho. I try to read this book twice a year to keep me focused. I encourage anyone who has not had the opportunity to read this book to pick up a copy; it is well worth your time.

Describe the process you went through to select your career path: what impacted your decision?
Going into college, I had an idea that I wanted to go into medicine because of my love for the sciences, but I really kept an open-mind to see if other career paths interested me. I have always been fascinated by how medicine has the unique ability to heal. I also wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, and I knew that medicine would give me a unique opportunity to do so. Throughout Denison, I had friends and mentors through classes, clubs, and running cross-country who attended medical school prior to me. They provided me with advice and gave me an honest view of what it really takes to be successful in medical school. They shared stories of making strong and meaningful relationships with patients and how determining diagnoses is similar to solving a complex puzzle. To me, there are very few professions in which people entrust their life and death issues, happiest moments, and deepest secrets because of the sense of trust developed within the patient-physician relationship. My decision to pursue medicine was solidified by my liberal arts education at Denison through demonstrating the importance of both basic sciences and the humanities.

What are your favorite aspects of your profession?
My favorite aspect of attending medical school is having the opportunity to fully dive into the medical sciences and see the clinical correlations to what we are learning. Although I loved learning from many different disciplines at Denison, learning the science behind the medicine and making connections from the classroom to the clinical cases is extremely gratifying because it feels like you have made it. Being a pre-med student can be a difficult experience because of the stigma that is associated with it; however, in medical school, there are so many more opportunities to shadow, do clinical research, and even scrub in to surgery cases. Being in clinic, developing an understanding of how the greater healthcare system functions, and feeling like I can make a difference for patients, even as a first-year student, have been my favorite aspects thus far.         

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
I think the most challenging aspect of medical school is learning to balance one’s time between studying while still maintaining a life outside of school. It is easy to find oneself spending every hour of the day studying with the same people in the medical school library. Medical school can become very isolating because of the hours required to truly master and retain the seemingly never-ending material. There is always something new to be learned and if you are not actively doing something, it feels as if you are falling behind. It is a definite learning curve, but completely manageable. From my experience, I found it to be crucial to keep in touch with friends and family to maintain relationships outside of the medical school bubble. This keeps one grounded and help one realize that there is a life outside of medicine.

Describe what a typical day looks like for you.
An average day for me, consists of going to class in the morning from 8AM-12PM. We have lecture for 2 hours every day about selected topics from the current organ block that we are studying. Depending on the organ block, we also have assigned anatomy dissection lab in place of lecture. At Penn State, we also do something called Problem Based Learning or PBL. This is a collaborative learning process where we are assigned into small groups of about 8 students. We are then assigned two cases to read over on Monday morning and develop learning objectives or questions that we have about each case. Then we discuss one of the cases on Wednesday morning and the other case on Friday morning. These are roundtable discussion where we help one another understand the basic science and pathophysiology of certain disease states in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject. We also take two other classes called Medical Humanities and Science of Health Systems on Tuesday and Thursday mornings respectively. These are great courses that broaden our medical education, but they also serve as a break from the basic science from PBL and lecture. Once per week we also have a Clinical Skills class where we learn about patient interviewing skills and physical exam skills. There will often be a standardized patient at each session who volunteers to allow us to practice our interviewing and physical exam skills.

On most afternoons, I essentially have self-directed learning, in which I am responsible for reviewing lecture, researching the cases from PBL, and reinforcing concepts from previous weeks. I often spend a few hours after lecture reviewing the content from that day’s lectures and then take a break and go to the gym. In the evening, I try to get ahead by pre-reading the next day’s lecture or researching for PBL. Then, I wake up and do it all over again.

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your field?
I cannot emphasize the importance of finding a mentor early on in one’s college experience. I know I sound like Dr. Weinberg with the significance of mentorship, but mentors can be truly influential and transformative. A mentor does not necessarily need to be someone in the sciences per se, but someone that you trust and will continue to give you feedback as you grow and progress through your Denison experience. I was very fortunate to have great mentors who showed me how I can continue to improve and the importance of lifelong learning. I found the Center for Career Exploration to be a great resource to connect one with Denison alumni in the healthcare field to shadow and seek advice from. In my experience, these physicians helped show me how meaningful and fulfilling being a physician can be and how strong of an impact you can have on the lives of your patients.

Further, I really encourage working together with your pre-med peers and becoming friends with them. Although there is inevitable competition within classes as pre-med students, it is much better to take a collaborative approach so that everyone has the best opportunity to succeed. I believe that it is a good idea to start this early because much of medical school focuses on team-based and collaborative learning. Since clinical medicine relies heavily on team-work, the ability to work well with others and develop strong relationships with colleagues is essential. Finally, do your due diligence and self-reflect on the reasons you want to become a physician. Make sure that you are choosing a career in medicine because it will bring you happiness and you want to be of service to others. Medical school is a long-haul, requires a lot of dedication, and exemplifies the idea of delayed gratification. There are days that it may not seem worth it because other friends may not be as busy, but continue working toward your goal because I assure you, the sacrifice is worth the reward.