Alumni Med Students Value Service
Three alumni, each from a different graduating class, have found themselves attending the same medical school this year for remarkably similar reasons: service and a desire to treat the whole person.
Second-year medical student Courtney Pisano (B.S. 2009) and first-year medical student Michaela Lamonde (B.S. 2012) are roommates this year at the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM). Matthew O’Reilly (B.S. 2010) also joined the ranks of VCOM this year.
All said that the appeal of this particular medical school is its emphasis on service, a value instilled in them during their time at CUA.
“At Catholic they put such a big emphasis on community and service and it’s very similar here. I think we all felt right at home,” Lamonde said.
O’Reilly said that his experiences on two mission trips, one to Jamaica during his senior year at CUA and one after graduation to Peru, helped solidify his desire to help others through medicine. Lamonde hopes to participate in a trip to one of VCOM’s medical clinics in El Salvador, Honduras, or the Dominican Republic during her time as a medical student.
At the Virginia campus where the students are enrolled, free medical clinics serve the local population. Lamonde said she is looking forward to volunteering at the clinic this semester.
Pisano, a second-year student, works at hospitals or clinics once a week as part of her “clinical experiences” course.
“It’s really cool when I get to teach people how to take care of themselves … and they can take the knowledge that they learn from me and spread it to other people they know,” Pisano said.
Lamonde said she was drawn to VCOM for its “philosophy of viewing the person as a whole person, not just as a set of symptoms.”
“Osteopathy is really focused on preventative medicine. If you can teach a person how to make their body function better you can teach them how to be healthier all around,” she said.
“Health is a great gift you can help someone to give themselves,” O’Reilly added.
Though from different academic backgrounds — O’Reilly was a chemistry major while Lamonde and Pisano studied biology at CUA — all said that they felt well prepared for the academic challenges of medical school, and not just in their scientific knowledge.
Lamonde said, though she loved her biology courses at CUA, two of her favorite classes were in theology.
“I think the big liberal arts base, taking all the philosophy and theology, helped with my critical reading skills a lot,” Lamonde said. “You become really good at zeroing in on what’s important, picking out the details … Now that I’m focusing just on science, it really helps make everything work better, and it’s easier to understand everything.”
William King, associate vice president for student services at VCOM, said, “Our students from The Catholic University of America…are not only prepared exceptionally well for the academic rigors of medical school, but the mission of CUA, which promotes a combination of spirituality, reason, service to others, and academic excellence, fits perfectly with VCOM's mission.”
Each alumnus followed a unique path to medical school. Lamonde entered school immediately following her graduation from CUA, while Pisano first obtained an M.S. degree in biomedical sciences from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. O’Reilly worked for two years following his graduation, first in a chemistry lab and then in a physician’s office.
Pisano and O’Reilly said that their advisers at CUA helped them through the medical school application process even after they had graduated.
“Our relatively small number of pre-meds is definitely a big plus to our program because it means that we really can get to know the students,” said Marion B. Ficke, pre-medical coordinator and assistant to the chair in the biology department. “They have great access to us for advising and guidance, and it’s better for us when we write the recommendations because we really know these people.”
Medical school requires four years of training for these students, who will spend two taking classes and two working in hospitals. Academically, both Lamonde and O’Reilly said the medical school coursework is very challenging. All agree, though, that the rewards will be worth it.
“We’ve all been given gifts to be able to get here,” Lamonde said. “To be able to then help other people make their lives better is the end goal.”
Degree: B.S. Biology, 2009
Year in Medical School: Second
Favorite Class at CUA: Microbiology with Marion Ficke, pre-medical coordinator and assistant to the chair in the biology department. “It was the hardest class ever…but it prepared us really well for microbiology here [at medical school].”
Degree: B.S. Biology, 2012
Year in Medical School: First
Favorite Class at CUA: Genetics with John Golin, professor of biology. “Dr. Golin’s class prepares you for any possible medical school class you could ever take.”
Degree: B.S. Chemistry, 2010
Year in Medical School: First
Favorite Class at CUA: Environmental Chemistry with Aaron Barkatt, professor of chemistry.