August 28, 1998

Medical study journey begins for class of ’02

Medical study journey begins for class of '02

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The ability to juggle comes in handy for incoming medical student Shane Rowan. (Photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

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Dr. Deborah German and Dean John Chapman presented incoming medical student Constance Mobley with the traditional physician's garb at last week's white coat ceremony in Light Hall. (Photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

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Feet don't fail me now. Hilary Highfield too the plunge at Dean Chapman's annual party for incoming medical students. (Photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

The trip did not start well.

It was last September, and Danny Lee Chang was on his way to Nashville to visit the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, one of several medical schools he was considering attending.

Chang had never been to Nashville before. As a matter of fact, since his family had immigrated from Taiwan when he was three years old and settled in Oakland, Calif., Chang had never been east of Nevada. There wasn't time — he and the other members of his family were too busy running the family's businesses, which include a restaurant, a janitorial service company and several commercial properties.

So there he was, all set to come here for that crucial first visit, the one where first impressions create permanent impressions and decisions about whether to attend a particular medical school can be made in the blink of an eye, and what happens?

Of course, his flight was delayed. For more than five hours.

But a funny thing happened on the way to frustration and fatigue. That delay, annoying as it was, gave Chang a glimpse of what VUSM is all about.

"The student host I was staying with, Scott Handy, had to make two separate trips out to the airport because my flight was delayed," Chang said. "But he was great about it and he and everyone else at Vanderbilt really treated me well. That showed me a lot about what the people here were really like."

Vanderbilt was the first school where Chang interviewed. And the last.

"I didn't bother to interview anyplace else. Vanderbilt has an awesome reputation for medical education, and after I learned more about the people here, there was no reason to go anywhere else," Chang said.

Another incoming medical student was a bit more familiar with VUSM and its reputation before she arrived. Laurie Archbald, from Gainesville, Fla., knows about the school because her sister, Cheryl Archbald, graduated from VUSM in 1994 and is now a resident in Pediatrics at Columbia.

"My sister was a pretty big influence on my decision to come here," Archbald said. "She had such a great experience here and said I definitely should come here.

"So far she hasn't been wrong. It's a friendly and welcoming atmosphere at Vanderbilt and they are treating us great. From my sister I know that the education will be first-rate and programs like the Community Scholars program are a good indicator of the schools' priorities," said Archbald, who received her undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins.

Robert "Sandy" Neblett grew up in Nashville and attended Davidson College in North Carolina. Knowing he wanted to help others, Neblett was considering teaching or medicine. He decided on medicine.

It helped that he had a first-hand example of the doctor's life to observe as he was growing up, that of his father, Wallace W. Neblett III, professor and chair of Pediatric Surgery at VUMC.

"He was the first physician I ever observed," Neblett said. "I saw the demands that were placed on him and how he responded. I respected him and how he cared for people, which was a real positive influence on my decision to pursue medicine.

No matter how prepared they are, the first days of medical school are still hectic for incoming students like Shane Rowan.

"They're taking good care of us and making us feel comfortable and I feel really good about my fellow students. Then we're slapped right into gross anatomy. It's intimidating at first, but also exciting," Rowan said.

Rowan's found a slightly offbeat way to combat the stress of medical school life. He juggles.

"It's really more of a calming exercise than anything else," he said. "It takes your mind off other things and helps put you into a rhythm."

Rhythm is one thing that another incoming medical student, Mark Ryzewicz knows all about. It's something you absolutely have to have when you're up to your elbows delivering baby cows, as he was. For the past two years, Ryzewicz has worked nights at a cattle ranch in Montana, and the pace was fast and furious, to say the least.

"This spring, I helped birth more than 1,000 calves," Ryzewicz said. "They were popping out all night long."

Ryzewicz was attracted to Vanderbilt because of its quality reputation. He also visited here two years ago and liked the area and its people. Though he's just beginning his medical education, it's a safe bet that Ryzewicz probably won't go into Obstetrics and Gynecology. Then again, you never know.

"Actually, OB/GYN might be more pleasant," he said. "When you're calving in Montana at night in February it's pretty cold. Sometimes it's 40 below, and on top of that, a lot of times you have to chase the cows all over the place to get the job done."

Of the incoming class of 104 students, 46 are female and 58 are male.

A grand total of 29 states are represented in the new class. Tennessee has the most, with 18, followed by California with 12, Maryland with nine and Florida with six. Colorado, Georgia and Illinois each have five and New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia each fielded four.

Fifty-five colleges and universities are represented in this year's medical school class. Vanderbilt University topped the list, with 15 representatives, followed by Duke University with seven, the University of California-Berkeley with six and Princeton with five. Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Virginia each have four representatives.

This year's incoming class of medical students come from diverse backgrounds with a variety of experiences. One student studies martial arts and writes poetry. Another immigrated from Taiwan at the age of seven and has served as a microcomputer consultant.

One student participated in a medical mission to Thailand. One has been on two mission trips to Guatemala and is fluent in Spanish. One worked in his parents' upholstery shop all through college while another umpires youth baseball.

One incoming medical student took ballet lessons for five years and has also volunteered at archaeological digs. One is a sketch artist and cartoonist and another, in her spare time, participates in triathlons. Yet another student is fluent in German and served as a translator during the 1996 Olympics and also lived for several months with families in Russia and Germany.

One taught school in Ecuador while another is the first person in his family to attend college.

Several of this year's students have served as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, assisted in homeless shelters, helped teach reading and writing, and volunteered for a wide variety of community services and causes.