If David Cusick, MD, were so inclined, he could write an enticing listing to post on Airbnb.
Cozy bedroom available in a mid-rise condo in the heart of Chicago’s West Loop. Travelers are only a few steps from the Windy City’s Restaurant Row and a short train ride from Millennium Park, the Museum of Contemporary Art and other attractions. Or, you can bum around by poking your head into dozens of the neighborhood’s chic boutiques.
Instead, Cusick, a 1990 graduate of the IU School of Medicine, and his wife, Mika, chose to open their door to medical students looking for a place to drop their bags.
The couple takes part in the Help Our Students Travel (HOST) program, which connects alumni with fourth-year medical students in need of housing as they venture out for residency interviews. Participating alumni offer free accommodation, meals and transportation. They also can provide vital insights to students who are looking at relocating to the area.
The Cusicks are a prime example. While their neighborhood is undoubtedly alluring, the location is ideal for another reason: it’s equidistant–two miles, actually–from Rush University Medical Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Not only can a visiting student have a comfortable bed, good food, and pleasant company, but he or she can also have a short commute to their interviews.
This past winter, the Cusicks welcomed three visitors into their inviting home. “Now that my kids are out of the house, we have a little space,” said Cusick, who practices with a cardiology group located in the city’s western suburbs.
Once he heard about the program, Cusick recalled his own experience three decades ago. Back then, his search was narrowly focused on the Chicago area, where his wife’s family lived. Ultimately, he matched at Northwestern University, but he knows today’s students travel farther afield to find the best training opportunities.
“I thought this was one way we could help them get there,” he said.
The Cusicks filled out an online application to be hosts. Students submit their own forms. An alumni relations specialist follows up to confirm availability before matching the student with the alum. The process typically takes about two weeks.
The HOST program is also a practical way alumni can give back and help tackle the growing issue of medical student indebtedness.
Take Brendan Knapp, for example.
The West Lafayette native made 16 trips to take part in 17 interviews to earn a slot in internal medicine and medicine/pediatrics programs. He traveled as far west as Colorado and as far east as North Carolina. While most of his interviews took place in the Midwest, the cost of fuel, lodging and food still meant spending several thousand dollars.
For Knapp, the appeal of HOST was obvious: keeping costs under control. Yet staying with alumni helped give him a nuanced view of the medical communities in the places he visited. In Nashville, where he interviewed at Vanderbilt University, Knapp’s host was a long-time practitioner in internal medicine and one of the few he’d met who had done both inpatient and outpatient work.
“We had a really long discussion about that,” Knapp said. “That was something I really enjoyed. Getting that perspective on how medicine has changed was also kind of an enjoyable experience.”
The conversations also imparted another crucial impression: While the profession has evolved over the years, each alum was still happy they chose to practice medicine.
“Near the seventeenth interview, I started to get a little burned out,” Knapp said. “It was just nice to hear them talk about how they still enjoy what they do and what they love about it. They kind of gave me the motivation I needed.”
The Cusicks’ approach mirrored ones used by other alumni who hosted Knapp: A warm welcome, dinner ordered in and an evening of pleasant conversation before a student turns in. “The students are always really early and off pretty early in the morning to go for their interviews,” he said.
Often, the couple gets peppered with questions about what life is like in a sprawling metro area. What neighborhoods are affordable? Can a resident get by without a car? “We’ve had a couple who have come from smaller towns in Indiana,” Cusick said. “If they were to come to Chicago, it’s a little bit different setting. So they’re just gathering that information.”
Ideally, the student feels well-rested and ready to tackle a stressful day ahead.
“It’s a great way to give back,” Cusick said. “It’s not a huge time commitment at all. They really appreciate the fact someone’s opening up their home to them, and I think they get something out of it, too. It’s a great way for them to connect with other alumni.”
Alumni interested in taking part in the HOST program can contact Sue Johnson, Alumni Relations Specialist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-278-2131.