When Michael Yurkanin, MD, was a child, he was exposed early to the life of a physician. His dad was an orthopedic surgeon in private practice with Yurkanin’s uncle. In the neighborhood, a friend’s father was an anesthesiologist. Today, Yurkanin is an anesthesiologist with Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and his older brother and three of his childhood friends are also anesthesiologists.
Most medical students don’t have that kind of familiarity and support as they navigate the rigors of medical school and try to determine what to specialize in. That’s why Yurkanin volunteers as a physician mentor with Indiana University School of Medicine-Fort Wayne.
“Dr. Yurkanin has been a source of support and encouragement to me since I started my first year of medical school, from checking on me periodically throughout the year to setting up face-to-face meetings with me to talk about my aspirations and struggles while rendering advice and support wherever he can,” said third-year medical student Francis Nwaneri. “His support has truly been the backbone of my success here.”
Yurkanin has been named as IU School of Medicine’s 2022 Physician Mentor of the Year. Physician mentors are assigned to every medical student at the school at the beginning of their first year. They provide holistic mentorship to a cohort of four medical students throughout their medical school careers. Physician mentors agree to connect with their mentees at least two times a year, but many—like Yurkanin—go well beyond that.
When Nwaneri was a first-year student, he remembers being very nervous about a biochemistry exam. He had been studying hard, but he woke up with anxiety at 3 am the day of the exam.
“I got an email at 5 am. It was Dr. Yurkanin wishing me good luck and reminding me I’ve studied for the exam and I’ll do well,” Nwaneri recalled. “When you feel overwhelmed, those things keep you going.”
Physician mentors aren’t there to help students learn course material. Their role is to encourage, instill confidence and offer advice when asked, Yurkanin said. He’s most concerned with his students’ well-being.
“To me, it’s important for med students to see you’re going to be OK,” Yurkanin said. “You got here for a reason. You’re smart. You’re strong. You’ll make it.”
He also gives practical advice like delaying gratification and paying off debt before purchasing new homes, cars or luxury items. Avoiding debt means owning your life’s narrative and being able to do the things you value instead of taking extra days on call, Yurkanin advises.
He also helps guide his mentees through the weighty process of choosing a specialty in medicine.
“He has helped the group of us work toward our goals by always reminding us and encouraging us to pursue what we truly do enjoy and to not make our decision based on potential salary or length of time to complete,” said Caleb Morton.
Morton is planning to go into pediatric medicine while his classmate Nwaneri has decided to pursue Yurkanin’s specialty of anesthesiology.
“He didn’t try to sway me—it’s what I wanted to do,” Nwaneri said.
Yurkanin did, however, demonstrate qualities Nwaneri admires and hopes to emulate as an anesthesiologist.
“He really has an ability to make people feel calm,” Nwaneri said. “This translates well to anesthesia. When someone is incredibly anxious about a procedure, you can remind them they will come out the other side better than when they went under.”
Yurkanin also says he learns from his mentees and enjoys hearing their personal reasons for going into medicine. He also enjoys training and mentoring medical residents in his anesthesiology practice.
“I was in medical school 30 years ago, so that infusion of youth is fun,” Yurkanin said. “Every day in medicine you get to take care of people—you get to be somebody’s hero. Every day you get to talk to somebody and alleviate their stress and pain.”
When first-year medical student Nicole Frey originally met her physician mentor, Christine Huang, it wasn’t in an office—or anywhere on campus. It was at Huang’s home, where Frey was pleasantly greeted by the savory smell of smoked ribs and chicken, prepared by Huang’s husband.
“Dr. Huang invited the four of us into her home for lunch last semester, as she could tell we all were in need of a home-cooked meal,” Frey recalled. “She is currently balancing her work as a pediatric-emergency medicine physician with an 18-month-old child. She answered every question we had and offered some really sound advice about being a woman in medicine and balancing a career with a family. Dr. Huang and her husband even sent us home with leftovers.”
Keyana Foster nominated her physician mentor, Kevin Moore, for his support of students coming from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine.
“Dr. Moore participated as a panelist for our first Bloomington Black Physicians Panel
where he detailed his experience as a Black male medical student, resident and physician and
what health equity looks like in his current practice here in Bloomington,” she said.
Jared Toupin, a Fort Wayne emergency medicine physician, has also supported his mentees by participating in student interest group events and helping students connect with colleagues in fields of interest.
“Dr. Toupin has supported me even when I decided not to go into his specialty, which has been extremely impactful and helped me feel confident in what was a very hard decision,” said third-year medical student Kendra Hollenbeck.
Like Toupin, Muncie radiologist Colleen Madden has helped her mentees weigh their specialty options and has helped connect them to shadowing opportunities with colleagues.
“Her insight and experiences in regards to choosing a specialty, having a family and becoming a great doctor have helped tremendously over the last two years,” said mentee Matthew Thornburg. “Dr. Madden has gone above and beyond what I would expect from a physician mentor.”
Third-year medical student Kevin Walters considers his mentor, Gabe Bosslet, a friend.
“He shares my interests outside of medicine, and there is rarely a meeting that goes by without us having an in-depth conversation about literature. We are known to exchange a book or two,” Walters said.
Yurkanin also gives each of his mentees a book: “The Greatest Miracle in the World” by Og Mandino. It was a favorite of his grandmother’s and is a quick read with a powerful, positive message, says Yurkanin: “The greatest miracle is you—we all need to hear that, to believe in ourselves.”
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Laura is a senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications. A native Hoosier, she has 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.