(l/r) Kate Bigelow, Christopher Herrera, Chiamara Anokwute, Hannah Clark
First-year medical students tell us their hopes and dreams — and what inspired the choice to become a healer.
By MATTHEW HARRIS and BOBBY KING
During a break in surgery, Kate Bigelow stepped out to the hall to call her mother. “Did you pass out?” Kris Bigelow asked her daughter. “Do I need to come get you?”
Just 16 years old, Kate had scrubbed in to watch C. Max Schmidt, MD, PhD, perform a procedure where the head of the pancreas is removed to treat cancer—an illness with deep resonance for Kate.
Her father Mike, a gregarious executive at Eli Lilly and Company, died in 2008 of pancreatic cancer. Two years later, Kate connected with Dr. Schmidt, a surgeon and scientist whose research focuses on pancreatic cysts. He offered to let Kate shadow him. By her freshman year of high school, she was volunteering in his lab.
“It was really cool to see how he used his patients to find cures,” she said.
Bigelow wanted to make people feel comfortable in their time of need–as doctors did for her family. “I want to walk away knowing I helped make that family feel like someone was doing everything they could,” she said.
After graduating from Indiana University, Bigelow bided her time on the wait list for admission to the School of Medicine. Then her phone rang: A slot was open for her at the Terre Haute campus.
In her elation, one of the first people she called with the news was Max Schmidt.
And she remembered the reply she gave to her mother’s questions on the phone that day outside the operating room. “Mom, this is awesome.”
CHRISTOPHER HERRERA knows more than a few things about hard work. In his tight-knit family of Cuban émigré’s in South Florida, time and sweat were expressions of affection.
Growing up, Christopher would ride along on his grandfather’s scrap metal truck, scouring the streets of Miami, loading iron in the withering heat and helping his grandfather deliver it to the recycling station. “I never did it to get paid,” said Herrera. “I loved him, and I wanted him to have a good life, too.”
At the end of those shifts, Herrera’s grandfather would pull him aside and impart a simple message Herrera carries with him now, into his first year at IU School of Medicine: Studying is your job.
Herrera, 21, got the message. He pushed himself through school, graduating with a biology degree from Florida International in just two years as a full-time student. His ultimate goal was a career as a physician. A friend who attended IU School of Medicine gave the school a heartfelt recommendation.
Leaving Miami—and his family—seemed daunting. Back there, he said, “everybody will give you the shirt of your back or egg off their plate.” But after his interview, Herrera was sold on IU. “It was amazing,” he said. “It’s far away, but I felt the fit was right.”
Herrera, who loves sports and exercise, copes with the challenge of medical school by picturing himself as an orthopedic surgeon, mending joints and cartilage, restoring the possibility others can fulfill their own dreams. “I wanted to become a doctor,” he said, “to help the everyday person.”
THE MISSIONARY STORY most Americans hear is of someone who treks to a developing country to help an underserved population. For the family of Chiamara Anokwute, the story went the opposite direction.
When Chiamara was two, his father Maxwell left their native Nigeria to serve as Christian missionary—in northwest Indiana. When Chiamara was five, Maxwell brought the rest of the family along. To support them, he found it necessary to pursue another career—as a nurse. Soon, Chiamara’s mother, Mercy, became a nurse’s assistant for the same reason.
Eventually, Chiamara’s three older brothers ventured into medicine—as an internist/hospitalist, a family practitioner and a neurosurgery resident. Now, Chiamara, 21, is answering the call—as a first-year student at IU School of Medicine.
Chiamara, who grew up in Merrillville, is considering a career in emergency medicine, or perhaps orthopedic surgery. “I want to reach those who are not able to be reached by modern medicine,” he said, “whether it’s going on mission trips or just finding outreach opportunities in communities that don’t get the medical necessities they need.”
He is the youngest of six children—all of whom earned college degrees. The Anokwute family’s formula: Few vacations, lots of study and scholarships. Chiamara graduated almost debt free with a biology degree from IU Northwest. Now, he attends medical school on the same campus, and scholarships cover his tuition—a gift he cherishes. “I want to be the best doctor I can be and IU is where I’m going to be able to do that.”
LIKE MANY KIDS, Hannah Clark knew she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up–a doctor of animals. As she matured, though, Clark began to become more aware of the needs of people, including those around her who were less fortunate. While there was no one particular moment when she had an epiphany, her goals gradually changed. “I just realized,” she said, “that as a physician, as a healer, I could really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Clark also saw what medicine did for her mother, who a few years ago was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Just seeing the way doctors interacted with her, how they helped her, it just kind of shaped the kind of physician I want to be and the kind of patient care I want to give,” she said.
Clark grew up in Evansville and earned a chemistry degree from the University of Evansville. Now she is a first-year medical student at IU School of Medicine in Evansville. Last summer, she became part of the first group of medical students to move into the new Stone Family Center for Health Sciences in downtown Evansville.
Her biggest challenge, she said, was believing in herself and overcoming the doubts of whether she belonged in medical school. Now, she’s convinced she chose the right path. Her goal is to become a surgeon.
“I chose IU because I was born and raised here and I wanted the chance to stay in the state that’s given me so much,” she said. “Hopefully I can give back the care to the patients that are in the state I love.”
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.