For most medical students, Match Day is the pinnacle of a rigorous four-year journey. But students in the highly selective Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) put in eight years before receiving the red envelope that reveals the next step in their training. When he opened his red envelope, Stefan Tarnawsky–soon to wield both an MD and PhD–was elated to find that he’s headed to St. Louis. There, he will complete his internal medicine residency at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and continue training in medical research at Washington University.
Whether gazing at the cosmos through his telescope or staring down the lens of a microscope, Tarnawsky is a very curious man. Perhaps it is that natural inclination to wonder about life’s little mysteries that inspired his path toward research. But it’s not what led him to pursue medicine.
Tarnawsky was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that affects nerve cells throughout the body, when he was a baby. He said that two decades of high-quality care and genuine compassion from his pediatrician, a physician-scientist, inspired him to become a doctor and help families like his.
Born and raised in Canada, Tarnawsky said that he was drawn to Indiana University School of Medicine because of its leadership in pediatric research. During his training, he worked in the research laboratories of Mervin Yoder, MD, and Rebecca Chan, MD, at the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research studying the mechanisms of a rare pediatric blood cancer called Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia or JMML. During his training, he helped develop animal models to better understand the origins of the disease and presented his findings at several national and international conferences.
Tarnawsky is one of six trainees to graduate from the MD/PhD dual degree program at IU School of Medicine this year. He said that he intends to specialize in the treatment and research of malignant hematology.
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
Specialty: Internal Medicine
Residency match location: Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis
What is your reaction to your match/How do you feel?
I feel elated. WashU has exactly what I was looking for: excellent residency training, a very strong tradition of educating physician-scientists, and one of the best leukemia research programs in the world. I’m also thrilled by the results of my MSTP colleagues—we all matched into programs that will make us happy. A small voice is telling me to dread the hundreds of emails I’ll be getting in the coming weeks/days/hours to sign this or certify that. But for now, I’m actively ignoring that voice and cannot wait to celebrate.
What moment—or experiences—led you to choose this specialty?
From the first day of my Internal Medicine rotation—on the Hematology rotation—I knew that I had found my specialty. I wanted to emulate the Heme docs with whom I was working. They showed tremendous compassion for their patients, helping them navigate through devastating illnesses. They had unworldly clinical acumen, recalling seemingly arcane diagnostic associations and treatment strategies. Finally, that had an unyielding passion for evidence-based medicine. Each day on rounds, we would probe the medical literature and debate the relative merits of this versus that management approach and whether it was best for our patients. This triumvirate: compassionate, expert, evidence-based care is the reason I was drawn to Internal Medicine.
What are you most looking forward to?
I cannot wait to meet my fellow residents. I foresee my relationships with them — given our mutual reliance on professional and psychosocial support — will transcend simple friendship. As such, I am very much looking forward to meeting the individuals who will be such a powerful influence on me over the coming years.
What aspects of your education do you think best prepared you for what lies ahead?
As a newly minted PGY1, I anticipate difficulties committing to patient care decisions. Should we give this patient lasix? What dose? IV or PO? Suddenly, I’ll be the one deciding all those questions. Luckily, IU School of Medicine provides its MS4s the opportunity to practice ‘sweating over’ these decisions. For instance, during my Medicine Sub-I, I also had to decide on the type of thromboprophylaxis to give to a given patient. During my Infectious Disease and Emergency Medicine rotations, I routinely staffed patients directly with the attending — without an intern intermediary —thereby emulating the role I’ll have as a PGY1. These opportunities at IUSM to feel responsible for my patient care decisions will be invaluable experience at the start of residency.
Was there a specific faculty member or mentor who really helped you along the way?
A great benefit of having trained at IU School of Medicine is that I had no shortage of mentors. I reached out for career and mentoring advice to dozens of individuals—the chair of medicine, the chair of Heme/Onc, the fellowship director for Heme/Onc, all of the Deans, countless attendings—all of whom were willing to meet and give perspective.
Merv Yoder and Rebecca Chan had the greatest influence on me and provided the most guidance. Outside of research, I met with Dr. Jimmy Hotz throughout my MS3 and MS4 years. With unwavering enthusiasm, he provided guidance on my competitiveness, how to prepare for the residency application, and what to look for in a program. His help was invaluable in helping me plan my applications.