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'I always felt like something was missing'

Mark Westbroek in the lab

Mark Westbroek, PhD, in the lab

Mark Westbroek: Age 37

IU School of Medicine campus: West Lafayette (MS4)

Former career: Research scientist/Chemistry instructor


By the time he became a medical student at Indiana University School of Medicine—West Lafayette, Mark Westbroek had a PhD in medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, plus a wife and five kids.

“It has been interesting to interact with the younger medical students,” said Westbroek, a former medical laboratory and research scientist. “I have been able to forge some good friendships, but I just have a different outlook on life. Being older and more experienced, I feel like I see the bigger picture.”

Mark Westbroek with his familyHe didn’t see it when he was in his 20s. Working in a hospital hematology lab as part of a team diagnosing multiple leukemias, he enjoyed knowing his work was crucial for doctors to correctly diagnose their patients’ conditions. His interest in research led him on an educational path which he envisioned culminating with a career at a pharmaceutical company working in cancer drug development.

“Although I enjoyed the research, I always felt like something was missing,” he said. “Over time, I realized that I was missing the human component of cancer.”

Westbroek realized he needed to widen his lens to see the bigger picture of a more fulfilling career as a physician-scientist. He took a job as a college chemistry teacher as he studied for the medical entrance exam.

“My long-term goal is to establish an academic medicine career in pediatric hematology-oncology,” he said. “This will allow me to combine all my experience by doing cancer research, teaching and working with patients, including patients with leukemia, which is what originally led me to this path.”

Westbroek holding his newborn sonAs a parent, Westbroek will be able to relate to the concerns of his patients’ families. He and his wife had their sixth child during his medical school years.

“Since I had already completed my OB-GYN rotation, the doctor let me deliver my son!” he said.

The downside of having kids in medical school? “I am much more sleep deprived from children waking me up at night.”

Westbroek now sees how all of his prior experiences were like puzzle pieces fitting together to make a career in academic medicine.

“Gaining experience before medical school has led me to a different end goal than I would have pursued earlier in life, and I believe this path will be more meaningful,” he said.



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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.
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Laura Gates

Laura is senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications and loves to tell the stories of outstanding students, faculty and staff at IU School of Medicine. A native Hoosier, she has over 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.