A year ago, 40 anxious graduates of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine were about to head off into the next phase of their training – residency. They had proudly and confidently broken new ground as the school’s charter class. But would they approach residency with the same chutzpah?  

Class President Matthew Joy didn’t travel far. He is pursuing a residency in general surgery at Carilion Clinic and will be the first resident in Carilion’s new plastic and reconstructive surgery residency when it begins in July.

“Things are going well,” he said. “I’m very busy and working hard to cram in a lot of knowledge.”

Joy said he’s been surprised by the level of responsibility of being a resident and how much direct involvement he has with cases.

“There are moments when I feel overwhelmed,” he said. “But I can lean on the attending physicians and my other superiors.”

Joy felt he was well prepared for residency.

“At the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, we were expected to absorb a rigorous curriculum,” he said. “And, for me, it’s already paid off.”

Any words of wisdom for the recently graduated members of the Class of 2015?

“Enjoy this time,” Joy said. “Get some relaxation, and savor every minute of your downtime!”

“Working hard” was the resounding theme of the young residents when asked how they were faring, and classmate Robert Brown was no exception.

“It’s exhausting,” he said. “But it’s also exhilarating to be able to help patients with so many different needs.”

Brown is pursuing a residency in internal medicine and emergency medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

“We’re constantly being plunged into new cases,” he said. “It’s challenging and rewarding at the same time.”

Brown said the school’s curriculum prepared him well.

“I can’t know everything, obviously,” he said. “But I’ve learned how to find information and apply it quickly. That’s something I can credit the school with having taught me. Also, the rest of my career will be one PBL case after another.”

PBL, which stands for problem-based learning, is an innovative curriculum technique the school uses that allows students to learn from actual patient cases in facilitated small groups.

One of the biggest surprises for Brown has been hearing people call him “doctor.”

“It’s the greatest honor,” Brown said. “I’m still taken aback every time I hear it.”

With his training, Brown knows he has many options ahead of him. One of them may eventually be to set up a practice in rural Southwest Virginia. One of his passions, he said, is health care access for everyone.

“The problem in our country is not necessarily producing doctors who are well trained,” he said, “but really getting the right doctors to practice in underserved areas.”

Fellow classmate Mina Lotfi has her sights set on either going into an established radiology practice or pursuing academics in her specialty.

She is currently in a preliminary year as a resident in internal medicine at Carilion Clinic. Lotfi will complete her training in radiology at Boston University starting in July. Radiology is one a handful of specialties that requires a preliminary year of training.

“It’s been a good opportunity, and I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “So much of radiology is focused on diagnostics. It’s nice to encounter this different side of medicine.”

Lotfi said 60- to 70-hour work weeks are common for her.

“So much is on the line, that it’s easy to get caught up in work,” she said. “Time management has been a challenge.”

But she has no second thoughts about the path she has chosen.

“Virginia Tech Carilion has trained me well,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the next phase.”

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine has had the enviable position of matching 100 percent of both its first and second classes in residency programs. The school graduated its second class on May 9.

Written by Catherine Doss.
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