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Interview with the Dean

A Slice of Life at Weill Cornell

As an Olympic swimmer, Dr. Ngozi Monu knows what it takes to beat the clock. Representing Nigeria in the 2000 Sydney and 2008 Beijing summer games, Dr. Monu holds her native country’s record for women’s 50 and 100 meter freestyle.

While she values these accomplishments, Dr. Monu left the Olympics with more than just time records. Competing around the world exposed her to critical health disparities and ingrained in her the importance of timely access to care.

"I got to see how everyone addresses problems and thought a lot about equalizing resources around the world," she said. "Everyone should have access to basic healthcare resources."

It helped inspire Dr. Monu, 33, to earn a doctorate in biomedical sciences, and it drove her to Weill Cornell Medical College, where she’s a first-year medical student.

Last month, Dr. Monu and three of her classmates in the Class of 2018 sat down with Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell, at nearby Patsy's Pizzeria to discuss the state of medicine, life at Weill Cornell and the role of doctors in the 21st century.

"As the dean, it's vital for me to meet them and hear what's on their minds," Dr. Glimcher said. "It's also one of the best parts of my job."

Foremost on the students' minds was Weill Cornell's new curriculum, which was unveiled earlier this fall after four years of planning. The curriculum integrates basic science with patient care and shortens didactics to a year and a half, so students can get into the clinic earlier. It also emphasizes physicianship and lifelong learning, key to nurturing the next generation of physicians.

"I think physicianship is a very important component of being a successful doctor," said M.D.-Ph.D. student Rhiannon Aguilar, 20, of Maryland. "I had never heard the word before coming to Weill Cornell, but after being introduced to the concept, I think it's a perfect way to describe many of the intangible aspects of being a doctor, including professionalism, empathy for patients and awareness of the healthcare environment as a whole."

While she may not have known about physicianship, she has been practicing many of its key elements for most of her life. As Mexican-Americans, Aguilar’s father and grandfather experienced education-related discrimination, and encouraged her to work hard in school and be successful. Taking the encouragement to heart, she graduated from her science-tech magnet high school after only three years, and majored in chemistry at the University of Maryland. But it was her experience at the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program's Gateways to the Laboratory Program that committed her to a life as a physician-scientist.

"It was my first time doing research, the first time living in New York and first time meeting medical and graduate students," Aguilar said. "Overall, I loved it! I think my biggest takeaway from the program was that I started to feel like I was really capable of pursuing a graduate and medical education."

Bench to bedside research is a true passion for Aguilar’s classmate, Daniel Starer-Stor, a former professional tap dancer who performed with the New Tap Dance Orchestra. Starer-Stor, 23, of New York, had always been interested in medicine, but was particularly inspired after working with Dr. Doug Turnbull at Newcastle University in England.

A neurologist, Dr. Turnbull is investigating the biology of mitochondria, the cells’ powerhouse, in order to better understand how diseases characterized by mitochondrial dysfunction develop in children. Fascinated by his research, Starer-Stor spent a winter term working in Dr. Turnbull’s lab and learned about more than just the inheritance of defective mitochondria.

"He would care for these children and really try to figure out what's going on in the lab so he could bring those advances in care to his future patients," said M.D.-Ph.D. student Starer-Stor.

That's precisely the point of Weill Cornell's new curriculum, which is designed to empower the next generation of physicians and scientists to make groundbreaking research discoveries and deliver exceptional patient care.

Compassion is an integral part of exceptional patient care, something Weill Cornell medical student Eric Kutscher understands firsthand. In 2011, Kutscher was rejected from donating blood because he identified as a gay male, igniting in him a passion for public and sexual health advocacy. The 23-year-old New York native served as an HIV/AIDS counselor and wrote a blog for the Huffington Post about the need for comprehensive sex education in schools.

Kutscher spent a semester abroad in Kenya during his junior year at Columbia University, studying circumcision and surveying public opinion. That’s where he first learned about Weill Cornell's Division of Infectious Diseases, led by Dr. Roy Gulick. The division conducts research, treats patients and provides education and training in infectious diseases in locations around the world, including New York and Weill Bugando in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Kutscher's experience in Kenya galvanized him to go to medical school and complement his interest in advocacy with patient care. Inspired by Dr. Gulick, he hopes to one day open a clinic in New York City and provide compassionate patient care to HIV/AIDS patients and those at the greatest risk of contracting the disease.

"As a gay man," Kutscher said, "it's very important for me to see other gay men who are ahead in their field and are doing things pertaining to HIV and AIDS that involve our community so much."

Posted October 16, 2014 3:36 PM | Permalink to this post

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