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The Medical Issue

Picking a career path

Nine fourth-year students at the University of Massachusetts Medical School explain their career tracks, and whether money factored into their decisions.

Bucking the trend at most med schools, which turn out a majority of specialists, the University of Massachusetts Medical School sends more than half of each graduating class into primary-care fields. This is partly because state grants let students who become primary care physicians (PCPs) pay about two-thirds less in tuition. But, more than that, it’s thanks to an institution-wide focus on mentorship with PCPs and efforts to connect students with patients they follow through all four years. “There’s no way to explain the satisfaction you get when you help a family,” says chancellor Michael F. Collins. “You can’t put a dollar figure on that.” And, as these fourth-year students explain, even specialists come out of UMass keen on building relationships with patients. — Francis Storrs

Webb Chappell

NICHOLAS AVGERINOS

  • FAMILY MEDICINE

  • “When I applied to medical school I knew I wanted to take care of people — not just pediatric patients, geriatric patients, hearts, bones, or lungs, but real everyday people. I also hope to change the way the public approaches health care with a focus on education. Being a trusted resource for my patients and being able to help coach them through complicated conditions is the most effective and rewarding way to practice medicine.”


webb chappell

ODETTE A. TAHA

  • OBSTETRICS AND GYNECOLOGY

  • “I consider an OB-GYN to be a primary care physician; they address health issues important to a woman’s overall well-being. Being the first in my family to graduate college and enter medicine, I am confident I will be able to foster connections with women whose voices are not always heard. This field will best allow me to combine my love of being in the operating room with my passion to empower and educate women.”

Webb Chappell

PAULA HERCULE

  • FAMILY MEDICINE

  • “I initially had a tough time deciding between OB-GYN and family medicine. I decided I didn’t want to limit my practice to one sex. I like being able to take care of the whole family while also taking into account the nonmedical issues that could be affecting their health. What I hope to get out of being a PCP is the privilege to accompany individuals navigating the health care system during times of joy and sorrow.”

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DANIEL WEMPLE

  • FAMILY MEDICINE

  • “I started medical school thinking I would become a surgeon. It took early clinical exposure to rural family practice, excellent mentoring, and some soul-searching to change my mind. Patients need and deserve a doctor they can trust to put it all together. The potential pay disparity took some getting over, but I realized that I had a chance to do something that I really enjoyed and that would be fulfilling — everyone should be so lucky.”

webb chappell

SOANA LAGUERRE

  • OBSTETRICS AND GYNECOLOGY

  • “Many aspects of practice as an OB-GYN coincide with my personality. I enjoy working with my hands, and this field has a diversity of skills to develop. Delivering babies is really thrilling, and I’ll get to do a lot of that, and I can develop long-term relationships with patients. Pay disparity played no role in my decision, although it is important to address. As long as I could pay off my debt and provide for my family in the future, I’m a happy woman.”

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ANDREA POSA

  • PEDIATRICS

  • “I will most likely specialize after my pediatrics residency. I really enjoy primary care pediatrics, but lack of adequate financial compensation is a definite deterrent. For reasons that I do not understand, pediatricians in general are compensated much less than physicians for adults. This did not stop me from choosing pediatrics, because I love working with children and would not give it up for a higher salary.”

Webb Chappell

COURTNEY SULLIVAN

  • ANESTHESIOLOGY

  • “My decision was more about my own personality — I like to see results relatively quickly and tend to be very task-oriented, while PCPs generally have to be more patient and focused on prevention and long-term goals. Differences in pay didn’t play much of a role in my decision. With changes in the health care system and the economy, it is difficult to predict what kind of pay any type of physician can expect in the future.”

Webb Chappell

KATHLEEN GOBLE

  • PEDIATRICS

  • “I am still undecided if I want to do primary care or a pediatric subspecialty in my career. I came into medical school wanting to work in primary care with undeserved populations - I knew the tremendous need for services there and I thought it was an area in which I could have a strong impact. But I am also drawn to more specialized care, and the satisfaction that comes with having a more in-depth understanding of patients’ problems. Luckily, the relatively low burden of loans that I bear from state medical school will allow me to pursue the area in which I will be most happy.”

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DIMAS C. ESPINOLA

  • PEDIATRICS

  • “During my time at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, I worked on two pediatric health projects, one focusing on behavioral child health and one on minority child health disparities, and had an opportunity to work with general and specialist pediatricians committed to service. As a general pediatrician, I will meet an infant and hopefully see him or her into early adulthood. Additionally, I have a US Army military commitment through a medical school scholarship, so I will have an opportunity to work as a primary care pediatrician serving the men, women, and families of the armed services.”

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