First year med students: diversity and collaboration boost learning

Matthew Lustig is accustomed to being part of an elite group.

During four years as a University of Georgia undergraduate, he suited up in his uniform and headed off to class in Army-issued gear, not flip-flops and shorts.  UGA’s Army ROTC program was a big part of his life, along with his studies as a biology major.

His routine changed dramatically in August, when he began medical school at the Georgia Health Sciences University-University of Georgia Medical Partnership. Now he is one of 40 students in the first-year class and, at age 22, Lustig is the second youngest student in his class.

It didn’t take long for Lustig to realize that his new world includes people with many different backgrounds and with a variety of experiences, most of them older and more experienced than he is.

This year, the young Medical Partnership enrolled its most diverse entering class so far. Eighteen different academic paths brought the 40 students to the new Health Sciences Campus on Prince Avenue. . The students  range in age from 21 to 33 and their preparation includes majors in economics, cross-cultural studies, environment science and German, according to the GHSU-UGA Office of Student Affairs and Outreach Communications.

Although he is  younger than most of his classmates, Lustig’s background also sets him apart. In June, he was one of 14 UGA cadets commissioned as second lieutenants and the only one who trained for the medical service corps,  He also  trained to be part of an artillery crew, but being a medic for the Georgia Army National Guard was a better fit..

“I’m probably the only one with a military background attending the medical school,which is such a cool thing,” said Lustig.

Twenty-nine-year old Grace Yaguchiis in the entering class and her background is a sharp contrast with Lustig’s. She earned an undergraduate degree in engineering and worked as an information technology consultant for seven years. But she wasn’t satisfied.

“I wasn’t really enjoying my work,” said Yaguchi. “I asked myself can I see myself doing this for another 40 years and the answer was no, because being a doctor was always in the back of my mind.” Now she is pursuing her dream.

Now Yaguchi and Lustig are both on the steep and competitive climb to becoming a physician.  Medical schools have an intense curriculum requiring students to read stacks of difficult material, memorize facts, figure out what is wrong with patients presented in case studies, and dissect a human cadaver.The seriousness of his decision hit  Lustig after the first month of classes.

“It’s tough, the medical school is definitely tough,” said Lustig. “It’s really hard for me to memorize all the terms and medical material and be responsible for my exams.”

First-year students undergo intense testing every week? Lustig and Yaguchi admit that the exams are very helpful despite being stressful.

“They always keeps me on the right track,” said Yaguchi. “You know, those types of questions and formats are very similar to the Boards.” She’s referring to the licensure board exam which each physician must pass in order to qualify for a state medical license.

Students help one another study for tests, and as a tech consultant Yaguchi learned to analyze and solve problems by working in teams.

“I see my advantage in the clinical skill portion and small discussion portion of the program,” said Yaguchi. “I  am just more relaxed about the communication thing because of the job experience. But I also learn a lot and catch up a little from those classmates who studied pre-medical or chemistry.”

“I think the diverse backgrounds bring more mutual understanding in the subjects for all of us instead of conflict,” said Lustig.

Despite their different paths to medical school,  Lustig and Yaguchi share respect for their professors, appreciation and the school’s integrated curriculum, and  high expectations.

“I expect the program will help me become a better thinker, know how to analyze diverse problems and work with different groups and teams like in the real environment of hospital,” said Yaguchi.


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