Gary Gravesandy ‘18, a first-year medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is now unabashedly enthusiastic about becoming a doctor, but he remembers a time not long ago when a career in medicine seemed like a pipe dream.
Born and raised in Brentwood, New York, Gravesandy came to Stony Brook after graduating from Binghamton University in 2017.
“Attending a university hundreds of miles from home, forsaking all sense of familiarity with friends and family, challenged me to succeed without the support and encouragement that I had grown to depend upon,” he said. “I spent my first undergraduate year, night after night, indulging in the excitement and wonder of novel friendships. Unfortunately, time is a finite resource and my mismanagement of this resource led to an academic disaster with no personal parallel.”
Faced with his “mistakes” prominently displayed on his transcript, Gravesandy’s resolve to become a physician wavered. That’s when fate intervened.
While attending an event for residents at the Northport VA Medical Center, Gravesandy struck up a conversation with another attendee, Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president of Health Sciences and dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. Kaushansky was so impressed with the young man’s earnestness in pursuing medicine that he emailed Inel Lewis, program director of diversity initiatives at the Renaissance School of Medicine, who reached out to Gravesandy.
“In my first meeting with Dr. Lewis, she assessed my position, conducted a mock interview with me, and connected me with Dr. Inefta Reid, director of MS Graduate Studies at the Renaissance School of Medicine — all in one hour’s time,” recalled Gravesandy.
It wasn’t long before Gravesandy decided he wanted to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical sciences at Stony Brook.
“The program brought together aspiring physicians and scientists and provided them with an education that often dove deeper into topics than the average medical education would,” he said. “Completing that degree was the highlight of my academic career.”
Gravesandy cited several other mentors during his tenure at Stony Brook who played pivotal roles in building his self-confidence.
Dr. Kelly Warren, assistant professor, Renaissance School of Medicine, was one.
“Before starting classes, I sat down with her and had a discussion about what I wanted out of the program,” recalled Gravesandy. “That was the first time I had ever been given so much autonomy in my education.”
It was Reid’s confidence in Gravesandy that led him to pursue research at Stony Brook. Dr. Irene Solomon, associate professor, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Stony Brook University, invited him to join her lab despite not having previous basic science research experience.
“Both Dr. Reid and Dr. Warren had been a part of Dr. Irene Solomon’s lab in the past,” explained Gravesandy. “Dr. Solomon’s lab is always open to students learning about her research. When she teaches pulmonary physiology she tells all the master’s students that they are welcome anytime. Most of the professors that do research have the same policy. I visited her lab several times and learned about her research before requesting a more active position. She gave me an interview to discuss expectations on both parts and she accepted me into her lab in the end.”
Many of the research protocols in her lab required performing microsurgical procedures, and it was there that Gravesandy developed a strong interest in surgery.
There were other mentors along the way, such as Dr. Allison McLarty, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Stony Brook Heart Institute. Shadowing her, Gravesandy observed how McLarty developed strong relationships with her patients.
“Watching her console patients was like watching a Jedi mind trick being performed,” he said. “One moment a patient was adamantly refusing care and the next, the same patient was calm and compliant. Her confidence and compassion had a way of easing the wariest of hearts.”
Mentorship is something Gravesandy takes to heart.
“The experiences I had at Stony Brook not only put me in the position to be accepted to medical school, but also inspired me to be a mentor to those with similar dreams as well,” he said.
Indeed, Gravesandy has prepared and taught Kaplan MCAT and SAT test preparation curriculum to college and pre-college students, as well as to low-income high school juniors participating in a leadership development program.
Gravesandy interviewed with a number of other prestigious medical schools but in the end, he chose to attend Mt. Sinai.
“The courses in human and cellular physiology, pharmacology and clinical correlates at Stony Brook prepared me so well that in less than a year at Mount Sinai, I’ve earned a commendation from one of my course directors, Dr. David Bechhofer, for time I’ve been spending reviewing material with my peers and assisting them in preparing for exams,” Gravesandy said. “Journal club and access to seminars at Stony Brook also taught me how to evaluate emergent research and ensured I was cognizant of current developments in the biomedical world.”
His mentor Lewis perhaps sums up Gravesandy’s experience best.
“It could have gone another way,” she said. “But today, this young African-American man is truly on his way to realizing his dream of becoming a physician. His light was too bright to be dimmed.”
— Glenn Jochum