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Medical Students Follow Non-Traditional Path to Graduation


Among this month’s graduates from Stony Brook School of Medicine are several who took non-traditional paths to the medical field.

med students
From left: Drs. Erika Blaikie, Jeremiah Joyce, Sean Clark-Garvey, Michael Petry, and Derek Nelsen

The graduates, emerging from various walks of life and professions, reflect the diversity and vitality of medical education at SBU.

Take recent Stony Brook School of Medicine graduate Erika Blaikie, of Brooklyn. Her change of heart speaks directly to the need to make a difference.

Blaikie decided to jump professions when she realized that in her prior job she was merely helping people with money make more money and not contributing anything meaningful to the world.

So at age 39, Blaikie started medical school. Four years later she is graduating from Stony Brook School of Medicine and will be starting an emergency medicine residency in July.

“It was hard. I am not going to deny it, but I never once regretted my decision to change my path from graphic design to medicine,” she said.

“Although in high school I was in honors math and science, I went to Parsons School of Design to become a medical illustrator,” Blaikie said.

“I thought it would allow me to pursue art and my love for science at the same time. When I got to Parsons I was told that medical illustration was a dying profession, so I chose graphic design instead.” She graduated with a BFA in graphic design in 1995 and worked as a graphic designer and an undergraduate art and design instructor for about 20 years.

“My best friend and I started our own design studio with many clients,” she added, “and through design and teaching I was able to live and work in Japan as the chairperson of the design department at a design university.”

Jack Fuhrer, MD, associate dean for admissions for the School of Medicine, summed up the value and appeal of such individuals.

“The non-traditional student is understandably older and typically more mature and worldly than the more traditional student,” he said. “Their prior life experiences, both in and out of the workplace, gives them a perspective others might not realize yet. They can draw on those experiences to help them relate to patients, to think critically about healthcare and medicine, and to put their future career choices in perspective.”

Derek Nelsen is a 43-year-old father and 15-year veteran of the computer industry from the Cape Cod, Massachusetts, area. Nelsen rode the ups and downs of the dot-com world as a programmer before making the leap to medicine.

Yet even when he took the medical student route, things did not get easier for Nelsen. “I lost my brother while in med school,” he said, adding that he was constantly torn between studying anatomy, caring for his son and being there for his sibling simultaneously.

Today he is on his way to becoming an anesthesiologist.

Michael Petry of East Setauket decided to apply his skills as an economist and math teacher to advance the field of radiology. The new physician is bound now for a radiology practice at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California.

Another recent graduate, Sean Clark-Garvey, parlayed a career in medical research into an interest in malignant hematology and oncology.

Clark-Garvey, from Brooklyn, already had experience in the medical field when he made the switch. Having worked as both a public health researcher and clinical trial researcher before making his career change, Clark-Garvey has turned his focus to doctoring.

He will head to Thomas Jefferson University to study internal medicine.

Sometimes the inspiration for newfound careers is found in unlikely places.

Former film producer Jeremiah Joyce, who lives in Port Jefferson, made the leap to medical school at Stony Brook several years ago.

After Joyce graduated from Vassar College in 2004 with a degree in film production, the movie maker moved to New York City to work as a television producer and play drums for his band, The Jaguar Club. It was his work during those years producing a Discovery Channel show which prompted him to return to school for medicine.

“I reveled in the challenge of navigating scientific and medical journals and rediscovered a long dormant love of science,” Joyce recalled. “I also found deep inspiration in the shared motivations of the clinicians and research scientists I spoke with. I knew then that I wanted to find my place in the machinery of science and medicine.”

He applied to Hunter’s post baccalaureate pre-medical program and began the following spring.

Joyce starts his pediatric residency at Boston Children’s Hospital in June.

—  Glenn Jochum and Gregory Filiano


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