The well-rounded student: service, leadership, balance

Monday, April 4, 2005

Kyle McLaughlin '99

Kyle McLaughlin '99

SCSU students are always encouraged to have a full, meaningful college experience that includes more than the classroom. For students planning to go to medical school, say biology and chemistry faculty members, the importance of being “well rounded” can’t be overemphasized.

Students who fit that description are more likely to be accepted when they apply for medical school. That’s because they can be expected to handle the stress of training in medicine, but also because they’re less likely to drop out once they’re practicing medicine on their own.

There’s a reason for that. “If your whole life is medicine,” says a member of the SCSU Pre-Med Advisory Committee, “then you burn out in four or five years.”

Medical schools also are looking for “the type of person who’s headed somewhere,” according to Biology Professor Janet Woodard, a member of the committee. And, more and more often, the schools will choose the students who are “different, who stand out in some new way.”

Woodard has found that SCSU students who’ve successfully applied for medical school had interesting portfolios: “One was a published poet, another a skydiver, another an accomplished violinist, another a basketball starter ... another a one-time captain of the Husky hockey team.”

SCSU students find that a good way to build a well-rounded portfolio is to join the campus chapter of the Medical Professionals Association (MPA). The group constantly seeks out volunteer opportunities at hospitals, nursing homes and in other healthcare settings.

This year, for example, nine members of the MPA joined a program similar to “Doctors Without Borders” for a trip to Honduras, where they assisted physicians, surgeons, dentists, optometrists and pharmacologists serving the poor. “This will be very hands-on,” said student and future public health researcher Morgan Binnie before the trip. “This will be a life-changing experience,” said another MPA member who participated in the mission of mercy. “If I can help just one person, then it’s all worth it.”

Last year the MPA was led by Marc Becker, who plans a career in pharmacology, and Karl Rogers, who plans a career in osteopathic medicine. Both had participated in an SCSU leadership development program of nine workshops on such topics as leading, managing and planning skills; using various leadership styles according to the situation; and improving community service programs.

The two biomedical science majors immediately took what they’d learned and put it to use in the MPA. The young men led a recruiting effort that helped grow MPA membership from 10 to 75 in one year, organized five committees dedicated to volunteer work in the community, and initiated the College Relay for Life fundraising drive that raised $16,000 last year and is expected to raise $30,000 this year for the American Cancer Society.

Former Husky hockey player Kyle McLaughlin, who also
earned his degree in biomedical sciences, now practices
rural medicine in Alberta, Canada.

When he applied for medical school in the late 90s, the SCSU student had in his portfolio leadership skills, academic excellence and a commitment to service. During his years with the Huskies, McLaughlin’s leadership, maturity and work ethic made him a role model for younger players. He complemented his interest
in sports with hard work in the classroom and the community: he earned a near 4.0 grade point average, was named WCHA Student Athlete of the Year, was named to the WCHA All-Academic Team three times, and was one of three finalists for the NCAA Student Humanitarian Award.

It was volunteer work that convinced McLaughlin to apply to medical school.“I wasn’t 100 percent sure what I wanted to do,” he said. So during his senior year
at SCSU he volunteered in the emergency room at the St. Cloud Hospital, an experience that told him medicine was the way to go.

Today, despite some 100-hour weeks at the hospital, McLaughlin is at no risk of burnout. He’s an experienced mountain climber, ice climbs, snowshoes, hikes, skis, snowboards and competes in triathlons and other adventure races. Those interests provide ongoing benefits. “I’ll never forget the first time I had to tell someone they had cancer,” McLaughlin said. At times like that, it takes a “very long hike in the mountains” to deal with the stress.

It’s about more than medicine
The MPA has a book club designed to help members prepare for the Medical College Admission Test, but also to take them outside the world of medicine. The group’s reading list has included, for example, a tale combining science, philosophy and adventure, Steinbeck’s Log From the Sea of Cortez.” Also on their reading list:

  • “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” Michael Chabon
  • “The Plague,” Albert Camus
  • “The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness,” Steven R. Covey
  • “State of Fear,” Michael Creighton
  • “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams
  • “Slaughterhouse Five,” Kurt Vonnegut
  • “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler,” Italo Calvino
  • “In Search of Lost Time,” Marcel Proust
  • “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” Truman Capote
  • “A Moveable Feast,” Ernest Hemmingway
  • “Long Walk to Freedom,” Nelson Mandela

“Everyone ends up looking the same,” said McLaughlin about the medical school application process. “You’ve got to have something that makes you different.
If you can talk about Hemingway and his work – right on!”

Pre-med students need to demonstrate academic excellence, extracurricular interests, and dedication to serving people, and complete certain biology and chemistry courses to meet medical school requirements. But they do not have to major in a particular area. “Select a major that interests you,” says the advisory committee in a brochure for pre-med satudents, “one that prepares you for a job should you not go on to medical school.”

“You know, these young people don’t have to be accepted to medical school to be considered successful,” said Woodard of the well-rounded pre-med students at SCSU. “They’d be outstanding in whatever they chose to do.”

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