Sunday, September 18, 2016

With Summer winding down, we are proud to begin our GEMS Alumni Spotlight once again. This month we are pleased to highlight Dr. Katherine Potter, current Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UofL & the Pediatric Critical Care Medicine Fellowship Director. Dr. Potter works in Pediatric Care Medicine at Kosair Children’s Hospital and graduated from UofL in 1997 with a Bachelors of Arts in Biology. Following undergrad, she stayed in the city of Louisville for medical school, residency, and fellowship. At her core, she is true Louisvillian.

            Dr. Potter remembers that one instance, which so many physicians experience at some point in their lives, when she knew that she wanted to pursue medicine. Science has always intrigued Dr. Potter and it was in the 7th grade when she had her “moment.” “My dad, a commercial banker, had a customer who was a butcher. After clearing it with my teacher, the butcher gave [her father] a cow’s heart to take to school when we were learning about the circulatory system. I took it to school on the bus – and it was heavy!” After thawing it for three days, the class was finally able to crowd around the heart and see first hand a heart and all its valves and chambers. While a simple day for other students, Dr. Potter still remembers the feeling of crowding around something so complex and learning how the organ worked. When Dr. Potter became a GEMS Scholar, she knew she had made the right choice of pursuing medicine.

            When matriculating from undergrad to medical school, Dr. Potter knew she wanted to stay a Cardinal. Dr. Potter realized that “medical school would be one of the most challenging task that [she] would tackle. UofL is a great school and had the added advantage of being near my family and support system.” The GEMS program helped her to explore the medical world that Louisville, and UofL School of Medicine, had to offer. That is not to say challenges didn’t exist; Dr. Potter remembers in medical school the one thing you have to learn is “survival training.” You are required to learn a massive amount of information, how to work in a team, and how to lead; this can be intimidating and challenging. However, it is all worth it as being a physician is one of the most rewarding careers and as Dr. Potter stated, “Looking back, it was a great adventure, and I’m so glad I did it.”

            Even today, medicine still teaches Dr. Potter many valuable life lessons that last with you as a person. She recalls that medicine taught her how to maintain compassion and kindness in all situations. When asked what is the most exciting part about her job today, she stated, “Everyday is different… the variety of diagnoses, the different procedures, the families.” All of these things made the challenge of medical school and residency worth it. Medicine is more than just diagnosing someone, at its foundation lies treating a person with compassion, respect, empathy, and support. Medicine is equal parts science with humanities. It is the crossover that makes pursing medicine the rewarding and exciting career it has become.

            That is Dr. Potter’s story; I ask you, what is yours? The application for the GEMS Program, and other UofL Scholarships, are now open and the deadline is December 15th. The GEMS program gives you a first-hand look at the breadth of medicine, from observations in the ER, Labor & Delivery, Surgery, and more to seminars on humanism in medicine to suture clinics and SimLabs, the experience you gain as a GEMS scholar is unparalleled. I urge you all to take the time to decide if medicine is your calling and apply for this wonderful opportunity.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

This month we are proud to highlight Dr. Mahendra Damarla with our GEMS Alumni Spotlight. Dr. Damarla is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Damarla was a part of the GEMS Class of 1993 before earning his medical degree at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. After completing his residency in Internal Medicine he moved to Baltimore, where he has lived since 2005, to complete his fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

Dr. Damarla has long been drawn to medicine since a very young age. Around the age of 7, he hurt his leg and was checked into Boston Children’s Hospital. They were able to calm “this wailing, crying kid; they were able to make it better.” It was in this solidifying moment that he began his path to medicine. While he knew that medicine was the career he hoped to leave his mark, the specifics often changed. It is said that all medical students experience a moment where everything clicks.  For Dr. Damarla this came during a MICU rotation; he discovered that the “high acuity, pathophysiology and problem solving” atmosphere of the ICU perfectly combined the “coolest parts of medicine,” and was where he belonged.

Dr. Damarla brings a new perspective to the GEMS Alumni Spotlight Blog. As a physician-scientist, he spends on average 70 percent of his time conducting research and the other 30 percent is focused on patient care. It is this diversity that he labels as the best part of his job. Dr. Damarla’s lab focus is on Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, which focuses essentially on the “why and how blood vessels become leaky in the lungs.” When asked what advice he gives to students contemplating research in college, he urges, “You have to be willing to go all in and explore it.” Pre-medical students today have countless opportunities to explore research in college. Unlike the time that Dr. Damarla was at UofL, research is now promoted and encouraged. From summer programs to working in professors’ labs during the semester, the University of Louisville is focused on providing opportunities for students to dive into and explore the world of research while broadening his or her interests.

GEMS has ever evolved since Dr. Damarla’s Class of 1993, however many things have remained consistent. One of the best, and not always advertised, benefits of the GEMS program is the relationship formed with the School of Medicine Admissions Staff. Dr. Damarla highlights this support that truly helps keep scholars “on the straight and narrow. Pam Osborne, Jennifer Coffey, and Kim Holsclaw really helped to watch over me and shepherd me through college and the first few years of medical school.” The opportunity to build these relationships with a staff that truly cares about its scholars is an amazing advantage. UofL is a school whose focus is its students. GEMS, as Dr. Damarla states, is the “mechanism to explore your interest.”

Dr. Damarla encourages all students considering medicine and really any career to be “willing to go all in. You have to be wiling to completely immerse yourself. You have to be willing to be the dumbest person in the room, to stay up all night to study or to see patients but above all you just have to be wiling to jump in.” Whether that is working in a research lab to staying in the library the night before an exam, medicine is something that requires a sense of enthusiasm to dive headfirst. We are proud to highlight Dr. Damarla with our GEMS Alumni Spotlight. We cannot wait to see all of the accomplishments that he continues to make at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and wish him luck in any endeavors.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Alumni Spotlight - Dr. Veronica Kavorkian

        The GEMS program is proud to highlight Dr. Veronica Kavorkian with the second GEMS Alumni Spotlight.  Dr. Kavorkian is a Family Care Physician that has called Louisville her home since the young age of 6. As an entering Class of 1990 GEMS Scholar, Dr. Kavorkian graduated UofL School of Medicine in 1998. Following her residency, she sought to control her own path and co-opened an independent private practice in 2001, which is still in full operation today. 


            Dr. Kavorkian knew she aspired to be a physician from a very early age. Growing up with a father who had Type II Diabetes, she knew her calling in life was medicine and that path led her to become a Family Medicine Physician.  Dr. Kavorkian remembers watching the hometown doc from the show Little House on the Prairie and dreaming of being a physician in a close-knit community. She longed to be able to help her patients but just as importantly build the personal connections. While there was not a certain moment that inspired Dr. Kavorkian to pursue medicine, she knew that it was her calling. She was drawn to Family Medicine because she recognized that even though so many different fields of medicine may intrigue you, you cannot specialize in all areas; however, Family Medicine allows one to experience a little from each aspect every day.

            While Louisville may seem large, in reality Dr. Kavorkian calls it a “big, small town,” which enables her to forge a bond with her patients and their families. “With some families, I see and treat four generations. You can see firsthand the family resemblances. It is such a rewarding experience.” Family Medicine is a very satisfying field in so many aspects, but none greater than the personal relationship you form with patients. “I wouldn’t do anything besides family practice,” Dr. Kavorkian says. “The intimacy that you get to develop with a patient during the appointment allows you to deeply connect with them as you both work together to find a solution. It is a privilege and honor that someone lets you into their life story so that you can help them.” Medicine may be the most rewarding profession for a person. It is filled with so many gratifying experiences. “When somebody walks out of my office, feeling better than when they come in, it is extremely gratifying.” This gratification is based on the humanism behind medicine and the formation of that doctor-patient bond. It is founded on our nature to inherently listen and work together to help others for a common good.  

            Over the years, medicine has drastically changed since the age of the doc on the Little House on the Prairie, yet personal connection has remained at its foundation. It has seen amazing technological advancements such as electronic records, which has allowed you to “review tests and records as you drink your morning coffee at home before the start of the workday.” However, medicine also has seen changes that have sought to interfere with the bond between a doctor and patient. Over the years, as the government and insurance companies implemented increasing regulations, it has taken some of the choice away from physicians. “It is more of a suggestion sometimes for the drug you prescribe rather than a choice.”  Which leaves the question, where will medicine be in the coming years? Dr. Kavorkian speculates that we will see a return to more independent practices as physicians look to take back control of the treatment of their patients.

            With this being said, Dr. Kavorkian urges students considering medicine to explore the “why” behind their desires. “Medicine is a calling and you must do it because you love it,” Dr. Kavorkian states and I could not agree more. While it may be difficult, it is an honor and privilege to serve as a physician for your patients. Seize every opportunity that you have to explore it in order to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation. This is what the GEMS program does best. It allows students countless opportunities to explore the interlaced world of medicine. From observing surgeries to experiencing a suture clinic to shadowing physicians from multiple specialties, you gain a holistic image of what being a physician means. GEMS raises one question that you must answer for yourself: Is medicine your calling?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

This year, the GEMS program is proud to introduce a new feature: the GEMS Alumni Spotlight Blog.  

We are proud to highlight our first alumnus, Dr. Chris Mescia. Dr. Mescia is a General Pediatrician and one of the owners of Nassim, McMonigle, & Mescia, a Pediatric and Adolescent Medical Office.  Dr. Mescia joined the established practice Dr. Cynthia Nassim started and has watched his practice transform into a leader that is constantly expanding, more than doubling in size since.  

  Dr. Mescia was chosen for the inaugural GEMS Class of 1988 and graduated UofL with a degree in Biology in 1992. He chose to stay here in ‘Possibility City’ for Medical School as the Class of 1996. After medical school, he moved to Dayton, Ohio to complete his residency in pediatrics at Wright State University. He has partnered with the GEMS Program ever since returning in 1999, as third year GEMS students shadow Dr. Mescia to gain a better insight into pediatric medicine.  

 Looking back, much like other children, Dr. Mescia did not always dream of being a physician. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a paleontologist and then a veterinarian before realizing that he wanted to become a physician. However he never gave up this interest in paleontology and the history of the Earth. While shadowing Dr. Mescia last month, I witnessed him interact on a personal level with one child on how much they both liked collecting shark’s teeth and learning about the mother of all sharks: the ancient megalodon. Patient care is the central focus of his office.  

 With this being said, Dr. Mescia did not always know that he wanted to do pediatrics. As a first year medical student he thought pediatrics was just “screaming babies and neurotic parents.” However, during his third year rotation, he quickly realized that this was not the case. Today, he loves the patient interaction and the spontaneity of his career, “each time I open the exam room door it is always something new,” he stated.   

 GEMS was quite different in 1988 however its focus has always been the same. GEMS offered Dr. Mescia the “freedom to learn everything else besides medicine. It offers the ability to allow students to branch out and explore other subjects that spark an interest.” GEMS allowed Dr. Mescia the ability to take classes without the worry of keeping a perfect GPA. The classes the he remembers today are not the biology or chemistry courses but are courses like Russian Literature or the Sociology of Murder which GEMS gave him the freedom to take.  He stated that courses like these are “what stuck with me more than the Kreb’s Cycle.”

 When asked what advice he would give to students thinking of applying to the program, he urges them to apply because it gives you the freedom to learn about topics that interest you because once you begin medical school, your focus “becomes only the learning of medicine.”  In general, Dr. Mescia advises that all undergraduates pick a major that they enjoy not one that they think is expected of them.  He also encourages “picking up a non-student related hobby,” to de-stress and remind us that we must schedule time to not be a student.  

 We like to thank Dr. Mescia for all he has done for the GEMS Program and are honored to highlight him as our first Alumni Spotlight.  

Charles Shofner
University of Louisville
GEMS Scholar