Quinnipiac medical students handed their golden tickets

March 17, 2017

HAMDEN — Danielle Bottalico of Danbury was so happy that a medical school was taking a chance on her four years ago, she gave little thought to the school being brand new.

It was cross-eyed looks from people she told she was going to the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, that made Bottalico stop to realize she and her classmates might be considered brave hearts as well.

For four years, as they soaked up as much knowledge and practice as they could on the way to a medical degree, they were also helping mold a medical school with a primary care focus.

“It was part of our job as the first class,” Lindsey Scierka of Norwalk, another fourth-year student said. “We owed it to the people who were behind us to create the best medical school possible.”

Last month, Quinnipiac got its much anticipated email notification that it had received full accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

Dr. Bruce Koeppen, the school’s founding dean, called it a thrilling moment.

On Friday, the medical school’s premiere class of 59 students got theirs — golden envelopes stuffed in leprechaun pots containing match letters that told them where they will spend the next three to five years in resident training.

”It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Georgina Pappas, who grew up in Westport, said before tearing open her envelope that revealed her first choice, a vascular surgery residency at Rochester Medical Center.

“I’m very excited” Pappas added, before turning away to take a call from her boyfriend, a surgeon serving in Afghanistan.

Tradition setting

Quinnipiac’s Match Day was another exercise in standard setting. A ritual carried out in medical schools across the country on Friday, Match Day is where more than 42,000 applicants and some 4,800 residency programs learn their computer generated pairings.

Typically, match day ceremonies include a celebration and students being called up one by one to open their envelope, said Mona Singer, president of the National Resident Matching Program.

Pappas said her class asked the school for an intimate experience. After introductions and the raising of Champagne glasses in Quinnipiac’s Burt Kahn Court, students grabbed their letters, before running off to be surrounded by family to open them.

Scierka’s family came prepared, with a Yale shirt which she was presented with after ripping open an envelope congratulating her for getting into Yale’s internal medicine residency program. It was her first choice.

The big reveal is the culmination of a process that began last fall when fourth-year students start applying to residency programs. Programs then invite students to interviews. Students put programs they interview at in rank order. Programs do the same with students. Computers do the matching.

Some Quinnipiac students, unsure how their brand new medical school would be perceived, applied to as many programs as they could.

Bottalico, 30, who wants to be a Ears, Nose and Throat doctor, applied to 74 programs. She interviewed at 18, all across the country. On Monday, like all other students got emails telling them if ,they had been matched with one of them.

“That was the nerve-wracking part,” Bottalico said. Friday, she learned she was paired with her first choice, Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

All 59 Quinnipiac students, who graduate on May 14, were matched. Of those, 51 percent will stay in New England or New York and 20 percent in Connecticut.

Dr. Christine VanCott, a surgical clerkship director for Quinnipiac at St. Vincent’s said she her students are ready for residency.

“A lot goes into it,” VanCott said. “They are at the start of their long journey.”

How it began

Quinnipiac was one of 141 medical schools in the United States when it opened in the fall of 2012 in a shiny new, 145,000 square foot building steeped in high-tech gadgets on the university’s North Haven campus. More than $100 million was said to have been pumped into the program’s development.

Now there are 147 medical schools and more in the works.

Quinnipiac’s first class started with 60 students. One transferred. Each subsequent class has had 90 students. St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport became the new school’s primary clinical partner.

As a new medical school there was more latitude, according to Dr. Alan Otsuki, senior associate dean for education at the medical school. People weren’t set in their ways.

There were challenges, he said, but also opportunities: to find the right clinical partners, the right curriculum and the right physicians willing to be role models.

When the school started, the need for more doctors, particularly primary care or family physicians, was strong. It remains so, with a projected shortfall of primary care physicians ranging between 7,300 and 43,100 physicians by 2030.

“Seven out of our inaugural class chose family medicine,” said Dr. Howard Selinger, who chairs the family medicine department. The 12 percent is about double the national average, he added.

In all, 47 percent are entering programs that may lead to careers in primary care.

One who decided on family medicine is Kumba Hinds of Trumbull, 33.

She came to Quinnipiac with a master’s degree in public health from Yale University.

“I just like idea to take care people through different phases of their life,” said Hinds, who now heads to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to complete her residency.

Cristina Mallozzi of Stamford, also wants to go into family medicine. Her residency will be at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown.

Others say the school’s philosophy influenced how they will approach health care regardless of their specialty.

Scierka, 28, spent her first year of medical school working in primary care offices.

“I am going to approach cardiology with more of a primary care focus,” Scierka said. “Focusing more on prevention and the patient as a whole and lifestyle changes. I think that is a slightly more progressive way to view medicine. It is something Quinnipiac helped me develop.”

Setting the standard

Pappas said she would do it all again in a heart beat.

“It was such a good experience and really forced me to find out a lot about myself,” Pappas said. “It taught me to be resilient.”

From the start, she said, the curriculum was different. At some clinical sites, medical students worked directly with attending physicians, which Pappas found enriching.

“We were more directly involved in patient care,” she said. “I felt it prepared me to be in the clinical world, to facilitate better patient care. At the end of the day that is all I want.”

“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience, “ Bottalico said. “It’s an exciting process to be a part of something that is new, to be able to say you contributed to the foundation of a new medical school.”

The first class established a student government, local chapters of national associations and started a free clinic for underserved in Bridgeport, said Kim-Thu C Pham, associate dean for student affairs at the medical school.

“Stay courageous,” she told the class. “You will make lives, and yes, deaths better through your words and your touch.”