December 14, 2021

Eric Wilson: Advocating with compassion

Eric's Michigan Answer: Being involved with the UM Student-Run Free Clinic (leadership team shown above), Student Council, M-Home Near-Peer Program, Scholarship of Learning & Teaching Path of Excellence, and the Patients & Populations Branch has allowed me to grow as a teacher, leader and advocate in ways that are most meaningful to me.

Fourth-year Eric Wilson (he/him/his) is from North Tonawanda, NY and graduated from the University of Rochester in 2016. Throughout his undergrad and gap years, he grew to love and value teaching/education, community outreach and leadership. He continued to pursue these passions throughout med school and is now interviewing with Internal Medicine residency programs across the country.

Here, he shares how his fellow med students, dedicated faculty, hands-on clinical training and varied extracurricular opportunities have shaped his medical school experience in countless ways. 

What comes to mind when you think of your fellow students at Michigan?

It’s so hard to answer this question because there isn’t a typical UMMS student. I know this may be cliché, but it’s the truth. I have classmates who worked in policy, consulting, or education for years before coming to medical school. Others have traveled the world as part of the Fulbright Scholars program or Peace Corps. The list of cool and impressive accomplishments goes on.

Despite my peers’ impressive accolades, nearly everyone here is humble and grounded. There is truly a sense of being “in this together” and a strong desire to help and support those around you. Much like life outside of medicine, the journey through medical school has highs and lows. When I think of my “real life” (the one that doesn’t involve studying or going to the hospital/clinic) it’s the people around me, my friends and family, who help celebrate the highs and provide support during the lows. My classmates take on this same role in my “medical school life.” They are the ones who motivate me to push past any self-doubt or imposterism that may hinder me from achieving my goals.

What called you to explore a career in medicine?

While I was amazed by my pediatrician’s ability to consistently cure my ear infections and other ailments as a young child, and I came to love biology, anatomy, and physiology during middle school and high school, I wasn’t totally certain that I wanted to be some sort of doctor until college. I didn’t grow up with any physicians in the family, so it was hard to get a sense of what their lives and work were really like. In college, I discovered that I loved research (I did translational research in a lab at my university’s medical center) and teaching/mentoring (I worked as a teaching assistant and peer mentor, too). So, getting an MD/PhD didn’t seem like such a bad option.

I moved down to the Washington, DC area to conduct bench research full-time as part of the NIH’s Postbac Intramural Research Training Program, with the goal of advancing my lab skills and exploring whether the 8-year commitment to MD/PhD programs was worth it for me. While I was there, I started volunteering as a health coach and clinic coordinator at a nearby free clinic – I loved it almost immediately. I counted the days until my next shift at the clinic, and I formed incredible bonds with the patients I coached. During my days in the lab, I realized that teaching and mentoring undergrad interns was what most excited me.

Although I loved science and discovering new things (I still hope to incorporate research into my career in some way), what I valued most in my work was the opportunity to build relationships with those around. Whether it be through patient interactions or teaching/mentoring, navigating the complexities (both scientific and humanistic) of life alongside others was what energized me most. So, I applied to MD programs with the goal of becoming an academic physician and clinician educator.

How would you describe your clinical training?

The clinical training at UMMS is nearly unbeatable! It’s no surprise that we’re consistently reminded that residency programs across the country love UMMS students. Since the start of clinical rotations during M2 year, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the extent to which medical students are directly involved in patient care. From having the opportunity to lead conversations on morning rounds as an M2, to being coached through goals of care conversations with families as an M3 and M4, I’ve felt authentically involved in the care of my patients. The encouragement we receive from those around us to grow, not only in our diagnostic and reasoning skills but also as communicators and advocates for our patients during difficult and uncertain times, is truly remarkable.

Michigan offers many electives during the Branch years, what has been your favorite?

For those who love teaching and medical education as much as I do, I highly recommend Dr. Dan Cronin’s “Empowering Educators” course. It was incredibly valuable to practice designing and delivering brief educational sessions to help prepare for impromptu teaching opportunities that may arise later. Providing specific and actionable feedback – one of the more challenging aspects of being a good clinician educator – was another notable focus of this Branches course.

As a bonus, there is a session led by Dr. Paul Fine (who was selected by Empowering Educators students as the top clinician educator at Michigan) that provides practical advice from a kind and dedicated teacher who I had the privilege of learning from during my M2 year on the general medicine wards.

How have your experiences at Michigan led you to choose your specialty for residency and what advice do you have around choosing a specialty?

I fell in love with internal medicine during my M2 clinical rotation and never looked back. It encompasses all of my favorite things about medicine: the academic rigor of solving complex cases, the chance to confront and grow from uncertain and unforeseen scenarios, an emphasis on effective communication and teamwork, and an unmatched enthusiasm for teaching. I admire so many of the incredible residents, fellows and attendings that I’ve worked with during internal medicine rotations, not only for their clinical acumen but also for their remarkable communication, advocacy and leadership skills.

Choosing a specialty is tough, and everyone has their own approach to finding their way in medicine. I tried to come into new rotations with an open mind, and I also tried to challenge any preconceived notions that I may have formed about a particular specialty. In doing so, I hoped to discover my likes and dislikes more organically. I also took stock of the people I was learning and working with. Trying to find “your people,” as you’ll hear many others say, was high on my priority list. Ultimately, I asked myself questions like “What makes me most excited to get up and go to work, even on my worst days?” and “On which rotations did I feel most comfortable or at home?” If you can clearly answer these types of questions, you may have found the specialty for you!

What significant extracurricular activities have been a part of your medical education?

The U-M Student Run Free Clinic (UMSRFC) and UMMS Student Council (StuCo) have been my primary extracurricular commitments throughout my four years here. I was previously one of the M1 UMSRFC Directors, and I’ve returned this year as an M4 Director. The UMSRFC will always hold a special place in my heart because of the opportunities it provides for students to learn about social determinants of health and interdisciplinary care in real-time. As physicians, we often prescribe medications, refer patients to specialists or direct them to obtain bloodwork or imaging studies. However, it can be hard to fully comprehend the challenges that a patient without insurance, steady employment or reliable transportation can face when trying to manage their health. Having insight into this and the hoops that some patients have to jump through to get what they need has had a significant impact on the way I approach patient care in my continuity clinic at the Ann Arbor VA and beyond.

I started off as a Curriculum Representative on StuCo, where I helped mediate communication between students and faculty during our courses, and then helped with quality improvement during course review meetings with faculty leaders. Being able to strive for change to better the educational experience of my peers during these meetings and other, larger curriculum and policy meetings helped me develop my leadership and advocacy skills. This has served me well in my current role as StuCo President, where I guide and direct our StuCo team as they work to improve all facets of medical student life at UMMS.

What are the ways in which you’ve been able to explore your passions during med school, and what resources or people have helped you do so?

Many of the additional projects and medical education research opportunities have come from the relationships I’ve built with faculty and other students through my extracurricular activities. I’ve been amazed by the opportunities for research or to get involved with new quality improvement initiatives that have arisen from casual conversations between meetings, after class or on the walk from the medical school campus to the U-M hospital.

The best resource here at UMMS is hands down the community as a whole. There are so many enthusiastic and talented individuals here, and they are always eager to meet with others who share the same passions and interests. It would be nearly impossible to name every specific person or resource that I have to thank for the outstanding experiences I’ve had at Michigan – there are simply too many to count!

What is your favorite place to go in or around the Ann Arbor area?

I live in the Kerrytown area, and I like being able to support the local businesses in Ann Arbor. In the summer and fall, it’s an easy walk to the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market from my apartment. My favorite Ann Arbor restaurant, Miss Kim’s, is also within walking distance. My fiancée and I love charcuterie, so our favorite date night spot is The Last Word (they have great cocktails too!).