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Hosts of Hosts, Cartagena, Colombia, and $2450

September 15th, 2017 was the magical day that our M4 class submitted ERAS applications for residency. I remember staying up until 5:00am with my M4 friend Bill Mallett ruthlessly critiquing, editing and perfecting our personal statements all that night. Although he applied in anesthesiology and I in plastic surgery, the application process is the same across fields, and refreshingly more streamlined than the medical school application. We ensured to hit “submit” before 8:00am that day so that our application would be time-stamped the same as all of the other early applications. The relief that followed was divine!

Me and my kiddos, Nathan, Harvey and Autumn (left to right)

If you didn’t know already, I have three children (that’s right, three), and you can imagine how tight our budget has been given that my wife is a homemaker and we live on medical school loans (borrowing maximums are only very slightly larger for families than for individuals). We had been saving up for interviews for over two years, but it still didn’t seem like we would have enough to pay for the nine interviews I attended. There were rumors that interviewing students would sometimes stay overnight with a UM Medical School (UMMS) alumni instead of booking hotels or Airbnb’s, but it seemed too good to be true–I always thought they must have had some sort of preexisting connection through mentors or some other means to make that happen. BUT, NO! It is so much more than that. UMMS placed Amy Chappuis, one of our staff, in charge of managing the H.O.S.T. (Helping Our Students Travel) program. Briefly, all I had to do was enter the dates and locations of the interviews I had received into my HOST website profile, and my name became available to UMMS alumni who had volunteered to host students. I only posted five of my interviews, because I had already made accommodations with friends and family for others. One or two weeks after posting, five alumni (that’s right, five!) reached out to me offering their spare bedrooms for my overnight stay during interviews. That is a 100% response rate!!! What’s even better is that as I visited them, each one was simply amazing in their hospitality; one host even volunteered as my personal chauffeur for the weekend (no Uber necessary)! No other students from other medical schools that I met on the interview trail had anything similar to this going for them as they interviewed…

My wife Jamie and I after an interview in Galveston, Texas

As a plastic surgery applicant interested in burn reconstruction, my application was very unique–and, because of its peculiarity, very well received at many institutions. I certainly experienced the “Michigan difference” on the interview trail; many faculty members that interviewed me had connections in some way with Michigan. However, just as soon as interviews came to an end, I found myself in Cartagena, Colombia with Healing the Children, a volunteer group of plastic surgeons led by Dr. Robert Gilman of our plastic surgery department. Dr. Gilman collaborates with a group from Harvard to take two chief plastic surgery residents each summer to perform cleft lip and palate, pediatric hand, and burn reconstruction at no cost for indigent patients. My role was to gather data for my IMPACT project (similar to a senior capstone project), for which I am researching the barriers to health care that recipients of these gratuitous surgeries experience in their local systems that drives them to seek humanitarian care. The local newspaper reported on our visit and caught me in action! For IMPACT projects, the school gives funding to students with big ideas: I applied for and received a $950 internal grant from the school to cover travel expenses. While I certainly worked my tail off, I also had time on our final day to make it to the beach. In the middle of February. 😀

Playas de Bocagrande, Cartagena, Colombia on February 17, 2018

Match Day is just around the corner–March 16th, to be exact! There is nothing quite like it. Far from a feeling of anxiety and dread, I feel very excited! Most of my friends agree with me that they would be elated if they matched into either of their top three to five programs. Thankfully, coming from Michigan, it is rare to not match at your top program, and exceedingly rare to match below your top three (or not match). What could possibly make this better? Well, just this week I received an e-mail from the financial aid office that a group of alumni had donated to help cover the costs of interviews for students, and that I (because of my financial need situation) was chosen to receive a $1000 grant!!! Wahoo!!!! Totally unexpected, yet at the same time totally consistent with my four-year experience as a University of Michigan Medical Student.

So, a little math:

~$500 saved through HOST program + $950 IMPACT grant + $1000 interview grant = the Michigan Difference (or, $2450)

I’m blessed. Go Blue!!

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four!

I would like to introduce myself by sharing my favorite quote:

“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” – Thomas S. Monson

As a non-traditional student, I have found this counsel to be particularly prudent. Two years ago, on August 18, 2012, I married the love of my life: Jamie Hall, a sweet red-headed girl with a heritage of southern hospitality. While she isn’t a “home-grown spud” like me (as Idahoans say of those who were raised in Idaho), she fit right in at Idaho State University, my undergraduate institution. Culture in Idaho is very different than here in Michigan. Remember the Shire from The Fellowship of the Rings? Well, if you thought of Idahoans as hobbit-like you wouldn’t be too far away from the truth.

The yellow and blue were meant to be

Anyway, three months after we were married we found out that Jamie was pregnant, and our third “Idaho spud” came into the world: my son Nathanael. He is one of the happiest, most curious and independent little boys you will ever meet, and I love him profoundly. While some people may have hobbies of horseback-riding, marathon running, or sports, my hobby is being a Dad.

That's *my* boy--Nathanael

Life is *so* busy these days for everyone I know. There seems to be an unending supply of meaningful activities to pursue and good to be done, especially here at the University of Michigan Medical School. I have since enrolled in an advanced Spanish elective, joined the Latin American and Native American Medical Association, begun basic science research in a lab investigating the cellular causes of heterotopic ossification (a sequela of traumatic burn injury), and accepted a position as a co-director of the University of Michigan Student Run Free Clinic. Here is the miracle: despite all these things, I still have time to be a husband and a father.

How? How is that remotely possible? Trust me, I’m no Superman (“hobbit-like,” remember?). The key is that the University of Michigan, as one of the most innovative and progressive medical schools,  has enough confidence in their students to afford us the flexibility we need to pursue our passions. All of our lectures are recorded and able to be streamed at up to 2x speed, so when I have had to miss lecture to be in the lab or to go with my family to a doctor’s appointment, I can watch them later. Our quiz/test system, “Flex-time Quizzing,” is also unique; beginning weekly at 2 or 3p.m. on Friday, our quiz/test will open I can take it *whenever* I want (in a medical school computer lab) between then and Sunday evening. What does that translate to? No Thursday night cramming, Friday night date-nights with my wife, and the occasional football game (Go Blue!) with all of my studying/quizzing in-between, at my convenience. Oh, and by the way, my wife and I had an ultrasound last Friday confirming our hopes: “spud” number four is going to be a girl!! Expect cute newborn pictures after February 9th, 2014.

Medical school is full of problems to be solved, but at the University of Michigan Medical School, I have the flexibility to make time for the people I love.

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four!

(Image courtesy of: KY3, <>)