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On the Road to Becoming a Physician & Engineer: The Story of EmboFlux

Michael was an eclectic 13-year-old boy that I met during my time as an undergraduate in Biomedical Engineering at Michigan. He was often the loudest, proudest voice in the room and always primed with sporadic conversation topics. As a below-elbow amputee, he had just three design requirements for the 3D-printed prosthetic arm that a team of students and I spent a year creating for him. “Make sure I can tie my shoes with it, make it look like the Terminator’s bionic arm, and make sure I can do multiple pull-ups.” Could a plastic, multicolored, actuated arm design by engineering students accomplish this? To Michael, his disability was really an opportunity to create an assistive medical device that others would marvel at.

An example of a low-cost 3D-printed prosthetic hand made by students at the University of Michigan.

This was my first-ever customer discovery interview. It launched me into a focus on 3D-design, additive manufacturing, and biomechanics during my education. With abundant open-ended design problems in healthcare and engineering, my experience at Michigan taught me to meticulously explore design features, learn to develop the skills needed for a project, and leverage the bright minds and endless resources around me to avoid settling on the answer, “it can’t be done.” I related to Michael in that, when I was a young boy, I never wanted to hear no as an answer. Today, I try to approach innovation, frustrations, and even daily life setbacks with a “challenge accepted” mindset. I hope to serve my patients and colleagues to my full potential with this in the future.

After I started my first year of medical school at the University of Michigan, my first thought was, “well, there goes my engineering degree!” We don’t always cover complex fluid models of the body’s vasculature or learn about in-depth mechanics of interactions between bones/joints (I’m sure my classmates are grateful). We learn practical ways to diagnose, treat, and understand why diseases behave the way they do. But beyond coursework, I have found many ways to keep my spirit of innovation fueled at Michigan. The first was Sling Health, where we formed a project team led by my fellow M1, Danika.

Danika shares my spontaneity in thought, my level of detail in drafting emails, and my desire to painstakingly and completely explore ideas. She brought us together around the goal of addressing a pressing need in healthcare: development of a non-invasive anticoagulant solution that improves extracorporeal membrane oxygenation outcomes and lower costs. ECMO is a technology that acts as an artificial heart or lung for critical care patients who cannot provide enough blood flow or oxygenation on their own. Preventing blood clotting complications within ECMO circuits has great potential to prevent strokes, pulmonary emboli, and numerous other costs and downstream effects.

Our team members also include engineering and business students: Liam, Nundini, Carol, and Noor, who all have experiences ranging from venture capital, research in coagulation and thrombosis, robotics, and even ECMO itself. I absolutely admire Danika’s dedication to involve all members of our team and regularly find resources to support members who are new to ECMO and engineering design. As future physicians, the need to explain complex topics in streamlined ways is so important, and being part of a multidisciplinary team necessitates this. Soon enough, we branded ourselves “EmboFlux.”

Almost immediately, we ran into limitations. It would be much easier to create a device that detects clots rather than dissipates them. Biocompatible device regulatory cycles are also incredibly lengthy and costly if our device was required to interface with blood in any way. Numerous customer discovery interviews pointed this out to us. Time and resources are a major barrier for startups or device design groups. But by exploring prior patent art and recent developments in anticoagulation therapies, our team found a novel way for reducing anticoagulation without directly contacting blood, which allows us to shorten the regulatory timeline and save costs. This was an idea that many clinicians and ECMO researchers were supportive of.

Our team initially competed in the campus-wide Michigan Business Challenge. We’ve received great support and mentorship from Anne Perigo at the Zell Lurie Institute, who worked with us to refine and pitch the importance of our design problem to judges and investors. Anne never hesitated to meet with our team weekly or recommend further individuals to contact for support. What I admire about Emboflux is that our members leveraged almost every resource available to conduct research before launching into device design. We thoroughly defined our problem, referenced existing literature, devised market estimates, and explored competitive solutions. EmboFlux was fortunate to make it to the semi-finals of the Michigan Business Challenge, and we look forward to competing again in future years!

I remember a conversation I had with Danika within our first few months. We marveled at how open and supportive the Michigan Medicine community was to us when we were seeking advice on device design, clinical adaptation, and even devising our first few research studies for the EmboFlux prototype. With a mix of initial intimidation but also intrigue, I truly believe medical school is a great time for innovation. In our flexible M1 curriculum, Danika and I can schedule device tests or attend pitch competitions during the week and complete our curricular requirements and assessments around our schedule, even into the weekend. This has made it easier for us to balance the many duties of a design team with the responsibilities of medical students. The Extracorporeal Life Support Lab at the University of Michigan has also been incredibly supportive in allowing us to conduct tests and receive feedback on device design.

From left to right, Danika Meldrum, Carol Dai, Liam Mathews, Nundini Rawal, and Jasnoor Singh. This is a photo of our team after competing in the Michigan Business Challenge held at the Ross School of Business.

While many of us are new to surgical settings and adapting medical devices effectively, our team also took part in the Surgical Innovation Discovery Course through the Center for Surgical Innovation. Here, we received guidance in prototyping Emboflux for clinical adaptation and conducted more customer discovery interviews to showcase our design and aim for perpetual refinement. With device design comes continuous iterations and regular communication with experts to add modifications or features. Customer discovery will remain a vital part of our team moving forward, and it’s also incredible that we can think of many more stakeholders and bright minds at Michigan we have yet to meet, and that they would have such insightful input for our EmboFlux device. With feedback and advice from Candice Stegink, Jon Campbell, and the many surgical solution experts through SIDC, we really developed a clearer picture of how EmboFlux could find its way to ICUs and ECMO patients without disrupting existing workflows. The healthcare setting provides a whole new set of design criteria I’ve never really experienced in past projects. It has thus been super valuable to have resources like residents, surgical mentors, and researchers so close for advice.

In April 2023, our team was invited to present and pitch EmboFlux at the National Sling Health Demo Day in St. Louis. It was here that we presented our work exploring our clinical problem, market, and initial benchtop studies in a five-minute on-stage pitch. While we were anxious about our presentation or about the questions judges might counter with, we were excited to interact with many individuals who were incredibly curious about EmboFlux. Ranging from surgeons literally on call during the event to undergraduate students, we walked away with numerous contacts for future potential collaborations. We also witnessed presentations from up-and-coming medical devices all designed by future engineers, doctors, and innovators. After an incredible pitch from our spokespersons, Liam and Danika, we were so grateful to have received the National Demo Day’s 1st place award and audience choice for best pitch!

Within our team, I’ve especially admired how individual members are so confident and willing to take initiative on different aspects of our design work. We all bring technical design skills, but our background in ECMO technology, hemostasis research, and effectively pitching to investors has been valuable in creating a well-rounded, multidisciplinary team that can respond to each new problem with “challenge accepted.” I have self-reflected and can think about multiple times where I was unsure of specific aspects of medical device development, regulatory guidelines, the business side of medicine. But so often, I am met with unwavering resolve from our other team members to find the resources necessary to make our path forward more clear. This helps me reinforce my belief in my own abilities and encourages me to approach ambiguity with confidence and intrigue.

Beyond these experiences, numerous other spaces and opportunities within our medical school will allow me to continue exploring my interests in engineering and design through the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Path of Excellence, I have already gained vital exposure to design thinking principles and effective interview strategies. Recently, we received the opportunity to interact with patients and brainstorm a user-specific design solution in an ongoing process. I was able to see my colleagues shine and show their willingness to fully explore a healthcare concern prior to proposing innovative ideas. My fellow classmates truly are so multi-faceted, and the field of innovation and design is so fulfilling, even for anyone who may not have a technical background. Your curiosity and novel ideas are always welcome!

In the future, I hope to work on medical device design in low-resource areas, where user-friendly, low-cost, and quickly adaptable engineering devices can be beneficial to address healthcare concerns for underrepresented patients. I look forward to clinical rotations in the coming year, where I will develop even more exposure to workflow and areas of innovation possible in a healthcare setting. Our EmboFlux team also looks forward to further pitch competitions, solution refinement workshops, and helping prevent many complications of ECMO procedures!

Navigating Medical School with a Partner: An Update from Matt & Patty

Hi, everyone! It’s been a while since we’ve written for Dose of Reality. A lot has happened since our last post in 2020… We hope everyone is caring for themselves and their loved ones as we transition out of the acute COVID era.

For us, we have a couple of updates to share:
1. We got married in August 2022 in a small wedding in New York’s Hudson Valley with close family and friends.
2. We are now proud dog parents to a 3-year-old puppy named Georgie.
3. Patty now works for Duo Security here in Ann Arbor as a Customer Solutions Engineer, while Matt recently finished his MBA year at the Ross School of Business. He is preparing to re-enter the medical school world later this summer and apply to residency programs this fall.

The Challenges of Giving Advice
Giving advice is difficult as every person has their own unique experience, so we tried to be thoughtful about choosing 10 universally applicable ideas that might resonate with others on the same journey. Reflecting on our medical school experience was a helpful exercise. In preparing for this post, we discussed our highs and lows to distill what worked best for us and what we might have done differently.

Some highs of medical school included finishing the USMLE exams, finding my passion in medicine, meaningful patient encounters, connecting with mentors and celebrating our life outside of school – weddings, travel, birthdays and dog birthdays. Some lows of school are the ones you can imagine; it’s a challenging four years filled with frustration, stress and many missed events. We hope these 10 pieces of advice can be a jumping-off point for reflection and conversation between you and your partner.

Please know that what worked for us may not work for you, but discussing these principles may help shape your experience. The ultimate goal is to be intentional about the life you are building together.

Lastly, before we get to the advice, a framing that has been helpful for us is to intentionally choose to see life as an adventure. Adventures have both rewarding and challenging parts, but everything is part of the plot. This lens has been a beneficial filter when times are tough because highs and lows are both part of the expected path on any adventure. Now, onto the advice!

10 Tips for Navigating Med School with a Partner:
1. Open communication: This sounds cliché, but it’s truly the key to any successful partnership. Both people should equally share their feelings, concerns and expectations with one another. These may change over time, and disagreements will arise, but it’s important to know how each other is doing, how they feel and how you can be supportive. Medical school, personal life, job, etc., all come with difficulties, so set aside time a few days per week to give honest updates about your life, work, finances, health, struggles and triumphs.

2. Understand the demands: This is one of the more challenging aspects of medical school. Students generally don’t know exactly what is expected of them or how they’ll need to allocate time, but do your best to understand and communicate what is expected of you. It can be hard to explain the exact situation and expectations of medical school but proactively share that information, as it helps to set reasonable expectations. As they say, disappointment is the difference between expectation and reality.

3. Create a realistic schedule and prioritize time together: Your calendar is your friend. Be sure to add all of your obligations, study time, exercise, gatherings with friends and partner time on there. This helps you be intentional about how you spend your time and serves as an exercise in setting priorities. Set a recurring block in your calendar that is protected time to spend with your partner. This can be for catching up, having dinner in town or doing your favorite activity together. Show me your calendar, and I’ll show you your priorities.

4. Be flexible and understanding: Medical school is often unpredictable, and some months are busier than others. Plans may need to be changed or canceled at the last minute. It’s frustrating, but it happens. Both partners should be adaptable and flexible when this occurs. Do your best to set aside protected time and communicate the need for flexibility.

5. Take care of yourself:  Both partners should prioritize self-care and maintain their own physical and mental well-being. This may cut into some personal time, but it’s important to encourage each other to pursue hobbies, exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Having independent lives and interests helps when schedules are hectic and you find yourself without something fun to do. View taking care of yourself individually as a way to support each other as a couple.

6. Celebrate milestones and achievements: Medical school is a long journey, and it’s important to celebrate milestones and triumphs along the way. Whether it’s finishing an exam or a hard rotation, take the time to acknowledge and celebrate these accomplishments together. This can be anything from a handwritten card to a nice dinner. Time passes quickly, so be sure to find reasons to celebrate together.

7. Seek support from others: Both partners should reach out to friends, family or groups in the community for additional help when needed. Having a network of people who understand the challenges of medical school is a valuable source of support and encouragement. The Medical School Mental Health Program now has robust resources for students to use, so reach out and see how they can help!

8. Practice patience and resilience: Medical school can be stressful and exhausting, but it’s temporary. It’s not always easy, but view this as an opportunity to prove to yourself the ability to overcome challenges. You are both working towards a common goal; relationships often grow stronger through shared challenges.

9. Assume good intentions: It is a long road, and some days it is hard to maintain a positive outlook. When someone makes a mistake or things do not go according to plan, it is best to default to assuming good intentions. (This is a powerful default in life, too – see ‘This is Water’ by David Foster Wallace). And, as Ted Lasso says, ‘Be curious, not judgmental.’

10. ‘Things are rarely as good or bad as they seem’: This is a motto we deeply resonate with. The bad isn’t always as bad as it initially seems, and the same with the good. Life is complicated and full of tradeoffs, so it is crucial to keep moving forward with equanimity, optimism and curiosity. What may seem difficult in the short term may be a blessing over time. Ok, this is the last cheesy quote of the article, I promise, ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’ from Hamlet.

Every relationship is unique, and it’s essential to find what works best for you as a couple. Hopefully, these are some universal considerations to discuss and agree upon while going through school and training. We encourage you to revisit these topics with each major change in schedule as the demands of school and home fluctuate. It is definitely possible to maintain a happy and healthy relationship while in medical school, but it requires open communication, prioritizing quality time, patience, support, empathy and compromise. Be intentional and enjoy the adventure!

Wishing you the best, Matt & Patty Friedland



Exploring Whole Person Care through Michigan Medical School’s Health, Spirituality and Religion Program

Out of the countless PowerPoint slides from M1 year, there’s one that, four years later, I can still picture with absolute clarity. Presented in coordination with the University of Michigan Medical School’s Program on Health, Spirituality and Religion (HSR), the slide was part of a lecture on attending to the religious and/or spiritual identities of our patients, and it portrayed the Theory of Total Pain. Proposed by the founder of modern hospice, Dr. Cicely Saunders MD, this theory describes suffering as the sum of a patient’s physical, psychological, social, and spiritual distress. This slide and its message has stuck with me as, over the course of medical school, I have seen Dr. Saunders’ multidimensional view of health and suffering come to life in the stories of my patients.

Figure 1: Dr. Cicely Saunders’ Theory of Total Pain

As clinical students, we have the privilege of accompanying people during some of their most joyous and some of their most challenging moments. These patient relationships range from witnessing someone deliver their newborn baby to walking alongside someone mourning the reality that they are dying. While at vastly different ends of the emotional continuum, a common thread connects these two relationships. Both prompt a sense of wonder about how patients and their loved ones navigate such significant moments of transition. It’s in these moments where it becomes particularly clear to me that the practice of good medicine demands both provision of excellent biomedical care as well as a willingness to connect, person to person, with the human sitting in front of me.

Our HSR Welcome Dinner, a time for medical students and HSR core faculty members to connect, reflect, and eat good food!

Within this connection, patients consistently teach me about Dr. Saunders’ theory of medicine in conveying that health is not solely biological or physical, but together with other essential dimensions of health and personhood – health is also psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual. Their instruction to me of these dimensions comes in many forms: a request to keep family informed about clinical updates, an inquiry about Halal food options in the cafeteria, a desire to spend time outside in the midst of a long hospital admission. It is these lessons about the multidimensional nature of health and suffering that have led me to dive into all that the HSR Program has to offer.

The HSR Program was created in 2017 with the mission of developing opportunities for medical trainees and physicians to explore the intersections between health, spirituality, and religion. Broadly speaking, spirituality is anchored in where an individual finds meaning, whether that be in a world religion, nature, family, music, etc. Our exploration of this intersection occurs through lectures, research, and interdisciplinary training and is all geared towards enhancing patient centered care and encouraging personal meaning making in the practice of medicine. With this mission in mind, we host a speaker series, create courses/curricula on health, spirituality and religion and mentor students on how their religious and/or spiritual identity contributes to their professional identity formation. This innovative program is led by an incredibly kind and thoughtful group of attending physicians, Drs. Kristin Collier (Internal Medicine), Jeremy Baruch (Psychiatry), Adam Baruch (Ob/Gyn), and Phil Choi (Pulmonary & Critical Care).

To expand further upon opportunities for engagement with the HSR Program, I want to share some of my highlights from my involvement. Our monthly Woll Family Speaker Series on Health, Spirituality and Religion (an opportunity that is open to all who are interested!) brings in speakers who share how the intersections between HSR are apparent in their own experiences with patients. We’ve heard lectures from physicians affiliated with the University of Michigan, including our own Dr. Scott Stonington, an Internal Medicine physician and anthropologist, who presented a talk entitled “Working the Mind-Body: Discomfort and the Pragmatics of Spirituality (in Thailand and the U.S.).” We also bring in speakers from other institutions. Recently, we hosted Dr. Rita Charon, an Internal Medicine physician at Columbia University and literary scholar credited with creating the field of Narrative Medicine, who led an interactive discussion entitled, “Native Fusion: Creativity, Responsibility, Meaning,”. These seminars have led to rich discussions about the nature of suffering and what it means to be healthy, all the while building up a sense of community among students, faculty, staff, and members of the Ann Arbor area who are interested in engaging with such questions of humanity and healthcare in all its fullness.

In addition to the seminar series, all medical students rotating through an intensive care unit (ICU) have the opportunity to participate in the HSR Program’s Healing Presence elective, which I participated in during my Pediatric ICU rotation. The ICU directors love Healing Presence and encourage all medical students to partake. For participating students, you have the opportunity to develop new patient care skills focused on the spiritual needs of your patients. This development occurs through rounding with chaplains in the ICU during which you have the chance to explore various skills such as taking a spiritual history, providing supportive listening, and sharing healing words/prayer. You also engage in a structured, small group facilitated by a chaplain to process your own experience working with critically ill patients and their families. Personally, the Healing Presence elective helped promote my wellbeing while on an intense rotation and has helped me feel more equipped to attend to the spiritual distress of my patients and to work effectively with Spiritual Care colleagues.

Presenting the Conference on Medicine and Religion workshop that Dr. Baruch and I created.

At the core of my experience with the HSR program has been the longitudinal mentorship I received. What started with a “cold email” sent near the beginning of M1 year has turned into what I hope will be lifelong mentoring relationships with Drs. Kristin Collier and Adam Baruch. Through their mentorship, I have grown personally and professionally and added depth of meaning to my understanding of the practice of medicine. They have opened the door to unique opportunities for scholarship. I’ve contributed to curriculum development, specifically working alongside attending physicians and other medical students to evolve in the Doctoring session on “Religion and Spirituality in Patient-Centered Care.” In coordination with Dr. Collier, I’ve co-presented a talk entitled, “Whole Person Care” at a Continuing Medical Education event hosted by Michigan Medicine. I’ve collaborated with Dr. Baruch in conducting an Ob/Gyn Grand Rounds presentation and a Conference on Medicine and Religion workshop, both of which were entitled, “Cultural and Religious Humility: A Foundation for Relationships in Medicine.” With the help of another medical student, we’ve subsequently turned these presentations into a manuscript that is pending submission.

These mentoring relationships and my engagement with the HSR Program has culminated in being the inaugural student fellow for the program during the 2022-23 academic year. Within this role, I’ve had the privilege of helping develop our programming through participating in regular HSR core faculty meetings, helping select speakers for the Woll Family speaker series, providing near-peer mentoring of a clinical trunk student, and cultivating a community among students interested in what the HSR Program has to offer. Having wrapped up medical school, I’m thrilled to know that three, all-star medical students will step into the role of HSR student fellow for this upcoming academic year. I can’t wait to see how they help shape the HSR Program and community!

While I’m immensely proud of our scholarly work, what is most significant to me is the way I anticipate this work finding expression in my practice of medicine. As I look ahead to July and the start of my OBGYN residency at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), I’m confident that my involvement in the HSR Program will continue to come to life in the patients I help care for and in the ways they will take up Dr. Saunders’ torch in teaching me about health and suffering as the sum of their physical, psychological, social, and spiritual states. And more personally, I’m grateful for the ways that my role as an interested student, mentee and fellow continue to help me feel more deeply connected to sources of meaning in medicine, a gift that feels particularly significant amidst the crisis of physician burnout.

A fun dinner outing with core faculty for the HSR Program!

The HSR Program has so much to offer the intrigued Michigan medical student. Opportunities abound both for dabbling in our programming and for more in-depth exploration. You can find these opportunities summarized on our website, and while you should absolutely explore this webpage, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to reach out to talk with us! At the core of this Program’s mission is its commitment to personal connection with students who have never had the opportunity to explore this space or who wish to dive deeper into this space of whole person care. If you find yourself interested, please reach out! You can connect with me at or message our HSR Program email at Whether you’re a current or prospective medical student, we would love to hear from you!

From Professional Football to Med School: A New Path LEADs to the Same Goal

Not every path is linear, especially when it comes to going to medical school. Some students may move directly from their undergraduate into M1, others may take a few years off before entering the field. Then there are individuals who have paved their way towards a certain career and turn to medicine as their new goal. My path was somewhere in the middle. With the intention to pursue medicine after my undergraduate degree, a different career delayed my way.

I entered freshman year of undergrad with the intent of going to medical school upon graduation. As an athlete, I balanced sport and academia, knowing they both gave me a unique future opportunity. I completed all required pre-medical prerequisites and graduated in May of 2015 with my undergraduate degree. I transferred to Michigan later that year to continue playing football while working towards a Master’s in Kinesiology. Following my Wolverine season, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to keep playing football for another five years after college.

When football seemed to be fading from my future, I poured myself into a year of MCAT prep and working through the application cycle. The goal of pursuing medical school was back at the forefront. I was ready to start living my dream, a full six years from diploma in hand.

Needless to say, I had some anxiety going back to school. On one hand, I knew an MD was exactly where I wanted to be and exactly what I needed to do. On the other hand, I’ve been in meeting rooms and practice fields for the last half decade, a vastly different atmosphere. As I pride myself in being prepared, I desired something that could help get my feet wet, so to speak, before returning to the books full time. I wanted something that could help me adjust between two different worlds.

As fate would have it, a former teammate of mine from Michigan told me about a pre-matriculation program that helped him feel a bit more comfortable before starting the four-year journey of medical school. That program is called LEAD (Leadership and Enrichment for Academic Diversity), a two-week leadership course to aid in the transition of becoming a medical student. Learning more about the program, I realized it would help ready me for the school year. Without hesitation, I sent my application.

Feeling a sense of inferiority as I walked in, it took no time at all to feel welcomed, as if I was part of a team. I gained mentors who were more than willing to help me out with whatever I needed throughout school. Throughout the two weeks, we had various discussions and lessons on what to expect as well as tips and tricks of navigating medical school. While we discussed things you might expect such as study tools and med student resources, we also talked about the emotional journey of medicine, which includes success and failure. I found many of the lessons taken from LEAD helped provide perspective while also gearing me up for the long journey ahead.

Our days were mostly typical of a job schedule, wherein we would get to school around 8:00 and be done around 5:00, give or take depending on the day. Thankfully, no work needed to be completed at home. This scheduling alone allowed me to get back in the groove of things as the previous year I had been focused on waiting for applications to come back, and my wife and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first child. Furthermore, even navigating a simple change of which room and which building we were to meet in proved to be more helpful than I could have initially imagined. According to the coordinator, the change in location that occurred nearly daily was by design.

Through LEAD, I was also able to make friends and build a sense of community among my classmates. Meeting periodically throughout the year, we’d learn from someone in the Michigan community about various topics like building your residency application, finding a mentor and creating a CV.

As a bridge connecting my gap years away from academia to the beginning of my medical training, I have no regrets in having devoted two weeks of my time to engage in the LEAD program. The simple step of getting my feet wet provided me with a sense of connectedness and calmness moving forward as I walked across the stage to receive my first white coat.

How I Harmonized Music and Medicine in Medical School

Although I can no longer play Liszt etudes or Rachmaninoff piano concertos with the ease that I once had, my deep appreciation for music and piano has continued to be fostered throughout medical school.

On several occasions on the orthopedic surgery residency interview trail, I was asked by faculty, “if you had to choose a career outside of medicine, what would it be?” Without hesitation, I would answer: a concert pianist. In fact, for college, I applied to both music conservatories and normal universities. I won several international piano competitions, made my concerto debut with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, performed in recitals at Carnegie Hall, France, and Poland. I ended up attending MIT for college majoring in chemistry, but I continued to study piano at MIT and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and performed a concerto with the MIT Symphony Orchestra. After college, I spent a year in Poland on a Fulbright Scholarship doing chemistry research, while also studying Polish classical piano music at the Chopin University of Music in Warsaw.

In medical school, I sought out ways to incorporate music with medicine. The University of Michigan Medical School has a unique program called the Medical Arts Program (MedArt), one of the few programs in the country that connects medical students, residents and faculty to the humanities and the arts. As a first-year medical student, I performed in the Medical Arts Program Artists’ Guild Showcase, which is an opportunity for medical student artists, poets, dancers and musicians to perform at the Kerrytown Concert House in downtown Ann Arbor. I performed Libertango, a piano duet by Astor Piazzola, with a fellow medical school classmate, and Chopin Nocturne Op. 48, No. 1 in C Minor. I enjoyed having the opportunity to perform with my classmates and watch the performances of the numerous, multi-talented medical students at University of Michigan.

Every year, the Department of Anatomical Sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School, organizes a memorial service to honor donors and their families, and thank them for the gift of knowledge. The ceremony is an opportunity for students, faculty and family to remember the donors through experiences of gratitude. In addition to spoken word, my classmates and I wanted to express our gratefulness to the donors and their families through music. Through coordination with the anatomy faculty, we performed songs on the piano, cello and voice for the 2020 memorial service.

While learning medicine, I also wanted to maintain my piano skills. Practicing piano and studying new piano compositions was therapeutic as I navigated medical school. After spending hours on my computer flipping through Anki flashcards and solving UWorld questions for shelf exams, I would head over to the School of Music’s Earl V. Moore Building to practice piano alongside music students. I loved hearing the kaleidoscope of melodies from various instruments in the hallway as I entered the music building. Through the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SMTD), U-M students from other departments, including the medical school, are able to take private instrumental and voice lessons from master’s and PhD students in the SMTD. I participated in biweekly, private piano lessons with a student in the SMTD completing her PhD in classical piano performance. During medical school, I studied Debussy Prelude No. 2, Voiles, the 1st movement of Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor, and Rachmaninoff Prelude Op. 3 No. 2. In contrast to being in the operating room, I would sit in front of a piano to focus on perfecting a difficult chord progression, phrasing the theme of a piece with affettuoso, and singing along to a beautiful tune in bass clef.

As a fourth-year medical student, I played the piano in the band for the Smoker, a beloved, annual musical parody of life at the University of Michigan Medical School that is written, directed, produced and performed by medical students. Medical students across all classes come together to sing, dance, act, design, write and perform in the Smoker. The 2023 Smoker was based off of the movie Shrek and titled “VaSHREKtomy.” The band played a wide genre of music, including songs by Smash Mouth, Van Halen and Dr. Dre. Being in the Smoker band was a highlight of my time in medical school (shout out to my bandmates!).

While I will be pursuing a career in orthopedic surgery, piano will remain an integral aspect of my life as a therapeutic outlet outside of the hospital and a medium to connect with others through music. I believe that music, like medicine, can bring people together and heal.

Changing Lives Through Advocacy: The University of Michigan Asylum Collaborative

As the wheels of their plane hit the runway, my parents were greeted with the announcement, “Welcome to JFK International airport.” My mother, five months pregnant at the time, was flying from their then third-world country: Trinidad and Tobago. Like countless other immigrants, my family came under the promise of “the American Dream,” but what does that really look like? For us, it meant the opportunity to access the best education possible. 

We settled in the bustling metropolis of New York City, a place that’s home to over 700,000 unauthorized immigrants. Imagine arriving to a foreign country with only a few hundred dollars in your pocket, ineligible for food stamps or Medicaid. You take over-the-counter supplements, daily turmeric and excessive amounts of tea, hoping to stave off any illness. Finding a job becomes a daunting task when you’re suddenly asked to disclose your citizenship status on page eight of the job application. Then, a global pandemic hits, and you’re left jobless without any access to unemployment benefits or stimulus checks. But that’s not all – the mere sound of a police siren or the sight of a law enforcement officer fills you with paralyzing fear. You become accustomed to feeling this way, with a racing heart and sleeping with one eye open becoming a normal part of daily life.

When it comes to discussing the topic of immigration, the mainstream media frequently overlooks a crucial aspect: the 10-year ban that immigrants face if they attempt to visit their home country to see their loved ones. The heartbreaking reality of missing important life events like funerals, weddings and the births of nieces and nephews often goes unmentioned. Yet, despite all these struggles, the opportunity for a better life in America is worth it, and immigrants endure decades of hardship, instability and emotional turmoil to create that better life for their families. This is the story of my parents, two of the many immigrants who came to America.

Medical students, residents, and physicians actively listening to Dr. Jessica Pierce describing how to conduct the psychological evaluation for asylum seekers and refugees.

My journey brought me to the University of Michigan Asylum Collaborative (UMAC), a non-profit, medical student-run human rights clinic. UMAC offers free physical and psychological evaluations to survivors of human rights abuses who are seeking asylum in the United States. As the training coordinator, I recently had the opportunity to invite influential individuals in the field of asylum medicine to present to a room full of medical students, residents and physicians.

One of our speakers was Dr. Vidya Ramanathan, a pediatrician, human rights advocate and medical director of our organization. She trained our attendees on how to conduct the forensic medical exam and write the medical affidavit. Using the Physicians for Human Rights Istanbul Principles, she demonstrated the gold standard of effective investigation and documentation of torture.

Another speaker was Dr. Jessica Pierce, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who is passionate about civil rights and social action. She guided the crowd on how to conscientiously conduct a psychiatric/psychological asylum evaluation. Dr. Pierce defined psychological torture, explained the psychiatric review of systems and challenged us to strengthen our cultural understanding, especially when working with this population.

We closed with Teresa Duhl, the fund development and engagement manager at Freedom House Detroit. She informed us on asylum law through a unique case study following a family’s journey to the United States. Freedom House is a non-profit organization in Detroit devoted to helping asylum seekers rebuild a safe life through providing shelter, community and legal assistance. Many of the cases we receive are referred to us from Freedom House. Our training program is designed to equip our volunteers with the skills needed to provide free forensic medical evaluations to those escaping persecution and seeking refuge in America. After successfully completing the training program, our attendees can volunteer and make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who need it the most.

As medical students, we may not have the power to change immigration laws or provide direct medical care for all who needs it, but I believe that we can still make a meaningful contribution to the lives of immigrants by giving our time, kindness and commitment to learning more about the challenges they face.  Recently, I had the privilege of sitting in on an evaluation case as part of UMAC. This experience opened my eyes to the immense transformative power of medicine and helped me understand that the role of a physician goes beyond clinical presentations and medical diagnoses. A physician must truly grasp a person’s life experiences, strengths, traumas and culture to provide the best possible care. This requires building a deep human connection that forms through empathy, understanding and compassion, ultimately leading to the establishment of trust. What I witnessed on that call was the cultivation of hope and strength through storytelling and advocacy. To be trusted by this person to convey their story and experiences in a medical affidavit left me feeling humbled and grateful. It is a privilege to be part of an organization that challenges me to constantly reflect on my privilege and use it to drive change. By advocating for immigrants seeking to rebuild a safe, secure and beautiful life for themselves and their future generations, I have found a sense of purpose that is truly fulfilling.

To me, the power of humanity lies in our ability to form deep connections and support each other through adversity. While we may not be able to solve all the world’s problems, we can make a lasting impact by lifting each other up in times of need. This is a lesson I learned from my parents, who made selfless sacrifices to bring me to this country and instilled in me a passion for uplifting marginalized populations through service and advocacy. UMAC has provided me with a platform to turn that passion into meaningful action. As I reflect on my journey as a first-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School, I feel grateful for the opportunity to contribute to a cause that is bigger than myself and to work towards creating a more just and equitable society for all.