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Former soldiers, nurse-cancer survivor, medical missionary help make up OHSU School of Medicine entering class

***Editors: Media are invited to the Class of 2015 White Coat Ceremony Friday, Aug. 19, at 1 p.m. in the Newmark Theatre, Portland. Entering student-physicians will be “cloaked” in their first white coat in front of family, friends and faculty.

Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine ranks life experience and a passion for medicine right up there with above-average GPAs and whiz-kid MCAT scores. This year’s entering class exemplifies those principals and includes three former troops, a nurse who survived cancer and a medical missionary who has traveled the world to help people with HIV, just to highlight a few. Following are snapshots of how these soon-to-be first-year medical students found their way into medical school.

“Our students get a feel for their future careers as physicians early on, with patient interaction happening very early in the curriculum,” said Molly Osborne, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for student affairs and interim associate dean for undergraduate medical education. “In addition to their performance in school, our admissions committee looks for the humanistic traits that every physician needs, like empathy, professionalism and a commitment to service.”

Carrie Bailey

Carrie Bailey, 30, grew up in rural Ontario, Ore. She has always wanted to be a physician, but instead pursued her nursing degree locally because it felt like the right career path and allowed her to remain in the town she knew and close to the people she loved. But in 2002, one year after starting her first nursing job, she was diagnosed with leukemia. She received a bone marrow transplant. “My bone marrow donor is a pretty special girl to me. It shows you people are willing, to put it bluntly, to lie down and suffer for a complete stranger if it means that there is a chance it could save someone’s life,” said Carrie. “My experience has better prepared me to be a physician and has taught me that medicine is not perfect, but it’s a profession very much worth the effort. Once you learn the patient’s perspective you can never go back.”

Marica Baleilevuka

Marica Baleilevuka (Bahlay-luh-VU-ka), 25, grew up in Portland in a multicultural home, and was exposed early on to the needs of those who live in poverty. Her father’s early childhood in Fiji, on an island without running water, and her mother’s experience as a Caucasian-American, who attended college and became a nurse, provided “an interesting dichotomy between island culture and Portland culture.” During her undergraduate studies in biochemistry at Azuza Pacific University, she participated in nearly a dozen international medical missions, traveling to Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and working with the HIV population, something she hopes to continue as a physician. “I see HIV as something that is so integrally tied to poverty, and the unfortunate cycles that people fall into. It’s so much more than deciding who you have sex with,” said Marica. “There’s a part of me that wants to fight for the underdog and address the issues that people don’t want to talk about.”

Ben Holland

Ben Holland, 23, grew up in John Day, in eastern Oregon, where his father is a family physician. He spent much of his youth shadowing his father at the hospital and clinic. During this time he met many medical students and residents from OHSU who were doing their rotations in John Day. “The time spent immersed in those environments, and the impact those in the medical field, in particular my father and those from OHSU, have had on my life has fueled my desire to practice medicine,” he said. A graduate from Boise State University, Ben has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Premedical Studies, and has always wanted to be a physician—especially in a rural community. “My wife, Amanda, and I would like to eventually settle in eastern Oregon/southwest Idaho, the region that is home for both of us.”

Brendan Cleary

Brendan Cleary, 23, of Portland, is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and the son of a Portland physician. He credits the academy’s core values, combat training and leadership courses for pushing him to become a better officer, person and future physician. His motivation for medicine lies in his confidence that a career as a physician will yield dividends for the men and women who put themselves in harm's way. “I am very aware of my responsibilities as an officer in the Armed Forces, and I am proud to be a part of this great nation's Air Force.” Brendan first was attracted to medicine at age 8, when his sister was born with severe health complications. “From that point forward it became a discernment process, progressing toward a curiosity and eventually a desire to pursue a life in medicine,” he said.

Gregg Jones

Gregg Jones, 28, of Star Valley, Wyo., was a special operations paratrooper in the U.S. Army and served two combat tours in Afghanistan before being accepted into medical school. His experience providing basic battlefield first aide and as a medic for his three-man tactical team, in addition to helping Afghan locals, sparked his interest in medicine. “I have a strong desire to work in developing countries as a physician; Afghanistan especially tugs at my heart.” Gregg has a degree in health promotion and education from the University of Utah and is no stranger to balancing personal life and career. While attending school full time, he also worked 40 hours a week in an emergency room. “Plus, my wife and I are the proud parents of an amazing little girl,” he said.

Joe Volpi

Joe Volpi, 29, of Prineville, Ore., spent six years in the Navy as a nuclear engineer onboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. He says his military experience, which included a tour in the Middle East, guided his decision to go to medical school. “In the Navy, life as a nuclear engineer was mostly about staring at a digital panel,” he said. “I wanted a career that allowed me to use my scientific knowledge and acumen, that allowed me to interact with people while serving the community.” Joe is the first person in his family to get a degree. He holds a B.S. in human physiology from the University of Oregon. He intends to return to rural Oregon to practice. “Medically, I am interested in some of the fields that have the biggest needs in rural areas, namely family practice, emergency medicine and general surgery.”

“These students are beginning their training at an exciting time. Our nation’s health care system will see many changes in the coming years, and OHSU is educating the next generation of physicians who will not only provide quality care but leadership in health reform discussions. Our students traditionally have a deep connection with the needs of Oregonians, and with this class comprising over 75 percent Oregon residents, this group is no exception,” said Mark Richardson, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the OHSU School of Medicine. “Already, one-third of all Oregon physicians completed all or part of their training at OHSU, and many of these future physicians will join them.”

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