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Match Day 2017: A Childhood in the Alaskan Wilderness Comes Full Circle

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Each year, soon-to-be graduating medical students count down to the third Friday in March, also known as “Match Day,” when they find out where they will continue their medical training. Fourth-year PSOM student Joe Mintz shares how his passion for science intersects with his love of the outdoors as he prepares for a career in anesthesiology.

Match Day is fast approaching. It is a strange tradition, all told. Every year, thousands of young almost-doctors gather in auditoriums across the country to find out where they will be attending residency. By now, we have been told if we have matched, but not where—an excruciating but practical twist in a process that has proven to be very difficult to explain to my grandparents. I have therefore been blessed with ample time this week to reflect upon the course of my medical education.

Begin at the beginning. Born in Anchorage, Alaska, I have strong ties to the state. My family has lived there since my great-grandfather sold sundries from a tent when the city was founded in 1915. I lived near the mountains, gallivanting through the wilderness with my dad and brother until I left for college in Ohio to study music. After college, I moved back to Anchorage and married my high school sweetheart, Sophie. Our son, Theodore, turned four years old in January.

My decision to study medicine wasn’t clear cut. As the first physician in my family, I had few early role models. I had to discover my passion for medicine on my own. I believe that the scientific method is the most powerful tool that we have to understand the natural world. Medicine is, to me, the direct application of science to the frailties of the human condition. It acknowledges the mystery of the human experience but is not intimidated by it.

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Over time, it became clear to me that I wanted to become an anesthesiologist. Physiology and pharmacology—particularly cardiac, renal, and pulmonary—are my favorites among the basic sciences. I have always been fascinated by the neurological basis of pain, memory, and awareness. I enjoy and excel at caring for acutely ill patients, and I prefer to focus my attention on one patient at a time. I value the trust and the intense, intimate relationships that anesthesiologists develop with their patients. The well-organized, team-oriented, high-stakes environment of the operating room pushes me to perform at my best. Anesthesiology is a natural fit.

During the last two weeks, I have been busy reframing my hard-won medical knowledge for application in the wilderness.  As one of the student leaders of Wilderness and Disaster Medicine Education at the Perelman School of Medicine, I participated in this year’s crash course in austere emergency medicine at the Trailside Nature Center in Mountainside, NJ. After 120 hours improvising splints and tourniquets in the woods, my fellow students and I were awarded certification as Wilderness First Responders. I believe that the situational awareness, leadership, and improvisational skills that I learned during the course will serve me well as I begin my training in anesthesiology.

As my medical education hurtles towards its new beginning in July, I am thankful for this time to reflect. Although I don’t yet know where I will be training, I am relieved to know that I have matched. Somebody out there believes that in a few short months I will be able to safely deliver medical care to the patients that come to their hospital. I look forward to proving them right.

Follow Joe and the rest of PSOM’s class of 2017 using #PSOMMatch to stay updated as Match Day approaches.  

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