MSU med students feel welcomed

September 28, 2008
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Five of the 50 second-year medical students now attending Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids sat down with the Business Journal recently to talk about their experience during their first semester here and why they chose to continue their training at the Grand Rapids location.

All five students hail from the east side of the state, completed their first year of med school in East Lansing and chose to come here, even though they had their pick of MSU campuses and knew they would initially be taking instruction in a temporary facility until the Secchia Center is completed in 2010. All five recently moved to Grand Rapids and said they plan on staying here after med school.

Perhaps that should be reiterated to underscore its importance: These young, educated people are planning to stay here, living and working in this community.

There were actually more takers for the Grand Rapids location than there were spots available, noted med student Sanjeet Rangarajan. He said he chose the Grand Rapids campus because it's a time of expansion for MSU, and it's exciting to be here and be a part of it.

"With the economic downturn in the automotive industry on the east side of the state, equally important in the headlines is the west side of the state and its march toward creating a new economic engine for biosciences and medicine," Rangarajan said.

"Knowing that MSU was going to have a hand in that was a driving force for me."

Paul Swiecicki chose Grand Rapids because of the "great opportunities" the area offered, as well as the diversity of this community. The other campuses didn't offer as much diversity in terms of patients and populations, he said.

"This area has such great facilities, and it's just expanding constantly. The research being undertaken here is amazing," Swiecicki said. "I'm really happy to be here." 

Medical student Whitney Kiebel said she previously worked with the hospital systems here as an emergency medical technician, and during her stint as an EMT, she witnessed the area grow in the fields of medicine and the life sciences.

"I always thought this would be a good place to ultimately end up and do my clinicals," Kiebel said. 

Danielle Hawkins echoed many of the same sentiments in regard to the expanding future of medicine and research in Grand Rapids. There are not only a lot of educational opportunities here, she said, but there are also a lot of options in terms of extracurricular activities and pastimes. 

"I think this area kind of offers the best of both worlds," Hawkins said.

Sean Vance said the expansion of the medical community in greater Grand Rapids was a real draw. He decided to pursue medicine over pharmaceuticals because he wanted to stay in Michigan. On a more personal level, he has a married brother who recently moved here, so the family tie was another influencing factor.

The MSU medical school is the last piece of the puzzle that's coming together between the hospitals, philanthropists and business leaders in Grand Rapids, Rangarajan observed.

"As students we're really kind of entering into a shared partnership where we're getting a unique opportunity to define how things will work in this town for the next 15 to 20 years: We're getting a chance to shape this community," Rangarajan said.

Swiecicki said city leaders, university administrators and faculty, VAI researchers and area physicians have really laid out the welcome mat for MSU med students and made them feel at home. It has been "just wonderful," he added. Hawkins, too, said people seem to want to do whatever they can to make the med students feel comfortable here.

There are buildings going up everywhere and that's always an obvious sign of progress, and undoubtedly that's going to bring economic prosperity to this area, Rangarajan said. He recalled that at the med school's recent inaugural gala, someone remarked that Grand Rapids is going to be the medical capital of the United States in 25 years.

"At the rate things are going here, it's definitely a step in the direction of achieving that dream," Rangarajan said.

Swiecicki said that prior to the decision to relocate MSU's College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids, West Michigan had really been underserved in terms of education beyond primary care: Students had to go to the University of Michigan or the Mayo Clinic or Chicago. Now, with all its "amazing facilities," this medical campus can rival U-M's, he said.

Vance said an integral part of the mix is the research that's going on at the Van Andel Institute, which is expanding to three times its present size. The collaborations that will transpire from the institute will be very impressive, said Vance.

The investments philanthropists and business leaders have made to put top notch technology in state of the art facilities on the Medical Mile will go a long way in attracting top talent from around the country and around the world, Rangarajan added.

Kiebel said a lot of students were a little apprehensive at first because they didn't know exactly what to expect of the school's temporary headquarters on North Division Avenue, but upon arriving, they were really impressed with the set-up and the technology that had been incorporated into the building.

Next year, the students will start their clerkships in the hospitals, Hawkins noted. They have already started seeing some patients to practice their interviewing and physical exam skills.

The buzzword for a lot of folks right now is "collaboration," Vance noted. Having spent the summer here working for the VAI, he was able to take a closer look at the intertwining relationships of the VAI, Spectrum, Saint Mary's, MSU, Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Community College. 

"For the first time I'm actually seeing things that I would call 'collaboration,'" Vance said of his observations. "It's not just a term they're throwing around here: I see people really working together to make things happen."

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