Driven by a Strong Desire to Serve Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

This essay was written for the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine's Integrated Medical School and Family Medicine Residency Program (TIP), a transitional fourth year medical school experience that continues into residency.


by James Sawyer

I wish to pursue a career in Family Medicine, participate in The Integrated Medical School and the Family Medicine Residency Program (TIP), and pursue graduate medical education in the Marquette Family Residency Program. These goals share much in common and are based on my education, professional and personal experiences, and, perhaps most important, a strong desire to continue to serve residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

As indicated in the “personal comments” section of my medical school application, my first choice is to pursue a career in family medicine. In my second essay for the Rural Physician Program application (2012), I specifically noted that I wished to eventually participate in the TIP program. My plan before attending medical school was to spend my clinical years in Marquette at the Upper Peninsula Region campus, apply to the TIP program, and, hopefully, enter residency in the Marquette Family Residency Program. The goals have only been reaffirmed during the past seven months at Marquette.

I was born and raised in a rural setting near Sault Ste. Marie, home to a large (largest?) population of Chippewa Native Americans. My experiences as a “Yooper” instilled in me a love of the area and, eventually, a desire to practice medicine there. Several events were critical in my circuitous path to my present application to the TIP program.

I attended primary and secondary school in the Sault and then attended Lake Superior State University (LSSU) there. Full financial support through academic scholarships and “free” room-and-board at home combined with a quality education made for an easy choice. Our family has always been close, so living at home for a few more years was attractive. Not surprisingly, my mother’s cooking was a real plus. At LSSU, I majored in psychology, minored in mathematics, and realized I had, in my chemistry professor’s words, a “gift” for organic chemistry. 

As part of my training in Ferris State University’s PharmD program, I completed three clerkships at Marquette. I spent two months in my Internal Medicine Clerkship “rounding” in Marquette General Hospital with residents of the Marquette Family Residency Program. As part of the Ambulatory Care Clerkship I spent time in the Family Care Doctor’s office working with residents and participating in the UP Anticoagulation Clinic. The last month was spent with an MSU CHM graduate, Dr. James Heron, at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans as part of my Long-Term Care clerkship. In retrospect, I suspect these five months were critical, at least at a subliminal level, in my attraction to rural family medicine in the UP.  Nevertheless, I earned my PharmD, and worked at Putvin’s Pharmacy in Manistique for several months. Perhaps, in part, because of an elective in public health at FSU, I accepted a position as staff pharmacist with the Sault Tribal Center which followed a medical model based on public health as outlined by the Public Health Service. Although I greatly enjoyed my work, I wanted to be more involved in patient care. Thoughts of practicing rural medicine began to surface more frequently.

At this time, once again, tragedy struck our family. When I was eight, my father survived Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after a trip to Seattle for treatment. My mother was not so fortunate and succumbed to adenocarcinoma. I was blessed to be living nearby and able to spend large amounts of time with her during her final days. Naturally, her oncologists were instrumental in her treatment which gave her many “good” days. But the importance of her family physician, Dr. Mackie, in admitting her to hospice and coordinating care during her final days was a major factor in my decision to actively pursue medical training in family medicine. As her wishes, she died peacefully at home. 

At this point I knew I could better use my educational, professional, and personal experiences to help patients within a rural family medicine model. At LSSU, my psychology topics included the study of humanistic psychology and the closely related notion of emergent properties from Gestalt psychology. For both, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and the successful treatment for any disorder, physical or psychological, cannot hope to be successful through only reductionism. This holistic approach to medical treatment is, in part, a significant component of the Marquette Family Residency Program and is, for me, a major attraction. 

Marquette Family Medicine Residency is my first choice of graduate medical education regardless of financial incentives. My universally positive experiences with the Marquette Family Medicine Residency have reinforced my desire to practice family medicine in the UP. The opportunity, as a fourth year medical student, to receive individualized instruction and mentorship in community outreach and public health makes the TIP program an exceptionally attractive option. 

Continuity of care is one of the most appealing aspects of rural family medicine. The prospect of treating patients during my fourth and subsequent years in residency is, given my professional goals, a special opportunity. Working at a tribal health center, grounded in the principles of the U.S. Public Health Service, makes me better appreciate the inherent value in additional training in community outreach and public health than might be the case for most.

So far, I have met with modest success during my third year of medical training in Marquette. I received honors in both the Psychiatry (NMBE shelf exam: 97%) and Pediatrics Clerkships. If given the opportunity, I am confident the TIP program will provide the additional training and, hopefully, the financial support needed to become a more effective practitioner and leader in the region’s family medicine. Success in the Rural Physician Program and the opportunity to practice medicine in the rural UP are of paramount importance to me and an integral part of my future plans.


(July 2015)