Michigan State University College of Human Medicine Department of Family Medicine

by Carolyn Strzalka, MS4

Community service has always been an important part of my life. It has given me the ability to work with a diverse group of people, serve communities I have never been to before, and motivated me to become a physician. Volunteering with AmeriCorps before medical school gave me the opportunity to respond to the needs of a community less than thirty minutes from where I grew up. I led a project focused on nutrition with a goal of reducing childhood hunger. This put me in a unique position to speak to struggling community members and implement solutions. My  communication skills matured while organizing food drives and my leadership skills were challenged as the program expanded to serve a greater number of children. When I learned families would benefit from additional food, I developed weekend care packages for them. My partnership with these families has motivated me to pursue a career that allows me to help others. Becoming a family medicine physician best fits my goal to be an active leader in my community and will allow me to influence change for patients in need.

During medical school, I have had numerous experiences that have reaffirmed my desire to become a family physician. While on my pediatric clerkship, I encountered a jaundiced but otherwise happy baby at a one-week-well child visit. The mother, however, was visibly anxious and tearful. After spending some time reassuring her, I scored her Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Her score was high; she was likely suffering from depression and needed support. We contacted the mother’s obstetrician and scheduled an appointment for her later that day. I was relieved that this new mother was going to receive the help she needed, but I felt disappointed that I would not be involved in her care. I want to be a family physician who cares for the entire family and treats patients during every stage of life.

As a student in the Rural Community Health Program (R-CHP) at Michigan State University, I completed a rural elective in Harrison, Michigan. This experience enlightened me to the socioeconomic and geographical barriers rural populations face. The physician I worked with had profound knowledge of the community, its resources, and individual patient needs. I was inspired by the way she was able to tailor treatment plans to patients, helping them better maintain and improve their health. She formed meaningful connections with her patients, especially one who had recently been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I had the opportunity to meet with this man and speak to him about his extended hospital stay, his and his family’s fears, and his desires for the future. I appreciated the time I spent learning about his life. While the physician discussed how she could assist him with his new diagnosis, I could see myself taking the time to have similar conversations in the future. This interaction showed me the unique way family medicine physicians can provide support. I want to dedicate my life to learning about the lives of patients and assisting them when they feel at their most vulnerable.

The Integrated Medical School and Family Medicine Residency Program (TIP) is a great fit for me. I am drawn to TIP because I have a strong desire to attain further training at a residency program that will help me develop into a dedicated, knowledgeable, and benevolent family physician. My experiences serving small Michigan communities through AmeriCorps and R-CHP have taught me that effective, compassionate physicians are community leaders and strong advocates for others. My goal is to be a physician that makes an impact on my community and to help alleviate the needs of vulnerable patients. I have always been passionate about community outreach. To be able to serve my community as a fourth-year medical student and continue this service as a resident would be an incredibly rewarding experience. My participation in TIP will allow me to further cultivate my leadership skills, expand my clinical knowledge, and develop a deeper understanding about the community I wish to serve in the future.