Nontraditional Journey

Taking an Unconventional Path to "M.D."

Every March, fourth-year medical students nationwide wait with anticipation for Match Day, where they learn the location of their medical residencies. The event represents a critical milestone en route to earning the mantle of "Dr."

Chris Whitcomb
Chris Whitcomb
For many students, the journey to Match Day has been more or less straightforward – four years of high school followed by four years of undergraduate study, leading to their years of medical education. But for nontraditional medical students, like Chris Whitcomb and Patricia Wout, the journey involves detours of various sorts before attending medical school.

Mr. Whitcomb had originally envisioned another career path altogether, having worked in his family's restaurant business on Long Island since he was a teen. He had planned to someday succeed his father as CEO. "In talking with co-workers and learning about their struggles, I was awed by their resiliency and felt inspired to aid people like them by pursuing a career in medicine.

"I found that Einstein, more than any other school, really allows you to pursue your individual passions and supports you doing so," added Mr. Whitcomb, who will begin his residency in internal medicine in July at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School.  "One of the things I enjoyed while clerking at Jacobi was taking care of HIV/AIDS patients, and the Beth Israel program has a specialization in that. I'm also interested in clinical teaching."

Patrice Wout
Patrice Wout
For Mr. Whitcomb's classmate Ms. Wout, the path to medical school was entirely different. Before attending Einstein, she earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Michigan. Then, while conducting research at Columbia University, she felt that something was missing. "Although I hadn't initially considered a career in medicine, I realized that I wanted to contribute more directly to healthcare. It was then I decided to go to medical school," said the California native, who is the first and only member of her family to earn an advanced degree.

During a clerkship rotation in psychiatry at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, she knew she had found the discipline that was right for her. "In both California and Michigan, I had noticed how drugs affect lower-income populations," she explained. "When I did the psychiatry clerkship, many of the patients were dealing with both addiction and mental health disorders, and I enjoyed talking to them while also helping them develop better coping skills and determining the most appropriate therapies for them."

At Match Day, Ms. Wout learned she would be returning to Columbia University. "Their program includes research in addiction psychiatry, so it's a great fit for my interests," she said. As she has done while at Einstein, she ultimately plans to work with underserved populations, seeing patients in her own office.

Posted on: Monday, June 03, 2013