Girls Exploring Medicine program presents intriguing issues

Friday , October 11, 2013 - 9:11 PM

DYlAN BROWN/Standard-ExaminerAudrey Platz, a pre-med student at Weber State University, sutures a...

Nancy Van Valkenburg, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Abby Frodsham spend most of the 10 o’clock hour Friday sutchering slashed pigs’ feet.

At 11 a.m., she entered medical school, and within 4 minutes, had failed a major microbiology test. Seven minutes later, an unplanned pregnancy cost her some family support, then she had to lead a family session on the futility of a dying patient’s care. But within the next 30 minutes, Frodsham had completed her three-year hospital residency and secured employment as a physician.

It was all part of an education event, with no live pigs, and no actual patients or pregnancies involved. Frodsham was one of 32 female pre-med students from Weber State University to attend the annual GEM event at McKay-Dee Hospital. GEM stands for Girls Exploring Medicine.

“The sessions were great,” said Kaysville resident Frodsham, 20 and a WSU nursing major who intends to switch to a pre-med major. “It is so exciting to talk to people who are already doing what I want to do. I want to be a surgeon, so I was especially interested in the sutchering. McKay-Dee is so great to host this. Every day when I drive to my classes at Weber State, I always wish I could turn left and come to the hospital.”

The WSU students, all aspiring physicians, spent the morning attending three workshop sessions. In one, they stitched up the split pigs feet, purchased from a nearby grocery store for $1.49 per pound.

A second workshop, called the Game of Medical Life, sent teams of students twirling a Game of Life spinner, and walking around a simulated game board fraught with potential pitfalls and occasional victories common to medical school students and recent graduates serving residencies.

The third workshop featured a panel of four McKay-Dee physicians’ husbands, all sharing stories of how they balanced married life, and in some cases parenthood, with the demands of their wives’ educational and career requirements.

Each man wore a T-shirt proudly proclaiming “Real Men Marry Physicians.”

“Women have a lot of decisions to make about starting families, moving ahead in our careers, and even career aspirations,” said Dr. Cassie Whittier, a 2005 Weber State graduate now in her third year of residency at McKay-Dee. She majored in clinical lab studies at WSU and attended medical school at the University of Utah. At the U, her graduating class had 107 students, 33 of whom were females, she said.

“I think the culture in Utah, for some reason, leans more toward homemaking as a goal for women,” Whittier said. “Young women don’t realize what options they have.”

Dr. Natalie Trent, also a third year resident at McKay-Dee, said that career-limiting view is more prevalent in Utah than in other states.

“There is a high demand for female physicians, and Utah is behind other states in producing them,” Trent said. “Patients want women doctors. When you finish your training, you will work right away, and you will earn a comfortable wage.”

Family medicine graduating residents hired in Utah earn a base pay of about $175,000, Trent told her contestants in the Game of Medical Life, and she has a job waiting that pays more than $180,000. Specialists can earn a higher base pay, she said. Urologist’s base pay starts at $300,000.

Autumn Brubaker, a WSU zoology student from Syracuse, said she especially enjoyed the husbands’ panel.

“I have a husband and kids, and it raised a lot of interesting issues,” she said. “I’ll probably sit down with my husband and ask him how he feels about some things, like salary issues and demanding work schedules.”

The husbands’ panel included a stay-at-home dad, an accountant, a dentist and a nurse. All admitted requirements on their wives’ schedules were more stringent, and their hours less predictable and flexible. Some husbands said they expected things to normalize after residencies ended and medical practice allowed their wives a bit more self-determination.

Gavin Hutchinson, husband of Dr. Anne Hutchinson, advised his young adult listeners to be careful whom they married. Any beau who is highly intimidated by his partners’ ambition or higher potential earning power is one to set free before marriage and children complicate matters, he said. Hutchinson said he and his wife have learned to laugh when they receive a letter addressed to Dr. Anne and Mrs. Gavin Hutchinson. Hutchinson also pointed out that medical careers can be flexible, and he knows two married physicians who each work part-time, allowing them more time with their children.

Trent said many women she knows make training and family life work by taking a year off to have a baby, or having a child during medical school but before residency. She also knows women who had children during their residency, who said it was hard, but doable, Trent said.

Whittier said she took some flack from friends who viewed Weber State more as a community-oriented school rather than a place for serious pre-med studies. Whittier said she has peers who paid $150,000 more than she to study pre-med at Ivy League schools, and they’re now residents with her in the same program.

Brubaker said the GEMS conference left her more excited than ever about pursuing her medical dreams.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, and very empowering for women.”

Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or nvan@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @S_ENancyVanV.

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