Featured Alum: Laura Haskins, M.D., Natural Science, 2000

Laura Haskins, Natural Sciences, 2000, is now practicing at Memphis Mid-South OB/GYN Alliance, P.C. Below is her story in her own words.

Picture this: a 30-something-year-old mother of three, working as an ICU nurse, content with her life. Settled and not keen on change in general, she feels a new “call” on her life. At first, she tries to ignore this call, but over time it becomes overwhelming and unignorable (if that’s a word). The call? Go to medical school and become a doctor. A doctor! But wait! First, she must complete her degree. And that means taking stuff like Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Embryology. Ouch! So after recovering from this realization, she steps out in faith and enrolls in a large university in the Memphis area, returning to college after many years. The students have gotten much younger since the last time she was here, and the material is daunting. One day, as she sits in a huge auditorium with hundreds of students, brow furrowed, struggling to grasp some chemistry concept, she overhears this whispered exchange:

“Man, there’s a lot of people in this class.”
“About half will drop out after the first exam.”
“Yeah, I’m repeating this class.”
New voice, “I’m taking it for the third time.”

Alarmed, she thinks, “I’m too old to be taking classes three times!” Driving home afterward, she phones her husband, frantic. Good naturedly, he suggests she transfer to his alma mater, Christian Brothers University. Ironically, he graduated from the Business College some twenty years earlier, when it was still known as “Christian Brothers College”. What great advice that turned out to be!

The story you have just read is true. And, as you may have guessed, I was that 30-something –year- old woman. Thankfully, I did take my husband’s suggestion and transfer to CBU. I can honestly say if I had not done that, it is likely I would not have become a physician after all. Of course, I received an outstanding education at CBU. That goes without saying. The instructors were very knowledgeable, approachable and interested in their students. I immediately appreciated things like the small class sizes and the professors teaching their own labs; but, over time I recognized the value of being treated as an individual with a unique set of talents and needs. I sincerely believe this is what allowed me to press on when things were difficult, to hang in there when I wanted to tuck tail and run back to my “settled” life.

At CBU, face-to-face interactions with faculty were commonplace, both prearranged and impromptu. I fondly remember Dr. Westcott’s Organic Chemistry study sessions. Every Friday afternoon at 4 o’clock, when the building was like ghost town, he met us in the classroom and tirelessly worked problems on the board. Week after week, he would stay until the last question from the last student was answered. Often it was just a few of us regulars there, but he didn’t seem to mind. (Funny, we regulars had a lot of company around exam time.) I’m sure he had better things to do with his Friday evenings, but I am genuinely grateful for the hours upon hours he devoted to us. Not only was I able to pass, he helped me to excel in dreaded Organic Chemistry.

When it came time to apply to medical school, Dr. Eisen was instrumental. Not only did he understand the lengthy process, but he coached me through it step by step. He assembled my paperwork and even wrote a letter of recommendation himself. Above and beyond the call of duty, he proofread and re-read my personal statement offering excellent critique. And like a great coach, he commiserated with me when I was placed on the waiting list, and cheered with me when I was accepted. It’s no wonder he was one of the first people I phoned when I launched my new practice.

Because the teachers knew me as an individual, they were able to write letters of recommendation that truly depicted Laura Haskins. During my last two years at UT medical school, I had the very great privilege of serving on the admissions committee. The letters written by professors who knew students personally carried much more weight than ones that sounded like a form letter.

Even after graduating, CBU was there for me. Preparing for my first set of med school exams, I felt so overwhelmed and just couldn’t understand the cell biology material. Dr. Ogilvie met me at the CBU library, explaining it in a way that made sense. “CBU is like the Hotel California,” we joked. “You can check out but you can never leave.” Truthfully, that’s a comforting feeling. So, now I am a 40-something-year-old mother of three, grandmother of two, and a doctor. A doctor! Had I not found CBU when I did, I might not be able to say that. Isn’t my husband wise? Must be that CBU education of his.

Featured Alum: Stephen Wetick, O.D., Natural Science 2000

Stephen with wife Emilie at his graduation from the Southern College of Optometry.

Greetings Buccaneer community and science connoisseurs. It is an honor to be this month’s SOS featured alum. My name is Stephen Wetick and I have lived in Memphis for most of my life. I am a graduate of the CBU class of 2000. It took me 5 years to complete my degree, which at that time, earned me the nickname among my friends as the “5th-year senior.” As is the case with many high school graduates, I entered college not knowing what career to pursue. To be honest, this was an awkward stage in my life. I mean, just two years ago I was worrying about passing my driver’s exam, and now all of the sudden I’ve got to make decisions that will impact me for the rest of my life. “What do you like to do?” my parents would ask me. I would think to myself, “Well, I enjoy rockin out to Led Zeppelin, mountain biking, and hanging out with friends.” Needless to say, I knew this dream job did not exist. In the end, I relied on my inner voice to help me determine which career path to take. Something inside pulled me in the direction of becoming a healthcare provider. I guess the best way to describe it is an “innate sense.” Yes, I know this sounds strange, but at the same time I believe this is a unique ability we all possess. I am sure you can think of a time in your life when you did something for no rhyme or reason, other than the fact you knew it was the right thing to do.

College life at CBU was filled with a lot good times and some bad. I made several new friends, learned a ton of fascinating things in the classroom, and had many moments of fun and laughter. Some of the bad moments were results of me not applying myself hard enough, such as failing to turn in a paper on time, or receiving a poor grade on a test due to lack of preparation. Other tough moments included the death of a friend, the death of my grandmother, and my parents moving eight hours away due to a job transfer. Just as CBU was there to provide good times, CBU was there to help me through bad times. It was perhaps my professors, who helped me the most by providing a constant source of encouragement. I recall Dr. Malinda Fitzgerald really being able to connect with her students through her laid-back approach. Dr. Fitz made it seem as if there were not any limits to my capabilities as long as I set my mind to it. With this encouragement I found the strength to get through tough times—both in and out of the classroom. As a result, I left CBU with a sense of accomplishment, and even more important, confidence in my ability to overcome challenges and achieve any goal I set forth. I truly believe this would have not been the case had I attended a larger university where one is simply a “face in the crowd.”

After college, I obtained a job as a technician at a private eye care practice. A fellow CBU classmate also worked at the practice, which helped me tremendously in procuring the position. Eventually, I was accepted into optometry school and graduated from the Southern College of Optometry (SCO) in May of 2008. CBU gave me the foundation to get through courses such as optics, pharmacology, pathology, and neuro-ophthalmology. Thanks to confidence in my ability, I graduated with honors AND in four years (no more 5th-year senior!). I am currently pursuing an ocular disease residency at a co-management facility in Memphis. Working in a referral center provides for exciting and challenging days. You never know what problem you will have to face. The eye is an incredible structure—it has vascular, lymphatic, neurological, muscular, dermatological, and connective tissue components. This unfortunately means a lot of things can go wrong with the eye! Similar to my college experiencing, working in healthcare has a lot of good moments and bad ones. Helping someone get better is a wonderful feeling. Telling someone that their vision cannot be restored is not easy, but offering encouragement and help to overcome this obstacle can be just as rewarding.

Speaking of rewarding, my wife, Emilie, and I are expecting our first child on March 18th! Claire Cecille Wetick might have arrived by the time the March newsletter is released!! My plans after residency include becoming an associate at a practice or possibly returning to SCO as a didactic/clinic staff doctor. I truly enjoy patient care, but the idea of educating and providing guidance to optometry students is something I could see myself enjoying as well. It would most certainly give me an opportunity to provide students encouragement similar to what I received during my time at CBU. I honestly believe that attending CBU and pursuing studies with an emphasis in science was one of best choices I have ever made. For current students, I can assure you that the knowledge gained during your time at CBU will be heavily utilized in whatever career path you happen to take. I wish you all the best of luck.

Featured Alum: Jami Gattuso, Natural Science 1983

I graduated from CBU in 1983 with a B.S. in Natural Science and then went to Nursing School at the University of Tennessee, Memphis where I got both a B.S.N. and an M.S.N. I am on the Board of the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses and am a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. I have worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital since January, 1986, in a variety of roles: staff nurse, discharge planning coordinator, clinical nurse specialist and nursing research specialist (my current role). In the Division of Nursing Research we conduct collaborative nurse-driven research studies on topics such a sleep and fatigue, quality of life, and end-of-life issues. I am the coordinator for the studies of quality of life in children with osteosarcoma and melanoma and for the recently completed study of the effects of dexamethasone on the sleep and fatigue of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I also coordinate an in-house fellowship program for staff in our Patient Care Services Department to help them learn more about the research process and about evidence-based practice. Through this program staff members implement unit-specific projects such as improving understanding and treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, the usefulness of bronchoalveolar lavage, and an improved tool for assessing symptoms. In all of these research and evidence-based practice projects, the goal is to improve the care for children with catastrophic illnesses and their families.

I have always said that there is one thing that can’t be taken away from me and that is my education from CBU. The small class sizes, the individualized attention, and the incredibly talented faculty gave me a top-rate education that made nursing school a breeze. The many leadership opportunities I had at CBU made stepping into positions of leadership in my career easy as well. I consider the campus of CBU a holy place–one that helped solidify the foundation for my ongoing spiritual journey. CBU is probably the most important “place” in my life and I am ever grateful for all that “place” has given and continues to give me.

Featured Alum: Keith Criner, Natural Science 1999

The article below is from an e-mail to Dr. Malinda Fitzgerald.

Dr. Fitz, Always good to hear from you. I have been getting the SOS newsletters which I enjoy reading. Its nice to see that CBU is thriving and that the SOS is doing well. The new building sounds nice. As for the Alumnus article, I would be happy to do whatever I can to help, and would be honored to be featured. I guess to update you on what’s going on in life, I will finish a combined 4 year Internal Medicine and Pediatric residency this June and then will start a combined 3 year Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship in July at UAMS. After that, I guess I will grow up and get a ‘real job’,probably doing just Critical Care Medicine in an ICU somewhere. Maybe academics, maybe private practice. Recently got married to Mary in October who is an Audiologist (ear hole specialist as i call it). Hobbies include fishing, traveling, flying (just a couple more hours and I will have my private pilot license). My interest in medicine started when I was at West Memphis High School, when I used to round on the weekends with Dr. John Huey, a Pulmonary doc in Memphis. CBU further fostered the desire to pursue medicine, though I had my doubts after a couple of exams with Drs. Ross and Wescott. While at CBU, I worked at Baptist Hospital Pharmacy as a Pharmacy Tech for 4 years, and later in Maternal Fetal Research at UTMem/The Med under Dr. Baha Sibia and Dr. Risa Ramsey. I think the employment and research activities helped keep me interested in medicine and provided some much needed money.

This was said in an earlier email,but I really didn’t realize how important your classes were at the time. We learned a lot of ‘stuff’ in college, but YOUR classes had actual real life ‘stuff’ that I still use today. Not a day goes by that I’m not thinking about Beta Receptor blockers or agonists, Alpha Receptor agonist or antagonist, chronotrophic and inotrophic agents such as Norepi, Epi, Dopamine, Dobutamine, Phenyeph, and how all of those things work together. When the BP goes down, the HR and ejection fraction needs to go up as does the vascular resistance. Hence, I remember your explanation of how dopamine is broken down into other neurotransmitters and what neurotransmitters have alpha, beta 1 or beta 2 effects. I can then make a decision on what drug to use and know why i am doing it. How can sodium worsen congestive heart failure and increase blood pressure? One simply needs to look at renal physiology and the Angiotension system. It all seems very simple now, but at the time it was a lot to grasp. I can remember pulling out my Physio notes from your class in college (which i still have) and reviewing physiology after a med school lecture. Your notes were, to say the least, easier to follow and actually made sense. Its easy to develop pattern recognition, that is someone is hypertensive they need fluids and dopamine. However, it is paramount to know why you are doing something, so when the old stand bys don’t work one can figure out what to do next. I think med school throws so much ‘stuff’ at you, it is sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees, and hence difficult to recognize what is important. You teach important concepts in a relaxed environment that tend to stick with people long after the class is over.

Neuroscience, without a doubt, was my hardest class in med school. Had I not taken your Neuroscience class and had a basic understanding of neuroanatomy and physiology, my battleship may have been sunk. All ten million gyri/sulci with those pesky spinal tracts and cranial nerves may have been the death of me. However, I was ahead of the game and was able to keep my head above water. None of my friends in medical school had ever had a Neuroscience class. I found myself correcting someone the other day. She said that birds knew to migrate South because as it got cooler they knew it was time to go. Actually, as I learned it, they have an area similar to our SupraChiasmatic Nucleus (I think the Eddinger-Westphal) that recognizes the amount of daylight and hence as the days get shorter, there is less sunlight, and that is how they know to migrate. This can further explain some depressive disorders such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, less light stimulation equals less happy neurotransmitters. Its also the reason watching TV late at night can cause insomnia. Anway, the point is, these are things I learned from you, not from med school. But they are important concepts that we need to know and that I use regularly.

I didn’t mean to get verbose, I was just sitting here on call in the intensive care nusery and got to rambling. Compared hour for hour, college is a much more efficient way to learn than med school. Would love to come see the new building sometime. Maybe next time I come to visit the parents.