Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Diane Hindman

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Trinity School of Medicine has always prided itself on the strength and ambition of its students. So many future physicians come our way looking for something new; whether that’s a unique learning environment built on support and a strong relationship with the faculty, a curriculum with an emphasis on clinical skills and service to patients, or just a true opportunity to live up to their potential.

In this latest edition of our alumni spotlight, meet Diane Hindman, MD. Dr. Hindman was a career changer who came to Trinity after working as a pharmacist in Canada and the United States for twenty-five years. Read what brought her to an MD program, what inspired her to change, and how she went from a non-traditional student to life as a board certified pediatrician and toxicology fellow at Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What brought you into medicine?

By the time I was 12, I already knew I wanted to be a doctor, specifically a pediatrician. I was the oldest in my family and the first to go to college. My parents sought consultation with both an MD and a guidance counselor. They both discouraged my heading into medicine because I was a woman, and I also wanted to get married and have children. I did very well in science and math, and was going to end up in a career in the sciences as a result, so they basically said, “Why not pharmacy?” Their thinking was that it would be more conducive to my marrying and having children.

At that point, pharmacy school was structured in such a way that you could apply right out of high school, so I applied and was accepted. Even though it wasn’t my dream, it was still exciting and a proud moment. At that point, pharmacy was already a difficult profession to get into in Canada. There was only one school of pharmacy in most provinces, and only eight in the whole country.

I worked as a pharmacist for 25 years. I interacted with wonderful people, had tremendous experiences, and learned a lot, but I was never quite where I envisioned being. I desired more direct patient contact and responsibility for provision of their care.

To wrap up a long story, basically at 52 years old, divorced and having been a single mother for more than two decades, while fulfilling the role as director of pharmacy at a health care enterprise in Arizona, I realized that couldn’t see myself working in that field for another 15-20 years. It was time to pursue my original dream.

A doctor friend, who realized how I felt, said, “Well, why aren’t you doing something about becoming a physician?” There’s a notion that nobody goes to medical school in their 50s, and it’s true, there are lots of reasons why people don’t. Most traditional schools don’t take us seriously when we apply. Another friend spoke with several schools and said, “[She’ll] never get in, we want young people that are going to be in the profession the long haul, and can meet the demanding workload, etc.”

While working as the director of pharmacy in Arizona, I explored what it would take to apply. There were some challenges. I realized I couldn’t apply immediately as there were some pre-reqs I needed. As a Canadian I had to prove I could speak English to even apply to the US schools for some reason. I also had to take some English and humanities courses as well as physics, which I hadn’t taken since 1973; MCAT then followed. It was a two year process just getting ready to apply.

Did you apply to US Schools or head straight to the Caribbean?

When I applied, I did so very broadly, in both Canada and the US. The US apps were a challenge, even though I had a NAFTA professional visa. Being an international applicant added an extra layer of complexity. I applied to about 75-80 schools altogether, writing approximately 30,000 words in essays. I got shortlisted in a few schools, and I even got interviews in Phoenix and Tucson. I eventually got accepted at Tucson, but they realized I didn’t have my green card. I was elated to be offered admission in February, contingent upon having my green card by July or I would lose my place. Ultimately, I had no control over what USCIS (US Citizen and Immigration Services) was going to do or how fast a decision would be made regarding my green card status. It was at the juncture I started looking at Caribbean schools.

What brought you to Trinity School of Medicine?

I had looked at several of the older “big” schools, and knew pretty quickly that I didn’t want a large school like SGU or Ross. I met with a representative from Trinity, and liked what he had to say about what was then a very new school. I didn’t know anything about St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but after I looked into the country, I found it very appealing. St. Vincent is small and without significant tourist commercialism like many of the islands. Overall, it seemed a great place where I could focus on the required work, and learn about life in a country outside of mainland North America.

I applied, came for the interview, and got accepted. I was a bit afraid at first because it was still very early in the school’s operation. There were even some new buildings under construction. I admit, it felt precarious, but I had done my due diligence about the school, and the path to medicine as an international medical graduate. With my youngest son still in nursing school, I made the decision. I was off to Trinity.

In hindsight, it was quite a crazy decision. I was in a very secure senior pharmacy position, making a good income, and I had a nice life. My sons and family were initially surprised at my decision, but in no time accepted my enthusiasm and supported my decision. They recognized my desire to continue working as long as I wanted, and the importance of being happy on that journey.

What was life like at Trinity?

It was a very interesting experience. I’d experienced healthcare firsthand in small hospitals as well as facilities that provided quaternary medical care, and was familiar with the medical model in both arenas. At Milton Cato [ed. Trinity’s teaching hospital on St. Vincent] in particular, I was intrigued by, and interested in, the differences in the practice of medicine in St. Vincent. I saw what it’s like in a country with fewer financial resources relative to the US and Canada. I saw the challenges in providing care at the hospital every week.

The nurses, physicians, and lecturers that worked at the hospital, and rotations we did as basic science students were very educational; the experience was incredible and filled with great learning opportunities. Everyone – including surgeons, anesthesiologists, and obstetricians – at the hospital was very open and welcoming if you wanted extra experience. I felt very fortunate. For example, almost every Saturday or Sunday depending on my exams, I worked in the ED. I spent significant time with Dr. Grant there. She and I still remain friends, and I hope to return one day and repay my debt for the kindness and experience I received at Milton Cato. We saw some exposures that we probably wouldn’t see in the US or Canada, as well. That, combined with the experience in rotations back home made me feel like we got a more complete experience in many ways.

My interest in pediatrics had held since my own childhood. Seeing a little girl with a pronounced presentation of minimal change disease was just one of the cases I’ll never forget. When I first saw a child in my pediatrics residency in the US with this same condition, the memories came right back.

On campus, the faculty were absolutely amazing. People like Dr. Cooper [ed. Paul E. Cooper, MD, FRCPC, neuroscience professor at Trinity) and the like were the cream of the crop in their area, and it was always a pleasure to learn from them. I feel very privileged to have been taught by some of those folks.

In the classroom, as an adult learner, having to realign how I learned for the needs of a medical school curriculum, after years of dealing with pharmacology and pathophysiology in pharmacy practice, was an interesting challenge. Adapting to a curriculum, although I think it’s changed now, where every few weeks you’re mastering a different aspect of the material required creativity and planning. Overall, I think that the learning was great, it was a matter of applying yourself and figuring out how to learn it to be successful.

Do you have any advice for students considering Trinity?

More than Trinity, I think it’s important that students who are considering an international school or any alternative to the basic medical education program in the US or Canada know what they’re in for. Caribbean schools offer a true opportunity to those that didn’t meet the criteria for US or Canadian schools. Students can be very successful as IMGs – look at Trinity’s graduates – but every student going in needs to have their eyes open.

Living in the Caribbean is a new experience for most, and although the allure of two years in a tropical paradise is enticing, it may adversely impact matriculants’ ultimate success in medical school if the time there is seen as a vacation. Students have to be proactive, and consider their ultimate dream job early in their medical education. Getting into the desired residency is possible, tho sometimes more difficult as an IMG. Learners often need to be prepared to work harder than they ever have, and to take on extra opportunities to learn more. We were very fortunate that Trinity offers those marvelous opportunities, as well as a robust and credible learning curriculum. With the correct attitude and diligence, Trinity graduates can achieve their full academic potential, and their lifelong dream of becoming a practicing physician.

What was the social experience like at Trinity as a non-traditional student?

As you can appreciate, I didn’t fit the usual student mode, and I was certainly not a partier. I was there pursuing my dream and second career, and knew the high stakes of medical school everywhere. For me, the finances were significant. I’d given up a lot to go to medical school, and understood what it was going to take to get finished, do well, get into residency, and obtain my medical license back home. From the outset, I knew I had to work really hard and apply myself. That’s kind of the benefit of having been older or more mature; I knew what was necessary to be successful.

Nevertheless, there were still memorable social experiences on the island. I had favorite restaurants where I rewarded myself with dinner out after exams or particularly heavy weeks of study. I will also cherish the memories of trips to the nearby Grenadine Islands, swimming in the ocean cove near my home, visiting places like the La Soufrière volcano, and spending time with classmates.

How did you select your specialty? 

As I mentioned, I have always wanted to be a pediatrician, but I seriously considered other specialties, such as anesthesiology, when it came down to thinking about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Even as a mature student, I didn’t feel limited by the possibilities, but was glad I had worked hard to achieve good grades and other positive experiences when it came time to apply for residency. In the end, I completed my pediatrics residency at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

Where will your career take you from here?

After my pediatrics residency I craved more stimulation than I felt general pediatrics would afford me. I didn’t want to be in the same office every day doing the same thing. I had interests in government and advocacy as well as policy, and I wanted to do something that would broaden my opportunities in the future. After the rewarding experiences I had shadowing in the Milton Cato Emergency Department, and emergency medicine during residency at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, I looked at fellowships in pediatric emergency medicine, but eventually decided on medical toxicology. The science of toxicology as a fellowship, on top of my pediatric specialty and my background in pharmacy, all seemed to be a good fit.

I was thrilled to be accepted into the medical toxicology fellowship at Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Once I was board certified as a pediatrician, I became licensed in Georgia, which enabled me to moonlight as a pediatrician in the emergency department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. I have the best of all worlds – I have been able to advance my education in toxicology in one of the premier programs, gain experience as a clinician in both pediatrics and toxicology, and acquire expertise in the government sector.

After fellowship is done this summer, I am excited to transition into a full-time physician role in pediatrics and toxicology at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Accomplishing my lifelong dream to become a physician wouldn’t have been possible without the faith in my abilities and support that Trinity afforded me; I will be forever grateful.

Thank you so much for talking to us, Dr. Hindman! We wish you, and all of our graduates the best. You make us very proud.

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