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 next special edition of our alumni spotlight, meet Dr. Lynndsey Klenk and Dr. James Parker, both Trinity graduates and residents in Macon, GA. Drs. Klenk and Parker are engaged and actually participated in the NRMP’s Couples Match program.
What made you want a career in medicine?
James: I don’t have any doctors in the family, but my dad always pushed it as a path. I think he regretted not pursuing it himself. That was one reason, the other is I just wanted something hard. The more I learned about surgery, the more the challenge appealed to me.
Lynndsey: Growing up, I had good experiences with my pediatrician in general. In particular, though, I watched a pediatrician handle a very complicated situation with my sister. I knew at a very early age what I wanted to do.
What did you study in undergrad? Where?
James: I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in chemistry.
Lynndsey: I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in chemical engineering.
Did you apply to any US medical schools?
Lynndsey: Yes. I actually applied to six med schools in Ohio. I took the typical approach; I applied my junior year on the normal timetable for most undergrads. Being a chemical engineer [ed. a challenging field with a reputation for grade deflation], my GPA was the biggest thing holding me back. I was not the classic “4.0 bio major.” When I didn’t get in the first cycle, I cast a wider net; that’s when Trinity happened.
James: No. Speaking frankly, I knew there was no chance for me. As I said, I was a chem major at UNC, it’s one of the top chemistry programs in the country. My classmates came from all over the world wanting to go into chemistry as a field. They had a passion for it, I chose it as a science I could use to head into medical school. I wasn’t into it as much as them and it showed in my performance. This is classically terrible advice, but I would honestly say do music, a foreign language, something else, something you’re passionate about, and just get your pre-reqs, and go in that way. I think it’d work better than forcing yourself to do something you care less about, because that lack of energy will show in your transcripts whether you think it will or not.
What ultimately brought you to Trinity?
James: Finishing college, feeling like my app wouldn’t even get looked at by US schools, I spoke to an adviser who mentioned going to the Caribbean. I didn’t realize how much that would sink in with me, really, but it really did. I found Trinity on Facebook of all places. I called that day and spoke with Dr. Miller [ed. Trinity’s registrar, Dr. Michael Miller]. It was about a year before I started. With Trinity, everything just fit in the right places to go, it worked out.
Lynndsey: I didn’t know what Caribbean schools really were, and I didn’t know that Trinity actually was one when I accepted the interview. I got an email about local interviews via Princeton Review. It was off cycle [ed. outside of the traditional application period for med students]. I had already found out that I wasn’t getting into any US schools. I was wait listed at best. I decided to go for it, sent Trinity my AMCAS. It was perfect timing. Stacy [ed. Trinity head of admissions, Stacy Meyer] was the first person I was in contact with. I was working as a research coordinator at the time, but we talked back and forth almost daily. I actually met her at my interview in Chicago, and she’s the one that called and told me I was accepted.
What are some of your memories of your time on the island? In class and out?
James: Dr. Krishna taught pathology when I was there, and he has the entire Robbins book memorized [ed. Robbins & Coltran’s Pathologic Basis of Diseases is the definitive text on the subject]. He was so influential. In a lot of ways, he taught me how to learn, how to absorb the info, he was great at teaching focus. The most memorable thing out of the classroom were the adventures. You could unwind by relaxing, but on St. Vincent, you go have an adventure. It’s unspoiled, it’s not a resort. We’d all sail together after the unified exams. We’d just take off, get on a boat, a big catamaran, sail down the Grenadines. We’d eat breakfast, swim with sea turtles, it’s pretty amazing.
Lynndsey: I was there towards the end of Dr. Krishna’s time there, but basically the entire faculty was amazing. Most of them are MDs so in addition to the lecture, there was that real world clinical experience they’d add into the text to ground it. Now that James and I are here at Mercer for our residencies and see how their program works, I think we actually had an advantage at Trinity. At Mercer, they’re doing PBL, which is a popular approach these days, but that wouldn’t have worked for me. Trinity’s method just clicked.
As far as our occasional down time, as James said, exploring the island was big. My mom came down and visited twice to experience it herself. Immersing in the culture, the people at things like Vincy Mas/Carnival, even stuff that wasn’t downtime, like working in Milton Cato Memorial Hospital was great, rewarding.
You two are engaged and took part in a Couples Match through the NRMP. How did you actually meet?
Lynndsey: We were actually just talking about this again because the wedding is coming up. So, Trinity has a new student group on Facebook. I joined after I was accepted, and James was already there.
James: I noticed her right away.
Lynndsey: We never had class together, but he was part of the organized welcoming committee that they put together, baskets, snacks, etc. for new arrivals. He made sure we met the first day on the island. That wasn’t really it, though.
We organically ended up in the same group of friends. From there, he was a good mentor, gave great advice about how to succeed in different classes. Of course, eventually the student became the master even though he’s a few years older than me. [ed. both started laughing, it’s hard to capture in writing, but trust me: it was adorable.]
Do you have any advice for people in a relationship while also in medical school? Or after, in their residency?
James: Ours was a different situation than most. I was a 5th term when she arrived, and on my way back to the US for my clinical rotations, so I was leaving as she was getting there. We ended up spending the first 2 years together long distance. Fortunately, it kept geographically narrowing down for us as we progressed. It was Chicago to St. Vincent, then Chicago to Baltimore, then North Carolina to Baltimore while she finished her rotations, then we both matched together via a couples match. The most important thing for long distance was making sure everyone finishes the day happy.
Lynndsey: You hear mixed outcomes in situations like ours. People in medicine with someone also in medicine, or definitely not in medicine seem to do well. We really work out because we get where the other is coming from. And as far as life, emotional labor, etc. we can pick up where the other person leaves off. This is really helpful when schedules get crazy for things like taking care of dogs, housework, etc. We complement each other, our strengths and weaknesses in life and in our work.
It’s funny, for our program here, where surgery and pediatrics overlap, we actually work together helping the pediatricians understand surgical cases, and then help the surgeons learn med management, other idiosyncrasies of kids. James just actually finished a peds surgery rotation and was rounding on my patients. We respect each other’s work and abilities, and we’re professional, so it’s cool when we get to overlap. We’re both doing what we love, it’s so important, being where we want to be personally as individuals. We share that joy with each other.
Wonderful! Back on medical school, did you feel prepared for your clinical rotations?
James: Yes. I did really well on the USMLE Step-1 and it gave me the confidence I needed to know I was ready to go. It’s completely different from basic sciences, it’s all clinical (obviously), and not just about absorption anymore. Now you’re talking to patients in the morning, giving presentations to the attendings, it’s all new and fresh and you have to pick it up as you go.
Lynndsey: Agreed. On the island, we did many, many hours at Milton Cato Memorial Hospital. And while we obviously didn’t have a ton of responsibility, we were still students, we still took histories and gave physicals. It’s the only way to learn some things, doing them one thousand times. Starting that sort of thing as a first year medical student? It was invaluable. You don’t get that in the U.S., so it was nice to get it early. Other than that, there was definitely a learning curve when we got to our rotations, of course, but there was a lot I was more comfortable and ready to learn than I expected, and I seemed to feel better than students from other schools about it.
We’ve mentioned before that you matched, and that you matched together, but where are you now and what are you doing?
James: I’m a surgery resident at Mercer in Macon, GA.
Lynndsey: I’m a pediatric resident at Mercer in Macon, GA.
James, you originally matched into a residency in Ohio. What prompted the move?
Going into surgery, it’s challenging as a Caribbean student. I decided to take a precaution and match as a prelim first, with a temp spot for a year. My mentor in 4th year at ECU actually made the connection for me, knew if they saw me, I’d prove myself. I did really well, but the goal was to match into a permanent spot with Lynndsey, but it worked out in the end at Mercer.
Lynndsey, you’re currently working overnight. Any insight/guidance on working nights as a physician?
Lynndsey: 4th year in pediatrics had night shift requirements, and you’re doing that in any residency, so you just have to surrender to it as inevitable. The way we do it at Mercer is a “night float” where you’re on every 3rd/4th night for a month, so it’s shift work. I actually requested an extra month of nights this year to help the program out, but I also don’t necessarily mind it either; it’s less crazy, there’s less staff. You’re mostly holding the status quo for the patients, which is often calmer, but no less critical.
That being said, sometimes there aren’t attendings overnight, so there’s a very real chance that as a resident on a night shift, you might be the upper level if there’s a code. That means you’re running it. That responsibility puts you on the edge and you have to be aware, and stay sharp. That’s where a lot of learning comes in. I have an intern, so at that point, a lot of teaching becomes my responsibility on nights.
James: I agree with all of that. Also though, after pulling all-nighters all through medical school, it’s a transition you’re just kind of aware of.
James, I’ve heard a part of the surgical hierarchy is the music that plays during procedures. Any insight there?
Yes! In your third year surgery rotation, I don’t care where you are, the most important thing to know when you enter the OR is your music. The attending will pimp you on who sings which song, etc. Anatomy is secondary to knowing your music.
[ed. for the unaware, in med school slang, “pimping” is when residents and attendings ask a question with malicious, or at least mischievous, intent.]
Is there anything you’d tell incoming Trinity students today?
James: Going to medical school is like trying to drink out of the fire hose. It’s a ton of information but you can learn it all if you pace yourself, make schedules, and keep studying hard. Make sure you take advantage of the island and everything it has to offer, too. Once you’re off, you’re done, it’s more difficult to go back when you’re not a student. We still want to go back for a week, spend time on a boat, play at Vincymas, explore, make the best of it.
Lynndsey: Agreed. The biggest piece I was given is while you’re there in a group setting with other students, with the same goal, it’s kind of up to you as an individual to still succeed. If everyone else passes, matches, etc. it still doesn’t guarantee that you will. Know what you need to do for you to succeed and focus on that. For me, the recording system for lectures was critical. I’m such an auditory learner, I’d re-listen to every lecture. Also, be your own benchmark for how well you do on exams, feedback from professors, etc. Trinity’s culture is very friendly, very supportive, but don’t let that be an excuse to let things slide, use it to let yourself try even harder.
What’s next? Any plans for after residency? (fellowship/research/etc.)
James: My program is 5 years, Lynndsey’s is 3, so she’ll be an attending for a couple of years before I finish. Hopefully, she stays local while I finish up. After that, we’re really not too sure yet. We’ve talked about Cincinnati or Raleigh, or somewhere new all together. A fellowship might happen for me, I’m not sure though. In Mercer’s surgical program, we’re trained so well that everyone’s ready to go and practice when they’re done. A lot of places can’t really boast that. I have to admit, colorectal sounds fun, though. It’s minimally invasive, and you’re kind of playing video games for a living. Who doesn’t want to do robotic surgery?
Lynndsey: I’ve always wanted to do general pediatrics, and that’s what’s happening now, but during my rotations I’ve come across neonatal/NICU and also fell in love with that, so if a fellowship is in the cards and the timing works out, that might be in my future. Otherwise, I love my general outpatient pediatrics. We’re basically set for an awesome trajectory no matter what, at this point. It’s great.
Thank you both for your time! Please accept our heartfelt congratulations on your success as physicians and your upcoming marriage, as well as our gratitude for speaking with us today about your time at Trinity. We couldn’t be more proud of all of our graduates, but there’s something special about knowing the two of you met through Trinity, matched together as residents, and will now be spending your lives together as spouses and physicians.