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The six young adults are viewed as pioneers, trailblazers—part of a group that will soon earn its place in both the histories of Catholic colleges and medical education in Indiana.
The two young women and four young men are all graduates of Catholic high schools in the archdiocese, and on May 7 they will also be part of the first class—of 134 students—to graduate from the Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis.
Tyler Feldman, Katie Fiori, Maureen McAteer, Tony Rohana, Gregory Specht and Matthew Wysocki all know the history they are part of: how Marian’s program is the nation’s first osteopathic medical school at a Catholic university, and how it became, in 2013, the first medical school in Indiana to open in 110 years.
Still, they and their classmates are far more concerned with making a difference than making history.
Consider the joy that Katie Fiori displays when she recalls delivering a baby for the first time.
“You see how happy the parents are,” says the 28-year-old Fiori, a 2007 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. “And I had a huge smile on my face. I helped bring a child into the world and brought joy into their family.”
And consider the concern that Matthew Wysocki continues to have for one of his patients.
“He came in critically ill. His kidneys and liver were shutting down, and it all stemmed from his alcoholism,” says the 27-year-old Wysocki, a 2008 graduate of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. “I followed him for a month. It came time to have him come to terms with his alcoholism. When I talked to him about his disease and how it was affecting him, his family and his career, it really hit him hard.
“We got him set up with different programs and resources. From what I’ve heard, he’s been sober since. It makes me feel good to know what I said had an impact on him.”
Wysocki says his involvement with his patient reflects the approach of osteopathic medicine—“to treat a patient holistically, to not just treat their physical ailments, but to delve deeper into how a disease is affecting every part of a patient’s life.”
That approach to caring for patients connects with the Catholic faith, Fiori says.
“The osteopathic philosophy is to try to get to the root cause,” she says. “Looking at the person as a whole and trying to understand their emotions and feelings is part of what lends itself to the Catholic faith—of seeing people deeper.”
That influence of faith touched their lives at nearly every turn during their four years at Marian’s medical school, the students say.
It was there during their rotations at the Indianapolis-area hospitals of St. Vincent Health and Franciscan Health when the intercom systems shared prayers and faith‑filled messages at different points of the day.
Gregory Specht experienced the depth of that connection during his clinical rotations in his third and fourth years of medical school.
“I just felt more comfortable in the faith‑based hospitals,” says Specht, 27, a 2008 graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. “All hospitals have access to chaplains, but there seemed to be a different attitude at the faith-based hospitals.
“You see the priests, the sisters and ministers of other faiths walking around, and that’s important when you’re talking about body, mind and spirit. You have to take care of the spirit, too.” (Related story: Faith-filled lives influence young doctor)
Medical school at Marian even helped Wysocki return to his Catholic faith.
“One of the things I really enjoy about this med school is there’s a chapel right in the middle of the place,” he says. “The first year I was here, I was hesitant about going in. I had stopped going to Mass with being so busy. But in my second year, I decided to go in on Ash Wednesday. I sat there for an hour and reflected on everything.
“It was my way of re-establishing myself with my faith.”
While the students’ experiences have frequently been connected to faith, being part of the first class often required the students to take a leap of faith.
Sometimes they felt like “guinea pigs,” the first ones to be tested in many ways by the challenges and uncertainties of a new program. Often, they wished there was a class of students above them, a group they could compare experiences with, a group that could have told them what to expect.
“We really leaned on each other when it was tough,” says Tony Rohana, 26, a 2008 graduate of Cathedral High School. “One big thing about Catholic schools is the sense of community and family, and we had it here. We really bonded.”
A personal touch also helped—the kind that occurred in a class called Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine.
“It’s a hands-on approach to treating the patient,” Wysocki says. “We did that with a different person in the class each time. The fact that we were touching each other allowed us to have a more personal relationship with each other.”
In many ways, the first class helped “set the culture and the tone for what our school will be,” says Maureen McAteer, 29, a 2006 graduate of Cathedral High School.
“Our culture is definitely one of inclusion—a family environment where everyone knows each other and feels supported,” she says. “That’s not a common experience for medical schools. With faculty and staff, we’ve created a place where people look out for each other.” (Related story: Faith and medicine intertwine as a result of patient’s cancer diagnosis)
The first class has also built a legacy for future ones, says Dr. Donald Sefcik, dean of the Marian medical school.
“They wrote history being the class of many ‘firsts,’ ” Sefcik says. “They were the first to rotate in clinics and hospitals, and be compared to medical students from other well-established medical schools. They were the first to take national licensing exams. They will soon be our first alumni.
“What defines them? Resilency, passion, innovation, determination, grit, accomplishment.”
The success of the first class can also be measured tangibly by a ceremony that took place in March at Marian’s medical school. On that day, the students learned about the next stage of their education after Marian—their training in a specific area of medicine, known as a residency.
Nearly 99 percent of the Marian medical students received a residency, according to university officials.
“It was great to see everybody getting into really good programs,” says Tyler Feldman, 28, a 2008 graduate of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. “It shows that our class is really strong. It was the culmination of, ‘Wow! We did a really good job.’ ”
About 63 percent will train in the primary care areas of family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology.
Nearly 75 percent will receive their training in Indiana (38 percent), Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky—the five states where Marian has a primary goal of placing doctors.
“In total, the inaugural class of graduates will train in 64 cities across 27 states,’’ notes Mark Apple, Marian’s vice president of marketing communications.
Feldman and Specht will stay in Indianapolis for their residencies. Fiori and McAteer will head to Ohio, Rohana to Texas, and Wysocki to Arizona.
Now, graduation looms on May 7 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis.
Similar to nearly every graduation, commencement for the 134 classmates will be bittersweet—a time of celebration for what has been accomplished, a time of embracing the close bonds that have been formed, a time of sadness in knowing their lives will now take them in different directions.
“Looking back on it, reminiscing about it, it’s been quite a ride,” Rohana says. “There’s been happiness, sadness, anxiety. And it puts strains on relationships, whether it’s with family, friends or significant others. I know I have a couple of Mother’s Days to make up for. I also know I couldn’t have done it without my parents.
“While it pulls you from some people, it also makes you lean on the people you go through it with. We’ll have a lot of emotion pouring out of us.” †