Inaugural Ole Med event draws hundreds: Alumni share experiences, network with students

Surrounded by abstract expressionist paintings and a lit-up view of the Minneapolis skyline, St. Olaf students and alumni partook in the inaugural Ole Med event last Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Weisman Art Museum. Connecting 70 physician alumni and parents with 130 students, the event exposed current students to the vast opportunities for alumni connections and provided insight into life as an M.D.

Modeled after Ole Biz and Ole Law, the event featured ten “pop-up” speakers, all of whom practice within the broad spectrum of medical specialties.

One such alumnus, Dr. Daniel Grossman ’03, spoke of the intersection of medicine, business and global health. Initially an emergency medicine physician, Grossman also has a strong interest in business and global health. His advice to students interested in interdisciplinary medicine was, “Do both!” Grossman currently enacts this philosophy by working as a Senior Director of Global Health Innovation at Medtronic, Inc. and as an emergency medicine physician.

Lynn Anderson ’75, Jon Hallberg ’88 and a steering committee of 20 other M.D.s tied Ole Med together. The aim was to give students an opportunity to connect with Oles who have gone through medical school. Over hors d’oeuvres, students were able to seek advice on life as an M.D., learn about the specialties a career in medicine offers and even hear tales of gap years and medical mission work around the globe. Dr. Marc Tompkins ’99, an orthopedic surgeon, talked with students about his experiences with medical mission trips, surgery and a busy home life. He is married to a pediatrician and has two energetic daughters.

But the main focus of the event was on the students. Leading up to Ole Med, the Piper Center for Vocation and Career worked to prepare students with proper networking etiquette. Peer Advisors Anisha Chada ’15, Nick Hoverstad ’14 and Jane Meyer ’14 held specialized walk-in Ole Med prep hours to advise on networking “dos and don’ts,” professional attire and how to make the most of connecting with physician alumni. Additionally, the Piper Center provided personalized business cards for students, allowing them to exchange contact information with doctors and stay in touch long after the event ended.

Ultimately, the St. Olaf camaraderie was instrumental for Ole Med’s success. One attendee, Michael Burgdorf ’16, said that “there was a profound comfort in knowing that all of the medical professionals were at one point students at St. Olaf themselves. We, as current students, could approach them with a sense of commonality rather than just humbleness.”

Lark Meiners ’15 also particularly enjoyed the alumni interactions.

“The thing about Old Med that I found to be the most notable was that all of the alumni seemed so enthusiastic about talking with students. They were all excited about sharing their experiences…especially balancing a career in medicine with raising a family.”

Other students found the full gamut of medical specialties to be particularly helpful.”I learned a lot about physician involvement in clinical trials and their collaboration with Ph.Ds to develop various drug treatments that are then administered at patient bedsides,” Drew Voigt ’14 said. Even more, Voigt said he benefited from the high physician turnout.

“I thought it was exceptional that I could talk to 12 different doctors and learn from their perspectives instead of shadowing just one,” he said.

While the event itself was short, the networking should continue, according to Lynn Anderson ’75. She said that part of the purpose of events such as Ole Med, Ole Biz and Ole Law is to keep students “longing for more.”

At the end of the night, students and alumni paid special thanks to Professor of Biology Ted Johnson, who will be retiring at the end of this year after a 36-year career as head of the Health Professions Committee and an instrumental resource, mentor and friend of pre-med students. Natalie Rigelman-Hedberg ’06, a pediatric chief resident at the University of Minnesota, served as the master of ceremonies for Johnson’s own white coat ceremony in thanks and honor for all the work he had done over the years.

“It was a joy to see very successful alumni interact with the current students in meaningful dialogue and for alumni to interact with their alumni peers,” Johnson said. He ended his ceremony with a note of thanks but added that he has not closed up shop yet.

“If friends are blessings,” he said, “then I’m very blessed. I’m still here, and my office door will still be open.”

With its success, Ole Med’s doors will certainly be open in future years as well. The next date is already set for Nov. 13, 2014. Branden Grimmett ’03, director of the Piper Center, spoke positively about the evening.

“By all accounts, Ole Med was an evening filled with positive energy,” Grimmett said. “Students returned to campus with more clarity about where a career in medicine can lead.

“Alumni and parents enjoyed the opportunity to begin forming mentoring relationships with current students,” Grimmett added. “As students continue their conversations with alumni and parents, these relationships will ultimately help them decide whether a career in medicine is the right path for them.”

Once again, St. Olaf has shown how wide its community stretches and proven that it will continue for years to come.