Couple brings love, medical degrees home to Shreveport

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — They say home is where the heart is, and for one pair of doctors, Louisiana will always be home.

When Kristen and Jacob Sandoz met, they had no idea their dreams could take them so far from the familiar and grant whole new opportunities.

Now, the pair have studied medicine abroad and recently bought a house in Shreveport, where they will both complete medical residencies at the same hospital.

The couple met in 2008. She was attending Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and he was at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

They met at a Lafayette club, NiteTown, during Hurricane Gustav.

“Baton Rouge had a curfew, so all the LSU students came over to Lafayette because we didn’t have a curfew. I guess the rest is history,” Jacob said.

The pair married in 2012 after graduation.

Kristen always wanted to be a doctor, but Jacob had a different path in mind.

He started in nursing school and owned a lawn and landscaping business in Lafayette and New Iberia. He did that for several years and thought it would be his path in life.

“Eventually, I became fatigued and said I needed to do more a little bit more with my brain and less with my body,” Jacob said. “So I had a change of heart, and I started taking the prerequisites to go to medical school.”

He said in nursing school he didn’t focus much on GPA because he didn’t plan to use it for entrance to additional programs. All told, his undergrad studies took six years.

“I was a B student, 3.1 GPA. By the time I made the switch and started taking prerequisites, my GPA stayed around that point. I had an adviser at UL tell me that ‘you may have to find another avenue if you really want to go the medicine route,’” Jacob said.

Jacob doesn’t think LSU would have given him a second look, and the odds were stacked against him.

American University of Antigua College of Medicine looked at candidates’ stories more than their GPA, he said.

“They wanted to know ‘do you have it in you to make it through?’. And, if so, ‘as long as you don’t fail us, we’re not going fail you.” That’s kind of how the story went,” Jacob said.

They started study in Antigua. The first two years of study are on the island, and they include clinicals and book work.

On the first day of classes, the dean assured them that if they studied hard, the school would make sure they had the skills and tools they needed to succeed.

Sometimes studying abroad makes it harder to get a residency. Jacob said getting to see how medical practice works outside the U.S. is an enlightening experience.

“When we chose our school, it was based on their record,” he said. About 80 percent of graduates come back to practice in the U.S. Some go to other countries.

The program requires that students pass all the same board exams as a medical student studying in the U.S.

“You do clinicals right alongside other people. I did rotations at Tulane. I did rotations at LSU in Lafayette and Shreveport, so I was with those students the whole step of the way,” he said.

Friends of his who were practicing physicians in Lafayette had attended American University of Antigua. He said there were success stories after success stories.

Now, he counts himself among them. “I think we made a good choice.”

After the first two years, med students take their first board exam. They took theirs in 2015.

“If you pass that, then you’re kind of greenlighted to go ahead and start working in hospitals in the U.S.,” he said. “We call them clinical rotations.”

Jacob did a full year in Atlanta.

“We were so homesick, you have no idea. So when the opportunity arose, we started doing rotations at LSU Shreveport,” Jacob said.

Affiliate schools that work with American University of Antigua are in Miami, Atlanta and New York. Not many schools of medicine, he said, will let you go and rotate at another school, like LSU.

“When I expressed my desire to seek other avenues because I intended to come back to Shreveport, they let me do rotations there,” Jacob said.

Jacob and Kristen were in Shreveport for about eight months, “and we just fell in love” he said.

A doctor can skip a residency and act as a general practitioner. To specialize, they do a three-year residency to become board certified. To do something like sports medicine requires another one-year fellowship.

Shreveport was the couple’s first choice for residencies. They both were placed in residencies at University Health Shreveport.

“Everybody has their own preferences, but for us, we were proud to get what we wanted and where we wanted to go,” Jacob said.

He gets emotional because it’s what he wanted and he got it. It’s a point of pride. Having people willing to take a gamble on you makes the victory sweeter.

“It’s like the deck of cards that I had in my hand played out, and I won the competition, and that’s the way I feel,” he said.

They view the couples match as an accomplishment.

In the photo of the two of them holding signs announcing their residency match, he said they were both happy crying their eyes out, and he hadn’t cried in years.

Kristen is specializing in pediatrics, and there is no pediatrics residency program in Lafayette.

Jacob will do a residency in family medicine, and plans to follow it with a fellowship in sports medicine.

Matches like theirs, he said, are distinctive because the applications are submitted as a couple.

“When you’re not applying for the same specialty, it’s very hard because they look at you and say ‘what if the other person doesn’t get what they need? So why should we put all this investment into you when we don’t what’s going to happen on the other side of things?’” he said.

They’re living in New Orleans until their residencies start. He works in LaPlace at a hospital in the Ochsner Health System. She works on the West Bank.

They graduated from med school in December, and the licensing process to prescribe takes about four months. The residencies should start about then.

Last week, they bought a house in Shreveport with a 30-year mortgage. They’re open to staying long-term.

“Shreveport, Lafayette: those are kind of our home bases. We say we like those two towns. That’s where we want to raise a kid,” Jacob said.

There are no kids yet — just an 18-year-old cat who travels with them — but they’re planning for the future.

“The people up there in Shreveport, they’ve all got cowboy boots on and a cowboy hat, and they’ve got mud tires on their trucks, and that’s kind of how I was raised. We fit well. We all get each other,” he said.


Information from: The News-Star,