Medical students set to start clerkships

March 4, 2019

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — Both of Alyssa Weyer’s parents worked as physical therapists, so she saw first-hand the benefits of helping others with medical needs.

But when her mother and father both suffered catastrophic illnesses, it confirmed Weyer’s decision to enter medical school at the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.

Weyer, 25, is one of 115 of the college’s first class of students, entering school in 2016 when the school opened in the old Wilson Hall building on the ASU-Jonesboro campus.

She will graduate in May 2020.

Weyer’s parents were from the Philippines; her father would only go to a doctor as a last resort. When he noticed a lump under his elbow in May 2012, he finally had it checked out, Weyer said to The Jonesboro Sun. Doctors performed a biopsy and discovered an aggressive cancerous node.

Her father forewent chemotherapy, instead opting to spend the remainder of his life with his family. He died three months later.

Weyer was a junior at Jonesboro High School then.

Four years later, while she was an Arkansas State University student studying her Medical College Admission Test, her mother began showing odd symptoms. She was having muscle spasms, “brain fog,” difficulty concentrating. When her mother couldn’t write her own name, she was rushed to the emergency room at St. Bernards Medical Center.

Doctors discovered she was suffering from chronic renal failure. She went through a year of dialysis and then received a kidney transplant.

“Both my parents were raised that you only went to doctors if you really, really needed them,” she said. “There was no preventative medicine. That taught me the importance of preventative care.”

Weyer, who is married and has a 1-year-old daughter, had to juggle her school work, home life and care for her mother.

“It gave me more determination and resilience to go through school,” she said.

NYIT, based in Long Island, New York, opened its Jonesboro osteopathic facility in August 2016. Arkansas ranked 49th out of 50 in its population’s health status and 48th in the percentage of active physicians per 100,000 people.

Osteopathic medicine looks at the body as a “whole” and determines if any interrelated things are causing the medical issues. For example, Shane Speights, dean of the NYIT school on the Jonesboro campus, said if a person’s right leg is hurting, some doctors would only treat the leg. Osteopathic physicians look further to see if some other area of the body is effecting the leg’s pain.

“We look at how the body is structured,” he said. “Students will spend 200 hours in manipulation labs to study the function of the body.”

There was a need seen for more medical professionals in the Delta, Speights said.

“This is the poorest, most underserved area in the nation,” he said. “NYIT saw the need, was sold on it and took off from there.”

The college spent $12.6 million to renovate Wilson Hall into a medical school with an anatomy lab, classrooms, medical suites, an auditorium and examination rooms.

“Every decision made here is based on the main mission: Make health care better in this state,” Speights said.

Weyer is in her third year at the school. This year she and fellow students are doing “clerkships,” or rotating internships at various medical facilities in Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Louisiana. For the next month, Weyer will follow Michelle Schofield, a physician at the St. Bernards Behavioral Health. When she completes her third year, Weyer will have done clerkships in family medicine, pediatrics, a children’s clinic and general surgery.

Since it’s the first class at NYIT, students have bonded well, she said. They can rely on each other and, Weyer said, teachers seem very attuned to students’ questions and needs.

She also has a mentor in St. Bernards Medical Center physician Ben Owens Jr., who helped her mother during her kidney illness.

“When he knew I wanted to pursue medicine, he took me under his wing,” she said. “He spent a great time dealing with me.”

She shadowed Owens at the the hospital and met with him and other students on Sundays at the Flo and Phil Jones Hospice House to discuss medical topics.

Weyer is leaning toward pursuing a career in family medicine after she graduates next year.

“I can’t wait,” she said. “I am looking forward to it.”

Speights said the medical college has grown tremendously in its three years. The school accepts 6.1 percent of students who apply.

“There’s no shortage of applicants,” he said.

“We will see the health care grow in this area in the coming years.”


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com