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Medical students feel supported with familial experience at IU School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary

MD students practice ultrasound at Northwest campus

Medical students on the Northwest-Gary campus learn ultrasound techniques.

Looking back at their collegiate experiences, how many people could say their peers and professors were truly like family? Or that they trained for their profession in a place that’s mere minutes from both the beach and a major city offering phenomenal restaurants, museums, theater and other cultural opportunities? This is the experience reported by medical students and alumni of Indiana University School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary. Training on this regional campus just 25 miles from Chicago and right next to the Lake Michigan shoreline blends big-city amenities with small-town feel, offering experiences to engage with diverse populations while forming lifelong friendships.

“We did everything together, our class of 26. I still talk to all of them today,” said Kyle Gospodarek, MD, a 2016 graduate who is now a visiting clinical lecturer in family medicine. “When you have an entire cohort you go through all those medical school experiences with, you really form some incredible bonds. Studying 16 hours at the campus didn’t feel like a chore—it felt like I was hanging out with friends.”

Kyle Gospodarek teaches at the Northwest-Gary campusNow Gospodarek is back on the Northwest-Gary campus mentoring medical students as he team-teaches highly rated small group sessions with clinical pharmacologist Jonathan Guerrero, PharmD, physiologist Joshua Mangum, PhD, and emergency medicine physician Matthew O’Connor, MD.

“It’s been a really cool experience for me to come back to my school—the place I attended as a student—and to now work there as a faculty member,” Gospodarek said. “It’s a validating, gratifying experience because the people I looked up to and who helped me unquantifiably throughout my schooling, I’m now able to work with side-by-side, so it feels full circle.”

One of those longtime faculty members is Dipika Gupta, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, who came to the Northwest campus in 1993 and has mentored countless medical students.

Like other faculty members on the regional campus, Gupta is known for her accessibility and eagerness to help students succeed. When medical students are intensively studying for exams, Gupta routinely walks downstairs from her third-floor office to check on them. It might start with one student asking a question, and within minutes, a dozen or more medical students will be gathered for an impromptu review session.

Elizabeth Ryan and MD students“It was late evening sometimes, and she would still be around answering our questions. You could tell Dr. Gupta was very invested in our education,” said Leena Aljobeh, a member of the Class of 2021. “All of the faculty are very accessible.”

The same can be said for staff members and campus leaders.

“All of our students have our cellphone numbers. I’ll talk to students at any time of the night because I’d rather deal with whatever they’re concerned about in real-time rather than say, ‘Make an appointment.’ That’s not my style,” said Elizabeth Ryan, EdD, associate dean and director for IU School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary.

At Home in Gary

Medical students in Gary love their close relationships with faculty members and other students. That's what makes the IU School of Medicine-Gary campus feel like home.

Crafting community partnerships and tailormade clinical experiences

Amy Han, PhD, is another extreme advocate for medical students in her role as director of clinical education for the Northwest-Gary campus. She strives to match each student’s unique interests with eager preceptors. When a student in the Urban Medicine and Health Care Disparities Scholarly Concentration program wanted to do a project in interventional radiology, it took some searching, but Han located a specialist in that field doing work with the medically underserved.

“We’re not just the city of Gary—over 750,000 people live in our region. Northwest Indiana has nine full-service hospitals and five federally qualified health centers, so our resources are vast,” Han said of the school’s numerous clinical partners. “Rather than trying to fit a student into what you want, it’s so much better to see what the student’s passion is.”

Marlee Crews, Class of 2021Being initially undecided about what specialty to pursue, Class of 2021 graduate Marlee Crews found her clerkship experiences invaluable.

“Being on a regional campus, you really do get a lot of one-on-one experience with preceptors in the clinical setting, and you get to be amongst the decision-making and are given more responsibility,” said Crews, who is headed to Northwestern University in the Chicagoland area for a residency in radiology.

Like Aljobeh, Crews elected to stay on the Northwest-Gary campus for all four years of her medical school training. Her initial fears about feeling disconnected from the greater IU School of Medicine community ended up being unfounded. Crews was able to plug in and participate in student interest groups and committees involving medical students from all campuses.

“There are many opportunities to feel very connected,” she said.


Evolution of the medical student experience

The experience of today’s medical students on the regional campus looks very different from the medical school experience of decades past.

Alumni Gus and Rebecca Galante with son Eric, Class of 2021“They get a lot more attention here than we ever did as medical students,” said Rebecca Galante, MD, a professor of clinical medicine at IU School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary who graduated from IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis in 1984. “One-on-one interaction with teachers was really unusual back then.”

She practices internal medicine in Munster, Indiana, while her husband, Gustavo Galante, MD—also an IU School of Medicine alumnus—has been in private practice as a plastic surgeon for 30 years and serves as a volunteer faculty member and preceptor.

“When I was a medical student, there was this hierarchy—fourth-year students, residents, chief residents, fellows and the attending physician—there’s a lot of steps between the student and the attending,” he said. “Here, it’s the student and me. They get to ask questions, and we get to know one another. They’re first-assist in the operating room, and they get first-hand contact with patients in the office.”

When Crews did her pathology elective, she said, “I was being observed but walking though the practice of making a diagnosis on my own. Basically, they treated me like a first-year resident, and I learned so much.”

Crews initially chose to study in Northwest Indiana because her husband was doing graduate school in Chicago. She didn’t fully appreciate all of the opportunities of the regional campus until later.

“Being at a regional campus, and especially in Gary, you get to see how medicine is practiced in a community setting. In terms of specialty selection, it provides a robust picture of what the practice of medicine can look like after medical school,” Crews said. “Proximity to Chicago is another selling point, and Northwest Indiana is really beautiful. If you like being near a metropolitan area but still want that small cohort with one-on-one experiences, this is a great option.”

Northwest campus faculty and students at an AMWA conference 

About this series:

Indiana University School of Medicine is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its statewide system for medical education, established by the Indiana State Legislature in 1971. This series highlights the unique history of each regional campus and celebrates its distinctive learning environment and special programs.

Dunes Medical BuildingLearn more about the rich history of medical training in Northwest Indiana and the current vision of IU School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary leaders.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Laura Gates

Laura is senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications and loves to tell the stories of outstanding students, faculty and staff at IU School of Medicine. A native Hoosier, she has over 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.