Kyle Gospodarek

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Kyle survived multiple surgeries and a stroke during medical school, but ultimately graduated in 2016. He says, "It was an absolutely grueling experience, but I would still do it all over again.

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Name: Kyle Gospodarek
Undergraduate: Purdue University, Bachelor of Science, 2010
Major: Biology
Minor: Chemistry
Medical school: Indiana University School of Medicine, 2016
Specialty: I’m pursuing a career in academic medicine. Currently, I am teaching MS-IIs at my medical school alma mater as a Lecturer of Clinical Medicine.

What led to your interest in medicine?

My interest in medicine began when I was six. A brain aneurysm in my right posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA) ruptured, causing subarachnoid hemorrhaging throughout my brainstem. I was rushed via helicopter to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago where my neurosurgeons performed an 11-hour surgery to stop the bleeding and clip the artery. Subsequently, I was left with hydrocephalus and slit-ventricle-syndrome, for which I have had multiple ventriculoperitoneal and lumbar-peritoneal shunts for the majority of my life. The hemorrhage and hydrocephalus have also led to daily chronic headaches. I required medical care throughout my childhood in the form of frequent doctors’ visits, hospitalizations, and surgeries. This exposure ingrained in me a sense of admiration for physicians and nurses and an interest in medicine as a whole.

Who or what inspired you?

Having been exposed to the medical field at a young age, I grew up idolizing many of my physicians and being fascinated by multiple aspects of medicine. The idea of becoming a physician and helping patients gave me a discernible goal when my own medical conditions weighed heavily on me. The desire to use my own exhaustive experience as a patient to better treat others helped me to persevere when I was suffering through a particularly agonizing procedure, condition, or hospital stay. It also served as a key motivator in applying to medical school and seeing it through to graduation.

Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?

A surprising number of my doctors tried to dissuade me. However, a handful did encourage me to pursue medicine if I truly had the passion for it. At this point I can understand both parties’ points of view which makes me appreciate the encouragement all the more.

What made your medical school the right fit for you?

Indiana University School of Medicine’s Northwest-Gary campus proved to be the right fit for me because of the proximity to my current home and the way that they structured their first two years of classes. They would teach each subject independently instead of teaching multiple subjects simultaneously, which catered best to my individual style of learning. I was persuaded by its 3rd and 4th years, as well. IUSM now allows students to complete their clinical clerkships at regional campuses. Since there are fewer students at those campuses, I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with many of my attendings and had much more patient contact.

What was your first year of medical school like? Did you have to change any of your study habits?

My first year of medical school was incredibly challenging and proved to be a culture shock with regard to my study habits and any semblance of free time. In undergrad I was relatively studious, but once I began medical school I realized that I had no idea what kind of dedication and sacrifice would be needed to maintain an understanding of the course material. My experience consisted of waking up at 6AM, going to bed at midnight (if I was lucky), and either being in school or studying independently every hour there-between. I had to drive roughly 30 minutes to and from campus, and I legitimately began to look forward to that commute as it would be the only time out of the day that I had an excuse not to have my nose in a book. I could just listen to music or try to catch up with friends and family via phone call.

Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.

During my 1st year, I was introduced to a non-profit organization that was founded by students in the class preceding mine: Medical Student Missions. This group provides medical and emotional support to the residents of rural Haiti under the supervision of licensed physician volunteers and the auspices of the local Haitian Health Department. I participated in Haiti for two-weeks in the summer of 2011, during which we were given Advanced Wilderness First Aid classes through the Wilderness Medical Society. Although only two weeks, this experience did more for my medical training than I will ever be able to measure. I learned germane lessons about cultural impacts on individual perceptions of healthcare as well as real-world training providing healthcare while adapting to markedly contrasting resources.

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

One of the more significant factors that helped me cope with stress was my classmates. Our group meshed well, so going to or staying at school to study would feel less like a chore and more like spending time with old friends. My cohort proved to be an incredible support system for me.

How did you balance the demands of medical school with any additional obligations or challenges? What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?

While medical students commonly deal with personal stress outside of school, my experience was particularly challenging from my own medical standpoint. For me, keeping my mind occupied seemed to be the best means of coping with stress. The only way that I was able to handle the enormity of my situation was focusing solely on the task directly ahead of me.

When I began my first year of medical school, I was in relatively good health. A few years had passed without needing a surgery, and my daily headaches were somewhat controlled with a medication regimen. About halfway through my first year, my neurosurgeon found that my intracranial pressure was 30mmHg (more than twice the high range of normal). We decided that it would be prudent to replace my VP shunt. I had the surgery over our Thanksgiving break.

Over the next year I underwent three more operations, and my headaches were proving progressively problematic as I was preparing to take Step 1 of the USMLE Boards. After extensive deliberation, my neurosurgeon and I decided to attempt an intensive brain surgery involving the area where my aneurysm ruptured to try to bring about some relief. It was performed during a small break in my schedule before my 3rd year. As the anesthesia from the operation wore off, I began to realize that I couldn’t feel the entire right side of my body. During the procedure there was a small hemorrhage that compromised the ML/PWC pathway on my right side. This resulted in the loss of my ability to know where any part of my right side was in space, or in relation to other parts of my body, and the loss of the vast majority of my touch sensation. In the next few weeks, ‘feeling’ began to return to my right leg, foot, and side of my face. Unfortunately, my proprioception and sensation never returned to my right shoulder, arm, and hand; I was right-handed.

During the next year, I took a medical leave-of-absence for rehabilitation consisting of physical and occupational therapy. I taught myself to write and type left-handed. Undoubtedly, that recovery process was the most difficult thing that I’ve had to do in my life thus far; the frustration that’s involved in relearning how to move an appendage, in trying to salvage a shred of dexterity in what was once your dominant hand, the feelings of hopelessness and anxiety about what you’ve lost and what your future may or may not contain because of it, honestly goes beyond description. Nonetheless, thanks to my incredible support system and my amazing therapists, over the span of that year I was able to rehabilitate my right hand to the extent that I could actively partake in all of my clerkships when I started back up with school in 2013. With the help of some exceptionally understanding scrub nurses, surgical technicians, and attending physicians, I was able to don a surgical gown and gloves and participate/assist in multiple operations and procedures throughout my third and fourth years of medical school.

Throughout that remainder of my schooling, my medical issues continued. I was hospitalized several times for shunt infections, malfunctions, a cardiac ablation, and appendicitis. Coincidentally, the two surgeons that removed my appendix were part of the group that I would later rotate with for my General Surgery clerkship. Due to the time spent in the hospital, including weeks in the Neuro-ICU, I required multiple additional medical-LOAs; however, I was still able to complete coursework during the months in-between.

After six years of intensive physical, mental, and emotional stress, I finally graduated with my MD in May of 2016. It was an absolutely grueling experience, but I would still do it all over again. To be able to look forward to going to work every day and discussing the topics about which I’m the most passionate is one of the greatest feelings in the world, and I’m fortunate enough to be doing that.

What did you enjoy most about medical school?

Put simply: the people. Throughout medical school I met some incredible individuals, both as classmates and mentors/teachers. I have friendships that will last my lifetime and have shared in some remarkable experiences.

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