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Medical College Of Wisconsin Graduates Talk About Starting Work During A Pandemic

Chuck Quirmbach
Schaefer Leber (center) takes part in his hooding ceremony at the Milwaukee VA's Wadsworth Library, as Dr. Margaret Holmes (left) and Dr. Michael McBride look on.

Among this spring's graduates are about 300 students from the Milwaukee-area campus of the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). Many will take part in a virtual commencement ceremony on Friday afternoon.

Since they're moving ahead with their medical careers during the coronavirus pandemic, we thought we'd hear what the young health care providers they have to say about that and get some advice for them from longtime physicians.

On Thursday, at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, MCW Doctor of Medicine degree recipient Schaefer Leber took part in a hooding ceremony, during which he received the hood to his academic gown. Leber received some of his clinical training at the VA.

Leber attended MCW on an Army scholarship. He'll be commissioned as a captain and begin his residency at an army medical center near Seattle. Leber says he's not afraid to be taking the next step in medicine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The way that I've been thinking about it is, I'm almost like a basketball player on the bench, and I'm coming off the bench to start. I know there's a lot of burnout with physicians. This has been very hard on physicians across the board — working long hours, being in the hospitals with something very scary to everyone, right? But for me, I'm just excited to come off the bench almost, and get the opportunity to help in the best way I can,” Leber said.

Credit Photo provided by Inez Pabian
MCW Doctor of Pharmacy recipient Inez Pabian.

Another Medical College of Wisconsin grad this week is Inez Pabian. She's part of the college's first graduating class of pharmacy students. Pabian will be doing her residency at the Milwaukee VA. She says five years as a Marine, including six months in Afghanistan, have hopefully prepared her for providing health care during a difficult time.

"In the military, you feel like you have a purpose. That was something I felt was lacking after my enlistment was over. Health care has helped me to find that purpose again. Trying to help people and specifically going to the VA to give back to veterans, it's just part of me, part of my personality. This is how I've been and how I'll continue to be,’’ Pabian told WUWM.

Periodically, studies show even dedicated medical personnel can change over time. A report from last year indicated that between one-third and one-half of U.S. clinicians — doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists — experience significant burnout symptoms, such as emotional exhaustion, detachment and a low sense of personal accomplishment. That report was written before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two longtime doctors at the Milwaukee VA say there are things younger physicians can do. One thing is to be flexible.

"And work in different settings. Be prepared for whatever comes. Really listen hard to your patients. That is so important, that we listen and let those patients lead the way,” said psychiatrist Michael McBride. He has been a mentor to graduating student Schaefer Leber.

Leber's tutor at the VA, Dr. Margaret Holmes, emphasizes the importance of balancing personal life, job, family, physical health and mental health. 

"This is shift work. Working in the hospital is shift work. What you do off shift can refresh you for when you come on ... When I was an intern and a resident, I was often in the hospital 36 hours. It's impossible to be effective in your 35th hour. They don't do that anymore. So, I think [today’s younger doctors are] in better shape for not burning out than some of us oldsters were,” Holmes said.

Holmes says while she doesn't wish the COVID-19 pandemic on anyone, it's a great time for training young doctors on topics like public medicine and infection. 

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