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Medical student demonstrates
Gina Iacovella-Alderson, M.D., wasn’t going to let life’s adversities
interfere with her goal of becoming a doctor.
There was a time when this dynamic 29-year-old from Prospect, Conn.,
doubted that she would graduate. Despite the odds against her, Gina’s
presence in today’s 179th MUSC Commencement ceremony is indicative of
her character, courage and humanistic spirit that contributed to her
becoming the sharp, skilled and empathetic professional.
Gina’s journey through medical school was filled with its share of
trials and victories that would test her resilience and character over
the course of five years.
Gina’s medical training began in 2003. Recruited to the University of
South Carolina as a Division 1 NCAA women’s soccer player, the petite
standout earned her undergraduate biology degree in 2000. Three years
later, she earned a master’s in bioanalytical chemistry where she
focused on the effects of diabetic complications. While in Columbia she
met her future husband, Nate.
Soon, Gina’s interests led her to working with patients. She and Nate
relocated to Charleston where he continued his doctoral studies in
biochemistry at MUSC and where she met Division of Nephrology chair
David W. Ploth, M.D. She expressed an interest in kidney disease
and diabetes research and other collaborative experiences. Later, she
would complete multiple nephrology electives to complement her
specialty choice in internal medicine and nephrology.
Ploth worked with her to develop a protocol for a nephrology research
project that she submitted for IRB approval. “She is one of the most
positive, motivated individuals I’ve ever known— consistent,
dedicated and committed,” he said.
More than halfway through her second year of medical school,
Gina’s resolve was tested after she tore her anterior cruciate
ligament (ACL) in her left knee during a recreational soccer
game. The injury required surgery, delaying her academic calendar and
the opportunity to take the Step 1 test of the U.S. Medical Licensing
Boards and starting clinical rotations.
“It was evident that Gina’s health and well-being was a priority,” said
Amy Blue, Ph.D., then assistant dean for curriculum and evaluation in
the dean’s office, College of Medicine. “It’s been our philosophy that
once a student who is recovering from extenuating health circumstances
improves and their outlook stable, they are more likely to perform
better with their academics.”
Over time, Gina experienced a series of complications and setbacks
following ACL surgery, at another health care facility, which
ultimately affected her ability to walk and stand. For three months,
she was couch-bound and suffered from chronic swelling and severe,
burning pain in her leg.
The once healthy, fully-functioning student became an individual with
extreme physical limitations. It also was a difficult time for her, not
only physically but emotionally. Gina didn't want her limitations to
affect her training, and she questioned if she would be able to
complete medical school.
Meanwhile, Blue and the College of Medicine faculty and staff were
seeing a more immediate challenge: how to accommodate students with a
disability as it relates to their medical education and coordinate
their clinical rotation experiences?
Arrangements were made to accommodate Gina, which would limit walking
or standing and allow her to rest her leg periodically throughout the
“Gina is one of those students who chose medicine for all the right
reasons and possesses the right talent. We needed to support her and
others like her who are on their way to becoming a fantastic physician.
It’s what we do,” said Blue.
Transplant surgeon Kenneth Chavin, M.D., Ph.D., and his team hosted
Gina during her surgery rotation in spring 2007. Unfortunately, her
rotation was cut short on her second day when Gina underwent an
emergency procedure delaying her clinical experience. Not one to leave
things undone, she was able to complete her rotation at another time.
“Gina brought a different perspective and a mature vision during her
time with us,” Chavin wrote in a letter praising her. “Gina
possesses that rare understanding and insight, both as a scientist and
patient with a life-changing illness that was exemplified in her role
as a medical student in training and future health professional
delivering quality patient care.”
Psychiatry clerkship preceptor Chris Pelic, M.D., also was impressed
with Gina’s work ethic and ability to connect with patients.
“She genuinely cares about her patients and what she does. Her
perseverance and determination will make her an outstanding physician,”
Gina helped diagnose a patient with thyroid cancer on the adult
psychiatric unit. Her persistence in ordering tests, labs and other
diagnostic procedures confirmed the diagnosis and initiated treatment
that probably helped saved the patient’s life, according to Pelic.
“It’s rare to see a student like Gina approach each of her medical
rotation experiences with the same level of determination and gusto.
It’s what we, as teachers, love to see in our students,” he said.
Through these experiences, Gina’s shown a grace and a maturity beyond
her years. She still is inspired to help renal patients and others with
chronic diseases, and has a renewed appreciation for all patients. Gina
now wears an implanted pain control device and has learned to accept
the good with the bad and takes life one step at a time.
“Every time I fall, I’ve learned to pick myself up, dust myself off and
keep going,” said Gina. “It’s like running a marathon. You have to find
the patience and strength from within to run the entire course.”
On July 1, she will begin a three-year internal medicine residency at
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Nate also is working at
Cedars-Sinai as director of clinical and basic science research in the
Department of Surgery.
Friday, May 16, 2008
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