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Medicine couple inspired by 9/11 tragedy

by Cindy Abole

Public Relations
For the past month, graduates Karin and Robert Taylor have been on their own family odyssey in a five-week, 5,000-mile family vacation out west. The trip was planned as the family’s celebration of their recent completion of medical school and as a recommitment to their call to medicine.
After the last nine years, the Taylors feel assured and confident in the direction that their lives are heading. Within that time, they’ve asked themselves tough questions and challenged themselves to fill a renewed sense of purpose in their lives—the need to care and serve others.
Karin, Devon, Bobby and Robert Taylor visit the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

A decade ago, Karin and Robert were living the American dream. The couple, who are originally from Kennett Square, Pa. (outside of Philadelphia), just moved to Maryland after living abroad in Rome, Italy. Robert, who received his electrical engineering  doctorate from Princeton University in 1997, was working via a National Science Foundation Fellowship to conduct optical network research. He was working in telecommunications for several technology start-up companies. Meanwhile, Karin, a licensed physical therapist, founded and was managing a small import and export business working with Italian manufacturers and suppliers.
Their lives, like scores of other people, were affected by 9/11 and the failed attempt with United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa. The Taylors were personal friends of Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer, who, along with other passengers, attempted to take back control of their hijacked plane. He coined the catchphrase, “Let’s roll.”
“9/11 was a difficult time,” said Karin. “We were inspired by Todd and the life he lived.  He was a man of great character, faith and courage. He led a purposeful life by helping others to change and improve theirs.”
That became the turning point for Karin and Robert. With the death of their friend, they felt it was time to honestly assess their own lives, core values and direction. “We needed to affirm what was important in our lives and that we were guiding ourselves down the right path,” Karin said.  
Almost immediately, Karin’s thoughts turned to medicine, a dream she held on to since finishing her undergraduate studies at Cornell in 1993. Consequently, Robert’s job involved constant travel and was becoming less fulfilling. “We both wanted to focus on helping others,” Karin said.
They kept asking each other if medical school was really possible at this point in their lives. Daughter, Devon, was age 1 at the time and Robert’s parents had just retired to nearby Pawley’s Island. The time for change couldn’t be riper.
Both interviewed and were accepted among 136 students in COM’s Class of 2010. Not surprisingly, they excelled in their studies and demonstrated themselves as leaders among their peers. Karin was vice president of the campus chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association, a writer for The Crucible, the college’s literary newsletter and both participated in numerous groups and organizations. Both were nominated to the MUSC Chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism Award Honor Society, and will be graduating in the top one-sixth of their medical school class (Robert is ranked No. 2 in the class).
During clinical rotations, Karin explored physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) within the Department of Neurology and was drawn to the team approach to care for patients with spinal and brain injuries and disabling neurologic diseases like multiple sclerosis. In 2007, she  founded and led a new PM&R student interest group along with neurology faculty. The 15-member group met once a month, organized speakers, shared residency information and conducted fundraisers.
Meanwhile, Robert focused on research and clinical experiences in ophthalmology and radiation oncology. He eventually chose radiation oncology after working a rotation and quickly discovered how the medical specialty was a perfect fit with his technical background and love for physics and math. He also collaborated with David T. Marshall, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology, to contribute to a tomotherapy research study testing different treatments and delivery methods for patients with pancreatic cancer. The research manuscript has since been submitted for publication.
“It was a pleasure to work with someone of Rob’s caliber and experience,” said Marshall. “Rob is the owner of 28 patents, so there really was nothing new to teach him. He’s a natural self-starter—independent, skillful, knowledgeable and provided remarkable output with his work and communications skills. Rob’s interest is to have strong, significant relationships with his patients. I know he’ll do well integrating patient care and technology in radiation oncology.”
Drs. Robert and Karin Taylor volunteer with Medical Campus Outreach in Masindi, Uganda. photo by Josh Drake Photography

Additionally, the couple also found time to serve others through medical mission work. They are members of the Medical Campus Outreach (MCO) program at East Cooper Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, an interdenominational ministry that involves practitioners and students from various medical disciplines that provides medical services and treatment to needy populations throughout the world. Both traveled on two-week long mission trips to build and support medical clinics in Romania (2007) and Uganda (2009).  
Matt McEvoy, M.D., an MCO volunteer physician and associate professor in the Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Medicine, said that the Taylors are terrific people. “They serve with their hands and their hearts. Both Rob and Karin have a strong commitment to helping others that clearly shows as medical students, as husband and wife, and within their family. They firmly embrace a Christian world view and have been able to live it through a number of areas of their lives,” he said.
Throughout this period, the Taylors made children and family a priority. Each day, they focused on finding and achieving balance, which can be difficult for a dual working couple, said Karin. It was especially a challenge during clinical rotations where they took turns balancing demanding experiences. “Ultimately, we took it day by day, and it was God who saw us through,” said Karin.
The Taylors found support through the College of Medicine’s dean’s office and leaned on the help of friends and both sets of grandparents when needed.
Still, the couple was able to model and reinforce family activities like studying and homework. As time progressed, they were able to talk and relate about mom and dad’s experiences with what the children were learning in the classroom. Despite their tight schedules, any free time was spent with the children, ages 8 and 6, according to Karin.
After completing a couples match process, both Karin and Robert matched their preliminary year at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte and will later relocate to the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) to begin their advanced residencies. Karin matched with a three-year PM&R residency, while Robert will  begin a four-year radiation oncology specialty residency at the new Hazelrig-Salter Radiation Oncology Center supporting UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Karin has fond memories of their time here. “Overall, our medical school training at MUSC was both excellent and rewarding for Rob and me thanks to some wonderful support,” she said. “It was such a tremendous and positive experience, and we have MUSC, our parents and God to credit for it.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

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