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The next several weeks will be extremely busy for senior medical students graduating from the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. After attending Honors Convocation Friday, May 11, and commencement the following day, medical school graduates will move to the next phase of their training as they report to their residency programs.
Drew Smith is among those who will be starting their residencies this summer. Smith will start at the Baptist Health System in Birmingham, Ala., for a transition year, and then to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., for his residency training.
“I felt I was reaching to the stars by shooting for Johns Hopkins,” Smith said. “When I found out that I had matched at Johns Hopkins, I was ecstatic.”
Smith was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a heart defect where the vessels leading from the heart to the lungs are constricted. “My condition was fairly severe and I had my first operation at the age of 18 months,” Smith said. “During the surgery they accidently nicked my natural pace maker, and my heart then beat out of sync. Six weeks after that, I had a permanent pace maker.”
Because Smith could not play sports or any high-contact activities while growing up, he took art classes beginning at the age of 10. He started his undergrad years at Auburn University majoring in architecture because of his art background. He later decided to change his major to biomedical sciences after a life-changing experience.
“I have had two major surgeries where they have had to go in and break open my sternum; first at 18 months and the next after my freshman year as an undergrad at Auburn,” Smith said. “All I remember is waking up on a ventilator and my arms strapped down because I had woken up early and tried to pull it out. The whole process of going through it and seeing it from that prospective opened my eyes. The light came on, and that’s when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in medicine.”
Coming into medical school, Smith assumed he would go into cardiovascular surgery because of his personal condition. However, during his clinical years his interests turned to radiology.
“In radiology I enjoy paying attention to details such as architecture required,” Smith said. “With radiology you have to know what to look for and identify what the next step is going to be. It’s the perfect combination for me.”
When Smith starts his residency training in radiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital next summer, it will complete a circle in his life. He will return to “the place that helped to saved my life,” Smith said. “Johns Hopkins pioneered the first surgeries of Tetralogy of Fallot, so it was almost like coming full circle,” Smith said. “Here’s a place that pushed the envelope and here I am leading the way with their innovation. Because of them, I am able to be here today.”
With determination and hard work, much of Smith’s life has fallen into place. At Johns Hopkins, he will be near his younger sister who currently lives in Washington, D.C. They have a close relationship and common bond as she was also born with Tetralogy of Fallot, but not as severe as Smith’s condition.
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