Biology majors William Anda and Daniel Chung are glad they chose Georgia College, because of a unique premed experience they said can’t be found anywhere else.
“In hindsight, I’d do it again 10 times out of 10,” said Anda of Peachtree City, who’s going into the Peace Corps and wants to be a neurologist.
“The one-on-one interaction you get with professors here – it’s more than just showing up to class in an auditorium with 300 kids and you never see the professor,” Anda said. “They know you by your first name. They know what you’re doing, and they can tell when something’s wrong. You really have a personal connection here with some amazingly-qualified faculty.”
That sentiment is echoed by Chung, who’s from Marietta and wants to be a surgeon. “The mentorship we get has kept me here. It’s something you cannot get anywhere else,” he said.
Their premed mentor is Dr. Ashok Hegde, the William Harvey Endowed Professor of Biomedical Sciences. He did postdoctoral research at Columbia University in New York City and taught at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina.
To have an accomplished neuroscientist like Hegde show up at Georgia College was “like a miracle” for Anda. He and Chung worked with Hegde on brain research that may someday help people with dementia and memory disorders.
They are also among a small number of hand-selected students in a premed mentorship class taught by Hegde. Students learn what it’s like to go through years of intensive training. They have book discussions, mock interviews and lunch sessions with the professor, where they discuss problems and future aspirations.
Most colleges ensure students take the biology, chemistry and physics required for medical school. But Georgia College’s mentorship program – started by retiring biology professor Dr. Ken Saladin – exposes undergraduates to deeper-level case studies normally only examined in med school.
Hegde has fun with his students by writing his own case studies. He creates patients with “names that have twisted ways of relating to the conditions they have,” Anda said. Students get a list of symptoms and must decide what’s wrong with patients, then develop a proper treatment plan. A recent malady was “Acoustic Neuroma,” a brain tumor that affects hearing.
“It’s actually really cool,” Anda said. “Dr. Hegde’s always there to help us. He’s just a regular guy. He’s not like a scary figure, too smart or holier-than-thou. He’s got the best insight, and he’s opened up so many opportunities for us.”
Hegde said Anda’s an articulate, easy-going but serious student who set high goals for himself. Anda has the “the mindset and all other qualities to become an excellent doctor in the future,” he said.
Before going to medical school, Anda will join the Peace Corps and spend 27 months in Cambodia
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Anda said. “And that’s the whole point for me. I want to be in a situation where I’m totally out of my comfort zone, while staying focused on my ultimate goal. It’s a sure-fire way to have a life-changing experience.”
Anda will spend the first three months in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, learning to speak Khmer. He’ll live with Cambodian families, ride a bike to work and teach basic health, nutrition and hygiene at schools. He'll also organize vaccination campaigns, write grants and work in a rural health clinic. After that, Anda hopes to go to the University of North Carolina’s medical school at Chapel Hill.
Dr. Indiren Pillay said Anda’s “a shining example of the type of students a liberal arts institution like Georgia College produces.” Coupled with his Peace Corps volunteerism, Anda “will be the kind of physician that will make a difference,” Pillay said.
Chung will spend the summer studying for the MCAT, shadowing doctors at Resurgens Orthopedics in the Atlanta-metro area and working as a hospital scribe.
Dr. Ellen France said Chung has a “photographic memory” and is “extremely good at problem-solving and deciphering complex mechanisms.”
“I have rarely run into a student who has such fantastic visual memory,” France said. “I do believe biology was just the right discipline where he could really shine with this unusual talent.”
Hegde said Chung is “bright and hard-working” – a “top performer” with “a quiet intensity about him.” Chung holds himself to high standards and has all the right qualities to become a surgeon: “grit, perseverance and ambition,” he said.
Both Anda and Chung said it’s important to balance school with activities like intramural sports or fun with friends. They advise other students to get to know their professors.
“I honestly do not think you could get the amount of care we got from our professors anywhere else,” Chung said. “They make time out of their day and take the extra step to ensure their students are doing well.”
“You get out of this program what you put into it,” he added. “I would recommend Georgia College to anyone. It’s been an amazing experience.