Twenty Years Later: Alumni Reflect on Two Decades in Medicine

Twenty years ago, Dartmouth Medicine magazine published short profiles of a group of Dartmouth medical students. Ten years later, in 2004, the magazine followed up with three of the students to find out where their careers had taken them. And just recently, we spoke with these three again for another update on their lives and careers. (Read the 1994 article in Dartmouth Medicine here [PDF], and the 2004 follow-up article here.)

Although the three physicians, Jane Auger, Ben Gardner, and Angela Erdrich, have taken very different career paths, they do share at least one trait: a strong sense of satisfaction with their work and their decisions to become physicians. According to a report published in 2012 by the Physicians Foundation, about three-quarters of physicians are pessimistic about the field of medicine, and most would not recommend medicine as a career. But Auger, Gardner, and Erdrich all spoke enthusiastically about their work. We asked them about the changes they have seen over the past two decades, what they tell others interested in a career in medicine, and what they have found so rewarding.

Jane Auger (’97)

Jane Auger was 37 years old in the spring of 1994 and just finishing her first year of medical school. She had left a successful career teaching radiologic technology to go to medical school, and she was excited about that decision. “I may as well be 41 and doing something I really enjoy,” she said in 1994.

Jane Auger
Jane Auger and her dog, Trudy.

Ten years later, after graduating from the Brown-Dartmouth medical program in 1997 and completing a residency at Brown, she was still glad that she took a chance on medical school. She found a job at Norwood Hospital as a radiologist, and she remains there today.

“I love my job,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy my colleagues and my patients and the kind of work that I do. . . . I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of radiology. It’s like a puzzle where you have the patient presenting with certain symptoms and signs and you use the CT scan or MRI to help solve the problem.”

The technology she uses in her work has changed dramatically since her teaching days. “We didn’t have anything like MRI,” she says. “We can do a lot of procedures now that can keep a patient from having to have surgery.”

Although she is happy with her career choice, she concedes that, for some physicians, it is a difficult time.

“I meet a lot of physicians from different disciplines, and some of them are pretty unhappy,” she says. “They tend to be the ones that are most influenced by changes in policy and the way that health care is used.”

But for physicians just out of medical school, she adds, it’s possible that these changes will be easier to cope with, given that newer physicians haven’t known it any other way. She encourages anyone interested in medicine—regardless of age—to consider medical school. “When people are doing their education in their 30s, I just tell them to go through one door at a time,” she says. “I took the prerequisite courses. When I finished those, I took the MCAT. I never said to myself, ‘I’m going to medical school.’ I just said, ‘Let’s see what happens when I take biochemistry. Let’s see what happens if I take the MCAT.’ It’s a lot easier when you think of it in small chunks.”

Ten years from now, Auger says, she will probably still be at Norwood Hospital, continuing to do the work that she enjoys so much. “I have no regrets,” she says. “I’m very glad that it happened the way it did and I think I probably appreciated the process of going through medical school more as an older student than I would have if I had just gone straight through.”

Ben Gardner (’96)

Like Auger, Ben Gardner was far from a typical medical student. He matriculated at Dartmouth in the fall of 1993 at the age of 43, having already served in the Navy and spent 20 years as a real estate developer. And at Dartmouth, he balanced school with family time and his commitment to coaching youth hockey and lacrosse.

Ben Gardner
Ben Gardner on the trails in the White Mountains.

Ten years later, Gardner had completed medical school and his residency in pediatrics at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and landed his dream job by becoming the medical director at Choate Rosemary Hall, a private secondary school in Connecticut. Today, Gardner continues his work at Choate, and it remains his dream job. For one thing, he likes the variety of his work. “It’s a group of 850 patients who I can get to know very well, but 250 to 300 of them change every year,” he says. He also enjoys watching his patients grow as people. “They arrive here, to some extent, as kids,” he says, “and they leave here, to some extent, as adults."

An added bonus is that the position insulates him from some of the concerns facing other physicians. “I don’t have to worry about billing,” he says. “I don’t have to worry about collection. I don’t have to worry about insurance. The administrative side is relatively small…. So my time is very clinical. There’s enough time to spend—to some extent—as much time as necessary with each student. The only thing that’s different from normal pediatric work is that the counseling and psychological part is greater here because we know our students and are available.”

He has seen some changes over the years, including the fact that many parents are now more involved than they used to be. “The days of sending someone off to boarding school and then going and picking them up again are long gone.”

Although Gardner is happy with the direction his career has taken, he isn’t sure he’d do it all over again if he had known how long the process would be. “I’m very glad I did it, but if I went back to point A . . . I’m not so sure I would do it again. It was much more difficult than I thought.”

Now, two decades after Gardner entered medical school, his daughter is a medical student (and, he notes proudly, a Schweitzer fellow) at the University of Vermont. The decision to go to medical school was hers alone, he says: “I stayed out of it. I was very happy that she did it, but I wanted her to do it on her own terms.”

Where does he see himself in another 10 years? “I’ll probably retire in three or four years,” he predicts. “In 10 years I’ll be long-since retired and playing golf at Hanover Country Club.”

Angela Erdrich (’94)

In 1994, Angela Erdrich was about to graduate from medical school and start a residency in Seattle, Wash. After that, she would join the Indian Health Service (IHS). Her goal, she said at the time, was to spend her entire career with the IHS.

Angela Erdrich
Angela Erdrich at the clinic where she works in Minneapolis.

Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, had received a scholarship to attend medical school, part of which entailed working for the IHS after her residency. It was a commitment she was happy to make. “I always planned on working for the Indian Health Service, and I am proud to say I have lived up to that,” she said in 2004. At that point, she and her husband, who, like Erdrich, is a pediatrician, were both working on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota.

In 2009, Erdrich and her family moved to Minnesota, but she continues to work with Native American populations as a pediatrician with the Indian Health Board of Minneapolis. She practices at a clinic for low-income (and often uninsured) patients. She enjoys being in an urban area, and she also enjoys being closer to her two sisters, who also live in Minneapolis.

Over the years that she has been working with underserved populations, she has seen firsthand how difficult it is to get physicians where they are needed in rural areas. “It is a big, big need,” she says. “You can’t find new, young doctors willing to do it.”

She understands the reluctance of many new physicians, given the difficulty of the work and the remote locations. But, she adds, “I totally encourage the Indian Health Service as a career opportunity for people who really want to make a difference. . . . It’s so rewarding, and the need is there.”

Erdrich attended Dartmouth for both her undergraduate and medical education, and she maintains strong feelings about the school. “One thing I like about Dartmouth is that they still put an emphasis on primary care, and I think we need really good primary care doctors who are smart like Dartmouth students,” she says. “So many people want to go into specialty care, and part of it is because you get so excited about what you learn in residency and medical school. But there’s a whole different kind of excitement in the challenges of managing care for a lot of people that comes with primary care.”

In another 10 years, Erdrich is confident she’ll still be doing similar work. “I just love day-to-day medicine,” she says. “If I just look at my day-to-day work, I feel really lucky, because it gives you this window on people’s lives, and I just feel really in touch with the world by being a doctor. It’s really a privilege. I think it’s a wonderful, hopeful profession.

Read the 1994 article in Dartmouth Medicine here [PDF], and the 2004 follow-up article here.