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From Medical School To the Front Lines of Pandemic, a New Graduate Shares Her Story

Mary Beth Gadarowski in graduation cap next to a photo of upstate medical university.

College graduates are entering the “real world” at a time like no other, especially those who have just completed medical degrees. The COVID-19 crisis has upended the daily lives of practicing physicians across the nation and around the world.

Fortunately, the academic medical schools of SUNY provide the training and education required to be a skilled and compassionate physician, regardless of circumstances. SUNY graduates hundreds of new doctors every year.

In this essay, one of SUNY’s new physicians reflects on how Upstate Medical University in Syracuse prepared her to enter medicine and confront the challenges of a pandemic. Mary Beth Gadarowski offers her thoughts, as she prepares for her medical residency in San Antonio, Texas.

From education to response

As a recent graduate of SUNY Upstate Medical University, I am about to enter residency training at a time unlike anything the medical world has ever encountered. My colleagues and I are embarking on the most intensive part of our medical training to become the next generation of healthcare providers in the midst of a global pandemic, battling a virus that is still largely a mystery.

Like so many, my classmates and I recently graduated from Upstate in a livestreamed ceremony and received our medical degrees virtually. Congratulatory wishes were quickly followed by the question, “Are you ready?”

“Are you ready?” elicits waves of emotions—excitement, apprehension, eagerness, fear—feelings that ebb and flow, eerily similar to the sinusoidal troughs and peaks of therapeutic drug monitoring. Am I ready? I believe I am.

Mary Beth Gadarowski watches the physician's oath during her virtual commencement from SUNY Upstate Medical University

Mary Beth Gadarowski watches the physician’s oath during her virtual commencement from SUNY Upstate Medical University

As I ponder what the next step in training as a resident physician will entail, I am guided by the teachings and influences of those during my time as a medical student at SUNY Upstate—the educators, the physicians, the patients, all dedicated to ensuring my cohort and I would become the best doctors possible.

I first dipped my toes into clinical medicine as a brand-new third year in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The constant whir of the ventilators, the cacophony of alarms and notifications, and the armamentarium of nurses, intensivists, pharmacists, and respiratory therapists were overwhelming but exciting. These were the sickest patients I would encounter all year, and piecing together the conditions leading up to their admission was comparable to detective work.

Despite the grave conditions rendering these patients unconscious or borderline comatose, and unable to converse, the attending physician that first week stressed the inexplicable power of human touch. With his tall stature and gentle demeanor, he entered the rooms of these critically ill patients and spoke to them as if he expected the patients to miraculously awaken. He would communicate a clear plan, and ultimately strived to maintain their autonomy, one of the cardinal principles the profession abides by.

Throughout the years, we learned the healing power of human touch. While this is not a novel concept, it is an impactful and nuanced one. The belief of the physician as healer was instilled in my first year of medical school, during the ‘Practice of Medicine’ foundational course. During one session, the seasoned physician guiding the group reached for my hands and said, “These hands have the power to heal. Never forget that.” In these times of great uncertainty, when families are faced with unimaginable gut-wrenching decisions, I will always remember that lesson, that my hands themselves possess the ability to heal.

Our professors taught us that healing requires leadership, resiliency and adaptability. To heal and to lead are intricately intertwined in the field of medicine. During a course in Ethics, Law and Social Issues, my assigned group leader (Dr. Robert J. Corona, Jr., now CEO of Upstate Medical University Hospital) poignantly said, “A good leader is one who makes a decision and commits to it.”

The ‘leaders’ I encountered during my time at SUNY Upstate are making a difference through their selfless commitment to education, delivery of ethical patient care, and their standing ability to create calm and offer hope in a storm of despair. These leaders have guided countless patients and students with their encouragement and reminder of the unbreakable human spirit.

We must uphold the values taught at SUNY Upstate and lead the delivery of compassionate care during this era of COVID-19, for both our patients and their families. We can lead by assuming a supportive role and heal by offering them the power of human touch.


Mary Beth Gadarowski, MD, will be doing her intern year in internal medicine and pursuing dermatology training at at San Antonio Military Medical Center. She is an Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program student, and was recently promoted to Captain. She is originally from Cambridge, New York.

Written by Winnie Yu

Winnie Yu is a writer in the Office of Communications at SUNY System Administration.

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