by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Before Tim Rodriguez entered Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan., he and his parents had a meeting with school president Father Michael Hermes, who asked the youngster two questions.
“He asked me, ‘Do you want to go on to college?’ and ‘Do you want to grow in your faith?’” recalled Rodriguez. “To both of those questions, the answer had to be yes.”
Now a senior, Rodriguez, a member of Christ the King Parish in Kansas City, Kan., has gone beyond that initial “yes.” He’ll be entering a pre-med program at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Mo., next fall and plans to be a psychiatrist.
He’ll be taking a strong faith with him.
“Bishop Ward definitely prepares you for life through faith,” he said. “I want to go into medicine not because of the money or the title. It’s because I have a genuine desire to help people.
“I feel like the faith-based programs at this school have helped me realize that.”
Faith-based programs may have helped Rodriguez realize his goals, but another kind of program is helping him reach them. Rodriguez is a member of the Ward’s St. Luke the Physician Club.
Doctor in the house
Named for the patron saint of Catholic doctors, the club meets one Wednesday a month. Students open the meeting with a prayer and then review medical case studies and discuss careers in health care with Cure of Ars, Leawood, parishioner Dr. Brad Stanley, a practicing urologist in eastern Jackson County.
“Dr. Stanley returned a postcard from Bishop Ward and checked off the box where it asks if you want to volunteer and get more involved with our school,” said Father Hermes. “We had lunch soon after that and he offered to volunteer as a mentor for our pre-medicine club.”
“It is collaboration,” said Truman Snow, Bishop Ward’s science department co-chair. “Dr. Stanley wanted to donate his expertise and time, and Father Hermes was hoping to open up new avenues to Ward students.”
Stanley grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and wanted to give Ward students more exposure to the idea of going into medicine.
Each month, he brings in topics he feels will help students get a clearer picture of what a medical career entails.
“He brings in a case that he actually works on and goes through the process of diagnosing the patient with us,” said junior Jacob Jaksetic, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., who hopes to be an anesthesiologist.
“He brings cases from other doctors he works with, too, so we’re not always guessing it’s a kidney problem,” added fellow parishioner John Batliner, a junior who hasn’t decided on a career, but is leaning toward medicine.
Stanley said the meetings consist of discussion of common patient problems and diseases that doctors see during a typical day.
“I present them in a ‘grand rounds’ format with interaction from the students to try to make the diagnosis and discuss treatment options. Videos of surgery are popular,” he added.
The real deal
As unappetizing as it sounds, mixing lunch with surgical visuals is working. Stanley said he started a year ago with 12 students and now has about 25.
And these students truly admire their mentor.
“He’s a really cool guy,” said Jaksetic. “He’s laid back and you can tell he really loves his job. That’s what makes it fun — he likes his job and he likes to talk about his job.”
Last month, five members went on the Physician Club’s first field trip to St. Luke’s East. There, they observed a robotic prostectomy.
Joining Rodriguez, Jaksetic and Batliner, were senior Anthony Moran from the Cathedral of St. Peter Parish, who hopes to be a chiropractor, and Geoffrey Kump from St. Patrick Parish, a future neurosurgeon.
The students scrubbed up while the patient was prepped for surgery. Then they entered the operating room and got a close-up, personal look at the procedure.
“The students were engaged and asked a lot of questions,” said Stanley. “And nobody passed out!”
Moran was particularly thankful for that.
“I didn’t know how I would take it,” he said. “I didn’t know if I would pass out or be woozy from it all, but it was good.
“On the way back, on the bus, I was thinking, ‘Maybe I should change my mind and go into something like surgery.’”
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “We were just a few feet away. It was interesting because we got to see how the surgeon would use the robot to do his maneuvers.”
Futures in science
In addition to the Physician Club, Ward has a Science and Medicine Career Lecture Series, developed by the school’s science department to expose students to leaders in the science field.
“We’ve had heads of different medical universities come in and talk to us about if you want to go into this field, this is what you have to prepare for,” said Jaksetic. “It’s really for anybody who has even a slight notion of going into the science field.”
At Bishop Ward, that can mean a lot of students.
“We fill a whole room and have to bring in extra chairs sometimes,” Jaksetic said.
Snow, who is coordinator and mentor for the Physician Club program, gets the students to the meetings and offers them help concerning classes, grades and school applications.
Together with Father Hermes, he is a strong force behind Ward’s emphasis on the sciences.
“I feel that it is vitally important for students to study science,” he said. “With all of the recent discoveries in the sciences, especially medicine, it is vital to know science.”
Father Hermes agreed.
“Bishop Ward has a long tradition of producing doctors, nurses, and all kinds of scientists for the good of the world,” he said. “This new initiative is to help today’s Cyclones who are interested in the sciences and medicine get a head start.”
It is all about preparation. And Ward students are learning that the path to a science career begins in high school.
“Students considering a field in medicine need to concentrate on the basic sciences in high school so they are prepared for the college level courses,” said Stanley. “Acceptance to medical school is dependent on a high GPA in those undergraduate courses.”
Ready for the future
Rodriguez feels confident that Bishop Ward has helped him get ready to meet the challenges ahead.
“If you want to go to college and past college into medical school, you can definitely be prepared for it here,” he said. “All our teachers push us to strive harder to achieve what we want to do.”
Kump admitted he felt a calling to be a neurosurgeon, but was intimidated by the grueling path that leads to his goal.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into medicine because of the long length of time and everything,” he said.
His experience in the Physician Club and his teachers changed that attitude.
“The Physician Club shows how amazing it is and really makes me more interested,” he said. “I feel that I’ve been prepared more than I could have been at any other school.”
“We have great teachers like Mr. Snow,” he added. “He’s pushed me to my limit dealing with science. We’re all taking advanced math classes, too. I feel ready for college.”
Moran, who works in a chiropractor’s office now, also feels well-prepared to someday be the head of his own practice.
“For me, it all started with these teachers,” he said. “Since freshman year, I’ve had a good relationship with them. They get to know what you’re interested in and they push you toward what you need to do to get where you want to be.”
And the teachers had some backup help, according to Moran.
“I understand that I wouldn’t be where I am today or have the opportunity to go to college without the guidance of my parents and having someone I can talk to, like God, to help push me there,” he added.
Faith and science
Indeed, St. Albert the Great, the patron of Catholic scientists, is the patron of the science department at Bishop Ward. And students here are always mindful that science and faith work together.
“We don’t separate our faith from our intellect,” said Father Hermes. “By integrating the two, we, then, for example, look at human life as sacred and the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
“With this approach, our students learn not to check their faith at the lab door,” he added. “Rather, they learn to align their work as scientists and doctors with their faith in God.”
Father Hermes’ philosophy has definitely influenced Bishop Ward students. As Kump looks toward the long road to neurosurgery, he is confident his faith will see him through.
“I feel like I have a calling, and the religion classes here have opened my eyes to that,” he said. “I know my decisions will be assisted by God.”
Thanks to St. Luke the Physician Club, students like Kump will continue to be inspired by a Catholic doctor who has a strong faith at the core of his science.
“Dr. Brad Stanley has made such a generous gift to Bishop Ward,” said Snow. “His dedication is making a tremendous difference for a number of our students. He’s a brilliant example of the type of person they can become.”
Father Hermes agreed.
“We are so grateful to Dr. Stanley for mailing back that postcard,” he said.