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A Passion for Health Inspires UVM Student to Study Medicine

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By Mariette Landry

We asked recent UVM Post-Baccalaureate Premedical graduate, Derek Lubetkin, to tell us about how his undergraduate background in Geography and Urban Systems, along with his work as a Lamoille Ambulance Services EMT, a CPR/AED/First Aid instructor at the Richmond Community Center, and a UVM GeoMed Research Associate inspired his pursuit of a career in medicine.


You graduated from McGill in 2012, with a degree in Geography and a minor in Urban Systems. Why did you choose UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical program?

Although I had an early interest in science and medicine, I was also excited by issues related to human society and the environment. Upon entering McGill, I decided to focus on geography, urban systems, and environmental studies, disciplines that seek to discover ways the environment or society can be altered to improve the well-being of a community.

Derek Lubetkin
Derek Lubetkin

As my studies progressed, I became particularly interested in community-based public health programs and the central importance of addressing health issues when seeking to improve peoples’ lives. Through my many travels, jobs, and educational experiences, I recognized how much I enjoy interacting with a wide diversity of people.

My interest in community health and desire to work directly with people turned my thoughts once again toward a career in medicine. After receiving my Wilderness EMT certification, I believed the best path to achieve my goal of becoming a physician would include attending UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program. The program’s access to research and shadowing opportunities with the UVM College of Medicine and the University of Vermont Medical Center, in addition to Burlington’s ease of lifestyle and proximity to outdoor activities, provided an ideal location to pursue the next phase of my education.

Life as an EMT:

Why did you decide to become an EMT?

I felt that gaining healthcare experience as an EMT could provide excellent entry-level training for a future physician and an opportunity to learn the skills necessary to form provider-patient bonds. My experience working and volunteering as an EMT strengthened my already strong desire to pursue medical school and has given me a better understanding of the challenges healthcare workers face when providing care. On a personal level, I enjoy back-country hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities in remote areas that could result in medical situations with limited access to medical assistance. With that in mind, learning the skills required to earn a Wilderness EMT certification could be beneficial during one of my outings.

Tell us about your research for the GeoMed Drivers Study at UVM.

The GeoMed Drivers Study seeks to evaluate the impact of the built environment on public health factors, including correlating commercial density surrounding place of residence with individual Body Mass Index (BMI). Driver’s license databases offer a potential source of data that not only contain the height and weight measures necessary to calculate BMI, but also provide addresses associated with these individual data points. By combining the de-identified height, weight and address data from driver’s license information with GIS data that includes detail on the built environment,this study can explore and quantify the relationships between BMI and specific environmental features.

I’ve been working collaboratively with many people throughout the project, including: Lisa Aultman-Hall PhD (UVM Engineering); Brian Sprague PhD (UVM Surgery); Austin Troy PhD (University of Colorado); Asim Zia PhD (UVM Community Development & Applied Economics); Benjamin Littenberg MD; Ayodelle LeBruin MD; and Levi Bonnell. As a group, we have multiple ongoing projects with varying concentrations. I’ve principally focused on studying the potential utilization of driver’s license databases as a source of data for epidemiological research.

Working with Dr. Littenberg has been an invaluable opportunity to engage in a study that combines my interest in urban planning and design with my passion for health. Even more important, the experience has provided insight into the process of epidemiological/medical research from the submission to the IRB, to data acquisition and analysis, and finally to drafting an article for publication. Dr. Littenberg and I have recently submitted a paper to The International Journal of Epidemiology. The experience I’ve gained as a GeoMed team member has furthered my desire to engage in research alongside patient care throughout my career.

Recently, you were part of a trans-Atlantic boat adventure. What led you to take that trip, and what was memorable about your experience?

As a wilderness EMT, I was hired as a crewmember on a prototype Lagoon 63-foot yacht captained by Lucas Lafourcade, a good friend from McGill. By taking a leave from my EMT job in Vermont, I was able to join the other four crewmembers in France to travel on the boat’s first trans-Atlantic voyage. After traveling more than 4,000 nautical miles, we arrived in St. Martin on January 13. Following several boat repairs and some much-desired days in port, we prepared the boat for the journey from St. Martin to the Miami International Boat Show, with stops throughout the Caribbean.

Knowing that such interesting opportunities rarely come along, I was happy to be able to join the crew. Some of my favorite experiences were watching the sun rise over the northern Moroccan mountains as we passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, and the three consecutive days that a whale followed us while we were crossing the Atlantic. Another special moment was when we caught our first fish: a large mahi-mahi. By the end of the trip, we had line-caught several mahi-mahis, a few sailfish, a tuna, and we spearfished some Caribbean lobster.

Becoming a Physician:

You will be attending Tufts University School of Medicine in the fall. What branch of medicine would you like to study?

Although I have yet to begin medical school and I expect my interests may shift as I gain greater exposure to various branches of medicine, I currently plan to pursue an internal medicine residency. I place a high value on developing a positive rapport with patients through relationships built on trust and mutual respect. As an internist, I’ll have the opportunity to build long-term relationships with my patients and provide them with the clinical care and support needed to achieve their health goals. The internal medicine residency path will allow me to approach primary care as an internist, while also providing the option for further specialization in a wide variety of fields.

Mariette Landry is an editor for UVM Continuing and Distance Education.

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