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A Family History of Diabetes Helps Student Set Sights on Endocrinology

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A family history of diabetes helped Michael Sharf decide to become an endocrinologist.

The seed was planted in childhood, when Sharf spent time with his maternal grandfather, who had type 1 diabetes. At six years old, Sharf was pricking his grandfather’s finger regularly and helping to test his blood sugar.

But it wasn’t until years later, when Sharf was halfway through his undergraduate degree, that he decided he wanted to study medicine. The 24-year-old, who studied business management at San Diego State University, is now a student in the UVM Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program.

We talked to Sharf about shifting his career plans and how a drastic change in lifestyle led him to set his sights on becoming an endocrinologist.

Was there a particular event in your life that made you decide to change your career plans from business to medicine?

My dad is a cardiologist, my uncle is an orthopedic surgeon, and my maternal grandfather with type 1 diabetes was an endocrinologist before he retired. When I first went to college, I wanted to do something other than medicine because there was so much of it in my family. As an undergraduate, I was smoking 12 cigarettes a day, eating fast food, and never making an effort to go to the gym.

Eventually, I got sick of being unhealthy and I realized I was heading for major healthcare problems. One night at the beginning of my junior year, I got up at 1 a.m. and just started running. I didn’t care that it was the middle of the night. I was still smoking and eating poorly, but slowly I started running three to four days a week. Then I trained for a half-marathon and went on to do an Olympic triathlon.

When I started getting healthy, I was looking for a change in my career. I knew I was interested in healthcare, so I started to doing research. I went to EMT school for certification before coming to UVM in 2014.

You were well into your business management degree at San Diego State when you decided to pursue medicine. Why didn’t you switch majors at that point?

When I figured out that I wanted to study medicine, I was halfway through my business degree. My business credits weren’t going to help me for medical school, but I knew I still enjoyed business. I kept going and knew that I would attend a post-bac premed program after graduating. Also, with all the financial complexities of healthcare, I knew that I could use my business skills in medicine.

Unrelated to endocrinology, you’ve also being doing some research on bone-marrow transplants. Can you tell us about that?

Like diabetes, blood cancer is also something that hits close to home. My grandfather on my father’s side has type II diabetes and was diagnosed with blood cancer at age 62. At the time, my grandfather was given two years to live. But thanks to the advancements in medicine, he lived another 23 years. Even though my grandfather ended up passing away last year, I was able to get to know him better as a result of those advancements.

As I mentioned, I’m interested in the financial aspects of healthcare. I’ve been working with UVM Assistant Professor Christopher Jones, PhD, on a few different projects, including the financial effects of bone-marrow transplants. There are two different types of bone marrow transplants, and one is less invasive, but also less successful. We’re looking at both types of transplants and costs of these procedures to the healthcare system, the patient, and insurance companies. We were trying to decipher what type of effect this has on society. For example, what is the cost of this person to not be able to work after the procedure? A group of us are hoping to publish a research paper on the issue in the Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplant publication this fall.

What do you find most rewarding about medicine?

Overall, medicine is such a good fit for me. After I decided to go into medicine. I asked myself, how can I be of service to other people? What can make me the most useful to those around me? Being a doctor is the best use of my skill set, intellect, and passions. Helping people be healthy is the most important thing you can do.

You are from Del Mar, California. Why did you choose to study medicine in Vermont?

The University of Vermont provided the environment for me to become my best self. With the UVM Medical Center and College of Medicine being on the same campus, it’s an ideal location to get involved in the medical field. What made me want to attend UVM is that it’s my best chance to learn and grow into the person I want to be — a person ready for medical school.

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