Change isn’t always easy. Just ask John Bunyasaranand.
The former combat medic has seen his fair share of action and excitement, treating wounded soldiers on the battlefield. But he suddenly finds himself in medical school, learning to become a physician in a civilian world.
He still wakes at dawn every day, but now sports a white lab coat and dress shoes, instead of military boots and BDUs. No need for weapons either. His only tactical gear these days are a stethoscope and pen and paper to jot down notes from instructors.
It’s definitely a change of pace for the former 82nd Airborne paratrooper and 3rd Special Forces Group medic. But he’s committed to becoming a doctor and not afraid to show it.
“I love it!” Bunyasaranand said excitedly. “The instructors push you as far as you can go, while showing you all the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ along the way.”
He is one of 40 third-year medical students who recently began doing clinical rotations at Cape Fear Valley Health. The students are from Campbell University’s Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine, which opened two years ago.
It’s the first new medical school in North Carolina in more than 35 years and the only one in the state. Osteopathic medicine differs from traditional allopathic medicine by training physicians in a “whole person” approach. Students also receive much more musculoskeletal system training.
Campbell University and Cape Fear Valley entered into a partnership in 2015 to help the Buies Creek school’s medical students get more hands-on training. Third- and fourth-year students will essentially shadow doctors at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center and Highsmith-Rainey Specialty Hospital in Fayetteville and Bladen County Hospital in Elizabethtown.
Students assigned to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center will train alongside 100 Cape Fear Valley staff physicians in several specialties. They include family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine and family practice.
Paul Sparzak, D.O., an OB/GYN specialist, is one of the physician instructors. He’s excited about his new volunteer role, because he’s always wanted to teach and graduated from an osteopathic medical school, himself.
“We’ll try to give all the students who come through here as much exposure and experience as possible,” he said.
The student training will include everything from daily patient rounding and chart work to helping admit patients and scrub in on surgeries. They will also spend time consulting with patients at area physician offices.
The work schedules can get pretty hectic, but Bunyasaranand isn’t complaining. He likes that he’s learning something new every day.
“You’re just excited to be here,” he said, “and you never know what you’ll see next.”
The student-soldier attends Campbell University as a 2015 Pat Tillman Scholar. The academic scholarship was named after the former NFL football player who gave his life on the battlefield. It provides financial aid for current and former soldiers and their immediate family, who want to further their education.
Bunyasaranand definitely had the desire to go back to school. But getting all of his prerequisite courses was a challenge, because he was still on active duty. Campbell University officials saw something in him, however, and allowed him to make up the classes.
“They took a chance on me,” he said. “For that, I’m grateful to Campbell University andCape Fear Valley.”
The Buies Creek School hopes he returns the favor someday. It established its medical school program with the goal of training more physicians who will eventually practice in rural areas.
Bladen County is especially in need of more primary care physicians. It’s among a handful of federally designated N.C. rural communities, because of its underserved healthcare needs.
Attracting more physicians not only benefits patients, but also local economies. Statistics show for every new primary care physician, 6-7 new jobs are created. Those jobs generate $300,000 in local, state and federal tax revenue each year. The economic impact equals roughly $3.6 million over time.
John Kauffman, D.O., is the Founding Dean of the Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine. He says physicians are 50 percent more likely to practice within 50 miles of where they trained.
“That’s why we’re committed to rural training,” he said, “because they tend to practice in their comfort zone. If they train in rural areas, they are likely to practice in rural areas.”
One student who probably will return to the area is Melissa Davies. She grew up in Fayetteville and graduated from Pine Forest Senior High School. She knew from a young age she wanted to go into medicine. Working in Tanzania after college and then in a medical office for a brief period confirmed it.
“I wanted to gain some clinical experience first,” said the aspiring OB/GYN physician. “I needed to really know what I wanted to do for a living; and it’s to become a doctor.”
Bunyasranand believes he made the right call going to medical school, too. But he’s a bit more noncommittal as to where he will eventually practice.
“The U.S. Army is footing the bill for all this,” he said, “so I still want to get downrange, as far as possible, and continue to help take care of the troops.”
By: Donnie Byers