This story is part of a series that is following four medical students through school. For the article about their second year, click here.
Hunter Mehaffey, left, talks with Dr. Farah Naqui at the ECU Pediatric Outpatient Center. Photo by Cliff Hollis
(June 22, 2012)
As his third year in medical school draws to a close, Hunter Mehaffey sees his future coming into focus.
A surgery residency is likely, and he's looking at programs around the country where he would be a good fit. He's honing his research techniques and has already been published in academic journals.
And after spending the first half of his medical school career primarily in the classroom, the third year meant going into clinical settings and interacting more with patients.
"It's certainly been a 180-degree change from the first two years," Mehaffey said during a break at the Brody Pediatric Outpatient Center earlier this year. Instead of reading books from start to finish, he's been learning on the go, reading each night about what he saw during the day and taking exams every eight weeks on the principles of whatever rotation he had just completed: family medicine, pediatrics and so on.
"I certainly wouldn't go back to first or second year," he said. "Third year is the best so far. Just getting to interact with the physicians and patients, it makes you feel a lot more like you're becoming a doctor."
Even though he hopes to pursue surgery, getting experience in other disciplines is valuable.
"No matter what field you go into, you're going to have to have a good background in how to take care of patients … even if it's not a surgery problem they come to you with," he said.
Mehaffey got interested in medicine when he was 3 years old and got a Fisher-Price toy doctor kit. He shadowed physicians in high school and worked at a clinic in his native Haywood County.
As an undergraduate at ECU, Mehaffey swam the backstroke on the swim team while majoring in biology. He's in the university's "MD in 7" program, in which he did his senior year as an undergraduate concurrently with his first year of medical school.
He's found research to be a fulfilling pursuit. Already, he's studied with noted ECU surgeon Dr. Walter Pories and pancreatic cancer expert Dr. Emmanuel Zervos. Research about the surgical treatment of diabetes mellitus that Mehaffey assisted Pories with was published last year in Surgical Clinics of North America.
"He's dedicated, highly motivated, ambitious, reliable and committed," Zervos said of Mehaffey. "He takes that work ethic with him. To be a swimmer takes an incredible amount of dedication. No doubt he'll achieve his goals."
While he's been at ECU, Mehaffey's two younger sisters have also enrolled at the university. The youngest Mehaffey, Caitlin, has followed her brother onto the Pirate swim team. Mehaffey himself – as if medical school didn't take enough time – still swims a couple of days a week, bikes, runs and participates in triathlons.
With his fourth year beginning, Mehaffey finds himself in a good place.
"I truly am living the dream," he said. "I love medical school. It's the best opportunity in the world."