The Commercial Appeal
AGAINST THE ODDS
For one grad, med school was especially challenging
A teacher asked Olivia Morin in fall 2011 when she planned to resume her first-year studies in medical school at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
The question’s assumption was reasonable considering Olivia had just been diagnosed with cancer, stage 3b Hodgkin lymphoma. The Bristol, Tennessee, graduate would have to endure the fog, fatigue and pain of chemotherapy for six months during an academic year notorious for its rigor.
“I said, ‘I’m not leaving,’” Morin recalled Friday morning, a few hours before she graduated with her original classmates, the Class of 2015. “I wanted to stay in school and finish with that class if I could.”
Morin, now 26, was among the 149 medical students who turned into doctors Friday at the graduation ceremony for the College of Medicine. Proud families and friends nearly filled The
Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Memphis.
The medical students were among 698 new health care professionals who graduated in six different ceremonies May 15, 22 and Friday.
The 2015 UT Health Science Center graduates also comprise 175 from the College of Pharmacy; 116 from the College of Dentistry; 142 from the College of Health Professions; 38 from the College of Graduate Health Sciences; and 78 from the College of Nursing.
They include 68 black students, 12 Latino-Americans, 145 who came from other states, 410 women and 288 men.
The medical school’s first black graduate, Dr. Al- vin H. Crawford, gave the keynote address. “You’ve become a member of one of the world’s greatest and most respected professions,” he told the class.
The 1964 College of Medicine graduate served 29 years as chief of orthopedic surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and now holds endowed chairs there in pediatric and orthopedics and spinal surgery. The Crawford Spine Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital bears his name.
“You are a doctor, or at least you will be one once I finish with this speech,” Crawford said to laughter.
College of Medicine Dean David M. Stern implored the graduates to keep learning throughout their careers. “I’d like to suggest you are graduating to a lifelong training experience,” he said. “You need to remember you will always be a student.”
Morin was determined to remain one in late 2011 and 2012. She had dismissed her weight loss and fatigue to the stress of the first year of medical school. But when her parents saw her over the Thanksgiving break in 2011, they told her something was wrong.
Upon returning to Memphis, Morin visited a doctor. Subsequent examinations revealed she had a large tumor in her chest. She spent several days in intensive care, a week in the hospital and immediately started six months of chemotherapy.
She took chemo treatments once every two weeks. Morin scheduled the sessions at the West Clinic for Friday nights. That gave her the weekends to recover before classes on Mondays. “Which sounds like a great party,” she said with a laugh.
The toxic medicine made her sick. Chemotherapy takes a psychological toll, too. As the next treatment approaches, she said, “you work yourself up about it.”
There was also “chemobrain,” which Morin described as “a real thing.”
“You get foggy and can’t focus,’’ she said. “That made school a little harder the second half” of the first year, she said.
The lowest points included a few times when, just after chemotherapy, she could not get out of bed or eat “and felt so terrible and I still had to study,” Morin recalled. “It was really hard.
“But I had just grown up in a family, and always been the kind of person, that just gets through things and pushes through things ... It never really crossed my mind to stop.”
Morin credits the sup- port of her parents — her mother moved in with Olivia four of the six months of treatment — friends, classmates and faculty.
The National Institutes of Health estimates 9,050 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma this year, and 1,150 of those will die. But more than 75 percent of newly diagnosed adult patients with the cancer can be cured.
“I am three years cancerfree this month and am so happy to be graduating with my class today,” Morin said.
Her classmates were happy, too. Morin was presented the Charles C. Verstandig Award during Friday’s ceremony. The honor is given to the new graduate who surmounts the greatest difficulty in obtaining a medical education. Nominations came from the class.