Room to Breathe – And Succeed

Medical student Michael VanDillen and Fariha Shafi, M.D.

By Patricia O’Dell

Fourth year UMKC medical student, Michael VanDillen, loves to work hard, a must for students in the UMKC School of Medicine. But early on, his hard work went beyond the hours and efforts typically required of other med students. He also held down outside jobs to earn money to help pay his medical school bills.

While VanDillen was fortunate that his parents helped finance undergraduate school for him and his two brothers, he was on his own to finance the higher tuition and extra years required for medical school. So he found a job refereeing intramural sports, as in plural. As in football and soccer and volleyball and basketball. It was almost too much.

“I was refereeing anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a week,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, when you have the class workload that this school demands of you, it was a lot. When I was working those hours, I felt pressured, almost in over my head. Sometimes all my efforts to get everything scheduled and accomplished just didn’t work out.”

Fortunately, scholarship money came to the rescue. VanDillen received the Friends of the UMKC School of Medicine Scholarship and the Razzaque Family Scholarship in his first two years and School of Medicine scholarships for years three and four.

“The scholarships helped reduce my outside workload immensely,” said VanDillen, who is from Weldon Springs in the St. Louis area. “I was able to dedicate more time to studying. I was able to wrap my head around some of the harder concepts because I had more time. I was relieved.”

Since he now worries less about a paycheck, VanDillen has time to get involved in outside medical programs. He has taken part in faculty research and has served as vice president of the UMKC chapter of Walk With a Doc, a national organization that encourages physicians to get out and be active with patients. And he is looking into student interest groups to join as he explores specialties.

“This has been possible only because of my decreased financial burden,” he said.

VanDillen is also thankful for people such as Alice Arredondo, Ed.D., assistant dean for admissions and recruitment, and Robin Patterson, financial literacy counselor. He considers them important resources in his scholarship application process. Now, with the help afforded by UMKC scholarships, that overwhelmed and anxious first-year student is more than halfway to graduating from medical school, feeling confident and excited.

“I’m at a place where I am able to focus on my studies, look at career options and make a good call on what type of medicine to practice,” he said. “It’s a great feeling.”