For fourth-year medical student Erik Williams, the U.Va. experience is about discovering his interests and determining his future. When he was in college, Williams was torn between careers in mathematics and medicine. Volunteering in physicians’ offices helped him make his choice. “I realized that, for me, the direct impact I could have on people was the deciding factor,” he says. The U.Va. School of Medicine curriculum is designed to help students refine their choices even further.
After completing their coursework, U.Va. medical students spend half of their second year and all of their third rotating through specific services at the Medical Center. In their fourth year, they can spend up to three months in any specialty that interests them. “I had worked in a pathology lab between my first and second years,” Williams recalls. “When I was planning my fourth year, I knew I was going to focus on pathology to make sure it was what I wanted to do.”
One reason Williams has decided on a career in pathology is that it has a close connection to research, which he hopes to integrate into his career. As a pathologist, Williams would analyze human tissue for anatomical or clinical purposes. As a researcher, he could help uncover basic physiological processes that govern the functions of this tissue.
Accordingly, he’s also made time during his fourth year to focus on research. With the assistance of an American Society of Hematology HONORS Award, Williams is collaborating with Dr. Adam Goldfarb, professor of pathology, to investigate the role that specific intracellular signaling molecules play in the erythroid iron restriction response. This process is implicated in the anemia that often results from chronic disease.
Ultimately, the power of the Medical School experience is that it puts students like Williams together with mentors like Goldfarb who embody their aspirations. “Dr. Goldfarb is doing exactly what I hope to do, combining clinical responsibilities with research,” Williams says. “His example is a template for my future.”