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The Stories Behind New Med Class

September 1, 1997

Judith Zwolak

Joseph Pisano, associate dean of medical school admissions, knows the life stories of nearly every one of the 150 students in the incoming medical school class. "We hand pick our students," says Pisano. "That's why we have three sets of interviews."

This year's class boasts four students with doctoral degrees, a few former football stars and a handful of individuals whose lives testify to their will to triumph over adversity. One such student is a woman from a small farming community near Buffalo, N.Y., where college graduates are rare. Years ago, without money or plans, she hopped a train to New Orleans and set up housekeeping in a tent within the city limits.

Eventually, she set her sights on higher education, attended the University of New Orleans and then applied to Tulane School of Medicine. Two other students overcame recent tragedies, one while he was traveling to Tulane in June to take a summer school class. "He was in South Carolina and somebody crossed the median strip and they had a head-on collision," Pisano says. "Frankly, our student had no business being alive, but he's here today with a walker. He's a remarkable young man, a delightful guy."

Another incoming student with a Tulane undergraduate degree survived a harrowing experience this summer while working in Yosemite National Park. "He went out to take some pictures of a waterfall and fell off a cliff and broke both of his ankles," Pisano says. "He spent six days there without water, without food and tried to do things like eating ants, which didn't work. The only reason he's alive today is that he told his girlfriend in New Orleans that he was going to shoot some pictures of a waterfall and, when she told the rangers, they were able to reconstruct where he might be."

There are more stories--800 in all--one for every student interviewed. Pisano interviews about 60-70 percent of the applicants in the first round of interviews, helped out by Paul Rodenhauser, professor of psychiatry and assistant dean of admissions, and Andrew Thalheim, a physician and alumnus (A&S '46, M '49). Medical school faculty members perform the second set of interviews and current students sit down with applicants for their third and final interview.

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