As a third-year Tufts University medical student, Jonathan Pelletier has learned how to work with patients. He’s learned how to navigate the demands of a bustling hospital. He’s learned how to live off little sleep and lots of coffee.
And Pelletier, born in Bangor and raised in Falmouth, has done it all at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston — the city where his father grew up.
“One of the reasons I was so excited to come work at St. Mary’s was because it gave me a chance to spend some time here in his hometown,” he said.
At the end of the month, Pelletier — known for his enthusiasm and ever-present bow tie — will finish his time at St. Mary’s as part of Tufts’ Maine Track program. He’ll go on to graduate, become a doctor, practice medicine. In Maine.
Name: Jonathan Pelletier
Job: Medical student
What got you interested in medicine? Actually, the captain of my high school swim team first got me interested in medicine by recruiting me to a student rescue program where we worked as EMTs for our town. I quickly found that medicine was the most interesting thing that I had ever studied, and I loved being involved in a profession where I felt like I was making a positive impact on the lives of people around me. At such a young age, I was struck by the compassion of volunteers running out in the middle of the night to help a stranger in need, and I decided that I wanted to be like them.
Tell me about the Tufts Maine Track program: Maine has a serious shortage of physicians in many disciplines. The Maine Track is a program geared at recruiting students who are interested in practicing in Maine. We begin in Maine for orientation and spend most of the first two years at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, then migrate home to Maine for our last two years. Many students get to work at smaller hospitals throughout the state, like St. Mary’s, as part of an innovative program that combines training in rural practice as well as at a major medical center. This means that we get to experience what it is like to see and connect with patients over a much longer period of time — nine months — than is the norm in medical school.
What is attractive about practicing in Maine? Maine is home! I was born at Eastern Maine Medical Center, and I’ve spent my whole life here, except for time away for education. I enjoy the mountains, coast and forest. But truthfully, I love the people in Maine. People here are hardworking, down-to-earth, friendly and honest, which I really value.
What kind of medicine do you hope to specialize in? Happily, I don’t have to make up my mind just yet. Ask me again in a year!
What’s your typical day as a medical student like? Most days, I get to the hospital around 7 a.m. I typically see between one and five patients in the hospital before getting to outpatient clinics. I usually work in two outpatient clinics each day and then usually come back to the hospital to see my in-patients again before heading home around 7 p.m. But every day is different, depending on what’s going on with my patients in the hospital.
The best part about being a med student? The best part is definitely getting to connect with my patients. I love it when patients come back to me and say how much better they are feeling or that they were happy I was involved in their care. These are the kinds of connections that I think our program really fosters; after nine months of working continuously at St. Mary’s, I feel as though I’ve really been able to build relationships with lots of my patients.
The hardest part? Medicine is humbling. The more I learn, the more I am reminded that my knowledge is finite. The hardest part of my journey has been accepting when we simply can’t do more to help patients. This has been especially difficult when I feel like I’ve become friends with so many of my patients.
Is sleep a foreign concept for you now? Sadly, yes. I only work at the hospital about 11 or 12 hours per day on the weekdays, but part of being a medical student is coming home at night and studying for the next exam for a few hours before going to bed. This usually makes for 14- to 16-hour workdays. On the upside, I’ve really developed a great relationship with my coffee pot.
So what’s up with the bow ties? Well, first off, I’m quite tall, so regular ties just never seem to come in long enough sizes. But a couple of times early in my clinical training, I was leaning over patients to listen to their heart sounds and my tie flopped forward and fell onto them. I was so embarrassed by the experience I decided that I was going with the bow tie. But now they get so many compliments, that I can’t imagine switching back.
Best TV doctor: Marcus Welby, “Bones” McCoy or Derek Shepherd? I’m going to vote for “Bones.” I wish that I could get a patient’s vital signs from hundreds of yards away and bring people back to life with just a hypospray!