Finding the Path:
Duncan Meiklejohn, DMS’10

“One of the things I’ve been most impressed by here is the job DMS does in building a student body that’s going to support each other, and in all likelihood continue to support each other after graduation,” says Duncan Meiklejohn, ’10. “My class is fantastic – far more collegial and collaborative than I ever dared to imagine.”

Meiklejohn, who hails from Santa Fe, New Mexico and graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts in 2001, wasn’t always headed for medical school. Although he majored in biology in college, he shunned the pre-med track. “It seemed as though college had a lot more to offer than spending my time in competitive weed-out classes,” he says.

His early twenties were a time of searching for his path. He spent a year in Seattle with AmeriCorps, then moved to San Francisco “with no direction whatsoever.” Eventually, he landed a job in the lab of Dr. Douglas Nixon, a cellular immunologist and HIV researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. Nixon would turn out to be the kind of mentor who can see potential and nurture it and help focus it.

“When he’s hiring techs and research associates, he looks for people who are young and creative and interested and energetic,” explains Meiklejohn, who certainly fits that description himself. “They come into his lab and he drives their energy towards coming up with interesting projects and doing interesting work. But he also encourages them to move on to something better, which is usually grad school or med school.”

Working in Nixon’s lab, Meiklejohn began to see how a medical career could offer both “something that is scientific and thoughtful and challenges me intellectually” combined with the opportunity to “look in the eye of the people I’m working for every day.”

It was Nixon who suggested that Meiklejohn consider DMS. “I was interested in a place that was supportive of its students, and it seemed like that was what Dartmouth was all about. And that’s been totally borne out,” he says. “I think the faculty and administration here go out of their way for the students. That’s not something I take for granted.”

Now starting his third year rotations, Meiklejohn continues to be impressed with the commitment to teaching by faculty who “wear multiple hats…Now I’m thrown into a world where they’re working with patients and teaching at the same time. Everyone has been amazing to work with and learn from,” he notes.

Meiklejohn’s DMS education has extended beyond the classroom and hospital settings. Last year, he and fellow student Jennifer Bentwood, ’10, received an Albert Schweitzer fellowship for a project with the non-profit Good Neighbor Health Clinic in White River Junction, Vermont, a clinic that offers free care to those in need who lack the means to pay for medical care. Through a simple, one-question survey, the two students identified clients whose well-being was impacted by food insecurity – what Meiklejohn describes as “a more nuanced definition of hunger” – then offered counseling to help these clients access available resources.

“During the first two years of medical school you can live in the classroom and the library and not give a second thought to the reality of what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” says Meiklejohn. “That was the reason I wanted to do the project. Working with this patient population was an important reminder to retain a holistic view of your patient and not assume that someone is going to be able to carry out the course of action that you prescribe. You have to be flexible in your approach.”

“Dartmouth is a great place to learn that medicine is not practiced in isolation, that you’re never working alone,” says Meiklejohn. “I think the school does an excellent job of teaching medicine in a real context – in that context of collaboration and team and partnership with the patients. I’m excited to see where this all takes me.”

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