Michael Kagan quips that his love for the instruments of medicine dates back to his favorite childhood toy: a Fisher-Price medical kit. “I loved science when I was little, and I grew up learning to admire doctors for their knowledge and benefit to society,” he says. “I have always been a techie, and I loved that doctors had such cool tools at their disposal.”
Today, Kagan is using those technologies to keep patients safe and comfortable during surgery and recovery from anesthesia, as he completes an anesthesiology residency at the University at Buffalo. When he finishes, he intends to enter a pain management fellowship and ultimately pursue a career treating pain in cancer patients to improve their quality of life.
While it sounds like a straightforward story, Kagan’s narrative includes a few twists and turns. Before coming to AUC, Kagan started out as a music education major at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Ga. He changed his mind, however, when he began to find it difficult to see himself in a music career. “I enjoyed music as a hobby but being forced to learn theory took the fun out of it for me,” he says.
Kagan left school and joined the military, following in the footsteps of three generations of Kagans before him. He enlisted in the Air Force in 2002 and served as a communications and computer systems operator. Although he didn’t know it at the time, the experience set the stage for his current career. “The job required everything from systems administration to information assurance,” he says. “I loved the diagnostic approach to solving problems, so this was a good segue into the medical field for me.”
When Kagan was medically discharged three years later, he saw the opportunity to go back to school and pursue his childhood ambitions. He recalls that he was nervous when he first enrolled at AUC, because he was older than his classmates and had been away from academia for a long time. He was spurred on, however, by the knowledge that if he didn’t give it a try, he’d go through life wondering if he could have made it as a doctor, he says. “I decided to apply to AUC because I knew they had a good track record of producing physicians from other ‘non-traditional’ students such as myself, and I would be surrounded by like-minded individuals.”
Once Kagan arrived on St. Maarten, he made the most of his experience. He participated in student government and tutored neuroscience students. He says that teaching other students honed his communication skills and made him a better doctor. “It prepared me well in that it helped me learn different ways of explaining things to patients so that they understand what I’m treating them for in a way that confers patience and kindness.”
Kagan’s advice to incoming students is to network broadly and practice compassion. “Any doctor can read a book and be a diagnostic robot,” he says. “What will differentiate the mediocre doctor from a great doctor is an excellent bedside manner.”