If you catch fourth year student Ryan Sarver in the hospital, not far behind you’ll also find his black leather bag, proudly showing the AUC emblem. His father’s old stethoscope sits inside it: a symbolic reminder to never give up, and to always lead with compassion.
Ryan’s father wasn’t a doctor, a nurse or physician assistant. He was a carpenter by day and a musician by night. But earlier in his youth, he dreamed of becoming a respiratory technician. He started school but never finished; still he kept that stethoscope as a keepsake up until his death.
Today, very close to graduation and residency, Ryan has gotten much further than his father did. But that doesn’t mean his path has been easy.
Ryan too began his higher education with the dream of becoming a physician. With a new environment and social distractions however, his grades suffered. He dropped out of school and moved back home to Phoenix, Arizona—putting aside that dream and instead becoming a salesman.
But when his father died in 2004, Ryan received a huge wake up call. Looking at his father’s life and unfulfilled dreams, Ryan knew he didn’t want those same regrets. So, he made the decision to go back to school. He enrolled at Arizona State University and double majored in religious studies and sociology, and after two years he graduated magna cum laude—the first in his family to graduate college.
Following graduation and postgraduate training in South Africa, Ryan decided to return to school again to pursue the medical degree that had once seemed out of reach. While working and balancing a young family, he completed his prerequisites and studied for the MCAT, ultimately leading him to admission at AUC.
Ryan’s experience getting into medical school made him an ideal candidate as the clinical student member for AUC’s Admission Committee. The Committee, which is comprised of deans and faculty members, reviews applicants’ files and makes a decision as to whether or not AUC is a good fit. He is the sole student representative on the Committee—a responsibility that he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s a great feeling when I see a student succeeding in medical school,” he says. “Especially when it’s an applicant who didn’t necessarily have the perfect grades or MCAT score but who, I felt, had incredible potential. When I see them taking on leadership roles in medical school, I can’t help but feel proud.”
Seeking Out Leadership Opportunities at AUC
In addition to his role on the Admissions Committee, Ryan was a Student Government Association (SGA) representative during his medical sciences years. He helped to write the SGA bylaws and worked with other class representatives to restructure how financial resources were handled.
Between his studies, family of five, and volunteer obligations, Ryan’s hands are full. But he notes the many other leadership opportunities that students can take advantage of at AUC:
There are more than 20 student organizations on campus and each one has an e-board or leadership council. The Christian Medical and Dental Association, for example, hosts potlucks and organizes frequent volunteer projects at places like St. Maarten’s ICAN orphanage.
Project HELP connects students with community health opportunities like diabetes screenings, Zika and dengue research, and general health education sessions. Students have a lot of autonomy to setup initiatives and it’s a great way to improve their clinical skills.
If you’ve done particularly well in a course, you can become a peer-to-peer tutor or even a teaching assistant. For some, the best way to learn something is to teach it, so this is a great way to reinforce your studies.
There are also civic projects like the SGA and now the Clinical SGA. Ryan’s CSGA representative is Nikole Czapp and to him, she’s done a great job setting the standard for that group.
The biggest takeaway, according to Ryan, is to realize that there are endless opportunities to teach, serve, explore and research at AUC. Every idea has the potential to be realized.
Finding Leadership During Clinical Training
Ryan admits that finding leadership opportunities during clinical years is a bit harder. With increasing demands, longer hours, and a student body that is spread out across the country, it takes a concerted effort. But, the opportunities are there if you look for them—sometimes in unlikely areas.
For Ryan, leadership manifests itself through a desire to serve others. He acts that out through volunteering, studying with and mentoring his classmates, and helping other students find outlets to manage their stress. He and his wife, for example, host weekly “open door dinners” where his AUC colleagues, friends, and neighbors are invited to come over for good food and conversation.
“In my life before school, my job was all about making connections,” he says. “I love talking to people—and not just to get what I need. I am truly interested in getting to know people and forming a relationship. As a medical student, I’ve used that same approach to build a sort of community around me. AUC has really become my community.”
Ryan On his Mentors
In addition to his father’s stethoscope, Ryan draws inspiration from a handful of leaders whom he believes embody the quality of service. At the top, he mentions Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who is a social rights activist and an ambassador of peaceful change. And there’s Martin Luther King, Jr., who used peace to advance civil rights.
He also credits several individuals at AUC for showing him how to lead. Zerith McMillan at the Center for Haitian Studies for his mentorship; the late Dr. Lance Nash for his commitment to service; Dr. Susan DeMesquita for her complete dedication to student teaching; and Dr. Ron Testa, former Dean of Medical Sciences, for his compassion.
A life as a physician is more than simply healing physical ailments. Communities and patients look for the leadership of their doctors in their practice and in their communities. As a physician, leadership is inextricably bound to service and compassion for others.