First Generation College Student Navigates The Demands of VTC Medical School

Love people. Serve people. Make a difference.

These are the three tenets of Luke Arney’s quest to be a doctor. As a third-year student at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM), Arney is close to home. Literally. His family lives in Botetourt County, where he was raised.

Arney and his siblings were the first people in his family to go to college – William & Mary – where he studied neuroscience and kinesiology as well as health sciences. Following college, he worked as a surgical technician in Northern Virginia and started applying to medical schools.

“I applied to seven schools, which is crazy to only apply to that few. It was definitely risky,” Arney said. “I was super passionate about VTCSOM, but the medical school application process is incredibly competitive with so many variables.”

Arney was thrilled to get the call that he was accepted at VTCSOM.

“I’m so glad to finally be back in this area, and it’s amazing how much I feel at home at the medical school.”

Paying it forward

Arney’s medical education is supported by two endowed scholarships for students who demonstrate financial need. The Dr. and Mrs. Robert R. and Rebecca Bowen Memorial Scholarship is a legacy gift from the family of Bowen, a Virginia Tech alumnus and orthopedic surgeon, and his wife. The Dr. Sidney C. and Mrs. Lucy O. Smith Scholarship also goes to students with financial need. Sidney Smith was a chemical engineering graduate of Virginia Tech.

“These scholarships have been incredibly helpful toward providing an improved sense of security through the expensive endeavor of medical education,” Arney said. “Financial support early in my medical career not only makes pursuing my dream more realistic, but it prevents the otherwise inevitable accrual of interest. My hope is to one day pay it forward as these two families have done for me.”

The importance of a mentor

Arney’s journey in medical school has been marked by words of wisdom from a number of mentors. One example is the importance of failure, which comes as something new to many medical students.

“We’re going to have some failures as medical students and later on as doctors. We have to learn to deal with that,” Arney said. “I think the No. 1 thing a physician should feel capable of saying is, ‘I don’t know.’”

Arney’s mentor, Charles Daniel, is a urologist with Carilion Clinic. “Luke’s inquisitive nature and excitement about the field helps me see many routine cases in a new light,” he said. “There will always be new ideas and new approaches to surgical problems, and it is the passion and curiosity of young doctors like Luke that will show that path forward.”

Life at medical school

In college, Arney discovered a joy in studying. In medical school, studying has become a passion. Often, he discovers that a patient he is helping at the Bradley Free Clinic is diagnosed with the same condition he has been studying in small-group, problem-based learning at VTCSOM.

“It’s extremely rewarding,” Arney said. “Medicine is so incredibly broad, and there are so many ways to help people.”

In addition to small-group learning, life at medical school has other attributes that appeal to Arney. The school’s small class size — about 50 students — enables close collaborations among students as well as between students and faculty. He also appreciates the school’s clinical skills program, which can be intimidating for new students. Working with individuals, called standardized patients, who are trained to act out a specific illness or condition, students must individually interact with the standardized patient to try to come up with a diagnosis.

What’s next?

With close ties to home, Arney hopes to establish his practice in the local area, which may include a short time away for residency. His top choice for a specialty is urology.

“It appeals to me because of the aspect of longitudinal care,” he said. “I want to have patients I take care of over time.”

Establishing relationships is something deeply ingrained for Arney.

“I love taking care of people and making others happy,” he said. “I do it so that I can further that happiness. After all, we’re all in this world for each other.”

– Catherine Doss

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