“There was no social media, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube, no bloggers, so it was really difficult to connect with other people who had a similar experience or to connect to someone who may offer expert advice.” — Dr. Tovar
During my interview trail I met an applicant who, like me, realized how fortunate we were to apply in the generation of social media — the age of information dissemination and cooperation. Though, the caveat there is finding a reliable source, and of course it’d help if you developed a discernible eye for sophistry so that you can verify the sources, to finally whittle them down into a vetted list; and I have a very short list.
This time, I had to find a reliable source regarding medical school financing because I wasn’t expecting to have the prototypical cosigner to help secure extra funds. I tried searching SDN, only to find hilarious Dicksenian responses implying his poverty was because of the poster’s lack of virtue. Then, through Twitter I found the @ProMEDeus account ran by Dr. Tovar. He’d randomly shoot me advice on how to properly navigate the channels at my program, and would regularly check for updates on my aid situation. In the end, with his help about “how things work”, I was able to secure a much better financial package. This is both in thanks to a stellar financial aid department at my program and Dr. Tovar letting me know how to circumnavigate it.
A few weeks after the aid issue was clear, I had an internet phone conversation with Dr. Tovar, in this conversation he gave me his vetted list of sources, his vetted list for me to use during my first year of medical school. The conversation we had were actually questions that I personally wanted to know, but after almost 2-3 hours of talking I reckoned it’s information more people ought to know.
Q. Before we begin, can you introduce yourself?
I am Dr. Tovar, Founder and CEO of ProMEDeus, LLC. I am a licensed practicing physician board certified in family medicine. My clinical practice is in the acute care setting as a hospitalist. I also hold an academic appointment and enjoy teaching medical students and training residents.
Q. Taking a quick glance at the board of directors, I assume you’re all a busy group, what were your motivations for creating this company — was there a personal experience where you wished a company like yours existed before?
ProMEDeus was created after my personal and professional experience during medical school. In summary, I had excelled academically all of my life up until I got to medical school. Once I started medical school I quickly realized how challenging it was and almost failed out. During this time I learned the skills and strategy to become successful. ProMEDeus is all about: 1) helping students like me, who despite the intellectual capacity to succeed, are having difficulty in medical school and 2) helping other students avoid academic difficulty in the first place.
To give you a little more background …
I was very successful during my college years. I held a full time job that required 60-hour workweeks while carrying a full academic load and volunteering at a local health clinic and shadowing a neurosurgeon in my hometown. I graduated Magna Cum and was accepted to Medical School on my first attempt in 2001. I started my first year in medical school but no matter how hard I tried I could never get the yield that I was experiencing in college. The amount of information you are responsible for in medical school is overwhelming. This translated into barely passing my coursework my first year. I started my second year thinking that I just needed to study harder but ended up failing two courses. This was the beginning of my introduction to academic difficulty or attrition, which is what approximately 2-3% of medical students experience every year, although there are sources and studies that report much higher rates of attrition. I never imagined this would happen to me and it was devastating at the time; although looking back now it turned out to be rewarding in many ways.
At the time I was going through this, I had a feeling there were more medical students like me but could not find them. I think part of the problem is the guilt and shame one feels with failure. You don’t want the stigma associated with failure or your classmates judging you. My search for help or a support group was futile. Back then, the Internet was just taking off and google was around but in its infancy stage. There was no social media, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube, no bloggers, so it was really difficult to connect with other people who had a similar experience or to connect to someone who may offer expert advice. There were no books written on the subject (something that we are working currently on). By the same token, the Internet based medical education support structure was not even close to what medical students have now in terms of readily accessible study aids and resources.
I initially sought advice from a professional firm or a physician who could guide me through this but failed to find the help I needed. I could not find someone who could offer individualized and holistic academic support services. I would have paid anything to have a team of professionals focused on helping me be successful in med school. I would have also been interested in a group of professionals offering preventive services, such as the skills and strategy needed to be successful in med school.
My medical school had recently hired Dr. Melodee Mancuso, who is our Chief Learning Specialist. At the time she was given the challenging task of developing the academic support services and career-counseling center. She was very helpful in making sure I had no learning disabilities and also helped me figure out my learning style. At this point I realized that I had the mental capacity to succeed but needed assistance in uncovering the cause of the problem. As a result, I spent much of my time researching academic attrition, active learning styles, higher order learning, critical thinking skills, studying methods and strategies, and exam strategies amongst others. I experienced a paradigm shift and developed a holistic and systematic approach to succeed in medical school.
Ultimately, I was able to overcome my issues and graduate from medical school. I went on to successfully complete Family Medicine Residency training at the University of Kentucky in 2010 followed by the American Board of Family Medicine Certification. My tenure as a resident was remarkably different from my medical school experience. During my last year of residency I served as Chief Resident and Resident Board Member of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians (KAFP). During residency I was the recipient of awards including the Michael Hagen Resident Teacher of the Year Award 2008, Residency Recognition Award for Leadership 2009, and The University of KY College of Medicine Clinical Teaching Award 2009-10, an honor bestowed by the third and fourth year medical students.
After finishing residency and starting practice I felt it was time to take my experience to the next level and founded ProMEDeus.
My experience with academic difficulty helped me develop a distinctive set of skills and attributes that uniquely qualifies me to successfully mentor med students to help them achieve academic success in a way few can. I find students identify well with someone who has “walked the talk.”
Q. I see that ProMEDeus caters to those in medicine, whether they are matriculating, current medical students, or residents. What are some common challenges that your company helps individuals overcome? What are some ways your company can help?
PROMEDEUS offers the following services:
Developing Strategy to meet career goals including:
- Learning & Academic Assessment
- Study Assessment/Strategy
- Exam Preparation/Techniques
- Medical School/Residency Academic Mapping
- Optimizing Faculty Relationships/Networking.
- Residency Planning
- Answers or Advice to questions regarding course of study.
In addition to the above we also offer assistance for Med Students or Residents at risk of dismissal from Medical School or Residency with:
- Academic Mediation
- Leave of Absence issues and planning
- Academic Progress Committee Hearings & Appeals
- Avoiding Dismissal from course of study
- Academic Reinstatement
Assistance with developing strategy including:
- Communications with faculty
- Formulating appeals
- Appeals presentation
- Legal Assistance and Representation if needed
One of our core values at ProMEDeus is our commitment to assist at risk medical students regardless of their barriers and/or ability to pay. We operate under a socially responsible business model. Considering the recent physician shortage crisis ProMEDeus has a vested interest in student success. At ProMEDeus we welcome the opportunity to empower an individual to become a physician, as he/she will impact a community and that is more powerful than any profit we make.
Q. Okay, so a follow up to the last question. Hypothetically, if a medical school (or residency) or another company has comparable service, when and why is ProMEDeus a good option? That is, should they wait until they’ve exhausted their other options, or should they be ‘proactive’ and seek help concurrently?
This is a great question that gets at two important issues: 1) When should a student should seek help? AND 2) How does ProMEDeus fit in with services provided by the medical school or residency program?
To answer the 1st question – When should a student seek help?:
This depends on the student; we have successfully worked with students from both ends of the spectrum and in between.
No doubt, the wisest approach would be a proactive one since, as the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. We’ve had several clients come to us early in their matriculation who wanted to be proactive and work with us on study strategy and identifying any issues that may create problems down the road. This is an excellent strategy and if their school offers it free of charge then they should definitely take full advantage of it. If not, ProMEDeus can provide these services and help them get started off on the right foot and avoid costly mistakes.
We’ve also had a number of students on the opposite end whose academic institution had dismissed them from their program and they were trying to appeal their decision. This is where ProMEDeus is especially unique in the services we provide. For example, we recently helped a student in this situation get to the core of their problem and identify areas of weakness and develop an action plan for success to present to the appeals committee and coached them on their presentation.
We also have worked with a lot of students who may have failed a course or struggled with board exams.
To answer question 2 – How does ProMEDeus fit in with services provided by the medical school or residency program?:
We see ourselves as a privately funded academic support services firm who can operate independently to provide a full array of services to medical students but we can also operate as an adjunct service to what medical schools are able to provide. What we have found through surveys and talking with med students at conferences and other venues is that there is a wide range of academic support services available to med students. We have learned of a number of med schools that do a really great job of helping students prevent problems and deal with them if they occur. But unfortunately there are also a number of medical schools that seem to struggle with this. Since the board of directors at ProMEDeus are also involved in academia, we understand how difficult providing academic support services to students can be. We also understand the current academic challenges and constraints to accomplish more with less in terms of time and other resources. Looking at the issue from a business sense in terms of allocation of resources, some schools may be hard pressed to sufficiently help at-risk or in-trouble students and may have to make the hard choice of not focusing heavily on helping these students who only make up 2-3% of their student body and instead focus efforts and resources on the majority of students who are not struggling.
However, our targeted clientele is the student who is indeed well suited for a career in medicine and will make an excellent physician who will help meet the healthcare needs of the American people (and beyond), but needs some help getting there. We want to keep them from falling through the cracks, like I almost did.
An important goal we have at ProMEDeus is to establish academic partnerships to collaborate with medical schools/residency programs to help them provide the highest level of academic support services to medical student/resident success.
Our intention in establishing our firm was never to compete with medical school academic support and counseling services but rather to work together for a common goal. If the student has access to services provided by their school then we would advise them to seek assistance there first. If they need additional help or a supplement to their needs then ProMEDeus is the way to go.
Thank you for the interview.