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‘Paging Drs. White-Dzuro’: Siblings continue VUSM legacy

Posted by on Thursday, September 23, 2021 in Culture, Curriculum, First Year, Fourth Year .

Family bonds strengthen at VUSM for two students, one alumna

by Lexie Little

Claire and Brie at Brie's Match Day
Claire and Brie at Brie’s Match Day

Google “White-Dzuro M.D. Vanderbilt” and three names will appear: Gabrielle (Brie), an anesthesiology resident at Massachusetts General Hospital; Colin, a fourth-year medical student; and Claire, a first-year medical student.

Each studied biochemistry as undergraduates. Each played collegiate volleyball. Each hails from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Each matriculated at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. And each calls the same two lawyers “Mom” and “Dad.”

As they sat together at a table outside Eskind Biomedical Library, passersby could tell the younger siblings remain close. Claire (M1 ’25) sat down with a purse gifted to her by “all her siblings,” one which Colin (M4 ’22) didn’t even realize he purportedly played a role in giving. He smiled knowingly as he got a ribbing from his sister about the women of the family being those who do everything. But they always pay attention to one another, a closeness that eventually led to Vanderbilt.

Claire and Colin at Claire's White Coat Ceremony
Claire and Colin at Claire’s White Coat Ceremony

‘A natural progression’

As kids, science topics infiltrated dinnertime conversation.

“Our mom did study chemistry in college,” Claire said. “I feel like we always had a tendency toward math and sciences growing up…A lot of our family dinners were always centered around or had some science discussion. For me, that was always an area of interest.”

Colin, nodding in agreement, called their paths to medical school a natural progression. Despite any other sibling rivalry, little debate arose as they set goals in science and medicine.

Though they chose to attend different undergraduate institutions (Oberlin, Vassar, and Middlebury colleges, respectively), Nashville and Vanderbilt beckoned. Having heard tales from Brie’s time at VUSM, Colin said it only made sense to move south himself.

“Brie (MD ’16) had such a great experience here that it really had an influence on me,” he said. “The sense of community that we got here both in Nashville and the school is unparalleled…Things are pretty high stress and can get testy sometimes, but it’s pretty nice to have the supportive community that Vanderbilt has offered as well as the extracurriculars that Nashville has offered, too.”

Choosing Vanderbilt’s curriculum

Brie's White Coat Ceremony
Brie’s White Coat Ceremony

Finding support among classmates that truly wanted to see one another succeed, Colin settled in to his new life in Nashville and encountered the unique curriculum Vanderbilt implemented after Brie’s graduation.

At VUSM, medical students complete preclinical curriculum in 13 months, allowing them to begin clerkships immediately in Year 2. From then on, they can customize clinical experiences and electives based on desired specialties and career interests – all while enjoying the West End of Music City.

Claire never doubted her siblings when she sought advice on where to attend medical school. She relied on Brie and Colin to tell her truthfully about their experiences at Vanderbilt beyond the information she might find on a webpage or during interviews.

“The fact that both of them went through it and had such a good experience was reassuring,” she said. “They’re not going to lie to me. They’re going to tell me straight how it is —”

As she finished the thought, Colin jumped in.

“I didn’t know much about [the new curriculum] going in because [Brie] was still in the hybrid model,” he said. “Having gone through it, I could counsel Claire that it is truly the best way to do medical education. I know more schools are going to jump on this because it’s just so innovative and so terrific in terms of getting a much broader exposure earlier to all the different specialties that you might want to explore.”

Support expected and unexpected

Colin's White Coat Ceremony
Colin’s White Coat Ceremony

Though their paths converged at VUSM, their careers diverge based on their individual interests. Colin intends to match into plastic surgery as he readies himself for applications this fall. Claire, though early in her career, retains an interest in pediatrics and women’s health. All the while, they know they’ll have support no matter which specialties they ultimately pursue.

Sometimes, that support comes as a surprise.

As Claire applied to medical schools after two years working in Toronto, a name in a Facebook group for admitted students caught her attention: Kevin Zhang. A fellow M1, Zhang studied biochemistry at Middlebury College alongside Claire.

“I joined the Facebook group and said, ‘Oh my god! I know someone!’ We had classes together, and he was a TA of mine at one point,” she recalled. “He’s incredible. Such a smart guy. We took some pictures to send back to our pre-med advisers at Midd.”

“He’s always so willing to help. I feel like there’s not a lot of competitiveness here but a lot of collaboration. I felt the same way at Middlebury, so that’s been a nice thread through my education.”

Beyond her sibling connection, Claire enjoys the camaraderie in her cohort to bolster her journey. Likewise, Kevin found comfort in having a familiar face in unfamiliar territory.

“Having spent the past six years living in the Northeast, I was a bit unsure of what to expect moving down here to Nashville,” he said. “But when I found out that Claire was also going to be joining the medical school, I was super excited to have someone in the class that I knew from Middlebury College. Looking back, there were so many people at Middlebury who helped us get here, including our amazing pre-med adviser, Hannah Benz.

“And now having spent the past three months as a medical student here, I cannot imagine another place I would rather be. From all of my talented classmates to supportive faculty and deans, Vanderbilt is quickly beginning to feel like home.”

Bonded by experience

Claire's White Coat Ceremony
Claire’s White Coat Ceremony

At the end of the day, the White-Dzuros remain grateful to have a home at Vanderbilt with both their blood relatives and the families they have developed in the School of Medicine, particularly in their respective VUSM colleges where students receive Littles/Bigs to work in mentoring teams.

“That’s something you always talked about,” Claire said, turning to Colin.

“Yeah, It’s very real. It’s not just for show,” he replied. “You don’t just become a member of this college, and that’s it. You really become part of a family. You really join them. It’s an extra community on top of the school, on top of Nashville. I think Vanderbilt does such a good job of reinforcing that they’re always there for you. You have these support systems in place.”

They just happen to have the added bonus of lifelong support systems present within the same campus courtyard.

“Family has always been really important to us, so being in a place where Claire and I could be together and also share an experience that Brie had as well is really awesome,” Colin said.

Claire agreed.

“It was nice to have that support and reassurance and help through the really challenging or really frustrating moments,” she said. “It was nice to have them there…I hope I can achieve what they’ve achieved.”

Reflecting on their young careers in medicine, they couldn’t help but to think about their oldest sister, Alexandra— a certified public accountant at Amazon of whom they are equally proud. They looked at one another, snickering as they got up to go their separate ways.

“Who knows? Maybe Alex will decide to go back.”