October 22, 2015

SVSU graduate overcomes medical struggles, moves on to medical school

Micah Whitehead's career goal is to work as a cardiothoracic surgeon, helping patients experiencing problems with their hearts and lungs.

It's a goal that felt far-fetched to the Saginaw native not so long ago, when he struggled with his own medical issues. But now – fueled by his own perseverance, the support of faculty and staff at Saginaw Valley State University, and a second chance offered by his current school – Whitehead is on his way to achieving that goal.‌

After graduating SVSU in May with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Whitehead has embarked on a 5-year path to a medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He started school at the East Lansing campus in July, enrolled in the school’s Advance Baccalaureate Learning Experience (ABLE) program, a year-long initiative offered by the College of Human Medicine for disadvantaged students.

“SVSU provided me with the best foundation possible so that I can succeed in this rigorous program,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead is one of 12 students currently enrolled in the program. Those who graduate from ABLE earn admission to the College of Human Medicine's traditional courses.

“I don't think I would be in this position if I hadn't gone to SVSU,” he said. “I developed a strong support system there.”

Whitehead applied to the program because his college transcripts reflect medical struggles he experienced during his sophomore year at SVSU, when he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. His medical struggles led him to withdraw from several courses that year.

Those struggles could have made applying for enrollment at medical schools - which accept students heavily based on high-achieving college transcript records - a futile effort. But Whitehead said his supporters and mentors at SVSU helped him regain his footing academically.

Among those supporters was Heidi Lang, SVSU's pre-health professions advisor. Lang serves as advisor to SVSU’s Health Professions Association, a group that prepares students for graduate and professional schools relating to health professions. Whitehead was a member of the group while he attended SVSU, serving as its president during his senior year. He credited Lang's guidance in part for his admission to medical school.

“There were times when I was freaking out about something at 9 at night, and I would text her about it,” Whitehead said. “Whatever it was, she would take care of it.”
Lang said Whitehead is an outstanding student because of his passion for learning as well as his leadership.

“I see him as having incredible potential,” Lang said. “He is somebody who has such a heart and passion for serving others. Micah has the sensitivity, intelligence and the fortitude to be an excellent physician. He possesses great empathy for others and provides a listening ear for many of his peers. They seek him out.”

Whitehead said he enjoys helping students in the early stages of developing an interest in the health professions.

“I found out through the Health Professions Association that most of the younger students are kind of lost,” Whitehead said. “I remember being in their shoes, so I like to give them the kind of advice that was given to me. I love being a mentor to others.”

Less than one semester into his time as an Michigan State University medical student, Whitehead is excited about the opportunity ABLE provides.

“The ABLE program at MSU is absolutely miraculous,” he said. “We are in extremely tough courses right now, and the same attention I received at SVSU is being provided here. I look forward to waking up, and spending my days in the Gross Anatomy labs.”

He said SVSU faculty such as Gary Lange, professor of biology, and Tami Sivy, associate professor of chemistry, helped prepare him academically for his current studies.

“Dr. Lange, and especially Dr. Sivy, my biochemistry adviser and professor during my undergraduate degree, provided the extremely important foundational work that lets me learn the material at a much faster pace. It's like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant with how intense it is. Without SVSU, and the faculty who helped support me, I'm not sure I would be succeeding as I am right now.”