Penn State COM Legacies: Following in their Parents' Footsteps
Consider this: 1. Penn State alumni are known for their fierce pride and loyalty to the institution. 2. Parents typically love when their children follow in their footsteps for a career.
So we wondered, how big a role do physician parents play in convincing their children to pursue medicine and choose Penn State for medical school?
“Was I happy that he chose Penn State? Yes,” Trent Gause, M.D., ’86, said emphatically, speaking about his son Trent, ’15, a Yale graduate in his first year of medical school at Penn State. “Did I try to influence him? Absolutely!”
An orthopedic surgeon practicing in Pittsburgh, Gause stressed the benefits of Penn State (great school, close to home, lower cost of living, in-state tuition) and took his son on a tour of the campus, introducing him to his former advisor, Alphonse Leure-duPree, Ph.D., who wrote a letter of reference.
But both Gauses say that it was completely up to Trent II, from his decision to pursue medicine to choosing the right medical school.
“This is a demanding profession. It takes sacrifice, with a lot of schooling and a lot of work. I don’t want him to do it because I did,” says Gause. “It’s an individual path. If you chose this to please someone else, you would be miserable.”
His son Trent concurs, saying, “My dad really likes Penn State, but he didn’t push it. He’s always been good about letting me make my own choices.”
While Trent II agreed that the school, location, and costs were important factors, he said it was “more of a gut feeling” after his interview, adding “the medical center was exactly what I was looking for. A great facility offering the chance to do research, and the humanities piece is a really good selling point.”
He adds, “I’m not saying my dad wasn’t excited when I said I was going into medicine. After all, I did have a lot of exposure to it.”
As a hockey and lacrosse player, Trent has many memories of his dad treating him in their kitchen following a game. He also spent time as a child following his father around the clinic.
Jeff Thiboutot, M.D., ’11, who is currently completing an internal medicine internship at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, had a double dose of exposure and influence: his mother Diane Thiboutot, M.D., is a 1988 Penn State College of Medicine graduate and serves on the Penn State College of Medicine faculty.
“Going into medical school, I definitely had a better idea of what to expect,” said Jeff. “It’s not just about having a mother as a physician, but growing up in a culture of medical school. My parents’ friends are largely physicians, and we were always around other doctors.”
Although he literally lived on campus until age seven, he grew up saying that he didn’t want to become a doctor. “I saw how much my mom was going through, the hours and the rigor,” Jeff said. “It initially seemed like a dirty job, always physically dealing with patients.”
He did, however, attend Penn State as an undergraduate, pursuing a B.S. degree in chemical engineering. In his junior year, he helped a friend study for the MCATs and on a whim took the test. He did extremely well (ironically, his friend became a chemical engineer, while Jeff pursued medicine).
“It perked my interest,” he said. He started studying biology and anatomy and became intrigued. His mother was completely surprised. “I didn’t see it coming,” she said. “Jeff did everything to demonstrate that he had no interest in medicine.” This despite the fact that he actually attended medical school with his mother – at six months of age in a baby seat!
Although Jeff did consider other medical schools, as a Penn State fan, the decision was pretty clear-cut. “I was looking for a place that had a good reputation and was recognized nationally. And I love the atmosphere and culture of Penn State,” said Jeff. Diane added, “I just wanted him to make his own choice and be happy.”
Like Trent, no strings were pulled to get Jeff into medical school. In fact, his mother made it a point not to get involved or promote her son in any way.
“There are protocols in place to make sure that all applicants are considered equally,” said Diane, who serves as professor and vice chair of research, Department of Dermatology, and director of clinical and translational science research education. “Everyone is evaluated on the same criteria.”
Trent’s father, Gause, agrees. “It’s so competitive. Without the proper credentials – the GPA and the MCAT scores -- you won’t get in.”
Their children agree that while being a legacy might get you a look, ultimately you have to earn your way in. “I’m sure someone recognized my last name, and it certainly didn’t hurt that my mother works here,” said Jeff. “But she didn’t make any phone calls or write any letters. She wanted me to make it on my own merit.”
In fact, it wasn’t until Jeff was doing clinical work that people even started recognizing him as Diane’s son.
“Actually, it was great having her here. I’d pop into her office, and we would sometimes eat lunch together,” said Jeff. Though his mother only lectured before his class once, she made it memorable.
“Because she taught dermatology, she included naked baby pictures of me and my sister in the bathtub with chicken pox,” said Jeff. “She’s also the first lecturer ever to bake 150 chocolate chip cookies for the class. She said she was never able to be my homeroom mom growing up, so this was her big time to shine.”
He added, “Of course my classmates found it all highly entertaining.”
We would love to here your Penn State College of Medicine legacy family story. Please click here to share your story with the College of Medicine Alumni Relations Office.