6 SGU Grads Who Are Excelling in the Most Competitive Medical Specialties


Pre-med students tend to be analytical by nature. It’s been an advantage for you. When it comes to comparing medical schools, you need to take your time. There are so many factors that go into creating your final medical school application list.

As you’ve researched programs, you may have found yourself considering St. George’s University (SGU). Perhaps it was the student support services or impressive residency placements that piqued your interest. Now that you’re thinking about attending SGU a little more seriously, you want to dig into some specifics. You’re especially interested in what types of specialties graduates pursue.

While many SGU alumni pursue primary care fields, an impressive number of them go into some of the most competitive medical specialties like orthopaedic surgery, emergency medicine, and radiology. And SGU students and graduates matched into 18 different specialties in 2019, according to information published in March.

To get a sense of what SGU graduates do once they’ve completed their education, you’ll want to check out the stories below. You could follow in the footsteps of one of these alumni.

6 alumni practicing some of the most competitive medical specialties

According to the National Resident Matching Program, specialty competitiveness can be measured by the overall percentage of positions filled for specialties offering a minimum of 30 positions. You can take a look at which ones make the cut by seeing which specialties with the minimum number of seats filled all or close to all of their available positions in 2019.

Every year, many SGU grads go on to find success in these coveted fields. Here’s a small sampling of some success stories.

1. Continuing an interest in emergency medicine

Though he kept an open mind during medical school, Dr. Kristopher Milland always had a feeling he’d eventually end up pursuing emergency medicine. He enjoyed the volunteer work he’d done in that setting prior to attending SGU. Now an emergency medicine resident physician at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, he’s glad he stuck with that decision.

“I’m starting to get to the point where I’m confident in what I’m doing and I’m pretty sure how to handle a lot of situations,” he says. “I’m really having a great time.”

“I’m really having a great time.”

That’s not to say it was an easy road. Dr. Milland was intimidated by the prospect of going into such a competitive field. And being from California, he was also a bit nervous about his residency program’s unfamiliar location at first.

“Once I attended the interview, got to meet the attendings, saw the hospital, and saw the area, I fell in love with it,” Dr. Milland enthuses.

Emergency Medicine Team Rushing a Patient to SurgeryWhen it comes to securing any residency, success really hinges on your United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 performance. Program directors cite this test as one of the most important criteria they use for evaluating candidates. As Dr. Milland points out, strong Step 1 scores are a reflection of a strong medical student. That means your best bet for securing a competitive residency like emergency medicine really comes down to being a great medical student, aiming for excellent grades, and securing even better letters of recommendation.

Of course, it’s also a good idea to reach out for help. Dr. Milland wasn’t shy about leaning on SGU’s alumni network when pursuing emergency medicine. He thinks seeking advice from as many grads in your desired field as possible is key.

“That’s what I did,” he offers. “And I think it made a really big difference in my success getting into emergency medicine.”

2. Fostering a fascination with the musculoskeletal system

Gaining exposure to different fields during clinical training has a way of revealing which specialty is right for you. Some students find the career they’ve always envisioned might not be the best choice. Others double down on their intended specialty, which was the case for Dr. Matthew Dawdy once he began orthopaedic rotations.

“Everything pointed to orthopaedics for me,” the former athlete says. “I like being in the [operating room] OR, and the field generally attracts people who are interested in active lifestyles.”

"Everything pointed to orthopaedics for me."

Orthopaedic surgery residencies are competitive in the US, but even more so in Canada. Despite the limited number of residencies, Dr. Dawdy was prepared to do everything he could to secure one. He focused on his studies and secured elective rotations in Canada to help establish relationships.

“It wasn’t something I could halfheartedly pursue,” Dr. Dawdy reflects. “I was definitely all in.”

“SGU does a really good job of preparing all of its students to be successful,” he says. “All the resources we needed were available to us.”

Attending medical school in Grenada meant traveling quite a distance. But for Dr. Dawdy, the education was worth it.

"SGU does a really good job of preparing all of its students to be successful."

3. Finding joy in helping rebuild patients’ lives

While there are a few different paths available to aspiring plastic surgeons, none of them are exactly easy—every surgical residency is in-demand. Despite knowing he was up against stiff competition, Dr. John Gillespie was always committed to the field.

“I knew that this was a far-reaching goal,” he admits. “I was nervous about it. However, now that I’ve accomplished it, it’s just the most amazing feeling.”

His passion for performing life-altering reconstructions is apparent. But where did it come from? Dr. Gillespie’s grandmother needed a double mastectomy as part of her cancer treatment. After seeing how positively the procedure affected her, he felt a calling to pursue this specialty.

“I saw how the reconstructive surgery rejuvenated her and how it can change people’s lives for the better,” Dr. Gillespie says.

"I saw how the reconstructive surgery rejuvenated her and how it can change people’s lives for the better."

Dr. Gillespie performed well on his licensing exams and ultimately secured a residency position at his top-choice program. He thinks SGU has a lot to do with shaping both his career and who he is today.

“It was a great place to train, and I became friends with people from every walk of life,” Dr. Gillespie reflects. “SGU brings everybody together under one solid premise: to learn and to become a well-rounded doctor.”

4. Pursuing a lifelong passion for sports medicine

Physician Examining a Young Patient's LegIt’s no surprise that former collegiate soccer player Dr. Ryan Kruse went into sports medicine. After all, who’s better suited to treat athletes than a physician with years of experience playing competitive sports? Dr. Kruse’s background on the field really inspired his eventual choice to seek a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) residency.

“As an athlete, I was always interested not just in injuries, but also how injuries affected daily life for people,” the SGU grad says.

"I was always interested not just in injuries, but also how injuries affected daily life for people."

With a career that includes practicing at Cornerstone Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine and serving as team physician for both US Soccer and USA Rugby, Dr. Kruse clearly did something right. He says his outstanding USMLE Step 1 performance was instrumental in opening doors for him. And he thinks his medical education had a lot to do with that.

“SGU does a phenomenal job of organizing classes and tests to mirror Step 1,” Dr. Kruse explains. “And I remember when I took Step 1, it felt like nothing more than an SGU examination, and I ultimately did very well.”

Dr. Kruse was drawn to SGU based on the school’s history of strong licensing exam scores and residency placements. But he also realized that going to school in Grenada would offer an incredible life experience.

“The opportunity to succeed just like at a US school combined with the added benefit of experiencing a new culture and environment was just too much for me to pass up,” he explains.

While you might be intimidated at the thought of pursuing a competitive medical specialty, Dr. Kruse encourages you to stay focused and work hard. And if you’re thinking about attending SGU, consider this perspective:

"There is no question that I would make the same decision to go with SGU."

“If I could go back and decide between SGU and the US schools that accepted me, there is no question that I would make the same decision to go with SGU,” Dr. Kruse says.

5. Guiding every step of the surgical journey

Anesthesiologists do a lot more than put people to sleep in the operating room. They work with a variety of patient populations and provide essential care before, during, and after procedures. Even during an operation, anesthesiologists need to be ready to adjust at any moment. Not everyone is up for the challenge, but Dr. Tanner Brownrigg certainly is.

“Once we get into the operating room, I monitor the patient throughout the operation and am able to respond to acute changes that may take place during the surgery,” he explains.

"I monitor the patient throughout the operation and am able to respond to acute changes that may take place during the surgery."

Dr. Brownrigg started his education at SGU with the intention of going into anesthesiology. While there are a significant number of students vying for those residency positions, he never lost sight of his goal. It paid off—he’s now an anesthesiologist practicing back in his home state of Kansas.

Woman Physician Preparing for SurgeryDr. Brownrigg is another big believer in the power of excellent USMLE scores. His performance on the first two licensing exams was so strong that he found himself with more residency interview offers than he could feasibly attend. He credits a lot of that success to SGU.

“The fact that I scored so well on the USMLE Step 1 and 2 exams was directly related to the quality of the professors at St. George’s and how the classes are structured,” Dr. Brownrigg says.

6. Taking inspiration from mentors to pursue radiology

Sometimes it’s best to go with your gut. That’s what Dr. Jahinover Mazo did when he realized he wanted to go to medical school during undergrad. He knew the application cycle for US schools was going to set him back a year. This led him to focus on SGU, which has a swifter application processing and review system.

That’s not to say Dr. Mazo made the decision on a whim. It was actually his mentor, Dr. Kevin Mennitt, who helped him make the decision to act sooner rather than later.

"He was the first person to point me toward SGU."

“He was the first person to point me toward SGU,” Dr. Mazo says. “He told me that they have a strong record of getting dedicated medical students into residencies of their choice.”

Mentorship continued to prove useful for Dr. Mazo. Having that type of guidance influenced his decision to pursue radiology and provided invaluable advice. And now that he’s a diagnostic radiology resident physician at Richmond University Medical Center, he has his own words of wisdom for aspiring radiologists.

When it comes to securing a residency in this field, Dr. Mazo recommends prioritizing the USMLE series by devoting an adequate amount of time to studying. He mentions that SGU offered a Kaplan prep exam in preparation for the USMLE Step 2 CS that he thought was incredibly valuable. Dr. Mazo also emphasizes the importance of securing radiology electives during your fourth year, getting involved in research and conferences, and submitting your application at the beginning of October. It’s also crucial that you obtain excellent letters of recommendation.

“Try to get at least two from attending radiologists who can write you a great letter,” he emphasizes. “I got several interviews because of my letters.”

"Try to get at least two from attending radiologists who can write you a great letter."

Residency programs for the most competitive medical specialties all demand excellent USMLE Step 1 scores. While it’s important to be realistic about how you stack up against other applicants, don’t let it overwhelm you too much.

“Do not give up on your dream if your score isn’t 240 or higher,” Dr. Mazo encourages.

Start writing your own success story

It’s clear there is no typical SGU alumni. Careers of SGU graduates vary considerably even among those who choose one of the most competitive medical specialties. And it’s certainly not a fluke. They all built the foundation for success by attending St. George’s University.

If you have your sights set on a competitive medical field, you have every reason to believe you could be just as successful as one of the grads featured above. You could become a physician and shape the career you want by obtaining your medical degree from SGU. For more information about the School of Medicine, visit our request information page.

* This article has been updated from a previous version to include current facts and figures.

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