Allie's Journey into Medicine

Alexandra (Allie) Wenig (Hohlbein) of Anna, Ohio, is the 2017 recipient of the 9th Annual Physician Memorial Scholarship. Established following the death of Bruce C. Urbanc, D.O., in 2008, the scholarship is a joint effort of the Wilson Health medical staff and the hospital. The scholarship is awarded to a student who is enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a fully accredited school of medicine or osteopathic medicine in the continental United States. The student must be a Shelby County high school graduate.

Meet Our 2017 Scholarship Recipient

"My journey into medicine can be described with three things: a cane, a word, and a pair of blue hands. It was watching my mom, diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was one year old, walk with a cane while in her thirties. It was a word—hope—that canvased my mind as I watched medicine bring new realities to circumstances that once seemed crippling. It was a pair of blue hands, my best friend’s to be exact, that I held in a dorm room for far too many days. These three things are the truest answer I could ever give to the question of why I want to practice medicine.

Growing up with a mother living with Multiple Sclerosis, I saw the hardships of disease firsthand. The hospital stays, the occasional home health care, watching my mom have to sit out from soccer practices and family walks—those were normal parts of my early childhood years. I remember watching the disappointment and frustration on my mother’s face and feeling the overwhelming sense of injustice that stems from broken bodies. I suppose it was in those moments that a fire was lit in me, one that would lead me to, years later, be writing, well, this.

As the years progressed, I watched with amazement as medicine brought hope into our world as a family. With new drugs and excellent physician care came remission and stability. My mother, who had once been hindered by disease was now travelling the country as a consultant and living her life to the fullest. Though each day continued to have battles of its own, I saw the power of what medicine could do in a person’s life.

I started college eager to learn and excited to begin the path towards becoming a physician. Little did I know, much of what I was about to learn and experience was outside of a textbook or a lecture hall. I met my best friend Elizabeth shortly upon arriving at Bowling Green State University and quickly learned she had Restrictive Cardiomyopathy. As the months of fall semester passed, Elizabeth went into heart failure and was eventually listed for a transplant.

Once again, my world had become intimately intertwined with the hard realities of disease. I’ll never forget the feeling of watching my best friend slowly lose the ability to do the very things she loved. At first, it was her ability to sing and play guitar due to the state of her lungs. Eventually, it became walking down the hall to the elevator to get to class. But the blue hands are what I remember most. It was a daily reminder to me that life is a fragile thing.

On an early April morning, Elizabeth received a call that would change her life forever—a heart had become available. Hope had crashed into her world. The next couple of months would be marked with certain difficulties and complications, but something had changed. She was singing again. She was walking and talking and breathing clean air again. And I can recall few happier moments in my life than when I grabbed her hand just hours after her transplant to find it warm and pink.

After such a life-changing experience, I was biting at the bit to learn all there was to know about transplant. I sought out an opportunity to do summer research with the heart transplant team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and spent time learning the in’s and out’s of clinical research and transplant medicine. I grew to care so much about the research I was doing that I was perhaps naively unbothered by the fact that what I ended up presenting at the end-of-the-summer poster symposium did not include astounding results. And yet, I placed first out of 150 of my peers, many of whom had done much more impressive studies in wet labs or biostatistics. What I realized through that experience was that the drive I carried with me to bring hope to people with canes and blue hands connected me to what I was doing in a way that made any knowledge I could ever produce invaluable.

Medicine truly amazes me. It gave life back to two of the people I love most dearly. Now, I can think of nothing I would rather do than spend my life finding ways to bring hope to people like my mom and my friend. If there is anything I have learned from my experiences, it’s that there is still so much work to be done. There is not yet such a thing as a perfect solution. For as many answers I’ve seen in the lives of these two people, I have seen twice as many new questions. This has perhaps been the most motivating thing for me and has especially been the driving force behind my desire to integrate research with clinical practice. I want to be part of finding answers. I want to be part of better solutions. I want to be a part of bringing hope to the mom with a cane and the friend with a pair of blue hands."

Wenig is in her second year of medical school at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Science in Toledo, Ohio. She received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from Bowling Green State University where she graduated Summa Cum Laude and with University Honors.

Learn more about the Physician Memorial Scholarship