Just a little over 33 years ago, David Sperling, M.D. (’85), associate professor of family and community medicine, received an M.D. from Northeast Ohio Medical University. After a number of years, he found his way back to Rootstown and is now helping shape the next generation of physicians.
From first- and second-year College of Medicine students in the American Academy of Family Physicians—Family Medicine Interest Group to those completing third-year clerkships and fourth-year rotations, as well as mentees in the SOAR Student-Run Free Clinic, Dr. Sperling has a way of guiding students at every level.
In fact, Dr. Sperling has made such an impact on the students at the Clinic that he was recently named as the Department of Family and Community Medicine’s SOAR Student-Run Free Clinic Medicine Preceptor of the Year.
The award recognizes a dedicated SOAR Student-Run Free Clinic medicine preceptor who has demonstrated a strong commitment to the education of SOAR medical students by going above and beyond to identify teaching opportunities for students. This preceptor exemplifies the mission of SOAR through their commitment to the underserved and to education.
Serving as a role model
Dr. Sperling dedicates one Saturday per month to serve as a mentor at the Clinic and provide oversight to students as they are seeing patients.
“I think the SOAR Student-Run Free Clinic is medicine in its purest sense because the students are there just for the benefit of the patient. There is no financial motive whatsoever, so it is a great service for the community and its patients,” says Dr. Sperling. “The students have done a remarkable job organizing it, recruiting volunteers, recruiting patients and providing care for the patients.”
Outside of the Clinic, Dr. Sperling also serves as one of the many the American Academy of Family Physicians-Family Medicine Interest Group advisors.
“As a family doctor, and in line with NEOMED’s mission, I like to encourage students who have an interest in primary care, specifically family medicine, and that’s a great opportunity to work on a more informal basis with those students to let them know what a career in family medicine has to offer,” explains Dr. Sperling.
Guiding future physicians
On their way to becoming doctors, College of Medicine students must first complete a number of clerkships during their third-year and rotations during their fourth-year. Who better to direct those courses than Dr. Sperling?
As the M3 clerkship and M4 rotation course director, Dr. Sperling ensures that each clerkship and rotation location meets NEOMED’s specifications. He also works with the physicians in charge of seven different clerkship disciplines (general surgery, internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology and emergency medicine) to make sure the students’ experiences are high-quality and comparable in experience to each other, regardless of the site.
Fun fact: NEOMED has 63 different clerkship sites.
For those unfamiliar with NEOMED’s third-year clerkships, let Dr. Sperling explain.
“During their third year, our students do two nine-week clerkships, one in general surgery and one in internal medicine; four six-week clerkships—in family medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology—and one three-week clerkship in emergency medicine. So for each of those clerkships, students are out at one of our partner hospitals. For example, there are four sites where they go for pediatrics, 11 sites where they go to for internal medicine and nine to 10 sites for the other disciplines, so they’re in groups of two to eight when they’re out there working together with the physicians—and often residents, too—at the sites. It’s almost like a mini apprenticeship when they’re there for those three to nine weeks. We want to make sure they’re immersed in the clinical environment and getting lots of hands-on experience,” says Dr. Sperling.
A piece of advice
So what do all these experiences add up to for students? Dr. Sperling offers one piece of advice: Focus on why you went to medical school in the first place, which was to be able to take care of patients. If that’s your main focus, everything else will take care of itself.
For Dr. Sperling, returning to his alma mater has been a special experience that has allowed him to touch the lives of hundreds of students over the years.
“It has been very impressive to see the College of Medicine evolve into a university with a College of Pharmacy, College of Graduate Studies and hugely expanded facilities. I can barely recognize the parts from the “old” medical school that I was familiar with back in the 80’s,” notes Dr. Sperling. “It’s wonderful to come back to the place where I was trained and to help train the next generation.”