Qualities of Good Doctors: Perseverance Over Accolades and Intellect
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The Good Doctor

June 20, 2024

By Janita Aidonia (DO ’26)

Janita Aidonia (DO ’26) headshot
Janita Aidonia (DO ’26)

It is thought that the qualities that make a good physician are centered around their skill, prestige, and intellect.

I spoke with four third-year Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine students and found that their most significant and consistent quality was not rooted in the impossible things they had done but in the impossible things they had overcome.

Having achieved tremendous accolades and accomplishments, these four students demonstrated immense intelligence through their ability to complete the rigorous medical school curriculum and a unique understanding and passionate curiosity about the human body. Yet, of all the things they possessed, the most defining quality each of them carried was their perseverance.

It made me reflect on what it means to be a profound physician. Four stories from four remarkably different student doctors, yet the essence remained the same.

  • Owen—whose rich curiosity for the human body and passion for the community push him to persist despite all adversity.
  • Maria—a future pulmonary critical care physician who never lost sight of her dreams, even if that meant needing to take baby steps.
  • Irene—a future pediatrician whose love for Philadelphia, her forever home, and faith allow her to lead with positivity and light.
  • Kim—who refused to allow fear to dictate her outcome or interfere with her divine purpose.

As physicians, we will face the unforeseen and the unexpected. The poetry woven into our humanity is that while we cannot always control the outcome, we can always choose to try again.

There is a rich humanity in being a physician; each new case, each new patient, and each new day allows us the opportunity to take all of what we have and try again, persist, and overcome.

By grace and through faith, we press on.

Could it be that when all is said and done, we are measured by how we have triumphed, how we have persisted, our relentlessness, our determination to keep going, and our brilliant resilience, and that this is what allows us to become all that we are meant to be?

That this is what allows us to be good doctors.

Janita Aidonia is a third-year medical student and author at PCOM.

‘Same Mentality, Different Grind’ - Owen McLeod (DO ’26)
Owen McLeod (DO ’26) standing next to PCOM seal
Owen McLeod (DO ’26)

The son of an artist and an engineer, Owen McLeod (DO ’26), seems to have the perfect blend of skills. As he navigates the balance between the art of both medicine and science, he brings his own unique and intentional compassion to helping others heal.

Born and raised in New Jersey, McLeod was always interested in science as a kid; his parents encouraged him “to follow his nose” and pursue his passions. McLeod was a gifted basketball player. It’s his love for basketball that ultimately led him to medicine. After a sports injury in his sophomore year of high school, he was introduced to an orthopedic surgeon.

“I’m really in there with him, looking at the X-rays, seeing all the cool diagnostic stuff. Back then, I thought it was all so cool,” he said.

McLeod became a college athlete on the pre-medical track. During this time, he sustained a second injury, which led him to meet his first DO, a graduate of PCOM, Jill Crosson, DO ’09.

Dr. Crosson, a sports medicine physician, exposed McLeod to osteopathic medicine and uncovered a new fascination that spoke directly to his curiosity for the human body and his deep interest in the body's connectedness.

What I learned in basketball preps me for the peaks and valleys that I go through in med school.

Owen McLeod (DO ’26)

After being accepted to PCOM, McLeod became active in the community. As a student, he began research in Dr. Marina D’Angelo’s lab, joined organizations such as the Sports Medicine Club and the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), and played a key role in establishing Brothers in Medicine on the Philadelphia campus.

As a student doctor, McLeod goes into the community, including spaces such as barber shops, to speak with patients and perform health screenings.

“It’s more than just doing blood pressure and getting results; it’s about seeing faces people can trust. If I'm helping people, the energy is reciprocated.”

His volunteer work, rooted in preventative and quality care, is truly remarkable, showing a dedication beyond the books. McLeod finds solace in and honors the privilege of being a medical student and future physician, specifically the ability to gain patients' trust. He hopes to use this trust to empower and help others become the healthiest version of themselves, in mind, body, and spirit.

McLeod tries to remember that he’s doing what he has been put on this Earth to do and that the “geek in him” feeds his curiosity. Lately, he has been interested in physical medicine and rehabilitation, as it combines with his love for osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) in a way that resonates naturally to him.

McLeod’s basketball years still guide his journey through medicine. “What I learned in basketball preps me for the peaks and valleys that I go through in med school … These late nights, early mornings, I was doing the same thing in basketball. Same mentality, different grind.”

Although at times this journey can feel isolating, McLeod’s faith allows him to persist.

“I have to go through all this so I can do what I really want to do, and what I really want to do is help people. I can't help them unless I know all this stuff, so let's get to it.”

The Strength of Following One’s Own Heart - Maria Pazan (DO ’26)
Maria Pazan (DO ’26)
Maria Pazan (DO ’26)

Maria Pazan (DO ’26) shares how her late grandmother’s Alzheimer's diagnosis sparked her medical curiosity and helped her find her niche in medicine at just 18 years old.

“Medicine is what fuels me; it’s what gets me out of bed. Everything is interesting to me in medicine,” she said. This passion is what has encouraged Pazan throughout her past two years of medical school.

Her grandmother, “a strong Latina woman,” raised her until the age of 13, and she attributes much of her success to her grandmother’s care and principles. These included discipline, faith, and the personal courage to follow her heart.

When asked what she was most proud of in her journey, Pazan answered by saying how far she had come.

“For me personally, it’s just been such a long journey to medicine … to say, ‘Hey, I am halfway done’ is huge. I’m 34; I had another career before I went into medicine.”

Medicine is such a big journey that even if you have to do something else, it's OK to take baby steps to get to where you want to be.

Maria Pazan (DO ’26)

Pazan’s many obstacles include a lack of representation as well as mentorship. “I’m Spanish, from Ecuador, and when you are raised in a country where there is no medical service and you don’t see a lot of women, Latin women, and women of color in medicine, it’s just like, ‘I’m not even going to try.’” She shares having to navigate applications and pre-med without much guidance or support from anyone who has gone through the process before her.

Even still, Pazan did not give up. She knew what she wanted and kept her focus on that for the seven years she worked as a nurse. During this time, she established her finances, continued exploring medicine through research, and received valuable clinical training.

“Medicine is such a big journey that even if you have to do something else, it's OK to take baby steps to get to where you want to be,” she said.

As her second year comes to a close, Pazan dreams of a subspecialty in pulmonary critical care, working directly in the ICU. She’s excited about the intellectual workload, need for quick thinking, and ability to manage the patient's care at their most critical time. To her, the ICU feels “like home”—work she was purposed to do. As a nurse, Pazan worked in the ICU and was always maintaining the machines. Now, she will be managing them.

Being a person of color in medicine comes with a sense of duty and, many times, immense pressure. “I have a strong drive because of where I came from and because the percentage of Latina physicians is abysmally low.” She describes feeling as though she always has to “nail it.” While this feeling is all too familiar to Pazan, she strives to ensure others don’t share this same experience.

Her legacy, she hopes, is to become a physician who is just as much an educator as a mentor. To be the guide and the support she did not have. To be the strong Latina woman her grandmother was while always finding the courage to follow her own heart. It’s what has made her journey a beautiful one.

“I look back at what I didn't have, what I wish I had seen, and what I wish to become.”

‘This Is Home’ - Irene Cooper (DO ’26)
Irene Cooper (DO ’26) headshot
Irene Cooper (DO ’26)

Irene Cooper, a Philadelphia native, is back where it all began.

As a child, her grandmother would take Cooper to her dialysis treatments. Cooper’s grandmother received treatment at PCOM and Hahnemann Hospital. Her exposure to physicians at a young age helped to inspire her and helped to curate her curiosity with medicine at a very young age.

Cooper knew she wanted to become the first physician in her family, and growing up in Philadelphia helped shape her perspective and guide her passions in medicine. Now, she dreams of practicing in the Philly community to give back.

“This is where I’m from; these are the people who do the same commutes as me; we have walked the same streets; this is home.”

Home and family are paramount to Cooper. She comes from a big, close-knit family that has encouraged, supported, and rooted for her throughout her journey. Now, as a third-year medical student, Cooper’s family is inspired by her. Her younger cousins ask her about medicine and medical school, and one of them has even decided to follow in her path of working to become a doctor. As a future physician, she hopes to encourage all children so they might see her and become interested in doing this critical work.

Education is something that can never be taken away … mentorship and education go hand in hand, especially in the medical field.

Irene Cooper (DO ’26)

“Sometimes kids don’t just need exposure; they need encouragement to pursue this career. That’s what I want to do: encouragement and education.”

As she reflects on Philadelphia and those she strives to serve, she recognizes that while there are many resources here, there is still inequity. “Philadelphia has underserved communities in education, health, and general wellness,” she said.

As a pediatrician, she hopes to reduce the impact such inequality has on the lives of her patients and their families through compassionate care, education, and health awareness.

Cooper’s dedication to her studies can be attributed in many ways to her mother, a retired teacher who instilled the importance of education in her from a young age. Now she wants to take these same lessons and use them to help the community, her patients, and those aspiring to become physicians.

“Education is something that can never be taken away … mentorship and education go hand in hand, especially in the medical field.”

Cooper attributes her focus to her parents and expresses deep gratitude to God, especially for helping her remain positive these past two years. Out of all the things she has done, her ability to remain positive is by far what she is most proud of.

Cooper’s greatest advice is, “Don’t tell yourself no to any opportunity; don't deny yourself.” As a high schooler, she remembers “taking the route of least resistance” because she wanted to prevent others from denying her opportunities. She realized that by doing this, she was the one denying herself. She now pushes others to go for the things they dream to do, even when faced with adversity.

Pediatricians play an incredible role in the lives of children and guardians. There are numerous responsibilities and privileges a pediatrician has, from providing health screenings and preventative care to prescribing medication and being a safe space for a child to come and find help or understanding. It is undeniable that the work Cooper will do in the future will change lives, and that impact will be immeasurable.

Fortitude through Faith - Kim Nebedum (DO ’26)
Kim Nebedum (DO ’26) headshot
Kim Nebedum (DO ’26)

Kim Nebedum (DO ’26) loved going to the pediatrician when she was little.

“I knew once I left the office I would be OK,” she said.

The quality of care shown to Nebedum at a very young age sparked a desire to become a physician. She wanted to do what her doctor did for her.

Growing up in a Nigerian household, the value of education was instilled in her as a child. Nebedum knew she wanted to do something in the sciences, and as she was exposed to the clinical side of medicine, she soon discovered that becoming a doctor was what she was meant to do. It was the clinical aspect of medicine that kept her passionate about becoming a physician.

Nebedum’s journey into medicine was not linear. “It required a lot of faith to get here,” she says.

After undergrad, Nebedum received a master’s degree and then worked for a pharmaceutical company. Here, she felt content and had almost decided not to pursue medicine. Yet, no matter where life took her, she always ended up in a clinical setting, reminded of her dream to become a medical doctor.

A girl who didn’t even think she was going to make it past the first month is still here, about to be working with real patients.

Kim Nebedum (DO ’26)

While she was happy with the job she had, she knew it was not her calling. Her faith being at the core of who she is, Nebedum decided to seek guidance through prayer. She recalls when she received an invitation to interview with PCOM, praying for even more guidance. Two weeks after her interview, she was accepted into medical school.

This was the news Nebedum had dreamed of for so long, and she was beyond grateful, but she also felt alone. “All my friends were in residency. They had already gone before me.”

As she began school, Nebedum was met with another obstacle.

“When I first came here, I had a lot of fear,” she said, describing it as crippling. It caused her to not want to share her success and become a more private person. Even though she was at PCOM and doing well, she still felt afraid. Nebedum wanted to quit many times, but prayer became her strength and allowed her to press forward. The thing that makes her journey difficult became the very thing that made her journey beautiful; as she describes, she became closer to God.

“Looking back on everything we have gone through and conquered has grown my confidence. God is just so faithful,” she said. “The girl I was is not the girl I am now, only because of the fact that I have learned to talk to Him more.”

As Nebedum begins to wrap up her pre-clinical years and enter into rotations, she reflects on what she is most proud of: still being here. “A girl who didn’t even think she was going to make it past the first month is still here, about to be working with real patients.”

Nebedum is not only still here; she has become part of the healing she wishes to help others see.

“There once was this little girl who had a dream of becoming a physician. She faced a lot of challenges, a lot of opposition, a lot of self-doubt, and crippling fear, but she tapped into who she is in Christ and decided to forge ahead,” Nebedum said. “She experienced a lot of hurt but a lot of triumphs at the same time and, through it all, she was able to make a difference.”

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For the past 125 years, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM, a private, not-for-profit accredited institution of higher education, operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, and school psychology. The college also offers graduate degrees in applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, physician assistant studies, and school psychology. PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 215-871-6100.

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