Michelle Pfeffer, a medical student at Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), knew that one day she’d likely follow in her mom’s footsteps and become a doctor. But she also wanted to be “anything but a general pediatrician,” expecting well-checks to be boring and monotonous. Her opinion changed once she experienced pediatrics for herself.
The daughter of Margaret Pfeffer, a pediatrician in our ACHP Akron East office, Michelle, along with Natalie Vajda, are the first two recipients of Akron Children’s NEOMED scholarships. They have been awarded in the form of forgivable loans to qualified medical students who commit to pediatrics and working in our primary care system for two years, following their residencies. The forgivable loans are for years three and four of medical training at NEOMED.
“The pipeline for primary care pediatrics is not anticipated to meet our needs as we expand our network of Patient-Centered Medical Homes throughout the region,” said Rob McGregor, chief medical officer. “As part of the solution, we hope to remove the potential barrier of indebtedness and redirect talented medical students away from higher paying specialties.”
Scholarship recipient says pediatrics is in her blood
After two days on her pediatrics rotation, Michelle fell in love with everything about working with kids.
“Although I tried my best to not follow in my mother’s footsteps, it was inevitable. I think pediatrics is in my blood,” she said.
Like Michelle, Natalie has also discovered that pediatrics is the right fit for her, after initially thinking she would become a geriatrician. After college, Natalie was working in public health and clinical research, which allowed her to closely observe the interactions between physicians and patients. Wanting to form those relationships for herself inspired her to pursue a career in medicine.
There is much joy in helping children
“I have always loved working with children, but my third-year rotation at Akron Children’s made me realize that pediatrics is where I belong. The patients, families and care providers all work together as a team, and there is much joy in helping children,” Natalie said. “It really is a privilege to make their first experience with health care a positive one, and we have a childhood of opportunities to help young patients develop healthy lifestyles.”
Finding out that she had received the scholarship was bittersweet for Michelle. She was with her family on the way to her grandmother’s funeral when she received the news, which lifted her family’s spirits for the rest of the car ride.
“I was so excited. It was reassuring that I had made the right decision in choosing pediatrics and applying to work for Akron Children’s alongside my mother,” Michelle said. “I also felt relieved knowing I wouldn’t be carrying so much student loan debt into residency. Even though the rest of the day was sad and exhausting, I had one piece of good news to hold onto.”
Excited to return home after her residency
Natalie, who is originally from Broadview Heights, is excited to know that no matter where she matches for her residency, she will eventually be back in the area.
“I’m fortunate to be able to work with children and join an organization that has such a fantastic culture,” Natalie said.
Michelle is also quite familiar with the Akron Children’s culture not only through her pediatrics rotation, but also as an ACHP patient and as a volunteer counselor at our camp for children with diabetes.
Originally from Austintown, Michelle, who was a competitive figure skater from age 7-19, continues to skate, as well as coach figure skating. She also enjoys baking and cooking for her family.
In her free time, Natalie enjoys hiking with her husband and her dog, a German Shepherd mix, as well as running or taking a spin or yoga class.
“I’m happiest when we travel for vacation. Over the last several years, we have visited several national parks, however my favorite place to travel is Scotland, which we have visited twice,” Natalie said.
Year-long process brings scholarship program to life
Dr. McGregor is thrilled the NEOMED scholarship/forgivable loan program has come to fruition after a year-long process to formulate the plan, as well as screen and virtually interview the candidates.
“We have chosen two outstanding applicants and look forward to Michelle and Natalie joining our primary care team,” he said. “They will be great assets in furthering our Patient-Centered Medical Home model of care.”