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Fábregas: Future surgeon's ambition refreshing in changing world of medicine

| Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Chris Murawski Student at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As a second-year medical student, Chris Murawski spends his days learning about basic science: the inner workings of the human body and the symptoms people develop from illnesses and injuries.

A professor often presents a case — say, a 55-year-old man who comes to the hospital with abdominal pain — and Murawski and his classmates must figure out what's causing the problem.

“It's analyzing puzzles, sort of basically applying the facts into things that we will ultimately see in the real world,” Murawski, 25, told me at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The real world will be much different by the time Murawski finishes med school. After completing the required four years, he'll do a residency that could take up to five years. That could be followed by more training or a fellowship, on his way to achieving a goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

It might sound daunting, but Murawski says he's up to the challenge. When I chatted with him in the middle of a busy school week, he expressed the type of confidence and vision that's absent in older, established physicians. Quite frankly, it was refreshing.

“Despite what you may hear, it's an incredibly exciting time in health care,” said Murawski, who recently was chosen by Forbes magazine as one of the most influential young adults in the country. He's on the magazine's “30 under 30” list, which includes leaders in technology, manufacturing, health care and other fields. “As students, we think that the future is bright, and the best is in front of us.”

The medical field of the future will be shaped by a confluence of factors, he predicted, including a shift to personalized medicine, the collection of data about patients, new imaging techniques to better diagnose diseases and the digitization of medical records.

“You're going to be able to get your genome sequenced, and it will cost less than an MRI,” he said matter-of-factly.

Murawski said the desire to become an orthopedic surgeon emerged during his high school days in Stroudsburg, near the Poconos. He injured his ankle a couple of times while playing baseball; one injury, a bad sprain in his senior year, required surgery.

When Murawski joked with his surgeon that he was interested in studying orthopedics, the surgeon invited him to work with him during the summer.

“I graduated high school in June on a Thursday or a Friday, and I was there on a Monday, standing in an operating room,” he said.

The United States faces a shortage of as many as 90,000 physicians by 2025, so I asked Murawski what he would tell anyone considering a career in medicine to fill the void. He quoted the late Apple founder Steve Jobs: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

Murawski was confident enough to suggest that he and his 145 medical school classmates have the potential to change the world. “We may very well know more in the next 10 years than we have in the previous hundred. If that doesn't get your blood pumping, what will?” he said.

Ambitious, sure. But ambition can't be taught in school, and our health care system desperately needs some of it. If medicine is a puzzle, Murawski strikes me as someone well-suited to help build it.

Luis Fábregas is the Tribune-Review's medical editor. Reach him at 412-320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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