Pod Squad: A Look At Some Of My Most Meaningful Relationships At Carle Illinois

Though no adjustment is ever easy, finding yourself amongst like-minded individuals can make a somewhat daunting task, like medical school, actually quite enjoyable.

Joining Carle Illinois College of Medicine was a big change, and anticipating matriculating into this class brought a mixture of feelings from anxiousness to excitement. Though no adjustment is ever easy, finding yourself amongst like-minded individuals can make a somewhat daunting task, like medical school, actually quite enjoyable. My initial perception was that medical school would be a largely solitary journey, trodden through only with the companionship of textbooks. However, I quickly learned that Carle Illinois had a different path for its students. I could tell from my visits to campus and the showcase events that I was going to be in the company of a diverse group of people who were similar in their passions and their drive to succeed. Even before coming to campus, I met up with Jennifer, a fellow Carle Illinois student, in Pittsburgh, where we were both located at the time. We bonded right away, and, upon the start of classes in July, I was delighted to learn that she is a member of my Innovation Pod.

The concept of belonging to a “pod” is one of the most unique parts of my Carle Illinois experience so far. From the very beginning, our small class of 32 was assigned into even smaller groups– communities of eight students, three faculty members, and one senior medical student. While future classes will join our pods, we stay in these groups for all four years of medical school. I think the pods were designed to ensure comradery, trust, and accountability within the student body. Coming into medical school, it was such a relief to have a group of people that became my go-tos for almost anything – from an automatic partner in classes, to someone to answer even my silliest questions, to people to explore the Champaign-Urbana community with. It took almost no time at all for us to get comfortable around each other– a true testament to how carefully and thoughtfully the inaugural class was chosen.

Two Carle Illinois student practicing clinical skills, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Jian and Kenny practicing clinical skills together.

My pod has been a cornerstone in my medical school experience so far. While I enjoy spending time with every single one of my Carle Illinois classmates, I have developed a level of comfort and intimacy with my podmates that I truly cherish. They are my people — the ones I trust to ask even the most trivial questions to, the ones I turn to for emotional support in moments of vulnerability, the ones who provide some much needed human interaction after a day with my nose buried in a textbook, and the ones who will never fail to lift my spirits. One of the best things about my pod is the diversity of my podmates. Seeing how a group of people with such different backgrounds can become so close keeps me open to different perspectives, and I can truly say I’ve formed a unique bond with each of my podmates and faculty mentors. As a pod, we make it a priority to spend time as a group at least once a month by planning exciting activities around campus and the Champaign-Urbana community, such as solving an escape room, strolling through the local farmer’s market, taking a cooking class, going bowling, and engaging in a book club with our faculty mentors.

I get something special from each of my podmates, and I am constantly awestruck by them. There’s Jennifer, who just radiates this intense passion for helping others. Our philosophical discussions on long drives to and from clinic have become one of my favorite weekly routines. Then there’s Sam, who is always eager to help a classmate in need by offering up an intelligent question or a patellar tendon to practice a reflex. She has an uninhibited openness to her which brightens up any room. Our pod is lucky to have Asad, who possess an excellent sense of humor and also has a deep appreciation of the world and its cultures. It comes through in his contributions to discussions and his affinity for languages—he speaks not only English and Urdu but is also conversant in Spanish as well as my own native language of Croatian. I’m amazed by Andrew because, though he is one of the youngest students in the inaugural class, he is always prepared, adds jubilance to the group, and approaches the clinical problems we discuss with a focus beyond his years. Christina and I, being night owls, often find ourselves completing lab assignments or quizzing each other in anatomy late into the evening. With her warm smile and incredibly patient ear, there is nothing I cannot discuss with her, and I get a strong sense she is the person that many others in our class lean on as well. Jian is one of the best team players I know. He always has something interesting to add to the conversation, and after solving puzzles

Two Carle Illinois students playing air hockey, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Asad and Andrew playing air hockey.

together in our escape room adventure, it is clear that he is someone who thrives under pressure, a quality that will make him a stellar physician. And, last but not least, there’s Kenny, who in true Carle Illinois class president fashion, is often the voice of reason. He offers perspective and calming reassurance whenever I am in distress over exams, a class, or life in general. I am grateful to be surrounded by so many wonderful peers, as well as dedicated and supportive faculty mentors. For example, Dr. Von Marensdorff, when I was struggling with renal concepts, kindly recommended an excellent book to read to supplement class materials. He also took us, as a pod, to hear our first heart murmur at the hospital. Dr. Wagoner Johnson is a University of Illinois researcher, whose lab we had the chance to tour and who keeps the engineering perspective of our education in the forefront of our minds. She’s offered us perspective on medical innovation and its great potential to impact health care. Dr. Galvez is a neuroscientist and medical education facilitator who Christina and I had the privilege of having as a leader in our first experience with a problem-based learning assignment. He always knew when to push us and when to let us wrestle with the topics at hand. His feedback is always dually encouraging and constructive, which I have greatly appreciated. Our fourth faculty mentor is Dr. Rowen, who helps us remember that the concepts we’re learning will one day apply to real patients. Whether she is finding an enlightening book for us to read on the power of compassionate care, or sharing with us candid real-life experiences over the course of her own journey as a physician, we can always count on her for advice, feedback on ways to improve and fervent reminders of why we all came to Carle Illinois to take on this challenge. These are the diligent, smart, kind, and generous people who I am lucky enough to have walking hand-in-hand with me throughout the journey of medical school. Their passion is inspiring and their friendship is comforting. I am confident that the bonds we’ve built and will continue to build will last well beyond just four years. Check out the video to get a glimpse into some of our adventures!

Lidija Barbaric