FORT MADISON – A former Fort Madison Aquinas student took time Monday morning to help students take a closer look at medical career choices.
Gregory Schmidt, a 1974 graduate of Aquinas, spoke with students in the science classroom at Holy Trinity Catholic High School about the power of STEM programs and the impact of teachers on students' lives.
Schmidt referenced Sister Harriett Ping as a teacher that helped him find his passion in life.
He said his parents got him a chemistry set when he was in third grade, but when he got to high school, he found himself in the small chemical room.
“The first thing that Sister Ping did was to give me access to those things,” he said.
“She let me use them and expand my experiments and let me take things home. I’m not suggesting your teachers should do this and perhaps in the modern era the kind of things she did would no longer be considered safe and acceptable. But it was wonderful for me because it opened doors that I might not have realized existed.”
Schmidt said that opened up his mind and his eyes to the power of science and math that propelled him to a lifelong career in critical care medicine.
He said one of the other things Ping gave him access to computer programming back in 1972.
“This was before any kind of usual coding was available to anyone in the public, but it taught me the foundations of programming,” he said.
“Who knew back then that would be of interest to anyone when there’s no computers in any home. How did we know that would come to play in my later work, profession, and my own life?”
He said she also introduced him to the National Science Foundation that identified gifted students. In the summer of 1973, he went to Luther College before his senior year in high school to study inorganic chemistry and biochemistry for eight weeks.
He said he met students there from other states of the Midwest. He said Sister Ping identified that as an opportunity for him and offered it to him.
“That turned out to be a really important experience for me because it put me alongside other kids that are also really curious. The people that we associate with will affect us and our future.
STEM programming, he said, is a field that is ever-expanding, with lots of jobs that pay well. He also said he finds it important because in order to be a competitive international market the United States needs workers that will be able to compete globally.
“The reason I care about it is, it’s been fun. I find joy in solving problems, asking questions, seeing how things work, and asking questions about how things work,” Schmidt said.
He segued that into a conversation about Aquinas having back-to-back students who won the state cross-country title.
He said people tend to react similarly to people that they are around often.
“When the first person won the state cross country title, the next person probably said, “Hey, if he can do it, so can I.”
Schmidt has been part of more than 100 published articles and books and has held administrative positions with the University of Chicago and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in critical control. He’s served as Director of Critical Care Medicine at both the University of Chicago School of Medicine and at University of Iowa dating back to 1984.
In those roles, Schmidt expanded his knowledge of medicine and treating people with critical care needs. He explained functionality of the heart and how blood flow in the body can be diagnosed to determine critical treatment.
One of the best tools for that is an ultrasound, he said.
He then demonstrated an ultrasound technique on a student to show how blood flows one direction in arteries and another in veins. He used doppler technology to colorize the flow of blood and said diagnostics and treatments today are so advanced over when he went to college.
Students asked questions about how the doppler technology can determine other issues other than flow of blood. Schmidt said leaky valves can be identified with doppler imaging to show “chaos” in circulation in people who could be facing serious cardiac issues.
Schmidt encouraged students before leaving to take a hard look at the medical career and computer programming as not just sound career steps, but also as one of life’s many rewards.
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