First Class: Jennifer Sidari, M.D.

In 2009 The Commonwealth Medical College’s first class had overwhelming community support but also the burden of proving the school could succeed. In 2013 the students proved they are first class in every way.
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Photo: Tom Bonomo, License: N/A, Created: 2013:03:12 15:45:12

Jennifer Sidari was invited to a breakfast where the conversation centered on her career needs. Her host: Robert D’Alessandri, M.D. (then-dean of TCMC). “I was absolutely floored!” said Sidari. “Even though I was accepted at other medical schools, where else could I get this type of attention?”

Jennifer Sidari, M.D.
Geisinger Health System,
Danville, Pa.

The “wow” moment quietly occurred for Jennifer Sidari of West Pittston during her third year at The Commonwealth Medical College (TCMC).
On this fateful day, as part of the school’s curriculum, Sidari had gone to a regional physician’s office where she served the patients’ needs. In particular, she helped work through a tough case from start to finish, and was on her way home.
“At that moment, I realized that I had actually functioned as a physician,” Sidari says. “I had really done it, and caring for the patients had finally come very naturally to me.”
Sidari, a Wyoming Area High School graduate, earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and philosophy at the University of Scranton. Now, as a TCMC graduate, she will serve a residency in pediatrics at the Geisinger Health System in Danville and has enthusiastically committed her life to caring for children and adolescents, while also possibly teaching.
The four intense years of instruction at TCMC turned out almost perfectly, according to Sidari. She says that oftentimes medical school was a thrilling roller coaster ride complete with drama, twists, and comedy — all with a happy ending.
Sidari had repeatedly heard stories about how tough medical school would be, but she now realizes there was no way to be fully prepared for the experience beforehand. “My family and friends are thrilled for me, and I’m very proud of myself,” says Sidari. “I’m particularly grateful for the support I received along the way.”

Special challenges

Sidari identifies occasional emotional isolation as one of the biggest challenges she had to face while training to be a physician. She says that people outside of the experience can’t possibly understand the stress, long hours and intense instruction which medical students must endure.
In an insightful moment, Sidari realized  that the public often expects physicians to be perfect. People are brutally unforgiving of medical mistakes, which is understandable when the stakes are so high. These demands cause a great deal of emotional distress in medical students when inevitable mistakes occur.
Year one of the TCMC curriculum resulted in some particularly dark nights for Sidari. She actually wondered if it might be best to take a year off and emotionally regroup, but exceptional support from a variety of sources allowed her to hang tough and survive both exhaustion and the intense stress of board exams, the first of which occur at the end of year two.
“I didn’t expect the emotional factor to be this strong,” says Sidari. “Medical education involves a new level of intensity. It can be very draining.”
Among the stress and exhaustion of the TCMC experience, Sidari and her peers developed tight-knit bonds. She says it became common for the classmates to hold each other by the hand, while coping with the rigor.

Heartbreaking loss

Sidari also identifies as special challenges the patient care responsibility each student had during their third and fourth years at TCMC, as well as learning to develop a true work-life balance. She vividly remembers when she was first exposed to the death of a pediatric patient, and had to deal with some intense emotions — the experience  became a transitional event in her education.
“Fortunately, I received invaluable input from a wonderful mentor, and this helped me to cope with the loss,” says Sidari.
In a way, Sidari says her choice of a career in pediatrics indicates the medical education system in general and TCMC in particular is working. Before her enrollment at TCMC she didn’t regularly think about caring for children, but her exposure to pediatrics as a student, and in particular pediatric infectious diseases, got her hooked her on pediatrics as a career.
“When I had my interview for a pediatric residency at Geisinger, I just knew it was going to be a wonderful experience,” says Sidari. “Working with kids is an energizing and challenging experience, and this all proves the system worked for me.”