Three WMed alumni who have gone through the ranks as students, residents, and fellows have returned to the medical school as faculty members, ready to teach the next generation of physicians.
Stephanie Van Alsten, MD, Nicole Garton, MD and Neil Hughes, MD became faculty members in July in the departments of Emergency Medicine, Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and Internal Medicine, respectively.
Dr. Van Alsten earned her medical degree from WMed in 2019. She went on to complete a residency in emergency medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine, and then returned to WMed to complete a fellowship in emergency medical services. In July, she became an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine.
Dr. Van Alsten, a Portage native, said she appreciates the variety of environments Kalamazoo offers, from urban areas to farmland, which lends itself to a wide range of medical cases. Dr. Van Alsten worked for five years as an emergency medical technician before going to medical school. She said she continued to feel drawn to that area of medicine, and she knew WMed’s EMS program was robust.
Dr. Van Alsten said her residency in West Virginia provided her with invaluable experiences in managing critically ill patients, particularly those affected by chronic respiratory diseases and poverty-related ailments. While she acknowledges the excellent training she received in the academic environment of WVU, she ultimately felt a stronger pull toward the WMed community.
The strength of the EMS community, the number of faculty members and the mentors available in Kalamazoo compelled her to return to WMed. Among the highlights in her Emergency Medicine Services fellowship, she points to trips in August 2022 and May 2023 to Yellowstone National Park, where she worked directly with Yellowstone EMS, a complex, high performing system that includes both basic and advanced life support National Park Service personnel. She will return this August as a faculty member.
Deciding to teach the next generation of physicians, Dr. Van Alsten said, gives her the motivation to improve and completely understand the material she teaches.
“It’s very rewarding to see the growth that takes place in the students and residents as they gain in knowledge and confidence in what they’re doing,” Dr. Van Alsten said. “It’s just very important.”
For Dr. Nicole Garton, her path to becoming a faculty member at WMed was paved with a love for teaching and a sense of community that has flourished within the institution. As a student at WMed, she was captivated by the warm and supportive environment that Kalamazoo offered. The close-knit community within the medical school played a significant role in her decision to remain in the area after marrying her husband.
Dr. Garton earned her medical degree from WMed in 2020. She went directly into residency at WMed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which provided its own set of challenges.
“Despite the social distancing and the mask wearing, I feel like we all got to know each other really well even though it was harder to do so,” Dr. Garton said of the beginning of her residency. “WMed leadership made sure that there were ways for us to do that safely, whether that was gathering over video or in smaller groups in person while masking. That was a big piece of getting started. Similar to medical school, everybody's really willing to and trying to help you out, make sure if there's anything you need, they do their best to accommodate you.”
As a resident, Dr. Garton said, the decision to build her career at WMed was cemented by the medical school's commitment to mental health support, early education resources, and specialized programs like eating disorder treatment. Her involvement in the Leadership, Education, and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program allowed her to gain insights into caring for individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions. Her experience as a resident in the eating disorder clinic has given her the experience she needed to see patients there.
In July, Dr. Garton became an assistant professor in the medical school’s Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. She said mentoring medical students and residents reinforces her own understanding of the medical concepts she teaches.
"I feel like it's important and helps me learn as well as remember some of the things that may have not come to mind for a while," she said.
Neil Hughes, MD, became an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine in July after finishing a fellowship in Simulation at the medical school. Dr. Hughes earned his medical degree from WMed in 2019. He went on to complete a residency in Internal Medicine at WMed and then became the medical school’s first-ever Simulation fellow. The decision to pursue the fellowship brought Dr. Hughes full circle. He started working in the Simulation Center in 2012 shortly after graduating from Western Michigan University and was part of laying the foundation for what the 24,000-square-foot facility has become today. During his fellowship, Dr. Hughes designed a simulation curriculum for Internal Medicine.
Now, as a faculty member, Dr. Hughes is part of WMed's Department of Medicine, sharing his expertise with residents and fellows.
“I like to joke with people that clinical care is good but teaching is great and it’s my passion,” Dr. Hughes said. “I got to learn a lot of things about curriculum development and simulation design and even some of the business aspects of simulation during my fellowship.”
Dr. Hughes emphasized the immense support and camaraderie within the WMed community, making it an exceptional place for faculty and learners alike to thrive. For him, WMed is not just an alma mater, but a place that nurtures growth and fosters personal connections.
"My wife lives in Texas while she finishes her pediatrics residency and we are doing the long-distance thing, which is challenging,” Dr. Hughes said. “WMed leaders have worked with me to come up with a schedule where I can work clinically while also teaching and having the opportunity to visit my wife.”
But, he said, he is passionate about being a faculty member and teaching.
“I found the most rewarding thing was actually teaching and taking care of patients because it expands my reach,” Dr. Hughes said. “If I have one patient in front of me, I have one patient in front of me. But if I’m teaching, then all of a sudden the students that I’m teaching go off and each sees a patient, so it extends my reach and my impact.”