Not too far from the tree
Brothers Eric, Jared, and Trevor Schommer describe their different paths to and from the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences.
In the basement of Michele and Don Schommer’s red rambler in Munich, N.D., a trio of caricatures dating back to 1998 still hang: three young boys with exaggerated physical features stare back at the viewer, their farm kid identities masked by whatever it was they told the artist they wanted to be when they grew up.
First among the three—Eric—is a physician, if his white coat, hypodermic needle, and stethoscope are any indication.
Trailing their big brother are a pair of exceedingly buff bodybuilders, Jared and Trevor, the middle and youngest sons, respectively, of Don and Michele.
“I was pretty young when we had those done,” laughs Trevor from his office in Columbia, S.C., today. “Being the youngest of three brothers I can tell you that I wanted to be just like my brothers when I was little. I will say this, though—my caricature has way more muscle definition than Jared’s does.”
As it turns out, twenty years later none of the Schommers ended up making a career out of trying to become the next Mr. Universe.
But each of them did end up in working on or with the human body: Eric is a physician, Jared has his doctoral degree and is on his way to becoming a physician, and Trevor, Master of Business Administration degree (MBA) in tow, is working on buffing up not so much his physique as his hospital administrations skills.
And in every case the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences was there, guiding the way.
“The story for all of us goes back to Dr. Othman Ghribi in the neuroscience lab,” quips Eric, who earned his medical degree from the SMHS in 2013 and recently returned to Fargo, N.D., after a five-year urology residency at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. “I had a good friend who was working in his lab and one summer I started working there. After some time, we convinced Jared to join the Ghribi lab too before going into the PhD track in biomedical sciences.”
Explaining how despite—or maybe because of—his rural background he was always “heavy” into chemistry and biology, Eric says that he knew he wanted to do something surgical from the start.
“I’ve always been a hands-on guy, building things, fixing things,” he notes, admitting that he didn’t actually consider urology until he was exposed to it on a third-year rotation in medical school. “What I loved about it was that there are so many different procedures you can do—tiny outpatient things or major oncologic surgeries.”
Plus, says Eric, the nationwide shortage of urologists provides plenty of job security.
“Another nice thing about urology is there’s a lot of longitudinal care and a lot of non-procedural medicine,” he adds. “So, you can build relationships with patients, get to know people and usually make them better quickly. It’s a field with a lot of positive outcomes. The physicians in urology are often laid back with a good sense of humor—they enjoy their work and there’s a good quality of life.”
Although he appreciated the weather in Florida, and entertained offers from provider groups in Boise, Idaho, and elsewhere, Eric says that coming back to North Dakota wasn’t a difficult decision to make.
“The wonderful thing about being back here is that everybody knows everybody,” he continues, adding that as a husband and father of three young girls it’s nice to be close to both sets of grandparents now. “There are so many folks I’ve seen already that know my parents or grandparents. Maybe 20 percent of my patients say something like, ‘Oh, you’re so-and-so’s son. I know your family.’ That’s really cool to hear and makes day-to-day interactions even more personal.”
The PhD pursuing an MD
Despite taking a different path to medicine than his brother, Jared agrees, explaining that such connections make for good patient care.
“That conversation matters,” he says. “I wanted to become a physician so that I could have more direct personal contact. When patients come in to see you and they already know who you are or where you come from they may trust you more and feel more comfortable with the visit.”
Wanting in on that conversation, then, Jared applied to the medicine program at the SMHS even before he had defended his doctoral dissertation, a study (directed by Dr. Ghribi) that explored dietary factors affecting the pathology of Parkinson’s disease. So it is that not three days after earning his PhD, Jared was back in the classroom for his Block 1 coursework.
“I like research, but I was missing the personal interaction with people and being able to help people in a more direct way,” says Jared. “That’s been one of my favorite things so far about medical school is being able to visit with patients. We get to see standardized patients almost once a week—and we’re only in the second block of our first year.”
A husband and father of two boys who hopes to end up practicing in North Dakota someday as well, Jared adds that the biggest challenge he has seen in medical school, just as in graduate school, has been not the coursework itself so much as finding balance.
“It’s not easy to be successful as a student and be a great parent and husband,” he says. “My wife has been amazing in her support, and in caring for the kids. I can’t thank her enough for everything she’s done for me and the boys. The problem isn’t them saying it’s okay for me to go study—it’s me not wanting to leave them so much.”
Like Jared, Trevor’s path to patient care was also winding.
After first matriculating at NDSU to study pharmacy, the youngest Schommer transferred up to UND to pursue Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) at the SMHS. After realizing that MLS also wasn’t the right “fit” for him, Trevor, settled on business management, which he loved immediately, eventually developing a keen interest in the business side of medicine.
After working in Dr. Ghribi’s lab as an undergraduate and again after earning his MBA from UND in 2017, Trevor began his fellowship in South Carolina.
“We receive hands-on experience working with physician practices, community medical centers, and support departments throughout four rotations,” says Trevor, who also has a graduate certificate in health administration. “We participate in tasks designed by the executive leadership team as well as work on topics such as process improvement, quality, access, and strategic planning.”
Halfway through his health administration fellowship program at Lexington Medical Center in Columbia, Trevor muses on how it is that, his brothers notwithstanding, so many of his relatives chose health care—two cousins and two aunts are nurses and one cousin [Natalie Crawford, MD ’17] and another aunt [Heidi Bittner, MD ’91] are SMHS-trained physicians.
There must be something in the Schommer blood that draws them to patient care, Trevor says.
“At the root of each of our personalities is the desire to help people,” he concludes. “All three of us are more concerned with others’ well-being over our own. We all enjoy the complex nature and critical thinking of health care, recognize the need throughout our community, and want to be a part of the solution that helps people live healthier lives.”
Remembering the long road he took to get to where he is now, Trevor explains how one day back before he began college his father—“the Don”—took him aside to talk about the future.
“Dad told me that I was always welcome to come back and take over the family farm,” Trevor concludes. “However, he told me I was absolutely going to college and earning a degree first. After my degree, if I still wanted to take over the farm I could, but my parents gave us all the choice. We all went to college and pursued our dreams with the overwhelming support of our parents and I think that says a lot about them.”