Crash course in empathy

TCOM student’s rocky road to residency

A car crash en route to a residency interview resulted in Gemma Sookprasong being admitted at the hospital she was heading to.

This story was re-published with permission from UNT Health Science Center Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine’s website. It has been edited.

Last fall, Gemma Sookprasong flew to Wichita, Kansas, for an interview that could have led to a medical residency at a hospital there.

She never made it to the interview, but she did end up at that hospital.

“I woke up in a trauma bay,” she said.

The car accident that sent Sookprasong to the hospital could have ended the fourth-year Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine student’s dream of graduating in May and becoming a family medicine physician.

“I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to graduate on time,” she said. “But I do realize how lucky I am.”

Sookprasong had plenty of reasons to celebrate on Friday when she learned that she matched into residency at McLennan County Family Medicine in Waco, Texas. She was joined by 166 other TCOM students who opened envelopes that revealed their fate during the Class of 2018 Match Day Celebration at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

TCOM student Gemma Sookprasong (Photo by Jill Johnson for TCOM)

For Sookprasong, it was an especially momentous day.

The accident, in which a driver rear-ended her vehicle, left her with a skull fracture, 19 stitches on her face, 10 cracked teeth and a cerebral spinal fluid leak. She spent a week in the hospital before she was well enough to return to Fort Worth. She took with her a suture removal kit to take out the stitches herself with the help of a friend, along with a determination to resume her residency quest.

But it was not to be, at least not as she planned.

Within days, one side of her face turned weak and numb. Soon the weakness spread to the other side of her face and at a follow-up appointment with her primary care physician, she was sent to the emergency room.

There she was admitted to the hospital by the same doctor she had done her emergency medicine rotation with earlier in her training.

By then she couldn’t taste food, shut her mouth or close her eyes to sleep.

“I had to use my hand to make my mouth move,” she said.

The fractures in her skull had caused facial nerve damage. She worried she would have to undergo surgery, but steroids were used to reduce the swelling.

Her recovery would include trips to the dentist to repair her cracked teeth and a visit to an audiologist to address the mild hearing loss she suffered.

Over the next month, she recovered enough to achieve her goal of completing 15 residency interviews by the end of the year. Her injuries might have slowed her down, but they didn’t stop her from graduating on time.

The accident was a good reminder of what it is like to be a patient, said Sookprasong, who had also been hospitalized for eight days with pneumonia before her senior year in college.

“I think compassion will be one of my biggest strengths as a physician,” she said.

1 comment

  1. Great story and I wish the best for this new physician !

    I have always found the being a family practice DO fit my style of practicing medicine.

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