2023 Residency Match and Class of 2023 graduate Dr. Zachary Vandeveer starts an interventional radiology residency this summer at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, MI. Students who follow UMHS social media like Instagram may have seen posts and videos by Dr. Vandeveer because he worked as a UMHS Media Ambassador for the marketing department while also being active in AMSA and various student organizations.
The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Vandeveer about his journey through medical school, why he chose UMHS over other Caribbean medical schools, what interests him about interventional radiology, why he applied for residency in the specialty, his love for soccer, and much more.
Matching in interventional radiology
UMHS Endeavour: Dr. Vandeveer, you matched in interventional radiology at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan and start this summer. Congratulations! Can you just tell us a little bit about your residency, what you will be doing as an interventional radiologist?
Dr. Zachary Vandeveer: I am super blessed to have matched in interventional radiology at Spectrum. I could not be happier. One thing that I really enjoy about interventional radiology is the vast difference in procedures that can be completed in a day. From kyphoplasties, which is cement injection into vertebrae that have undergone osteoporosis to ablating bleeding arteries. For instance, GI bleeds, postpartum pregnancy bleeds, extraction of pulmonary emboli, and other venous thromboembolisms. In general, the specialty consists of minimally invasive endovascular surgery throughout the body and that's what I love about it. You can be working on a different system or different part of the body each procedure you are involved in.
What are some of your long and short-term goals for this particular residency?
Some of my short-term goals are to be challenged every day and to learn every day. Allowing myself to not only become a better resident and future physician, but also to become a better human being and continue to grow as an individual. For my long-term goals, I would like to be a sponge and absorb all the knowledge that I can from the nursing staff, respiratory therapists, attendings, supervisors, and my co-residents. I want to get all I can out of this residency because now's the time to do so. In the end I hope to put myself in a position to land a job and further my career wherever I would like.
Dr. Zachary Vandeveer volunteering at an AMSA health clinic in St. Kitts while he was a student. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Vandeveer.
Could you tell us one or two things that you like the most about studying at UMHS?
I'm a huge advocate for UMHS. I absolutely love the school and love all of the administration. I would say two of my favorite things about going to UMHS is first, the opportunities that I was given at UMHS. Opportunities that I don't think I would have necessarily pursued or been offered at other schools. For example, I was able to become a teaching assistant in multiple different programs on the island. Being a teaching assistant opened my eyes to a variety of learning styles and allowed me to pass on what I learned from my upper classmates. Secondly, the vast difference in culture and individuals that I met on the island allowed me to flourish as a student. I could not be more grateful for the friends I have met through UMHS, the alumni base, and the many other students that I've crossed paths with throughout my entire journey at UMHS.
All right, great. And is there anything else that you'd like to tell current and/or prospective students or even alumni about UMHS that we haven't covered?
UMHS is probably the most unique school in the US and the Caribbean. The administration, especially the president, all the way down through the professors, and the staff are all there to help you succeed. They all want to watch you become a physician and they are there because they love to do it. I would say that is rare in a medical school, to have the president be giving the campus tour and be so involved in each student's success. Especially a president that is so open to suggestions and feedback from the students to better the curriculum of the school. Lastly, one of the best things about UMHS is the students who go there. Every student has a unique path to Caribbean medical school and you quickly learn that these students are incredible people with an amazing story to share.
Dr. Vandeveer at an AMSA Health Fair in St. Kitts in 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Vandeveer.
Growing up in Michigan
Tell us a bit about where you grew up.
I'm from a small town in northern Michigan, just outside of Traverse City. And if you played soccer, you also worked on the Cherry Farm. I worked on the Cherry Farm from when I was 12 until I was about 22. Soccer was able to take me to Alma College in which I got a degree in chemistry there and also continued to play soccer on the varsity team. Soccer then continued to be in my life, but in a different facet. As with my chemistry degree, I was hired by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals for two years as a chemist in their quality-control lab. I was also playing a little bit of semi-professional there in Kalamazoo. Work got to be too much and I had to cut back on soccer. I was trying to go to med school, but I necessarily did not have the funds after college to apply to all the schools. I applied to a bunch of US schools and it did not work out. I got interviews at a few places and got waitlisted. At the end of the day, it did not happen and I was crushed. But one of my friends from Alma, Addie Loftus, who just matched family medicine this cycle, told me about UMHS and how great of a medical school it was and encouraged me to look into it.
I did my research about UMHS and applied. I had an interview with Michelle Peres, the UMHS Vice President of Enrollment Management at the time at the Detroit office. Within a week, I was fully accepted and I was absolutely grateful. I really loved that I did not have to wait a year and apply again for the next cycle in the United States. I could just hop right in that year and almost be done with my time on the island and a quarter of the way done with medical school before I could even begin to re-apply in the US again. So, I took the jump over to St. Kitts and here we are.
What made you choose UMHS over other med schools when you were looking to apply?
One thing about UMHS that really interested me was the overall caring culture that I felt from the school and how involved the administration was in our success as students. Also, when I went for my interview in Detroit, there were two UMHS graduates working at the Detroit office waiting to be matched for residency. It was great to be able to talk to them and it was reassuring to see future residents from UMHS. Another reason is the low attrition rate at UMHS. The school does a tremendous job of keeping the students that they accept and that was important to me when looking for a Caribbean school to attend.
Lastly, I had never taken a big jump in life and really bet it all on myself, but I have always believed everyone needs to take that leap at some point in their life. Getting out of your comfort zone is how you grow and it was exactly what I needed at the time. This jump landed me in St. Kitts, putting me outside of my comfort zone, making me grow as an individual, a future physician, and as a med student.
Pictured left to right: Sean Vellavallil, Zach Vandeveer & Norman Zapata at the Joseph N. France Hospital in St. Kitts. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Vandeveer.
Can you think of any professors or any staff members that really made a difference for you, whether it was in St. Kitts, Maine, the New York office, or in clinical rotation? Anybody come to mind?
I definitely had people in all those stages that helped me and really pushed me to be better. Dr. Peter Lee was my advisor on the island and he was spectacular in keeping me focused and looking at the long-term goals, "Where do you want to end up? Yeah, today we're here in St. Kitts, but where do you want to end up? How do you want to be in two years when you're applying to residency? What are you working towards?" In addition, Dr. Anoop Jalan and Dr. Jagadeesh Nagappa taught pathology and physiology respectively. They made those courses unbelievably interesting as well as fun to be in. Which is tough as those are two very big courses for medical education. Lastly, Dr. McCracken in anatomy was an enthusiastic professor to have in the first semester and helped me build a strong foundation of basic sciences early on in medical school.
When I was in Maine, Dr. Patrice Thibodeau was the director over there. She was spectacular. She really held me to a high standard and wanted me to be challenged, which was difficult then, but I am so thankful for it now. In conclusion, three attendings really helped me through my clinical rotations. The first was Dr. Ethan Goldstein who I rotated with during my OB/GYN rotation. He instilled in me a lot of confidence in the OR as well as showed me the importance of being present and willing to help in any situation. On the IR side of things, two of the most influential people were Dr. Mohamed Jabar over at McLaren Oakland and Dr. Justin Stenz at McLaren Macomb [Michigan]; they both were my preceptors throughout my radiology rotations. They really opened the doors for me in IR and showed me the best field in medicine.
Dr. Zachary Vandeveer leading a casting clinic at the UMHS simulation lab on the St. Kitts campus. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Vandeveer.
Let's talk a little bit about your residency specialty. What interests you the most about interventional radiology? I think that just from what you've told me it's a little different. When I think of radiology, I think of CT scans, X-Rays, but it sounds like it's a little more involved than that. What interests you the most?
I love radiology. I was always interested in radiology and especially diagnostic radiology, which is more of what you are describing. CAT scans, MRIs, X-rays, and reading those. And granted, with me being in interventional radiology, I will be dual board certified in diagnostic radiology as well as interventional radiology. In order to be a great interventional radiologist, you have to be a great diagnostic radiologist. So, they go hand in hand. But, the interventional side has a lot more intervention; procedures, injections, and more. What really interested me was that it's the most technologically advanced field in medicine. In IR you can kill cancer, stop bleeding, and provide concentrated radiation treatment all while using image guidance as a road map. In summary, Interventional Radiology is advanced image-guided minimally invasive surgery via a variety of different techniques. Allowing care to be customized to each patient and for each procedure.
There's a lot of “touch” with guidewire catheters and endovascular technique. The variety of things you can do throughout the day from PICC lines and medi ports for antibiotics and chemotherapy to kyphoplasties or Y90 therapy. It's a specialty that is fastly growing, has many different niches in a hospital setting, and has different skill sets involved to help each patient.
So, it sounds like it's not only just diagnostic radiology, but you were actually helping with radiation or stopping bleeding after a pregnancy and it's covering a wide range of different medical conditions. That's really fascinating.
Yes! All while using imaging to guide the procedure. For example, in one IR suite a liver lesion can be receiving radioactive Y90 therapy. This therapy provides concentrated cancer treatment directly to the lesion, leaving the rest of the patient's body untouched by the radiation treatment. In the next IR suite, a woman with painful menstruation due to a large fibroid is having the main blood supply to this benign tumor coiled and ablated all under image guidance. Furthermore, relieving the patient's symptoms and preventing them from having to go under the knife.
Our graduating students who Match always talk about the guidance that they receive from the Academic Affairs Department like Patrick McCormick and his team. Without getting too specific, what are some of the ways that Academic Affairs at UMHS helped you whenever it came time to apply for residency?
The Academic Affairs office does an amazing job preparing you for residency, providing the timelines, the resources, the tools, and the information to get it all done. They help to relieve a lot of the stress about it. They provide a timeline and a checklist for you to tick the boxes off when the task is completed. Patrick helped me tremendously, especially with some mock interviews that we did together before my residency Zoom interviews. Doing virtual residency interviews is a totally different game and he helped me make a habit of looking at the camera and not at the person on the screen. The Academic Affairs Department was spectacular and smoothed out the bumpy road when it came to interview season and the residency application process.
Is there anything you would like to say that we haven't covered?
You did ask a question earlier that I didn't entirely answer, Scott.
Sure, go ahead.
Did I always want to be a doctor? I always wanted to be in medicine. With my chemistry degree from Alma College, I used that to kick start my medicine journey. My dad is a pharmacist and I liked that side of medicine, but once I was in it, I realized it wasn't enough patient contact for me. When I was a chemist, I did not feel fulfilled doing analytical lab work and wanted to help patients in a hospital setting. I felt like I could do something bigger with my life. Even when I got into med school and was going through my clinical rotations, I didn't know the exact kind of doctor that I wanted to be. I wanted to go into med school as an open book and see what attracted me as a specialty. Throughout my core clinical rotations, nothing had piqued my interest. But as I got into my electives, especially into radiology I started to see my future. During my radiology elective, I was so fortunate to have access to interventional radiology procedures and attendings. Which ultimately solidified my decision. However, I was super thankful that I had exposed myself to all the other electives I did as it allowed me to absorb and learn more throughout my clinical rotations.
So, you really learned about interventional radiology by doing the radiology rotation because I really was not aware of interventional radiology. Like I said, when I think of "radiology," I always think of MRIs or the people that diagnose diseases from CT scans or recommend a biopsy after reviewing a mammogram or whatever, but it sounds like what you're doing is so much more than that; it's really fascinating.
Yeah. I couldn't be more excited to be joining this relatively new specialty in medicine.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to prospective students out there that might be considering going into this area of what they might want to know?
It's a newer field. There are not a ton of residency spots in the US, and once again, I couldn't be more thankful for landing one. But if you want to do it, being a member of the Society of Interventional Radiology is a good starting point. There are a lot of mentors there that can help you along and guide you to have your best chance of matching into interventional radiology. I tried to keep all my options open and my head to the grindstone continuing to work hard throughout my didactic and clinical years. Anywhere you go for medical school is going to prepare you for medicine, but I would say the people you meet along the way, the preceptors you encounter, your peers in med school, and your family are what shape you into a potential residency candidate and future doctor.
(Top photo): Dr. Zachary Vandeveer when he was a student in St. Kitts. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Vandeveer.
UMHS YouTube interview with Dr. Zachary Vandeveer
Scott is Director of Digital Content & Alumni Communications Liaison at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City, StageZine.com.