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Match Day 2022 Spotlight: Thomas Pak

Date: Monday, March 7, 2022

Thomas Pak, portraitThomas Pak discovered his passion for research while completing his undergraduate degree in neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. 

However, Pak, now a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) in the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, thought there was a piece missing in solely doing research when he began volunteering at the Free Health Clinic in Baltimore. He was moved by the patients he met there, many of whom were affected by homelessness and were unable to receive routine medical care.  

“In research, we did really cool, cutting-edge projects that can have this potentially huge impact in the world,” Pak says. “But medicine was the way that you can make this direct impact.”  

Breaking down barriers 

Pak partially credits his interest in child psychiatry to his time spent learning from his mentor, Carissa Gunderson, MD, a child psychiatrist at UI Hospitals & Clinics. He worked with Gunderson on a patient deemed “aggressive and difficult.” 

“It was amazing to see that Dr. Gunderson could see beneath the exterior and see a child that was very hurt,” Pak says.   

The patient was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder which makes it difficult to connect with loved ones due to traumatic experiences. Gunderson and Pak worked with the patient to allow them to open up and show a side that they did not see initially.  

These moments and personal relationships with patients are both reasons why Pak wants to pursue child psychiatry. 

“The way that you can affect the trajectory of a person’s childhood is so powerful,” Pak says. 

Trusting the process

The interview process leading up to Match Day can be daunting, but Pak says he enjoyed his interviews and sharing his hard work with professionals in the field.  

“Receiving an MD/PhD is a longer road than an MD road, and there's a lot of joy to know that all of this hard work will pay off with a good research-focused residency,” Pak says. “While there is a worry that I won't match, I believe it will work out.”   

Thomas credits his medical fraternity, Alpha Kappa Kappa, for being a wonderful community support during this stressful time. 

Pak is one of nine students in the Carver College of Medicine 2022 graduating class who will graduate with both their PhD and MD degrees. 

“The University Iowa has a strong psychiatry program, and it puts me in a really good position to match in psychiatry,” Pak says. “All the places I interviewed at were amazing, and I strongly believe I will excel wherever I match.”