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School of Medicine class speaker Benjamin Cook inspired to ‘help somebody through a difficult time’

By Susan E.W. Spencer and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

May 28, 2021

Incoming medical students should pay heed to what faculty tell them during orientation. Benjamin Cook, SOM ’21, from Andover, recalled being told by Michael Ennis, MD, professor of family medicine & community health and assistant dean for student affairs, “Look to your left and look to your right. One of you is never going to leave Worcester.”

“From an early time here at UMass Medical School, my friends thought I might be one of those people. I have loved it so much, I actually matched here at UMass Memorial Medical Center in med-peds,” a combined internal medicine and pediatrics residency, said Cook, who will be the School of Medicine class speaker at the 48th commencement on Sunday, June 6.

Although Cook has a relative who was a physical therapist and a great aunt who was in the first class of the Graduate School of Nursing, his medical career path was influenced most by a high school church mission trip to Mexico, accompanied by a doctor. “I was just blown away by the effect he had on that rural community,” Cook said. “I thought maybe this can be for me.”

Cook praised the Medical School’s “superb job training for the clinical years.” Even from preclinical classes, the knowledge he gained about “people skills,” like how to take a patient’s history and how to talk about sensitive topics such as sexual history or death, made a difference in preparing him for third- and fourth-year training and residency.

Interacting with patients during medical school rotations was what Cook loved the most.

“Just being able to help somebody through a difficult time or be there for someone – I find that extremely fulfilling,” he said. “I think sometimes medicine is very specialized, and that is good in a lot of ways. But I like looking at the whole person and seeing how we can let them live the best life they can live.”

Whether Cook ultimately focuses on primary care or hospital work, he believes his medical education has prepared his classmates and him for well-rounded medical careers. And for Cook, that includes working with children as well as older adults.

“My friends joke that I’m a combination of a 7-year-old and a 77-year-old,” said Cook, a former camp counselor and backpacking trip leader. A third-year elective in palliative care, in which he worked with critically ill and dying patients, “kind of sealed the deal” to include adults in his projected scope of practice.

Completing medical school during the COVID-19 global pandemic also shaped the class of ‘21’s experience.

“I think that we learned telehealth better than any other class before us,” said Cook. “I think we managed to get great training and I’m very pleased with how UMass Medical School got us back into the clinical system relatively quickly, and I’m grateful for that.”

Cook, a member of Burncoat House Learning Community, was named Peer Mentor of the Year by the Learning Community Board. He was also chosen to be the fourth-year medical student speaker at the transition to the third-year clinical clerkship experience ceremony for the following class. He is a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society.