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Pre-med Roan Scholar hopes to make a difference in rural areas

September 14, 2015

wike_austin_4927_news_item_sizeJOHNSON CITY (September 14, 2015) – Living in areas up and down the East Coast and studying abroad have given Austin Wike a clear picture of the need for more physicians and improved medical care in rural areas, and that is just what this Roan Scholar looks to provide in the future.

He was born in Washington, D.C., and lived in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and then Indiana before his family settled in his current hometown of Canton, North Carolina.  Now, Wike is in Tennessee courtesy of the Roan Scholars Leadership Program at East Tennessee State University, a school with an Academic Health Sciences Center comprised of five colleges working together to improve health care in rural areas.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity that the Roan Scholars program has given me,” he said.  “I’ve always wanted to be a physician.  There are pictures of me at 5 or 6 years old going for Halloween as a doctor.  I’ve always been strong in the sciences and took as many science courses as I could in high school.  Science didn’t always come easy, but I was able to tackle it and learn it.”

Wike, now a senior pre-medical student majoring in biology and minoring in finance, has taken advantage of internships and job-shadowing opportunities to learn about the field of medicine and get an idea of possible specialties he might like to pursue.  He’s decided a couple of specialties aren’t for him, but has found neurology and emergency medicine to be intriguing.  “There’s still so much to learn in neurology, and so I think it would be one of those fields where I’d constantly be learning new stuff, new techniques, new medicine,” he said.  “I’ve seen a lot of what goes on in the ER, and while some things aren’t interesting, some things are, and it’s incredible.  They really do save lives in there, and that is so rewarding.  You can tell that whenever they’ve had a patient they’ve really helped, the doctors love it, and it definitely makes me look forward to it.”

And, he says, he definitely wants to work in an underserved area.  “I’m from a rural area, and there aren’t enough doctors.  In the neurology office where I shadowed, there were patients coming from an hour and a half away.  It’s not that they just picked that neurologist – that’s the closest one they could get to.  That in itself shows the need for physicians in rural areas.  I really feel like I could make a difference in that area.”

Outside the classroom, Wike has focused his efforts on diversity awareness, continuing what he started in high school, when he and his brother, Hunter, established a Diversity and Inclusion Club for their fellow students.

“It’s always been a big passion of mine to help people be educated on diversity and inclusion and why these are important,” he said.  He has followed that passion by becoming active in ETSU’s student Diversity Educators organization and working with people of many different backgrounds as a resident assistant in ETSU Housing and Residence Life and as a volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club.  He also joined ETSU’s newly re-established chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Conference fraternity Phi Beta Sigma, which he now serves as vice president.

In addition, Wike headed to Ecuador the summer following his sophomore year, where he studied tropical botany and had a cultural experience which, he says, is “unlike anything (he’s) ever been through.

“It was incredible.  It’s one of those places that help you realize how lucky you have it in America, but at the same time, help you see that you can be happy living in almost any conditions.  In Ecuador, there’s very rich and there’s very poor, and in-between can be very hard to find, but the people were so welcoming, especially the students.  We traveled with Ecuadorian students, and they were always trying to find ways to have fun with us and make sure we were taken care of.  There are so many similarities.  I made so many friends, and I don’t speak Spanish.  We communicated in other ways and built friendships.”

On top of all that, Wike has been active in planning ETSU’s Civility Week and Homecoming celebrations.  He was in charge of the Pride Walk painting activity during last year’s Civility Week, and, for this year’s Homecoming (Sept. 25-27), he is heading up Canned Food Creations, a popular competitive event for student organizations that results in a large supply of non-perishable food to be donated to area food banks.

Wike tried out for and made the new Buccaneer football team when it initially formed for practice in 2014-15.  While he loved his time with the team, he decided after spring practice not to play, but to focus instead on his internship and volunteer opportunities, his responsibilities to his fraternity and other goals.  However, he loves being in the stands every week with his friends, cheering on the Bucs and especially his younger brother, Hunter Wike, a wide receiver and fellow Roan Scholar who also plans to become a physician.

Wike plans to graduate from ETSU this spring and to take a “gap year,” during which he wants to work as an emergency medicine technician (EMT) while applying to medical schools.

This article originally appeared on the ETSU homepage, during the week of September 14-20, 2015; credit to: Ms. Jennifer Hill, Assistant Director, Division of University Relations.  Full article may also be found online at: