When you talk with Abigail “Abby” Bardwell, you quickly discover she’s enthusiastic about learning as much as she can, intentional about her career path and grateful for her many mentors. They include her father, Bob, a paraplegic who has participated in more than 100 marathons in his chair and has served as a Paralympics coach. Abby’s fellow triplets and their older sister all work in or are pursuing health care-related careers.
“He’s done amazing things and inspires others,” she says. “I’d say he’s had the biggest impact on me.”
He was the first to foster her drive to practice orthopedics to help patients achieve mobility and enhanced ambulatory function. A fourth-year student in DMU’s osteopathic medicine program, Abby was exposed to the specialty due to two sports-related surgeries she had in high school. After completing clerkships in various areas at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, MN, during her third year, she’s since had sub-internships in orthopedics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, at Mayo in Rochester, MN, and at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
“They’re opportunities for the organizations to see whether I’d be a good fit for their residency program and for me to determine whether their programs would be a good fit for me,” she says.
These clinical experiences also allow medical students to decide which specialty they want to practice in. While Abby says she was “all orthopedics” even before enrolling in medical school, serving as a scribe in Mayo’s emergency department nearly changed her path.
“I learned I love the operating room setting, using my hands to fix a problem,” she says. “Every day on rotation reaffirmed orthopedics is what I’m passionate about.”
“I loved that so much. I had so many great mentors in the ER,” she says.
She considered her options carefully. She says from January through March, she sought “opinions, advice and wisdom” from physicians who’ve been her mentors. A rotation in orthopedics sealed the deal.
Abby says the challenges of clinical experiences are different from those of the first two years of medical school, when the “volume of material coming at you is so overwhelming” and students can be “studying all day, every day.” Early on, she developed a healthy mentality of doing the best she could every day while maintaining balance by staying connected with family and friends, exercising and other personal activities. That’s served her well during rotations.
“They can be mentally challenging. I want to be at these places for residency and care about my performance so much. I try to give 100 percent,” she says.
During her third-year clinical experiences, Abby worked to network with physicians, which initially was a bit beyond her comfort zone.
“It takes boldness to put yourself out there, asking questions – ‘Can I watch? Can I help?’” she says. She is mentoring two third-year DMU D.O. students to do the same. “I tell them this is their education, so get as much out of it as possible. The worst thing the doctors can do is say ‘no,’ but in my experience, they’re happy to share their expertise.”
As a second-year student, Abby was “privileged” to be a teaching assistant in clinical medicine, ultrasound and osteopathic manual medicine. That experience, like her current clinical experiences, was “such a good reminder of how far I’ve come,” as well as a reminder to always continue learning.
“Even on rotations outside your area of interest, show interest and ask questions,” she says. “You can learn something from every experience.”