Keaton Erickson ’20, Carrington, N.D.
Majors: Biology and Chemistry

Please tell us about yourself.

For starters, I’m a certified nerd. I can show you my membership card if you really want. I have a passion for the sciences, math, and Rubik’s Cubes.

Here are a few quick facts about me: I’m from Carrington, N.D. – a small town in the middle of the state. I have a puppy named Doc. My favorite Netflix shows are “The Office,” “Black Mirror,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Can you tell me about your journey in the pre-med program?

Coming in as a freshman, I did see myself finding a place in the medical profession; however, these were fairly vague aspirations. I knew that I loved working at my hometown’s pharmacy during high school and progressing through rehabilitative work with my physical therapist following a baseball injury, and I also had a strong relationship with my family doctor. Essentially, I knew I wanted to end up somewhere in the health professions but exactly where was up in the air.

At Concordia, my journey has been both bountifully supported and necessarily challenged. From having a relatively rooted professional goal my first year to complete indecisiveness during my sophomore year, I wrestled with these professional interests for some time. Organic Chemistry inspired a possible career in organic synthesis research and my employment at the North Dakota Autism Center stimulated an interest in psychology-based therapies as a career. This uncertainty was quite unnerving, but I was reassured that this was a vital component in the decision to become a doctor. It wasn’t until I shadowed emergency physicians and surgeons that I realized I felt I could benefit the most people in the most significant way through a career in medicine.

My freshman year, I found a close professional mentor in Dr. Jason Askvig, who has served as my academic advisor. He’s been such a strong support system, eager to both console and cheer me on through my challenges and successes. I can easily say that I would not be attending medical school this fall if it had not been for his unwavering and continued assistance.

Have you had other favorite professors or classes?

Dr. Jason Askvig – He’s been such a solid piece of my Concordia experience, a true rock. Dr. Askvig finds ways to simultaneously balance professional and personal relationships without fault and I know that I could turn to him with any problem, professional or personal. He’s made me feel entirely at home at this institution.

Dr. Karla Knutson – Dr. Knutson was one of my first professors freshman year for Inquiry Written Communication. She demonstrated how to be wholly authentic while in her role as professor and I have always respected her greatly for this. Empathic and truly understanding, she worked to be a powerful welcoming force.

Dr. Drew Rutherford – Dr. Rutherford presented one of the first substantial (and at times overwhelming) academic challenges during my time at Concordia. His Organic Chemistry class pushed me to adopt an entirely different model of studying and overall academic engagement, for which I am grateful beyond expression. Since then, he has served as another professional mentor and continues to be someone that I can have hourslong conversations with.

Dr. Julie Rutherford – For the past two years, I have loved getting to know Dr. Rutherford. From taking Biology 411/412 last year to being a teaching assistant for the associated laboratory this year, Dr. Rutherford has served as such an inspiration in regard to the kindness, passion, and care she brings to her work and in the relationships she builds with her students. She’s been an invaluable resource academically and has helped me so much with achieving my professional goals. I value this mentorship a great deal.

Can you talk about how your work at Sanford has helped shape your path?

I’m currently working as a patient care technician at Sanford Health in Fargo on the Medical/Surgical Innovation Unit. This has been an extremely humbling and insightful experience that has taught me a great deal about patient care and how individual each patient’s needs are. I think working in this type of environment is really vital for people considering a career in medicine. It teaches really crucial intangible skills like empathy for suffering patients and shows firsthand how important the work of nursing staff is to quality patient care. I really can’t express how invaluable this experience has been in shaping my path to medical school.

How has your role changed because of COVID-19?

As of this week, I have been transferred to work as a patient care technician on the Special Care Unit at Sanford’s Broadway campus, which is responsible for caring for those patients with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. In this pandemic, it is the responsibility of healthcare workers (across the spectrum) to bear the weight of those requiring medical attention. Pursuing a career in medicine has really brought forward this responsibility and I’m proud to be doing my part in this time of crisis. And if I can stand on a soapbox for a moment, this responsibility must be shared by everyone, not just by medical professionals. Do your part, please.

How has the pre-med program at Concordia prepared you for applying to medical school and a career in healthcare?

First, the rigorous biology, chemistry, and physics curriculum prepared me extremely well for the standardized Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). With supplemental materials, I was able to efficiently prepare for that exam and score well after about two and a half months – due in large part to the material that was covered in the classes I’d taken.

Second, there was always explicit and implicit support from peers and faculty to pursue experiences outside of Concordia that would give me perspective related to my future career. Both through work, volunteer, and shadowing experiences, professors and peers were willing to provide references and a helping hand whenever needed.

Finally, the curriculum is set up in a way to creatively and individually provide applicable and relevant knowledge. I’ve loved most of my laboratory experiences to date. From experiments with Tetrahymena in Biology 121 to human cadaver dissection in Biology 411/412 to pharmaceutical organic synthesis in Chemistry 341, the experiential learning that goes on is honestly what I’ve retained over the years. These opportunities also allow for closer personal relationships to grow with lab professors.

What are your next steps after graduation?

For the time being, I will be staying in the Fargo-Moorhead area and working at Sanford Health as a patient care technician. As far as further in the future, I am planning on moving to the Chicago suburbs to attend medical school in the fall. I’m excited to make the transition from undergraduate to graduate studies, of course, but there are some nerves associated with this, too. The unknown is always a little scary, right?

Do you have any advice for first-year pre-med students?

Find a mentor (or mentors) that you trust. I really do credit my mentors with a great deal of my success at this institution and beyond. Having that type of support system is invaluable and I can’t say enough about the help they’ve provided me over the years.

Do activities that you love, not that you think you should do. So many times during the application process I was asked to detail my experiences and what I’ve learned from them. It was extremely easy to tell which of the opportunities were superficial, obligatory experiences based on how much reflection I was able to offer. I’d encourage you to try many different experiences during your first year and see what you enjoy. Then, stick with those things.

Start volunteering and shadowing early. Besides being able to demonstrate commitment to selflessness and experiential learning to the admission committees, it also allows for time to go through and decide if this path is for you. Observing physicians interact and navigate complex patient presentations gives you a fundamental look at what being a physician actually means; volunteering gives you a chance to help people, which is what is at the heart of being a physician. All in all, these experiences are extremely informative.

Published April 2020