From math to medicine: Cody Roberts’ path to becoming a doctor
October 10, 2016
From engineering to dreams of Wall Street, Cody Roberts’ career aspirations took a few turns from high school through college. Now, as a second-year medical student at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, he is firmly on the path to add “M.D.” after his name.
Roberts grew up in the small town of Franklin, Indiana, then moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, to pursue an engineering degree at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Soon after he began his studies, he shifted his focus to math. While he was good at crunching numbers, something didn’t feel right.
“It sounds cheesy but I had this epiphany where I would be sitting in math class and think, 'Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life?'” Roberts said.
His mind kept wandering to medicine.
“I started shadowing at hospitals. That led me to apply for a pediatric nephrology internship in Texas," he said. "They were looking for math people to help physicians with some predictive modeling for their patients, but at the same time it was an opportunity to explore what a hospital is like long-term at Texas Children’s Hospital.”
With his new goal to become a doctor, Roberts started searching for a medical school that would be a good fit for him.
“I chose this school, which was one of the top ones on my list, because of how small it was,” Roberts said. “Plus, I liked that at Virginia Tech Carilion, there is guaranteed research for students.”
All students at the school are required to complete a research project of publishable quality.
While just beginning his second year, Roberts is already fully involved in a research project. His faculty mentor is Andre Muelenaer, associate professor of pediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. He’s also working closely with graduate student Philip Repisky in the Mechatronics Lab within the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech.
Roberts’ team is developing a system that could be used to improve sleep or exercise studies.
“Right now, researchers have to outfit participants with masks or something up their nose,” Roberts said. “The idea is that we would be able to take some of that equipment off participants and create a more natural and realistic environment.”
The research team has been developing cameras that use infrared imaging technology to detect gases being emitted by people. The goal is for the cameras to be able to collect the same information that masks or nasal sensors measure so research participants won’t have to wear any equipment.
"Cody's work with the engineers has the potential to eliminate one of the most negative aspects of sleep studies in infants, children, and adults,” said Muelenaer. “Former Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student Peter Grossman demonstrated that infrared imaging could detect the flow of gasses. Now, Cody is well on the way to demonstrate that we can measure expired carbon dioxide without gear attached to the face, a welcome relief to patients of all ages."
Grossman graduated in May 2016.
Roberts hopes the team will begin testing the system on healthy volunteers soon and begin reviewing the data this spring.
Beyond research and the academic demands of medical school, Roberts also serves as a representative for the school in the Association of American Medical College’s (AAMC) Organization of Student Representatives. He and three other student representatives for the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine – one for each year of study – will get to attend association’s national conference in Seattle, Washington, this November.
Next year, Roberts will begin his clerkship rotations, where he will get to spend two to six weeks in a variety of medical fields interacting with physicians and patients on the job.
“I’m trying to keep an open mind about what field to pursue after medical school,” Roberts said. “What a lot of the older students are telling us is that if you pigeon hole yourself into doing one, then every other clerkship rotation you do won’t be fun. I want to keep an open mind and try to enjoy each rotation.”
This year, Cody Roberts was one of two recipients of the Sam and Priscilla McCall Endowed Scholarship, one of four privately-funded scholarships available for Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine students.
The late Sam McCall was raised in Richlands, Virginia, and studied for a year in business administration at Virginia Tech with the Class of 1958. He was also in the Corps of Cadets.
Sam McCall moved away from the area to Texas, but his family that remained in rural southwest Virginia faced limited access to healthcare.
“After talking with Sam, we decided with a scholarship, some of the graduating doctors would love the area so much that they would remain there,” said Priscilla McCall, a founding donor of the school. “I believe that has been successful. When I spoke to Dean Cynda Johnson after the first graduation ceremony there was a high percentage of the graduates remaining in Virginia. Nothing could have pleased us more.”