Since graduating from Wesleyan in 2007, Rex Atwood attended the Naval Academy, earned an MBA and an MD at Dartmouth College, and currently is completing his residency in surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington D.C. We are grateful that Dr. Atwood took some time to share some of his experiences since leaving Wesleyan.
In what activities did you participate while at Wesleyan? I was a 4-year member of the marching band, serving as the drum major my last two years. I was also the goalie on the Varsity lacrosse team and a very slow member of the swim team.
What role did Wesleyan play in shaping your interests? More than anything, Wesleyan provided a secure environment for me to explore many different academic, athletic, and artistic opportunities. My first year of college was difficult, and I am grateful to my mentors at Wesleyan, especially Mr. Foster and Mr. Cole, for giving me the confidence that I needed to persevere.
How did you get where you are today? I attended the U.S. Naval Academy after Wesleyan, graduating in 2011. Initially, I thought I would pursue a career in submarines or aviation, but eventually I decided to go into medicine. I attended Dartmouth Medical School and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, graduating in 2016. I then moved to Washington D.C. to start my residency in general surgery at Walter Reed, where I’m currently in my fourth year.
What are you doing in addition to your surgical residency? I’m currently on a research year, which is an opportunity to pursue scientific inquiry and take a small break from the stressors of residency. I’m developing models to study traumatic injury, specifically from blast injuries, in rodents, pigs, and monkeys.
Why did you decide to pursue both medical and business school? I became interested in business school while auditing a few classes during my first year of med school. I was a chemistry major in undergrad, and the business school program was completely foreign to me. Ultimately, the MBA gave me the opportunity to learn about something completely new for a year and to work with colleagues with a different perspective on the world. I hope to use the experience to bridge the gap between the administrative and clinical sides of medicine, which are often at odds with each other.
What does your day to day look like at Walter Reed? I usually wake up by 4:30 a.m. and complete rounds on our patients in the hospital. The first OR case is at 7:30 a.m., and we usually finish around 6 p.m. (unless I’m on call, in which case I stay overnight). I then head home to help my wife who is also a doctor. Together we take care of our two-year-old and one-month-old. When I am on call, I stay at the hospital overnight.
What is the most exciting and challenging thing about your job? The most exciting and challenging part of my job is taking care of the wounded warriors who come back from combat overseas. Our hospital receives almost all the wartime casualties. It is an absolute honor to participate in the care of our soldiers. They are often severely injured, and they often require multiple trips to the operating room before they can move to rehabilitation. Taking care of the wounded was why I came to Walter Reed and why I wanted to be a surgeon.
Do you have any advice for younger alumni or current students looking to pursue a similar career? The military, especially for the caliber of student that Wesleyan produces, can be an excellent starting point for almost any career. I would not be where I am today without the leadership opportunities and lessons I learned at Annapolis. The value of free schooling and a guaranteed job after graduation also cannot be understated.
Students thinking about a career in medicine should be prepared for a long, challenging road. They should not be afraid to take unconventional steps along the way, such as a random business degree! Being creative can often make an applicant more attractive. Finally, one doesn’t have to be a doctor or nurse to help people. There are plenty of careers that are critical to the healthcare industry which may be more accessible.