While completing his first orthopedic surgical rotation, Erik Rappa, MD, MPH, was exercising and noticed all of a sudden that he couldn’t do a push up. His hand was going numb and continued to, over the course of a week. As a former college football player, Dr. Rappa exercised and weightlifted to relieve stress. And as a medical student who was in the midst of applying for residency with sights on a potential career in orthopedic surgery, this was concerning.
A visit with his doctor confirmed the problem. “I had a herniated disc in my cervical spine that was impinging on the nerve roots, and it was super scary and unexpected,” he says.
He underwent a surgical fusion spine surgery at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital, the same surgery he scrubbed in on, with one of the same surgeons he had completed rotations with as a medical student, in the same hospital he was completing his rotation. He made a full recovery shortly after and regained full feeling in his hand.
Orthopedic Surgery Match
This experience solidified Dr. Rappa’s decision to pursue orthopedic surgery.
When filling out applications for residency, he dual-applied to both orthopedic surgery (his first choice) and internal medicine. He was invited to interview with two orthopedic surgery programs, which added another layer of anxiety to Match Day, the day when graduating medical students around the world find out where they will complete their U.S. residency and in what specialty. He knew orthopedic surgery was a long shot.
On March 18, to his great relief, Dr. Rappa opened an email confirming his residency match in orthopedic surgery at Ascension Genesis in Grand Blanc, Michigan.
Dr. Rappa’s path to medicine has not been linear. His dad is a physician and it’s always been something he’d considered, but he wasn’t completely convinced so he went on to earn a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree after undergrad. He worked for the State of Florida Health Department in tuberculosis control, environmental health and epidemiology. He had the opportunity to travel a lot and while he was in the middle of his program, he shadowed his friend’s dad, an orthopedic surgeon. It once again peaked his interest in medicine. Dr. Rappa made the decision to commit and applied to Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM).
“Just being in another country is a big step and there is uncertainty, but this added to the experience,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to be immersed in a different culture and have a different perspective. It gave me a step up in terms of experience.”
The support he found in the friends he met at RUSM made the experience and helped him meet the challenges he faced while in medical school.
“You have to try your best and it’s going to require a sacrifice and there are hard, long days. You have to miss a social event here or there. But try to surround yourself with a great group of friends who aren’t there to get by but are there to push you in the direction that you want to go. Friends that have goals,” he says.
Fortunately for Dr. Rappa, he’ll be joining a few of his closest friends who he started med school with, in Michigan when he heads to his residency this summer. More than 50 RUSM graduates are headed to Michigan this summer to begin residencies. It’s another full-circle moment for this new doctor.
He’s looking forward to all that orthopedic surgery has to offer.
“I really like working with my hands. And surgery in general is a career that lends itself to that skill set. There is instant gratification you get with helping your patient with their specific disorder/disease. Someone comes in and you can get them back to their daily life,” he says.
“It’s satisfying to see the patients come back after their surgery and they say, ‘you fixed the problem.’ You may not be able to see that as much with other professions. It’s more delayed of a process sometimes. It’s great to know that your own manual labor contributed to this,” he says.