Vital Signs » Winter 2018
First-year medical students Wes and PJ Greene could be mistaken for fraternal twins. They come to class together, sit next to each other, and study together. But they’re not twins. They’re brothers, separated by two years.
“We’re each other’s best friend,” said Wes, the older brother. “We share an apartment. We’re pretty much together 24-seven.”
The Greene brothers, who are from Mason, Ohio, decided to attend medical school together after Wes took a gap year after college to get a little more clinical experience. He enjoyed his job as a medical scribe, and decided to stay another year to wait for his younger brother to join him in medical school. “I was enjoying my job, and I knew in a year that PJ would be applying to medical school,” Wes said.
Once Wes decided to wait for PJ so they could apply together, PJ was on board with the plan. “Getting into the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine was a dream come true,” PJ said. “We were close to home, and we were in the Boonshoft School of Medicine together.”
At medical school, they keep each other on track with their studies. “Classes are going really well. We help each other study, whether we are at home or in the library,” PJ said. “He makes sure I’m on pace, and I make sure he is on pace.”
Living with his brother and going to medical school with him provides constant accountability. “If I see PJ working hard, and I have been watching TV for an hour, I know I need to start studying, or I will fall behind,” Wes said.
To take a break from studying, the two brothers play recreational basketball, kickball, soccer, and volleyball. “We’re both competitive, but it’s fun competitiveness,” PJ said.
Wes admits that they go hard against each other in sports. “But at the end of the day, there are no hard feelings.”
Their journey to medical school started when they were young. They were born at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton and lived in Centerville with their parents, Pete and Fran. But the family moved to Mason when they were 7 and 5 years old because of their father’s job.
As they reflected on their childhood, they recalled how much they loved their home in Mason. Golf was a big part of their lives. Their childhood home backed up to the 17th hole on a golf course.
“Growing up, we were very fortunate to have a great group of kids around our neighborhood,” PJ said. “We played with our friends down in the creek and collected golf balls. We sat near the tee in our backyard and sold the balls for $1 for the premium balls and 50 cents for the other balls to golfers who had lost a few balls in the woods.”
On a good Saturday, they made as much as $50 selling golf balls for three or four hours. However, the golf course was sold a few years ago, and a developer is building new homes on the former golf course.
They played on the golf team at William Mason High School. “Mason was a nice community to grow up in,” Wes said. “Our community and high school definitely prepared us to succeed in college.”
After high school, Wes went to the University of Notre Dame, where he played golf on the club team. The experience resonated with him. “It was a great way to meet new people who had similar interests,” Wes said. “I started out as safety officer and progressed to vice president of the club.”
Wes graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and pre-medicine. After graduation, Wes worked in Columbus, Ohio, as a medical scribe for a group of emergency medicine doctors.
“I had a computer on wheels in the emergency room of a Columbus hospital. The experience offered me an opportunity to shadow a doctor full time,” Wes said. “I worked with a lot of caring, compassionate emergency medicine physicians. I saw how they treat the entire spectrum of patient populations and diseases.”
After high school, PJ played one year of collegiate golf at Hanover College, where he won freshman of the year for the conference. But he transferred to the University of Dayton. “I realized I wanted a pre-med advisor and a pre-med program,” PJ said. “I was willing to sacrifice golf to pursue my dream of medical school.”
Like his brother, PJ played on the university’s club golf team, and enjoyed the experience. The two are competitive with their golf game, but they are supportive of each other. They have different strengths in their golf game, but they agree they make a good team.
“I’m taller by three inches,” Wes said. “But PJ hits the ball a little farther.”
While PJ was in college, their mother was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. “It came on suddenly,” PJ said. “She was diagnosed in February 2016 and passed away a month later.”
The Greene brothers and their father rallied around their mother, trying to comfort her as best as they could. “My mother’s illness solidified my desire to go into medicine,” PJ said. “The physicians who took care of our mom had such compassion. They helped our family as best as they could during that difficult time.”
Wes went with their mother to several medical appointments. But because it was a terminal illness, the doctors could not do much.
“The doctors’ care, compassion, and willingness to sit down and answer our questions for as long as we needed meant a lot to us,” Wes said. “Like PJ said, it solidified our desire to be physicians. I want to be able to provide that passion and care to patients and their families.”
Before she died, their mother encouraged them to continue pursuing their dreams and goals. Medical school took on a whole new meaning for the Greene brothers. Wes decided that he would wait for PJ to graduate from college, and they applied to medical school together. The Boonshoft School of Medicine was an ideal fit for them. Not only did they like the strong sense of community, but it was close to home.
“At this point in our lives, being close to home, especially with our mom passing away, is important to us. Our dad comes up to Dayton sometimes to have dinner with us,” Wes said. “During fall break, we went back home and played golf with our dad every day.”
PJ added that the brothers also became more interested in the Boonshoft School of Medicine when they learned about the emphasis on clinical skills early in the curriculum. They have enjoyed that part of their medical education.
“When you are going through medical school and are reading for hours, we look forward to the clinical medicine sessions on Fridays,” Wes said. “A new exam skill is taught each session. Students practice with a partner. We always are each other’s partner.”
Both brothers are interested in emergency medicine. Wes’ interest stems from his job as a medical scribe, while PJ gained exposure to emergency medicine when he was a student at the University of Dayton. He was an emergency medical technician and served on the University of Dayton Emergency Medical Services, a student-run volunteer emergency medical services organization that provides pre-hospital care and transportation for all medical and trauma emergencies on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the academic year.
“I gained exposure to the emergency medicine side of medicine,” PJ said. “I learned how to be calm under stressful situations. I loved every second of it.”
The Greene brothers also have other interests in medicine. Wes would like to explore oncology. “The experience with our mom and getting to know her oncologist has made me interested in oncology,” he said. “I could see myself pursuing oncology to provide the same type of compassionate care that our mom’s doctors gave her.”
Wes is interested in health care policy. His interest started in college when he took a class, Sociology of Health and Medicine. He learned how health care is organized in the United States and the benefits and drawbacks of the U.S. system.
“That class was absolutely fascinating. We do a lot of things well, but there is certainly a portion of our population that does not receive the high-quality health care they deserve because of the socio-economic status,” Wes said. “I try to keep up with all of the political developments and changes in health care policy to better understand how those changes will affect the quality and access to care for patients.”
In addition to emergency medicine, PJ also is interested in pediatrics. “I loved our childhood pediatrician,” PJ said. “I shadowed our pediatrician and enjoyed my experience. I love kids.”
PJ also is passionate about global health. At the University of Dayton, he participated in two medical and public health brigades to Nicaragua. His group helped in a medical clinic in a village, where they triaged patients. They also built a sanitation station that included a septic tank and a toilet and shower on concrete floors.
“Seeing the lack of health care, and the issues that causes, left a lasting impression on me,” PJ said. “Health care should be a right for all, not a privilege. I hope to make a difference locally and globally.”
For now, the Greene brothers are learning as much as they can at the Boonshoft School of Medicine before they make a decision about residency. But they’re open to going into practice together.
— Heather Maurer