An aspiring otolaryngologist, Samuel Racette has shown a dedication to patient care and community service that has impressed UB faculty and the AMA Foundation alike.

Fourth-Year Med Student Receives $10K AMA Foundation Scholarship

Published November 22, 2016

“Sam has shown a commitment to improving the quality of care to the underserved and decreasing health disparities.”
Senior associate dean for student and academic affairs

Samuel Racette is one of three medical students statewide to receive a $10,000 American Medical Association Foundation scholarship for academic excellence, community involvement and leadership.

Award Announced at ‘Pivotal Time’ for Aspiring ENT

Being awarded the Medical Society of the State of New York/Dr. Duane and Joyce Cady Physicians of Tomorrow Scholarship alleviates the financial burden of applying for residency, says Racette, a member of the Class of 2017.

“We end up spending an immense amount of money on flights, hotels, transportation and the residency application itself, so this award comes at a really pivotal time,” Racette explains.

“It helps me not take out another loan — and puts me at ease.”

The award also boosts the aspiring otolaryngologist’s confidence as he seeks a position in one of ENT’s highly competitive residency programs.

“If my application was good enough to receive this award, it’s hopefully good enough to get residency interviews,” says Racette, who has applied to 55 programs and anticipates interviewing at 15.

Discovered Calling While Shadowing Rural Doctor

Racette found his calling in otolaryngology as a first-year student in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Encouraged by his UB professors to shadow physicians during school breaks, he spent his two-week winter vacation observing the only otolaryngologist in his hometown of Saranac Lake, N.Y.

“Once I realized it was an area of medicine in which the physician can provide medical and surgical care to men, women, adults, children, the critically ill and the generally healthy, I could not think of anything more enticing,” he says.

“This defines a notion that I carried with me when I entered medical school: that I wanted my future career to be one of service to all.”

Volunteered at Prison During Gap Year

Racette has been committed to serving others since before he started his medical education at UB.

As an undergraduate at Siena College in Albany, N.Y., he majored in biology and minored in Franciscan service and advocacy. During school breaks, he often volunteered at a soup kitchen.

Racette’s gap year was even dedicated to service. After graduating from college, he moved to Wilmington, Del., where he tutored female inmates and co-facilitated a mental health group for male inmates, among other responsibilities.

“I feel strongly about helping people who are disadvantaged,” says Racette. 

“I think one of the best things I can do is help people who don’t have the same support I had growing up  — and still have.”

Providing Care, Filling Need at Free Clinic

At UB, Racette volunteers at Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic, a nonprofit, drop-in clinic that provides routine health care and preventive services to underserved and uninsured patients.

As one of the clinic’s student managers during his second year of medical school, Racette coordinated logistical operations and insurance for the preceptors and students volunteering there.

His experience led him to present at the national conference of the Society of Student Run Free Clinics in 2015.

“The Lighthouse Clinic is definitely supplying a need to the community,” Racette says. “With each student group, our outreach becomes better and more targeted to finding people who are sick and need our help.”

Volunteering at the clinic has taught Racette to appreciate what he calls “the broader outlook of medicine.”

“When I was there a week ago, three or four patients came in who didn’t have health care coverage, so we brought in a social worker to enroll them,” he says.

“I’ve realized that there’s a lot more to medicine than what happens in a patient’s room,” he adds.

“Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your patients is connect them to someone who can help them in another area of their life.”

‘Role Model’ Committed to Underserved Patients

Racette’s dedication to his patients impresses UB faculty.

“Sam has shown a commitment to improving the quality of care to the underserved and decreasing health disparities,” says David A. Milling, MD, senior associate dean for student and academic affairs.

“With his level of maturity and his inclusive style as a Lighthouse Clinic manager, he has clearly been a role model in these activities,” adds Milling, who nominated Racette for the AMA scholarship.

For his part, Racette appreciates Milling’s wholehearted support of his professional development.

“He has always been there for me,” Racette says. “When I was working for Lighthouse, I would drop by his office on a weekly basis with questions. And he has always steered me in the right direction in terms of career guidance.”

Outside Interests, Outstanding Academics

Racette’s extracurricular activities at UB are not limited to the Lighthouse Clinic. He has also volunteered with Heart Smart, a group that educates elementary school students about healthy lifestyles.

An avid cyclist, Racette trained for an Ironman Triathlon during his first year of medical school, completing it that summer — and raising $5,500 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation in the process.

Despite his outside interests, he has maintained a 4.0 GPA in medical school, an accomplishment that has not gone unnoticed.

In 2014, he was inducted into the James A. Gibson Anatomical Society for excellence in anatomy and, this year, into Alpha Omega Alpha, the national honor medical society.

What’s more, for the past three years, he has received Dean’s Letters of Commendation for academic excellence.

Sudha Garimella, MBBS, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics, describes Racette as an “outstanding scholar” with a strong desire to give back.

“He strikes me as a very personable young man with a great attitude to work,” she says.

“It is a pleasure to see socially responsible, bright people like Sam wanting to make a difference through medicine.”

Pursuing Research with Passionate Mentors

Racette has taken full advantage of the rich research opportunities UB offers medical students.

For the past year and a half, he has been working with Jens U. Ponikau, MD, clinical assistant professor of otolaryngology, to explore biomarkers of inflammation in chronic sinusitis.

As a rising second-year medical student, Racette was one of six students selected for the school’s Summer Research Fellowship. For his project, he researched the role of neutrophils in cancer-mediated inflammatory damage with Brahm H. Segal, MD, professor of medicine.

Racette recalls one incident that perfectly illustrates Segal’s enthusiasm for his work.

“He was reviewing research data, and his face was inches from the projector because he was so excited about the information on the screen,” Racette says. 

“It’s inspiring to me to see faculty who are so happy about what they do.”

Indebted to Med School Training

Racette’s rewarding research experiences at UB have piqued his interest in incorporating it into his career.

“Research is how we change the way we practice and deliver care, so I definitely want to do something to further the field,” he says.

If he chooses to continue on to ENT fellowship training after residency, Racette imagines that he’ll practice in a larger city and conduct bench research in an academic setting. He can also see himself as a rural practitioner conducting epidemiological research.

However his career takes shape, he says he owes a debt of gratitude to the medical school for cultivating his professional interests, strengthening his skills and confidence, and helping him develop his own style as a physician.

“The training here is excellent,” Racette says. “The teachers love to teach, and we receive a tremendous amount of support from faculty.”

“I’ve had a very good experience in terms of my clinical exposure and my education, so I feel very fortunate to be here,” he adds.

“You can do whatever you want to do leaving UB — and be in a position to do it well.”