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MD Program Meet Student Joe Larwa

Joe Larwa, 2nd Year MD Program Student


Hometown: Perkasie, Pennsylvania
Undergraduate: Drexel University, BS in Health Sciences
Graduate: Drexel University, DPT
Medical School: Drexel University College of Medicine Class of 2021


Can you tell me a little about yourself before you came to Drexel?

I grew up in Perkasie, a small town in Pennsylvania, where I went to Pennridge High School. I played soccer and tennis growing up and had plans to play soccer in college. In my junior year, I sustained an injury to my hip. I had to undergo physical therapy for my injury, which led me to pursue my physical therapy degree. In the process, I realized that it was not quite right for me. I love human anatomy and shadowing physicians performing surgery really intrigued me, which made me want to go back to school for medicine. The injury was a blessing in disguise that ultimately led me here to medical school today.

Why did you decide to apply to Drexel's medical school?

I have a long history with Drexel, attending first for my undergraduate degree followed by my graduate degree. When I was an undergrad, I did a co-op at Drexel's College of Medicine. It was a really great experience and I had the opportunity to meet some of the doctors—one of whom I continue to be in contact with today. Dr. Nandi has been a fantastic resource and he has helped me with pursuing research in orthopedics. Additionally, I like the new curriculum that went into effect last year and how integrated it is. My class is kind of the guinea pig and it was nice to see how it unfolded. It fits my learning style.

What is your relationship like with the faculty?

Every faculty member that I have worked with has been awesome and willing to go above and beyond. Dr. Nandi hosted a Crohn's disease event at Orangetheory fitness which I participated in, and he helped connect me with a student in the year above me who gave me advice on future planning. Another professor, Dr. Hanau, who headed my first case-based learning (CBL) group, has also assisted me during my time at Drexel. She even allowed my little sister to shadow her because my sister is thinking about a career in pathology.

What is your relationship like with your fellow classmates?

It's been great! During my first year, I lived with two guys who I didn't previously know. We lived about a 5 minute walk from campus and we would often invite our classmates over to socialize. At Drexel, each class is broken up into 6 societies and you wind up doing a lot of activities together as a group. For example, my society went to a ping pong place called SPIN. We also have formal events for the entire medical school, which are great opportunities to take a break from your studies and have fun. You get to dress up and hang out with your classmates. For our most recent event, we went on the Spirit of Philadelphia, which is one of the boats that rides along the Delaware River.

Since a lot of the curriculum involves learning things on your own, it's great to know people to bounce ideas off of. My roommate was a biochemistry major, and I know a lot about anatomy since I studied physical therapy. We were able to help each other out because of our different backgrounds. My other roommate was a food science major and knows a lot when it comes to nutrition. It makes for a nice collaborative approach to learning at Drexel.

What made you want to become a surgeon?

There were two big events. The first was the hip injury I sustained and the surgery I underwent. I saw Dr. Bryan Kelly who is an orthopedic hip specialist based in New York City. Getting to see how he operated and how he was able to eliminate my pain and restore my function was amazing, and I wanted to have that kind of impact on people.

The second was getting to hear from surgeons while I was in school for physical therapy. They would come lecture about the surgeries that they perform, since physical therapists would often be important in the recovery process. During those sessions, I realized how fascinated I was about surgery which led me to start studying for the MCAT and apply to medical school.

Are you involved in any extracurricular activities?

I am one of the three presidents of the orthopaedic interest group. I am also on the admission steering committee. We discuss anything involving admission-related things, such as Accepted Students Day, to better serve incoming students.

I also volunteer at the veterans group. During this past school year, a classmate and I started a game night for the veterans every Wednesday. It was a way to help them bond while also enjoying themselves. It was also informative for me. The participants discussed social determinants of health and how things have impacted them. It was rewarding because at the beginning they were not very open with us, but as we continued to attend and show our commitment to them, they really opened up to us.

Can you tell me about the research that you're currently doing?

Right now, I am doing a cartilage study in Dr. Lin Han's lab. We are looking at the effect of a specific proteoglycan on cartilage for osteoarthritis. I am really interested in this topic because I see the future in cartilage regeneration to potentially limit the need for total joint replacements. In order to get there, it is important to understand the biology, biochemistry and biomechanics of how the cartilage breaks down in order to discover ways of regeneration.

Have you had prior research experience?

This is my first basic science research experience. I previously was involved in another research position with Dr. Claire Milner. I was an aide in the gait and biomechanics lab helping PhD students look at various clinical conditions.

In undergrad, I was a STAR (Students Tackling Advanced Research) scholar, and I worked with Dr. Maggie O'Neil in the physical therapy department. We looked at implementing a community engagement program for kids at local YMCAs. We wrote a manual on the process and I was able to interact with the kids and do activities with them, which was sometimes challenging but ultimately really enjoyable.

Do you see yourself wanting to continue to do research as you become a doctor?

I definitely want to continue to conduct research. I think it helps move our field forward, especially in orthopaedics where there are many changes and new developments. Arthroscopic surgery and other minimally invasive techniques would not be around if it was not for research and innovation. It will be interesting to see the next breakthrough in medicine.

What advice do you have for someone who is considering coming to Drexel for medical school?

Find a great friend group, make time for hobbies outside of medicine and be prepared to work harder than you ever have before. Medical school is tough, but I think it is really important to have social interaction and time away from studying, because you can get burned out really easily. I have a good group of friends that I have made in medical school who have really helped to keep me motivated, especially because I was working during my first year as a physical therapist in home care. It was very time consuming but having a social network made my life easier. You really have to work hard. It was definitely a change of pace for me but I could not imagine myself not studying medicine.

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Contact Information

Drexel University College of Medicine
Office of Admissions
60 N. 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

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