Thomas Golden loved listening to stories his great-grandmother told of growing up in Ireland. Mixed in with her fond recollections were some grim tales of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, which killed more than 20,000 Irish people. Among the victims were her parents and some of her siblings.
That story sparked Golden’s early interest in pursuing medicine. He remembers wanting to learn about ways he could keep that from happening again.Today, the Bradley Beach resident is a third-year medical student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. His passion for promoting health and battling chronic disease has taken him on volunteer assignments to Central and South America.
Golden is the second Rutgers student to earn a coveted Mitchell scholarship, awarded annually to 12 students nationwide among nearly 300 applicants. The scholarship program is named after former Maine Sen. George J. Mitchell to honor his contributions to the Northern Ireland peace process. It is administered by the US-Ireland Alliance and sponsored by government agencies in the United States and Northern Ireland.
“Ireland, by-and-large, has better indicators of public health than we have here in the United States,” said Golden. “People there live longer and they don’t get as sick. So I was interested in learning why that is the case.”
The program at University College Cork appealed to Golden because it has a specific track in health promotion, the original reason he wanted to study public health.
“They also have faculty who are doing exciting work in terms of assessing the toll that chronic disease takes on the population and devising methods to deal with the burden of chronic disease,” he said.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in December of 2011, Golden spent a half year working as an emergency room technician at a Mississippi hospital. He recalls seeing a lot of people with conditions and problems that resulted from illnesses that had gone untreated for long periods of time.
“In medical school, we learn ways to help people when they get sick,” he said. “And we learn certain preventive measures, but I was interested in studying public health because there’s a real emphasis on devising ways to keep people from getting sick in the first place.”
While medical school is known to be a rigorous four-year program, Golden says it’s becoming more acceptable to take a year off to do research or pursue complementary studies in programs such as business or public health. He expects the clinical experience he is receiving this year to help him in research he will be doing in Cork.
Golden is also looking forward to studying Irish literature and language. The undergraduate English major has a great love of literature and has already taken some Irish language courses at Brookdale Community College near his home.
Supporting Golden’s scholarship application was Cathryn Heath, a physician in the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Group’s Family Medicine at Monument Square practice. Heath directs a series of quality improvement initiatives aimed at improving patient care and decreasing costs. She and Golden started a patient advisory council within the practice to improve communications between physicians and patients, and Golden continues to be an essential part of it.
“He has all the ingredients of somebody who will be an excellent leader for all the changes that are coming in medicine,” said Heath. “It will be exciting to see what innovations he can gather from other countries that we can apply to medicine in the United States.”
Arthur D. Casciato, director of the Rutgers Office of Distinguished Fellowships, says Golden is one of the most articulate scholarship candidates he has worked with in his career.
“Tom has a genuine love of all things Irish because of his ancestry,” Casciato said, “and he has real reasons to attend the public health program at Cork in terms of his career trajectory. I couldn’t be prouder of him for winning Rutgers’ second Mitchell scholarship in as many years.”