CHS alumnus granted two Harvard Medical School fellowships

Posted: July 30, 2013

As Roman Gusztak looks back on the many twists and turns of his career path, he’s amazed where the journey has taken him.

Beginning this October, the 1999 CHS alumnus begins Harvard Medical School fellowships in pediatric anesthesia and pediatric critical care.

The journey to Boston began over a decade ago with undergraduate studies in zoology at the University of Manitoba.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll go into veterinary medicine,’” Gusztak explained. “I ended up getting involved early on with research – kind of the academic track and realized, ‘You know what? This is not for me. I feel like my gifts are better suited to helping others – person-to-person contact.’”

Although zoology was no longer his chosen profession, the core classes gave Gusztak what he needed to get into medical school at the U of M. It also prepared him for his work in anesthesia.

“Anesthesia monitoring was so similar to my research project that I was doing in zoology,” he said. “You’re looking at physiology – heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate – all these other physiological variables and you’re able to give a medication and instantaneously see changes.”

As the medical student grew more focused on how he wanted to practice medicine, he also became more focused in his spiritual life. In times of prayer he began to ask God what he should do.

“I felt like the Lord said, ‘Roman, I want you to go into anesthesia because I want to bless the workings of your hands,’” he explained.

Gusztak was granted a residency position in anesthesia, but it required a move to Saskatoon.

“I didn’t want to go to Saskatoon,” he admitted. “I wanted to stay in Winnipeg. I was living in a house with three of my siblings (who were) worship leaders at the House of Prayer we were a part of.”

As he wrestled over the decision to move, he felt God asking him to focus on two things in the five years he would be in Saskatoon – to pursue God and to excel in anesthesia.

“It was amazing,” Gusztak exclaimed. “Within the first week I was there I made all of these friends who knew so many like-minded people. I got instantly connected into a church and into a prayer group. That first year was full of favour.”

During his years in Saskatoon, the anesthesia resident began to feel God impressing upon him to also study pediatric anesthesia and pediatric critical care.

“Pediatric anesthesia – that’s a no brainer,” he said, explaining how he is the oldest of six children. “I’m able to work with kids, but pediatric critical care is attending to the sickest kids in the hospital.”

Gusztak had serious self-doubts about his ability to do pediatric critical care.

Initially he didn’t think he was smart enough or had what it took to be responsible for the care of the sickest kids. Despite his doubts, he applied for and received a critical care rotation in Edmonton last February.

“It was amazing!” he exclaimed. “I just got so much confidence through the staff people saying, ‘Roman, you have what it takes to work in pediatric critical care.’”

The next hurdle to cross was applying for the pediatric fellowships.

“That’s when I went to my program director and asked, ‘What are the top five schools in the States?’”

After considering his director’s suggestions and praying, Gusztak felt he should apply at Harvard for two fellowships – pediatric critical care and pediatric anesthesia. It was a bold request, one that required clearing a few academic hurdles before his application would even be considered.

This step also shook Gusztak’s self-confidence and he fought away fears that he wasn’t up for the challenge.

“(There’s an) intense struggle when the Lord has called you to something and when He has opened up the doors,” he explained. “The enemy is going to throw so many lies, accusations and things to make you waver in your faith.”

With the help of a good letter of recommendation from his program director, in July of last year Gusztak was scheduled for interviews for both fellowships – two eight-hour interviews back-to-back. The young doctor went prepared to “sell himself” in order to gain admittance to the prestigious medical program at Harvard. But shortly into his first interview the whole atmosphere shifted.

“The impression that I got within the first hour was they were looking to woo me and attract me to stay at Boston and not go bike games Kids games somewhere else (for my fellowship),” Gusztak said. “One of the senior professors said, ‘Harvard is like a candy shop and you are a kid visiting a candy shop and whatever area that you’re interested in we can help facilitate you to be the most excellent in your field.’”

That professor didn’t know his interviewee’s secret.

“Little did they know I had not applied to any other school,” Gusztak said with a chuckle. “The only place I applied for a fellowship was Harvard. Part of it was I knew I wasn’t supposed to stay in Canada. The other thing was that I never wanted to go through the arduous process of applying to other schools in the States.”

Two weeks after the interviews, Gusztak received acceptance letters for both fellowships.  He will begin his work at Harvard on October 1st.

As the young doctor considers the swift succession of events in the last year that led to his acceptance at Harvard, he gives credit to the devotion that the Lord had called him to five years earlier in keeping his focus first on the Lord, and medicine second.  This foundation prepared him for what was to come.

“The Lord cares more about our character than our calling,” he said. “Those five years when I was doing residency (in Saskatoon) was all a time of refining of character,” he insisted. “It was so evident that it was the favour of the Lord that got me into Harvard. I couldn’t have gotten in there based on my marks, but the Lord made a way for me.”

He has words of encouragement for others in their own faith journey.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are,” he exclaimed. “It doesn’t matter what your past is like. It doesn’t matter how many failures that you’ve had. The Lord can still use you for great and amazing things. Say yes to Him when He asks you to do things – the small things and the big things.”