When he was a student at WMed, Dr. Eric Edewaard appreciated the opportunities he got to work alongside residents and faculty in the medical school’s Internal Medicine residency program.
It was apparent to him that they cared deeply about educating the next generation of doctors. They were kind, compassionate, and incredibly smart.
So, in 2018, Dr. Edewaard was thrilled when he matched into the program, giving him and his wife the chance to remain in Kalamazoo for at least three more years and continue a journey that began for them when Dr. Edewaard came to WMed in 2014 as a member of the inaugural class of MD students.
“I chose to stay here because I knew after rotating with them that the residents and faculty were excellent, that was first and foremost,” he said. “They are all compassionate and kind. It’s really the people in the Internal Medicine program that are the best part of training here.”
Now, as he nears the end of his residency training in June, Dr. Edewaard will depart with pride and a special distinction all his own – he will be the first WMed alumni to also complete his residency training at the medical school.
“The special thing about Eric is there can only be one first and he is the first and he will always be that,” said Dr. Mark Loehrke, chair of the Department of Medicine and associate program director for the Internal Medicine residency program. “He was the first graduate from WMed to place his trust in our program and he will always be a leader in that way. He will always be one of my heroes.”
Dr. Loehrke and Dr. Joanne Baker, program director for the Internal Medicine residency program, remember Dr. Edewaard as a student and they’ve gotten a front-row seat over the last three years to witness his maturation as a physician.
In that time, they said they’ve been amazed by his growth and his ability to be a quiet leader who has a knack for being a calming presence for his fellow residents and colleagues during moments of challenge or chaos.
“He’s just incredibly patient,” Dr. Baker said. “I worked closely with him at the beginning of his third year as a resident and it’s a new level of chaos. It fills you with pride when you see someone go from that intern year and trying to figure it all out to being able to easily navigate those new challenges.”
As he prepares for the next leg of his journey this summer, Dr. Edewaard and his wife hope to remain in West Michigan where he is eyeing positions in outpatient primary care. In addition to his duties as a physician, Dr. Edewaard said he hopes to incorporate time for teaching medical students and residents.
He said that taking his next step into primary care is all part of his personal and professional growth since he came to WMed seven years ago. The Holland native completed his undergraduate studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids where he majored in biology with minors in music and biochemistry. His love of science drove him to become a doctor as he believed that becoming a physician would be academically fulfilling.
That choice to pursue a career as a physician is one which Dr. Edewaard is grateful for each day. But his reasons – his motivations – for being a doctor have changed now, he said.
“The thing I love more about being a physician is not that I get to learn more about biology or biochemistry, but that I get to build these relationships with patients,” he said. “I’m looking at primary care because it allows you to build those relationships with patients that can last for years and years.”
D. Edewaard said he is confident that his time as a resident at WMed has more than readied him for whatever will come next. He said Drs. Baker and Loehrke, as well as other faculty in the program, prepare residents by embracing the idea of graduated responsibility.
That model, he said, allows him and other residents to learn in a supportive environment where they can team up and collaborate with senior residents, and slowly take on more responsibilities and leadership as they progress through their training.
“I think all of our residency programs here are good but I think the Internal Medicine residency program is a gem,” Dr. Edewaard said. “WMed doesn’t have a big fancy name so I think we might get overlooked from time to time. We occupy a space between small community programs and big university programs but for those who find us, they don’t regret it.
“I think we’re kind of the best of both worlds – we’re small enough that everyone knows your name and we hang out but it’s big enough that we have great pathology and great subspecialists and teachers available to us,” he added.
Dr. Edewaard said the top-notch training he has received has been made even better by the opportunity to live and work in the Kalamazoo community. The low cost of living allowed him and his wife to buy a home after he graduated from WMed in 2018 and they have grown to love the many outdoor offerings in the region, from taking walks at Asylum Lake to trips to the beach towns that dot the nearby Lake Michigan shoreline.
“I think Kalamazoo has a really big heart and it’s a place that grows on you,” he said. “I work very hard not to forget that being a physician here is a huge privilege. The fact that my patients are allowing me to take care of them is a huge responsibility and it’s not something that I take lightly. I’m grateful that I’ve had access to this training and that I get to take care of my patients and get to know them on a very vulnerable level.”
Drs. Baker and Loehrke said they have been awed by the ways Dr. Edewaard has grown and evolved as a leader and teacher during his time at the medical school. Dr. Loehrke distinctly recalled a recent time when he did rounds with Dr. Edewaard and witnessed how he aptly led a team of first-year residents and medical students.
“He gave them clear responsibilities but he also allowed them the space to find and try some things on their own,” Dr. Loehrke said. “That kind of leadership actually takes more confidence than just doing everything on our own. You direct people, give them everything they need to succeed, and then allow them to succeed. Eric does a really great job of that.”