Meet Brent Willobee '12

Feb 4, 2015

by Salma Nawlo | Florida Southern Staff Writer

A Mio, Michigan native and 2012 FSC alum, Brent Willobee is currently an M.D. candidate at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in D.C.  Inspired by “House” and the love for science and medicine, Brent worked hard during his years at FSC to make it into one of America’s top medical schools. We reached out to him to get an inside scoop on how his experience at Florida Southern prepared him for his life’s goals.

 
Why did you choose to attend FSC?
 
I grew up homeschooled in a town that was much too small for me. Therefore, I applied to colleges very far away to ensure that I would get out of that environment. Of the schools that I applied to (various schools in CA, TX, CO, and AZ), I felt that FSC had the tightest knit community of students, but still attracted a diverse crowd of interesting people who challenged me to grow and improve. Also, being an hour away from the beach in both directions and the year-round, near-tropical weather didn’t hurt.
 
Briefly describe your experience within your major at FSC.
 
I originally enrolled as a business administration major at FSC. After a year and a half, I realized that my talents and interests laid elsewhere, so I transferred to the science department and declared biology as a major. The faculty was extraordinarily helpful throughout the entire process. I remember deciding to make this switch during the first week of spring semester in my second year at FSC. As you may imagine, this is a somewhat inconvenient time to drop/add classes because many have already been filled or have pre-requirement courses that students have to enroll in during the fall to even be eligible. However, every individual instructor was very helpful and I was able to get every waiver I needed signed that afternoon and basically rearranged my entire life between lunch and dinner. At any institution, you’ll obviously have instructors with styles you may not mesh well with and FSC is no different. But, I never once ran into a circumstance where a faculty member was not extraordinarily helpful and did not honestly have my best interests at heart.
 
Which professors made the greatest impact on you during your years at FSC?

 
Dr. Morvillo wasn’t yet the chair of the biology department when I was there, but I imagine it has only improved under her leadership. She’s like Ms. Frizzle from the “Magic School Bus.” She has a passion for science and teaching which is infectious. Dr. Morvillo probably has more responsibilities and projects going on at any one time than anyone else at the college, but always has time for students.
 
Dr. Langford: My second career advisor. He spent countless hours with me helping me plan research projects, giving me career advice, or just hanging out. Whoever said it was hard to do scientific research at a small, private college obviously hasn’t met Dr. Langford. His advice and research acumen is a major reason why I am where I am today.
 
What inspired your career path?
 
I knew I wanted to be involved in a STEM field but I didn’t necessarily want to work in a laboratory every day. Medicine is the confluence between the sciences and the humanities, which is the balance point at which I want to be.
 
Tell us about med school.  How do you feel FSC has helped to prepare you for this phase in your education?
 
The courses I took at FSC were appropriately challenging to prepare me to succeed in medical school, but that’s something you can find almost anywhere. I thought FSC particularly excelled in providing me with the kind of one-on-one time with faculty members/mentors, which is impossible at larger schools.  However, the benefits of this personalized approach extend beyond the customized letters of recommendation or faculty-taught classes (rather than TA-taught) and affect multiple facets of my academic and personal life. To put it simply, I felt eminently comfortable interacting with the professional world from day one of medical school because I was doing it from day one at FSC.
 
Are you involved in the community?
 
When I was at FSC, my fraternity’s philanthropy was the North American Food Drive, which helps provide food to local food banks in the chapter’s numerous communities. In the developing world, nutrient deficiency is an even bigger problem and is directly linked to a wide variety of immediate and long-term health issues. It also plays a causal role in a country’s economic prosperity, as children who are unable to consume adequate, nutrient rich meals during critical development stages have been shown to be cognitively stunted later in life when compared against similar controls. So, while in D.C., I’ve worked with a local nephrologist who is connected to an organization called “Kids Against Hunger” to collect and package nutrient-dense meals, which are then sent to various developing countries and regions in the U.S. to combat starvation. The nephrologist has been doing this for much longer than I’ve been here, but since then, the organization has directly packaged and donated over 300,000 pounds of food to various regions around the world.
 
What are your plans going forward?
 

I want to become a plastic surgeon specializing in facial reconstruction. I’m particularly interested in surgery because it requires one to have a degree of medical knowledge comparable to that of a non-surgical clinician, while also requiring a great degree of technical skill that is absent in many other medical subspecialties.
 
What advice would you give current students or young alumni also aspiring to become doctors?
 
The first thing I would say is that if you can see yourself being just as happy doing something else, then do that other thing. Becoming a physician in America is exorbitantly expensive, time-consuming, and stressful.  Having said that, I don’t for a single day regret my choice to follow this career path because it’s also a very unique and rewarding career. My point here is to do your research so you know what you’re getting yourself into. Second, and most importantly, make time to do the things you can’t put on a medical school application. Sure, it’s your grades, research, community service, and MCAT scores that get you the interviews. However, it’s the story about how you ditched your books, drove three hours, and stayed up all night with your friends to see the nighttime rocket launch that gets you the acceptance letter.
 
Admissions committees and future employers already know that you have the academic or technical chops to succeed. What they want to know is whether you are a person they can stand seeing every day for 4-plus years without being bored to tears. For me, the FSC experience was just as much about collecting these experiences as the academic ones.