Story by Jeannie Stone
Many in Russellville are bursting with pride over the news that four sons and a daughter of our hometown have been accepted to medical school this fall at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock.
Although there are no ticker-tape parades, medals of valor or elaborate ceremonies planned, homage is due Hailey Willbanks, Doug Eddy, Gary Berner, Ian Goodman and Josh Callaway for a job well done. Their story is made possible by nurturing families, dedicated schools, benevolent mentors and active churches. In essence, they represent the best of the River Valley.
Although the five adults attended four different colleges in Arkansas, they all graduated with degrees in biology. Three of the members — Wilbanks, Berner and Goodman — graduated from Russellville High School in 2003, and Eddy and Calloway followed in 2004. The four young men grew up under the influence of Russellville First United Methodist Church; Wilbanks grew up right across the street at First Baptist Church.
As members of the Methodist youth group, Wilbanks, Berner and Goodman participated in at least one mission trip. Those trips to Mexico, through Casas por Cristos, granted them opportunities to build homes for the poor living outside the village of Juarez. Likewise, Calloway served on a medical mission team in college and spent two Christmas breaks repairing and building hospitals in Haiti. These experiences greatly expanded their scope of the human condition beyond the city limits of Russellville.
The material wealth of their own culture proved a stark contrast to the poverty they witnessed abroad.
“I realized how little happiness possessions bring us,” Goodman said. “These people were sitting on the floor of a shack with nothing but faith and each other, and they were happy,” Goodman said.
The memory of a child running to retrieve a bruised banana one of them had discarded in a trash can remained with them. That incident, plus others, has manifested into a common, global-world view.
“It sparked in me a desire to help people,” Eddy said. “We went to help and teach, but in the end, we learned a lot more than they did,” Goodman added.
Closer to home, the students practiced their burgeoning philosophies through volunteer work. Eddy worked in the surgery waiting area of Washington Regional Medical Center.
Berner counseled kids after school through the Boys and Girls Club, served on the Volunteer Action Committee at college and performed community service through the Methodist Leadership Scholars program.
Calloway adopted a little brother through his four-year involvement with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program at the University of Arkansas, and Wilbanks served as president of the college-level civic group Rotaract, donated her time with the River Valley Christian Clinic, and served on the board of the River Valley Shelter for Battered Women and Children.
Eddy agreed. It wasn’t after he had started into an engineering degree that he decided to change his course of study to reflect the admiration he had for Mr. Mathis and his enjoyment of that class.
“Mr. Mathis is definitely the reason I got so interested in biology,” Eddy said.
“I loved Mr. Mathis in high school. He just made biology fun,” Wilbanks added.
“Mr. Mathis and Mr. Lonon really influenced me in my decision to pursue biology,” Berner said. “They were my favorite teachers.”
“They were just great teachers and great guys,” Calloway concluded.
The men mentioned the devotion of their former youth minister Alan Johnson. “He was awesome,” Berber said. Johnson, who has since transferred out of state, mentored the young men in their spiritual journeys.
Spiritual mentoring was not limited to church staff members. “Dr. Berner was my confirmation mentor,” Calloway said. Dr. Berner is the father of Gary Berner. Although a busy practicing physician, the elder Berner found time to nurture a 12-year-old boy’s spiritual walk during the course of an entire school year.
Over the years, physicians in town opened their clinics and operating rooms for the benefit of the students. Eddy shadowed Dr. Steve Killingsworth — an ear, nose and throat specialist — during Christmas breaks.
Wilbanks worked for Dr. Robert May, an orthopedic surgeon, this past year. She assisted him in the clinic as well as in surgery.
“She encouraged me,” Wilbanks said. “But my whole family has been awesome in supporting me in pursuing my dream.”
Wilbanks, who graduated magna cum laude from the honors college at Arkansas Tech University, started out in pharmacy but changed her mind during her sophomore year.
“Family Practice holds the most interest for me because I would be able to do a little of everything, but pediatrics and obstetrics/ gynecology also appeals to me,” she said. One thing she does know is that she wants to remain in Arkansas.
And that is music to the ears of the local medical community.
“Listen, that girl is a hard worker and a go- getter,” Lynn Calloway, a nurse practitioner for the River Valley Medical Clinic, said. “We would be so lucky to attract her back home when she’s finished.”
When she is not working toward her career goal, Wilbanks can be found hanging out with her friends, riding her beloved horses or working out at the gym.
She will be moving to Little Rock early to participate in a pre-matriculation program prior to the start of classes. The program is intended to give incoming freshman medical students a “jump start” on medical school by offering pre-course materials in the medical school curriculum and initiation to the campus, faculty and protocols and procedures.
Eddy was all set to study engineering in college, but the call to medicine intervened. No specific field has caught his fancy, so he remains open to the various disciplines. “My only real exposure was working with Dr. Killingsworth during my Christmas breaks,” he said, “and it was great.”
In his leisure time, Eddy enjoys canoeing, basketball, camping and his family. He enjoys the Arkansas outdoors, but is open to wherever his career takes him.
Eddy, who graduated with honors from the University of Arkansas, is enrolled in the pre-matriculation program and is anticipating his new academic life.
Gary Berner is the son of Dr. Dennis and Virginia Berner. His father is an internal medicine physician, and his mother is a former obstetric nurse practitioner turned Pope County school board member. His brother, Keith, 28, is a doctor of psychiatry and his brother, Dean, 27, is a musician in Nashville.
It is an understatement for Berner to claim he comes from a family of medical practitioners. He is the grandson of a pediatrician and the nephew of a pediatrician. He is the great-nephew of a family practitioner and of a medical economist who wrote the Medicare bill during the Kennedy administration.
Berner loves to read cowboy stories, play soccer, basketball and tennis, play his guitar, canoe and hike.
He plans to join Bailey and Eddy in the pre-matriculation program. Although, he hasn’t decided which of the disciplines attracts him the most, he knows he won’t choose surgery.
Ian Goodman is the son of Dr. Robin and Mona Goodman. His father is an emergency room physician, and his mother is the volunteer coordinator of the Manna House, a community pantry and outreach mission of 1st UMC. He has an older brother, Justin, and two older sisters, Kerry and Jennifer. “Uncle” Ian also has twin 8 month old nephews.
Goodman immediately left for the Air Force’s Commissioned Officer Training after graduating with honors from the University of Central Arkansas.
It took a lot of praying for Goodman to make the decisions leading down this path. “My dad has really kind of pushed me away from medicine a little bit,” he said. “He wanted to protect me, and his concern was that there was so much stress inherent in this career path. I prayed a lot, especially in my sophomore year, but I knew by the time I was a junior that medicine was what I really wanted to do.
“I grew up in a strong missions-minded family. I feel like I can impact others and influence them because of my strong faith. I think I can make a difference,” he said.
Goodman loves soccer, hiking and floating, “and being an uncle,” he said and laughed.
Josh Calloway is the son of Dr. Jody and Lynn Calloway. His father is an Obstetrician/ Gynecologist as was his grandfather, and his mother is a nurse practitioner. He has three younger siblings; Zach, 19, Emily, 15, and Lizzy, 6.
“He could have just as easily chose acting,” his mother said of Calloway’s decision to follow his father’s footsteps into medicine.
Calloway graduated with honors from the University of Arkansas and is unsure which medical path he will take.
“I just want to learn as much a I can, then, I’ll make a decision from there.” Easy-going Calloway is a ball of energy. He loves rock and roll, listening to all kinds of music, watching movies and traveling. Last summer, in fact, Calloway traveled to London with a group from his school and studied at Oxford and Cambridge. The class which appealed to him most was Freedom of Speech. His parents were not surprised when their free-spirited son extended his stay in Great Britain and backpacked alone after the classes dismissed.
“I grew up hunting, and I like anything outdoors,” he said.
He is an avid reader and admits, “I like to learn new things.”
“Will you be staying in the dorm?” “Nah, I’ve got an apartment.” “How about you?”
When asked if they had any concerns, there was nervous laughter.