Countdown to Commencement: Paul O'Rourke sees the story behind each patient

Graduating UF medical student Paul O’Rourke knew from the beginning of medical school that he wanted to enter a specialty that was very patient-focused. At first he leaned toward pediatrics but changed his mind.

“I was surprised how much I like working with adults,” he said. “I liked hearing their life stories.”

In fact, O’Rourke is establishing a Heroes History Program where undergraduate UF volunteers record the life stories of veterans at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Gainesville. In hopes of fostering a personal relationship between medical staff and their patients, volunteers will write a one-page bio of the patient, which would be shared with the medical staff assigned to caring for them.

UF COM fourth-year medical student Paul O'Rourke. Photo by Jesse S. Jones

O’Rourke will complete his internal medicine residency training at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, his top choice. He eventually would like to go into academic medicine and teach.

Medicine and the military have a history in the O’Rourke family. O’Rourke’s father was in the Army and his parents met on a military base in Germany, where his mother was a teacher. The family moved to Gainesville four years ago from Clearwater, where O’Rourke’s father was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.

O’Rourke’s grandfather was a physician with the Navy during World War II. Later he worked for the U.S. Public Health Service, setting up public health programs all over the world.

An only child, O’Rourke didn’t know he wanted to be a doctor until after his first year of college. He considered everything from teaching to science, but medicine seemed to combine everything he liked.

One of his mentors was Laurence Hood, M.D., an internal medicine physician whom he worked with at the VA hospital last summer. O’Rourke said Hood loves talking about the latest trends in science and medicine with students but also has an incredibly caring demeanor about him.

“His dedication to patients definitely is on a different tier,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke is also known for going the extra mile to care for patients, winning this year’s Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine award, which recognizes outstanding examples of clinical excellence and compassion in students and faculty.

He said when he started working with patients during his rotations, he saw how important it was to be compassionate with a person going through a tough time.

“Just being a good listener can have a lot of power itself.” O’Rourke said.