February 20, 2020—It’s been years since Christopher Gross attended a graduate school lecture about the dire, worldwide need for surgical care in low-resource communities, but what he learned remains close to his heart. In fact, the issue helps shape the second-year UF medical student’s plans for his future career as a physician in global health.
“That lecture captured my mind,” Gross says. “The problem that I want to help solve is, how do we expand medical and surgical access to low-resource communities through more robust and efficient training pipelines for physicians and other health care providers?”
At the UF College of Medicine, Gross works toward solving that problem through volunteering and research. He says being supported by the Lawrence M. Goodman Scholarship is akin to receiving a “deeply encouraging vote of confidence” to follow his passions. Students who receive this scholarship demonstrate an interest in medical research.
“Coming from a small town, medical school always seemed like a daunting path. In my hometown, people work in the oil fields or in construction,” says Gross, who calls Wasilla, Alaska home. “This scholarship makes me feel like I belong here. I get the sense that there’s someone in my corner who sees potential in me.”
Gross has long been captivated by anatomy — as a first-grader, he could name all the bones in the human body — but it was his experiences growing up in a rural area of south central Alaska with limited access to health care that seeded his passion for global health.
“I was in high school before our town got an emergency department. The next one was 40 miles away. We have one highway, and if the road was icy or there was a car accident blocking access, you just couldn’t get there,” Gross recalls. “Part of the complexity of life is that by accident of geography, people have different access to resources. I want to be part of a team that’s working to close that gap.”
In March, Gross will travel with 10 physicians and 30 health science students from UF to Quito, Ecuador, as a trip leader with Project HEAL. His team will partner with local physicians and travel by bus to remote villages to provide preventive and primary care.
Gross holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine, health and society and a master’s in social foundations of health from Vanderbilt University and a master’s in medical sciences from the University of South Florida. He says he doesn’t subscribe to the futile idea that American physicians traveling to developing countries are miracle workers on a mission to heal all. What he hopes to accomplish in Quito is far more humanistic than technical.
“We can’t fix everyone’s problems, but we can let them know that they count. I don’t want people to feel forgotten,” he says. “It’s about being a global neighbor. This relationship is bidirectional. We help each other.”
Back in Gainesville, Gross serves on the executive board for both the simulation and neurosurgery student interest groups. He keeps an open mind when it comes to which specialties he’ll pursue, but the need for surgeons, especially neurosurgeons, in many communities across the world remains top of mind.
As part of the college’s Discovery Pathways Program, Gross conducts research within the Patient Safety and Quality Track, which teaches students how to create quality improvement projects that will increase patient safety in a care setting. Gross says no matter the problem he’s tackling, his fundamental goal is simple: “make it better.”
“The premise of the track is, what we have is really good, but how can we make it even better?” Gross says. “There’s a humility in that, recognizing things can always be improved upon. What’s best for the patient is for us to always get better.”