2YS magazine co-editor comes to medicine from creative writing

January 29, 2015

While many medical students prepare for their medical school journey with undergraduate classes in chemistry and biology, not all students follow the traditional "pre-med" track.

Michael Balatico, a second-year student at the IU School of Medicine, comes to medicine from the world of creating writing. The recipient of a Masters of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Balatico recently served as co-editor of "The Newsletter," a collection of art and written works created in collaboration with the IUSM Creative Arts Therapy Student Interest Group and provided to everyone who attended the inaugural Second Year Show on Jan. 16. The other editor was Nolan Reed, also a second-year medical student.

Michael Balatico, MFA, during a visit to Mo'Joe Coffeehouse near the IUPUI campus. | Photo By Lauren Scheid

"I love language -- its malleability; how words actually sound put together -- as well as the communicative aspects of language," said Balatico, who also holds a bachelor's in literary arts from Brown University. “Before joining IU, I worked as a nursing aide in a nursing home and in a geriatric-psychiatric unit in the hospital. As a writer, I continually found my work focusing on the patient-caregiver relationship." 

The winner of the 2011 MFA Writing Fellowship Competition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Balatico has also published multiple works in small journals, including an honorable mention in the 2010 Short Fiction Competition hosted by Zoetrope: All-Story, a magazine founded by director Francis Ford Coppola that publishes experimental fiction and works by young writers. As one of only 10 honorees, Balatico’s work was selected from among 2,500 applicants by the writer Andrew Sean Greer.

Although medicine and literature may seem like different worlds, Balatico said fiction writing had a big impact on his decision to attend medical school.

"Doctors and nurses are privileged to engage in a truly intimate form of communication with their patients," said Balatico, who ultimately realized his fascination with how caregivers interacted with their patients signaled a deeper interest in the field.  

“When I first went to college, I didn’t like being in the lab and thought I had no interest in ever pursuing medicine," he said, joking his main goal was once to take classes in which he could spend "whole days in the library reading." Later, after completing a course of pre-medical studies at the University of Virginia and participating in the IU School of Medicine Student Research Program in Academic Medicine, his outlook had changed.

"SRPinAM is a phenomenal program," said Balatico, whose summer research experience took place in the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research under the direction of Wade Clapp, M.D., director of the center and chair and Richard L. Schreiner Professor of Pediatrics. "I went into the program with no research experience and came out with the opportunity to seriously apply for a training grant from the National Institutes of Health. Hopefully, I'll get to continue pursuing it (research) in my career or during my fourth year or residency."

Those career aspirations also include a strong interest in pediatrics -- with communication again being a strong motivator for his interest in the field.

“Children are very honest, very genuine. When they say they’re in pain, for example, they're really in pain. And the ability to then help alleviate that pain seems incredibly rewarding," he said. "A lot of people also forget that when you're treating a child, you're also treating, and communicating, with their parent. I'm interested in that challenge."

In addition to writing, Balatico, a native of Tennessee, enjoys rock and ice climbing, playing the violin and rooting for the Tennessee Titans, which he does almost every weekend during football season.

"I'm so grateful for all the experiences I've already had at IU, especially the faculty," he said. "They've really challenged me to develop the skills I'll need as I pursue my goals."