The Space Medicine Club at P&S had been inactive for more than two decades, but within months of enrolling last fall, first-year student Henry Philofsky’20 revived the club, for which he is co-president.
“I saw the movie ‘The Martian,’ read the book, and promulgated the book to everyone I knew,” says Mr. Philofsky, who is pursuing a dual MD/MS degree. “That was just the beginning. Then I read ‘Packing for Mars’ and many more books in this genre. I started talking to students at orientation about space medicine. They all agreed it sounded cool.”
Space travel raises interesting medical questions and many don’t have answers, says Mr. Philofsky. “For example, what happens if a person becomes clinically depressed or suffers a life-threatening injury on Mars? It can take more than 20 minutes to communicate with Earth,” he says.
A lot of unique medical situations occur in space travel, and some have led to mainstream medical developments. “I learned from the head of aerospace psychiatry at NASA that the abdominal ultrasound came out of NASA doing an ultrasound on astronauts,” Mr. Philofsky says. “This same ultrasound is now a staple in ERs in the United States.”
The club relaunched in January 2017. The club has hosted an event with Kenneth Kamler, MD, an orthopedic microsurgeon who practices extreme medicine in remote regions of the world from Antarctica to the Amazon rainforest. Dr. Kamler completed his surgical residency at Columbia University Medicine Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Club members also have participated in a conference call with the head of aerospace psychiatry at NASA. For a future event, Mr. Philofsky has been in touch with retired astronaut Story Musgrave’64, who flew on six NASA space shuttle missions between 1983 and 1996.
When asked if he sees himself as a physician for future Mars missions, Mr. Philofsky says, “I can see myself going 19 different directions.” The answer seems appropriate for a medical student who spent two years after high school as a professional ballet dancer, first in Philadelphia and then in Salt Lake City.
After deciding to leave ballet, he enrolled as a full-time student at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was recruited to compete on the synchronized swimming team. After a year there, he transferred to Columbia University and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2015.
“I took a cellular and molecular immunology course with Dr. Solomon Mowshowitz,” says Mr. Philofsky. “That class was amazing. We learned how clinicians think about science in relation to patients. This was the moment when I became interested in medical school.”
He went on to spend five undergraduate semesters doing clinical research in the Department of Neurological Surgery and helped to test patients with normal pressure hydrocephalus. As he built a rapport with these patients, he was reminded of his father, who passed away in 2004, two years after being diagnosed with a neurological condition.
“I felt commonality with these patients, and watching them comfortably walk into the clinic for further testing three months after shunt surgery was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed,” he wrote in his P&S application essay.
But before he arrived at P&S, Mr. Philofsky went off in another direction: health politics. After college, he worked as the western region director on Tobacco 21, a campaign led by the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation that promotes raising the legal minimum age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21. Intrigued by the cause, Mr. Philofsky moved to Oregon and devoted a year to the project. He did much of the early organizing work around Tobacco 21 in Oregon and served as a member of the steering committee of the Tobacco 21 for Oregon coalition. In July of 2017, Oregon became the third state in the country to raise the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21, behind Hawaii and California.
After a year at P&S, Mr. Philofsky says his best adventure so far has been shadowing Marc Dickstein, MD, professor of anesthesiology, during a six-week clerkship at the beginning of the year. These clerkships are integral to the P&S curriculum.
“It was my second week in medical school and Dr. Dickstein surprised me when he handed me a bronchoscope while we were in the OR, says Mr. Philofsky. “He walked me through inserting the scope into the patient’s throat for a bronchoscopy. I wasn’t expecting to be that involved, but it was cool.”
This summer, Mr. Philofsky has yet another project: statistical research into variability in cardiac care and mortality, working with David Vawdrey, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical informatics, and Hojjat Salmasian, MD, PhD, lecturer in biomedical informatics.
“Working with researchers like this is a major part of the reason I came to P&S, and it has been fantastic,” he says.