From Columbia to Springfield to Salt Lake: Tessa Foti’s journey

Tessa Foti

When fourth-year medical student Tessa Foti first started college, she didn’t plan to pursue human medicine.

In her first year of undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri, she entered as a veterinary medicine student. She knew she liked science — especially biology — and loved animals. It seemed like the natural choice. But Foti soon realized it wasn’t for her, and she started exploring other fields.

“I didn't really think about medicine until near the end of my undergrad career,” Foti said. “I knew I wanted to do some work that was meaningful, gave me a chance to connect with other people and was helpful and healing to them in some way.”

Throughout medical school, Foti wanted to experience it all, and she dove deep into as many specialties as she could. When her last two years of study arrived, she chose to go to the Springfield Clinical Campus. It was a little closer to her home in Joplin, Missouri, but it was also nice to get a change of scenery. Foti knew Springfield had many hands-on opportunities, as well as a smaller cohort, and used both to her advantage.

“I knew I was going to be nervous in the clinical setting and afraid to mess things up. I just felt like I might need a little bit of a push to really try some things and get out of my comfort zone,” Foti said. “Maybe I wouldn't answer a question if there were other people I thought might volunteer first, but if I'm the only one there working with the physician, I have no choice but to go for it.”

At the Springfield Clinical Campus, students complete their rotations in CoxHealth and Mercy hospitals and clinics. There aren’t many residents at either health system, which gives medical students more procedural and surgical opportunities. As Foti prepares to enter residency, she says being able to “pick the brains of attendings” and working with them one-on-one has given her more confidence.

“I feel so ready to work both with attendings and in the setting that I normally work in Springfield, but also in that more academic residency structure,” Foti said.

Foti is quick to praise the SCC staff for their support. Besides their assistance in getting all the paperwork together, for Foti in particular, her mentors helped her identify the residency programs and specialties that would let her explore medicine further.

“The staff in Springfield is so amazing and supportive,” Foti said. “Jill Wiggins (Director of Student Affairs) has been so helpful in residency applications. It was a couple of days before our applications were due, and I emailed her with a very last minute, ‘I need some help on this.’ She was able to meet with me to hash out some details and guide me.”

After weeks of waiting with bated breath, Foti learned she will continue her education at the University of Utah Health last Friday, March 15, which was her first choice. She is pursuing residency in internal medicine pediatrics, aiming to become certified in both fields, but has not yet decided on a subspecialty.

“The joke about the field is it's for people who couldn't decide. For me, I definitely fall into that stereotype,” Foti said. “I went through medical school loving all the specialties, just wanting to do it all and care for both children and adults.”

As a Missouri native, Foti looks forward to spreading her wings in Salt Lake City, Utah. She’s never worked in a health system larger than MU Health Care, so she’s eager to experience what an academic health system is like in a capitol city.

“I felt such a mixture of emotions – gratefulness, disbelief – that I got my first choice, and that this moment was finally here,” Foti said. “There’s slight panic at the thought of moving across the country, but there is so much love and support from my family and partner. I’m mostly excited for this next stage of my life.”