Alumni spotlight: Drew Tierney, M.D.
Drew Tierney (BS ‘93/H&S and MD ‘97/SoM) first made a trip to Richmond from Baltimore to attend the University of Richmond, but a seminal moment with a take-home biochemistry exam dramatically changed his future plans.
Tierney had always wanted to be a doctor since he was a boy. As one of four siblings from a working class family in Baltimore, he was following in the footsteps of his three older sisters who all went on to graduate college before him. His first years of undergraduate chemistry at UR were not an easy transition for him, and he found more excitement in his volunteer work with the local rescue squad crews. After wrestling with a biochemistry take-home exam one night in the squad house break room, he knew he needed to make a difficult phone call to tell his parents that he planned to pause school. “I’ve had an epiphany. I am not doing well enough to get into medical school, so I am just wasting time and money. I don’t want to be in school right now, so I am dropping out. I can go back to school later,” he remembers reasoning with his mother who answered that evening. Tierney regrouped and moved back home for a short period, earning a few dollars as a bartender and then setting his sights on returning to Richmond.
Buying an old fixer-upper car, he drove to Richmond with a plan to get a job as a paramedic. He took a post with the Central Virginia Ambulance Service (now known as Richmond Ambulance Authority) and worked 90+ hour weeks for the next two years. During that time, he interacted with many of Richmond’s local emergency physicians and got better acquainted with the medical director of the Richmond Ambulance Authority who was also an emergency physician. Tierney admired the experience and knowledge of this group of doctors and as a result knew he would focus his studies on pursuing a career in emergency medicine. He enrolled as a full-time biology student at VCU but continued his work with RAA, living off campus, stacking shifts on the ambulance, keeping a modest lifestyle and a regular diet of peanut butter sandwiches to stay debt-free. He knew he’d made the right choice after just one semester, earning a 4.0 GPA. After two more years of school including summer courses, he completed his undergraduate biology degree magna cum laude and, with good MCAT scores in hand, earned a spot as a first-year medical student on the MCV campus.
As a new medical student, Tierney still planned to pursue emergency medicine, but his third-year clinical rotations made him realize he was suited for a different career path. He focused on general surgery, and stayed at MCV to complete a general surgery internship and residency and held a fellowship in the molecular biology laboratory then housed in Sanger Hall. Leaving Richmond behind, he then went on to complete a two-year vascular surgery fellowship at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. For the past 13 years, he has been in private practice with Vascular Surgery Associates, a group with which he rotated as a resident. “My career in vascular surgery has been incredibly rewarding and intellectually stimulating. Every day I do a job that I love. Admittedly, it is a little on the all-consuming side, but it’s challenging and has allowed me to grow personally and professionally.”
He now knows that the phone call he made to his parents late one night in 1989 was for the best. “VCU was very good for me—much more of a slice of America, very diverse, and a really good education where I felt like I really understood the core subjects. Being so integrated into the city and into regular life was very good for me and allowed me to do what I needed to do to excel academically and succeed at what I always wanted to do.”