A biology undergraduate in USC College, Daniel Potter wanted to become a doctor, but found it difficult to volunteer at local clinics or hospitals to gain first-hand experience.
"Half the time, you'd call to volunteer and they wouldn't know who you were and didn't know what to do with you," Potter said. “There was a market; students would benefit from volunteerism and facilities would benefit from the help. So basically, with Trojan Health Volunteers (THV), I put those two things together.”
Before graduating in ’87, Potter established THV, which thrives today under the auspices of the College’s Joint Educational Project (JEP). Each academic year, about 160 student volunteers provide support at area clinics and hospitals from translating Spanish to English, to helping doctors during examinations.
During a recent visit to USC, Potter spoke to a large group of THV participants. Mitchell Lew, a ’83 biology graduate in the College and now a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, also spoke at the event.
“JEP has taken what was a beautiful small plant with flowers and turned it into a big beautiful tree bearing fruit,” said Potter, a reproductive endocrinologist and medical director of the Huntington Reproductive Center in Laguna Hills and Fullerton. “I’m so appreciative of that.”
Potter, who earned his M.D. at USC Keck School of Medicine in ’91, talked about how he decided to become an obstetrician and gynecologist.
“Going into medical school, the only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to be an OB/GYN,” said Potter, adding that his father was an OB/GYN so he knew the demands and personal sacrifices such a profession entails.
But his feelings changed. During the first day of his rotation — a block of time a medical student must spend on different services in a hospital — in OB/GYN, he was walking on the labor and delivery floor of a hospital that has since closed.
“I had barely put my scrubs on and this intern (medical school graduate in his first-year of residency) sticks his head out of a door and sees me.
‘Hey you!’ I said, ‘Yeah?’ He said, ‘Get in here; put some gloves on. What’s your name?’ I said, ‘Potter.’ He said, ‘Potter, you’re going to deliver this baby, I’ve got to go do a C-section.’ I was stuck with this situation. And you know what? It was a beautiful experience. The patient cried, I cried. Everything went fine. It was exhilarating. That, among other experiences during the rotation, made me realize I couldn’t live without being an OB/GYN.”
Potter concluded by telling students to “listen to what you feel.”
“I truly feel passionate about what I do,” he said. “I feel privileged to be able to help people achieve a dream and help them with this very personal and sensitive part of their life. Don’t listen to what anyone else tells you, listen to what you feel. If you do something you love you’re going to be successful at it. If you are able to choose a career that you’re passionate about, you’re already successful.”
Lew, who earned his M.D. at USC Keck School of Medicine in ’87, advised the students to stay in touch with USC after graduation.
“Part of my greatest passion is being part of this university, being part of the alumni network,” Lew said. “I hope that when all of you graduate, you always stay connected to this university because it will enhance your social and professional network no matter what you do.”
After the event, Tammara Anderson, executive director of JEP, said she was pleased the talks generated so much interest. About 70 THV students packed the classroom in Grace Ford Salvatori Hall.
“I wanted students to see what the founder of the program has done with his career,” Anderson said. “I wanted them to get a taste of the journey and see where it can take them.”
Lew and Potter answered several questions from students. THV’s student director Janet Lin, a senior majoring in biology, and assistant director Holly Villamagna, a junior majoring in neuroscience and print journalism, said the talks were encouraging.
“It helps us envision what our future might look like,” Lin said.