June 10, 2015

Van Wagoner joins Medical Student Services as assistant dean for students

Written by
Nicholas VanWagonerNicholas Van Wagoner, M.D., Ph.D. recently joined the Department of Medical Student Services as assistant dean for students.

In his new role, Van Wagoner helps medical students define their career paths and advise them on what steps to take in order to achieve their goals. He works mainly with third- and fourth- year students as they move forward in their plans for matching.

“My focus in this position is to help students try and figure out what it is they want to do, explore who they think they are and what it is they think they like,” Van Wagoner said.

He plays a big role in helping students through the process of identifying what residency programs might be best for them. This involves things like putting together personal statements, discussing how to have a successful interview and setting specific goals for the future.

Van Wagoner, a native of Utah, earned his undergraduate degree from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah before coming UAB to earn his doctorate in cell biology. He also completed his medical training—including medical school, residency and fellowship—at the UAB School of Medicine before joining the faculty as an assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases in 2011.

 Along with teaching, Van Wagoner has a passion for research. He studies sexually transmitted infections and HIV in at-risk populations with a focus on how societal variables influence a person’s chance of infection.

“I’m interested in not only how people get infected, but why they get infected,” Van Wagoner said. Through his research, Van Wagoner is able to clearly see the scope of highly stigmatized infectious diseases.

While earning his doctorate in cell biology, Van Wagoner worked on a model of multiple sclerosis.

“I remember taking an interesting class where they brought in clinicians, patients and scientists to talk about how their work overlapped, and there was a multiple sclerosis patient,” Van Wagoner said. “I had never met anyone with multiple sclerosis, and I was able to see, albeit on a superficial level, what it meant to have this disease.”

He realized in that moment that he wanted a personal connection with people affected by the diseases he had been studying.

“I thought, I needed to know the bigger picture if I’m going to work on fundamental science,” said Van Wagoner.

He enjoyed interacting with patients in the hospital and realized his focus had to be on patient care as well as research. Today, he still uses that genuine patient connection to drive his scientific interests and he considers education an extension of that. He imparts this idea to his students and advisees.

Van Wagoner is involved with the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and Equal Access Birmingham. He served as co-director of the clerkship for Internal Medicine and currently serves as a faculty advisor for students in the Internal Medicine interest group.

“Their fundamental knowledge is phenomenal and in most cases it’s matched by that humanistic quality,” Van Wagoner said. “It’s a privilege to work with students.”