Defining Moment One: Janko was dead. The 73-year-old man had flatlined during a routine
hip replacement and, after 20 minutes of unsuccessful resuscitation attempts, doctors were
somberly filing out of the surgery.
Union junior Henry Michtalik, then a mere 17-year-old intern observing the procedure at
a small Slovakian hospital, rushed into the anteroom and in front of the whole operating
team angrily denounced the chief surgeon for not doing more.
Silence. Stunned looks. The room emptied. “OK, now here's a thinking
moment,” recalls Michtalik with some terror. “I'm about to hear every curse
word there is in Slovak, from the man who is in charge of my internship.”
What he heard were not curses, but six words he will never forget: “But you
don't have managed care.”
“That was my first exposure to rationed health care,” he recalls. “And
Janko put a face to it.”
Defining Moment Two: Nine years earlier, at the same Slovakian hospital, a very
frightened 8-year-old Michtalik had been wheeled in for an emergency appendectomy. Two
days before, on the eve of a trip to visit his relatives in the former Czechoslovakia,
American doctors had assured Henry and his mother that the pain in his belly was just a
bad case of indigestion.
“I was only 8 years old, but there I was, angry at the American healthcare system
for overlooking my condition and completely fascinated by the Slovak healthcare
system,” he said. “I was always told the U.S. had the best healthcare in the
world, but why did this happen to me?”
Michtalik calls those two events Janko's death and his appendectomy
the “defining moments” that steered the bio-chem major toward a career in which
he can promote national healthcare policy for the U.S. “I saw that although the
Slovak technology was very limited, everyone received healthcare without any worries. If
they can accomplish national health care even with limited technology, why can't we?
That's when I knew I would like to pursue a career in medicine.”
Michtalik has also cultivated an interest in law, spurred by his participation during
high school in mock trials. He also plans to earn a law degree. With an unusual M.D.-J.D.
combination, he says he will be especially suited for a career as a policy maker with an
agency such as Health and Human Services. But, he says, he will always want to practice
medicine to “get a balance.”
He will be interviewed March 17 as a finalist for the Truman Fellowship, a graduate
school scholarship for students with outstanding leadership potential who plan to pursue
careers in government or public service.
At only 19, Michtalik, a native of Middletown, N.Y., is in his third year at Union; he
began college a year early, having fulfilled his high school graduation requirements in
his junior year. Next year, he starts his first year at Albany Medical College under the
accelerated joint-degree program with Union. He plans to do two years of medical school,
take a two-year break to earn a law degree, and then return to med school for two more
years of clinical training.
Having been through his own billing hassles recently with a health insurance firm,
Michtalik is especially keen to do what he can to promote a national healthcare program.
“How are we in the U.S., with all our technology, not able to organize a system of
national healthcare?” he asks. “I see another window of opportunity for national
healthcare. Physicians as much as patients are going to push for it.”