MURRAY — Murray-Calloway County Hospital CEO Jerry Penner knows all about being an alumnus of Murray State and coming back home to take a position.
In 2011, Penner, a native of Hardin County, accepted an offer to become CEO of the hospital that resides in the place he attended college. That is a big reason he said he not only was comfortable in the recent hire of three new doctors at the hospital, but their Racers ties added to his desire to recruit them.
“In the same vein, it speaks volumes for Murray State and the program they have,” said Penner, who is quite familiar with Murray State’s program and the caliber is possesses. However, he said it was also the fact that those doctors — Dr. Joshua Scearce, a family practitioner, Dr. Austin McCuiston, a pathologist, and Dr. Myra Irvin, a internal medicine specialist —had earned their way to opportunities past their undergraduate times at Murray State.
“Getting into medical school? It’s tough. You’ve got literally thousands of students going for 125 or 130 slots at both (the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky) and rejection rates are really high. Just to get that far is remarkable.”
All three Murray State alums are also natives of far-western Kentucky.
Scearce is from Hickman. Irvin is from Cuba, while McCuiston was born and raised in Calloway County. All three then went to UofL, a highly-regarded medical school that Murray State President Dr. Bob Jackson said has had a strong relationship with Murray State for a long time.
“It goes back 50 years to physicians like Dr. Hal Houston (longtime surgeon) and many others,” Jackson said. “There’s a very good pipeline that has developed between here and Louisville and a heavy percentage of our pre-med students go on to medical school there.”
Irvin is quick to promote Murray State, where she obtained her undergrad studies before going to UofL. She came to MCCH this year after serving as chief resident of the prestigious Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville, Florida affiliate.
“To do well at Murray State, you had to study hard and work hard. They had really good professors there who pushed me and pushed my boundaries, and I did well in medical school because of that,” Irvin said. “You can’t just show up and take a test and expect to do well without preparing, which is how it should be.”
Scearce came to MCCH from Baptist Health Madisonville, where he was part of a rural track program with UofL, designed specifically to expose soon-to-be-graduates to smaller communities. He said that fit him quite well.
“Well, you pretty much know everybody in Hickman,” he said, recalling that he began dating his wife, Shasta, who is also from Hickman, at Murray State. “Yeah and we worked at the E.W. James grocery store together so we had known each other for a long time.
“I had a pretty good experience (at Murray State). They had just built the biology building and I was among the first students to have classes and do labs in the chemistry building. They didn’t have the physics building up just yet, so I had classes in Blackburn and that was OK.”
McCuiston chose Murray State over UK because, back then, he was a standout baseball player.
“That feels like a different person ago. It’s been a while since I was doing that,” McCuiston said, remembering his academic days at Murray State.
“They did a great job and I had a very strong foundation in chemistry and biology and that was one of the things that attracted me to pathology and I relied heavily on the foundations learned in my undergraduate studies.”
After attending UofL, McCuiston got a chance to study at one of the top faculties in the country, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. However, after five years in the big city, he came home to join a pair of students he had come to know well, both at Murray State and UofL.
“I feel blessed to be back in this community,” he said. “I’ve got a daughter who turns 2 on Friday and I’m going to be glad to raise her in a community like this. I grew up on a farm, so I like the smaller-town feel here.”
Penner also said the fact that all three come from this area provides what he believes to be a perfect fit.
“They speak ‘Murray-ese’ when they come through the door and people around here are going to be comfortable with that,” he said. “The sidebar here is that this is a great marketing tool for us but it also reinforces what you have here in the community, which is that the university prepares its students very well and that makes them very competitive.
“It’s just a smart thing for us to find these three gems and bring them back here.”
The fact that Murray State alums came home is also something that pleases the university’s Director of Alumni Relations Carrie McGinnis.
“It is very important for me and I love to see that our alumni had such a wonderful experience at Murray State and in Murray and in Calloway County. That is where they like to call home,” McGinnis said. “I think it’s a great story that needs to be told.
“When our alumni come in as students, it’s good to know that they’ve got a vision of what they could be when they graduate.”