Mitchell Christian student named recipient of Sanford School of Medicine scholarship

Apr. 19—MITCHELL — A year ago, practicing medicine wasn't on Joseph Tegethoff's radar.

Now at the end of his senior year at Mitchell Christian School, Tegethoff has a spot saved for him in medical school. And it's all thanks to the Sanford School of Medicine's Alumni Student Scholarship.

The scholarship, which selects four South Dakota high school seniors each year, assures Tegethoff a spot in medical school when the time comes without taking the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. It also guarantees him an annual $1,000 stipend for up to four years of medical school and makes him eligible to win an additional $5,000 annual scholarship, also renewable for up to four years of medical school.

"It eases my mind knowing that I don't have to take the MCAT and I have a spot in med school reserved," Tegethoff said. "I can just worry about college and not have to worry if I will even make it into med school. I don't have to worry if all of my work and studying will essentially be for nothing."

The scholarship is a part of the Alumni Student Scholars Program, which is a cooperative program of a number of entities, including the Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota, the Alumni Relations Council and USD and the USD Honors Program.

"Our Alumni Student Scholars Program (ASSP) is an incredible opportunity for South Dakota high schoolers interested in medical school," said Nicole Plesec, assistant director of the Medical School Alumni Relations office.

ASSP is open to students who are in their senior year at a South Dakota high school. The student must have a minimum ACT score of 28 or a minimum combined SAT score of 1240. But the selection process goes beyond academic accomplishments and potential. The committee also seeks out students with personal qualities required of a good physician.

"Joseph was a fun candidate to work with," said Martin Christensen, a local USD alumnus and a retired longtime Mitchell physician. "It's a tough process and those who make it through to the interview process, it shows their desire. Practicing medicine is a longterm committment. "

Though the path seems well paved for him now thanks to the ASSP, Tegethoff didn't know he wanted to be a physician until last year at the end of his junior year. Before that, he says, he planned to be a biomedical engineer.

"I knew I wanted to do something medical. I changed gears a little and decided to go into the medical field and practice medicine because I want to be able to help people and change people's lives," Tegethoff said. "I want to be able to make people's lives better."

Tegethoff says the change in career plans was in part thanks to his mom, Jennifer, who is a pediatrician with the Avera Medical Group in Mitchell.

"Having my mom in the medical field was definitely a huge factor in why I want to go into the medical field and why I want to go into pediatrics," Tegethoff said. "I see how she is able to help kids and help parents with their kids. I want to go into pediatrics, too."

Tegethoff has had some good role models along the way, in addition to his mom. Christensen, who practiced in Mitchell from 1985 until 2019, regularly talks with students about the ASSP and provides guidance to high school students interested in entering the field of medicine. He helped line up a number of shadowing opportunities for Tegethoff, including one with Dr. Aaron Baas, who he spent the most time with. He also got to spend a day with the fire department riding along in an ambulance.

"Marty is a great mentor and has helped me shadow a number of different doctors," Tegethloff said. "He has taught me a lot about the medical field."

In addition to maintaining a 4.0 GPA while in high school, Tegethoff stays busy with many extracurricular activities. Tegethoff has been involved in cross country, basketball and track all four years while at Mitchell Christian.

Tegethoff will attend USD in the fall to study medical biology in the pre-med program. Beyond that, he isn't exactly sure where this journey will take him.

According to Christensen, ASSP's goal is to encourage high school students to consider a career in family medicine with the intent to serve underserved areas or populations within the state, though comitting to practice within the state is not a requirement of the award.

"I plan to practice wherever the medical field takes me, but it would be great to come back and practice in South Dakota, in the community that I was raised in and that helped raise me," Tegethoff said.