Med school colleagues shun media

BU School of Medicine students said they were busy studying for exams and knew little about their classmate's arrest. BU School of Medicine students said they were busy studying for exams and knew little about their classmate's arrest. (Globe Staff Photo / Wendy Maeda)
By Kay Lazar and Liz Kowalczyk
Globe Staff / April 22, 2009

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As their well-known medical school became even better known yesterday, many faculty and students at Boston University seemed to withdraw from the spotlight, saying they were shocked about having an accused killer in their midst but did not want to attract more attention to themselves or their campus.

At BU's School of Medicine, security officials, on bike and on foot, were plentiful on the South End campus, repeatedly shooing the legions of camera crews and other media off the premises.

Students scurrying between buildings in the drizzle said this is an exam week for first- and second-year students, and many were apparently holed up studying in a library on campus. About three dozen medical students, approached in person or contacted by e-mail yesterday, declined to comment about the arrest of second-year medical student Philip Markoff, who has been accused in the case of a murderous robber believed to have found his victims via Craigslist.

One student who said he was in a master's program at the school explained the reluctance that seemed to be shared by many. "Medical school is very competitive; I don't want my name out there," he said, adding that he was shocked about the news.

A number said they were so busy studying for exams that they didn't know much about the case, except what was reported in the daily e-mail newsletter BU Today. Many said they had not even had time to read that beyond the headline.

Samyuktha Sampath, 27, a Dental School student on her way to a 1 p.m. exam, said students haven't heard much about the case, but added: "It's eerie. We could have crossed paths with him. He was in the medical school, and we go there a lot."

Dr. Karen Antman, dean of the medical school, sent an e-mail to students yesterday morning, warning them to be careful about posting information about Markoff on their personal Web pages.

"By now you probably have heard the sad and disturbing news that a second-year medical student is facing charges in the incident known as the 'Craigslist Murder,' " she wrote. "You may be privy to personal information on this student through social media networking sites and other technologies. Please use caution and discretion in discussing this case on those sites, as anything you post could become part of the media coverage."

Markoff has been suspended from the school as a result of the criminal charges.

A dozen faculty members who teach second-year medical students, contacted by the Globe yesterday, did not return phone messages or declined to comment. "It was a total shock," said one professor who did not want his name used. "He was a fantastic student."

According to the medical school website, second-year students take a set roster of courses, including psychiatry, cancer, and health policy, in March and April.

Beyond the campus, word of Markoff's arrest caught the attention of other medical school students. After a flurry of comments on a national online forum for student doctors, one person identified as a Boston University School of Medicine student urged others to tone down their messages about the suspect and the school.

"Guys, please be sensitive with your comments at this time," he wrote. "It's not an easy time for us at BU right now."

Another person who posted, self-described in the online forum as a BU student, defended the medical school against critics of its interviewing process and competitive atmosphere.

"Everyone . . . trying to somehow blame BU - either its admissions screening or its environment - [is] just being silly," the person wrote. "This kid could have attended any school. Please."

Globe correspondent Elizabeth Cooney contributed to this report.

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