Today, I found out that I was accepted into my first choice medical school. I’m completely blown away. I can’t believe I made it this far. I mean, I’ve always thought I was an intelligent guy, but in looking back at my journey up to this point, I realize, I’m actually kind of an idiot. Here’s my story.
I decided to be a doctor. (Why I came to make that decision is a whole different story in itself.) I was 23 and I’d already dropped out of college…well, twice. Art school and business school. Needless to say, the people in my life had zero faith that this outrageous doctor goal would go anywhere. After my second drop out, no one had any reason to believe I’d ever earn an as much as an associates degree. I couldn’t blame them.
And now, not only did I decide to go back to school, but it was to be a doctor. I’ll admit, that’s ridiculous. And on top of that, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I researched medical schools I wanted to attend before even considering an undergraduate degree. I found NCNM (a naturopathic medical school in Portland…a controversial decision that I’ll write about later) and fell in love. It was very disheartening to learn that I needed a bachelor’s degree to even apply! Do you believe that?!
I took a trip to the school I last dropped out of and inquired about getting a bachelor’s degree. I’d gone to school a whole bunch, so I figured I’d be a class or two shy of a degree. Essentially, I half expected to walk out of that meeting with a degree rolled up inside of a cardboard tube. Very wrong. Apparently, you have to consistently take classes in the same subject in order to get one of these so-called “bachelor’s” degrees. Suddenly my background in art, music, finance, accounting, performance and whatever other majors I attempted started to look kind of scattered, as if I wasn’t well versed in any particular subject.
As you can probably guess, I was not only a few classes shy, I was an entire program shy of a bachelor’s degree. I printed out applications for a bunch of schools in California, Portland, Chicago and Hawai’i and got to work on them. There were sections I was confused by, like the section that asked which major I would pursue. I left them blank at first.
It was about this time I was telling friends my plan. I remember a talk with my friend, roommate, band mate and generally one of the smartest people I know. I told him I wanted to be a doctor and I was looking to go back to college. He was slightly taken aback and said something along the lines of, “So you’re going to major in pre-med? And then go to med school? Wow, man, good luck!”
I stared blankly at him for a second before saying, “Pre-med. Yes, absolutely. That’s what I’m going to major in.” Then I ran to my room and filled out that portion of the application.
I was accepted by multiple schools, but I ultimately chose the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. At some point, they called about my pre-med major and told me that it was only a concentration and asked if I meant pre-med biology.
“Oh, of course! Did I forget to write that! Silly me!” but really I had no idea what they were talking about and just didn’t want to look as dumb as I actually was.
These moronic oversights and misunderstandings did not help my case with people who already had little faith in me. I remember going to my cousin’s house where she had some friends over. We were making small talk. I started to disclose my future plans as it came up and there was one particular guy who was really probing. At first he was impressed, genuinely asking about it but there was a point at which my answers were no longer satisfying him. He looked at me and said something I will never forget. He said, “Oh, right. You’re just a total flake. You have no idea what you’re doing.”
I hate him so much. To this very day. Some random guy who I met at a party hit upon my greatest fear and insecurity. And it got me. Of course, I don’t actually hate him. His observation was pretty accurate and my answers to his simple questions were certainly not convincing. I’ve used that conversation as motivation on so many occasions. If I saw him again today, I’d thank him…then kick him in the crotch and tell him to put ice on it.
He’s not the only one that flat out told me that I sounded ridiculous. Many people, including trusted friends would say similar things. This lack of faith fueled me immensely.
Some people would believe the narrative of their friends and family, but whenever anyone told me I couldn’t do it, I was even more motivated to actually do it. The naysayers may have been even more motivational than the short list of people who believed in me all along.
Meanwhile, the plan was actually coming together. I was really doing this. I had a plane ticket to Hawai’i, all my things were in boxes and I was just about moved out of my apartment.
I’d like to note here that those close friends and family who thought I was making a huge mistake were still completely supportive and have continued to be throughout my journey thus far.
When I say my plan was coming together, it was a direct result of the love, support and physical help of so many people and I couldn’t have possibly done it without them. It means so much to me knowing that they openly thought I was making a gigantic mistake but were still completely willing to bend over backwards to help me accomplish my goal.
One friend said, “I think this is crazy. And ridiculous. Seriously, this is so dumb. And you’re going to move to Hawai’i? And totally throw away you life here, and our friendship? This is such a terrible decision. Want me to pick up more boxes on my way over to help you pack tomorrow?”
I think about these small moments often and they mean more to me than I can express. There is a large part of me that needs to succeed because I so badly want to make these people proud. Ok, enough of the gushy stuff.
I found my way to Hawai’i and I hated it immediately. It’s a huge, dirty city. The university was under a stupid amount of construction. It was loud and ugly. I went to see an academic advisor and she told me that essentially none of my previous coursework was transferable to UH. I was starting over.
Every class I needed was absolutely full and I couldn’t register for any of them. The advisor told me to maybe pick some other classes, even though they wouldn’t count toward my major. Thanks.
I’d been in Hawai’i for a week, classes were going to start soon and everything was a disaster. I wanted to get on a plane and go to my parent’s house. All of those people that said I couldn’t do it started screaming in my ears. I heard them saying, “I knew you’d come back, you just don’t have it in you.”
It became painful. All I heard in my head was, “You can’t do it. Go home. Move back in with your parents.”
Somehow, though, it turned into, “You have to do it. You can do it. You’re going to do it. You’re doing it.” I don’t really know why my attitude changed. With the exception of being accepted into the pre-med biology program, I had no successes to convince me that I was doing anything right.
The first day of classes rolled around and I wasn’t registered for a single class. I did, however, have a list of the classes I needed to take, their times and locations. One by one, I showed up and waited patiently until the end of the class and walked up to the instructor and simply said, “I’m not registered for your class, but I need to be.” A few teachers said, “Great, sure. You’re all set!” While others said, “I’m sorry, this class is full.”
Regardless of what they said, for that whole week, I went to every class I needed and repeated my short speech when necessary. Somehow, it worked. By the end of the first week, I was registered for all the classes I needed.
Then I actually realized the classes I was taking. They totally sucked! So freaking boring. Years later, I learned that “pre-med” can be tacked onto any major. I could’ve done pre-med modern dance! But I thought I needed to be a biologist so I kicked, screamed and drooled my way though the program.
Out of boredom, I registered for a separate, full time massage therapy program while still going to UH full time. Not only that, but my classes at UH became increasingly difficult. Oh, what a mess. I was in way over my head. I mostly gave up the idea that I’d ever go to medical school. I didn’t even really think that I’d ever graduate with my B.A. But I continued. I couldn’t give up. My support system had zero faith in me, and I needed to restore that faith. I simply could not quit. I needed to graduate.
And I did. But I didn’t restore anyone’s faith, really. Upon graduation, I was hoping for cards and letters and banners and parties and parades and everyone saying, “You really proved us wrong! Great job!!
I did not get that. Most people didn’t mention anything about my recent graduation and the people that did mention it, said, “Ok. Now what? You don’t want to go to medical school anymore?” No one was really impressed, or at least, no one hinted that they might be impressed.
I completely understand why, though. I only crossed the halfway point, yet I was expecting a champion’s welcoming. I did make it further than most thought I would, but nonetheless, I hadn’t come close to doing what I said I was going to. I had all but given up on going to medical school. I didn’t want to step foot into another class for the rest of my life. I felt like a failure.
A month and a half after graduation, I was invited to talk to a high school class about massage therapy and my education. After the class, a student asked how I did everything that I did. She was amazed. She told me that I inspired her.
Suddenly, I was proud of myself. The fact that my goals were so ridiculously outrageous overshadowed the fact that I really had come a long way. And once again, the honesty of a stranger had a profound effect on me.
I went home that day and began my application to NCNM. I was embarrassed about it for some reason. I spent the next few weeks secretly working on essays and doing all the legwork involved with a med school application. It is a long and tedious process and I was too afraid to even tell anyone I was doing it until much later.
My application earned me an interview invitation, however, I couldn’t afford a trip to Portland. I emailed them an apology, stating that I wouldn’t be able to make the interview. I wasn’t too upset. I was not thrilled with the prospect of going back to school for another 4 years and then the residency that would follow. Sounds like a nightmare, really.
Their response to my email was an invitation to have a videoconference via Skype. I certainly wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity, so we set up a time for the following week. I did very little to mentally prepare for the interview.
The day came and because of the time difference, it was a pretty early interview for me. The admissions counselor called me on Skype and we began our interview. I was interviewed by two wonderful women, one of whom was a practicing naturopathic doctor and faculty member.
I’ve had a handful of auditions and interviews recently (I wrote about many of them in this blog) and there was a common theme among all of them: I was always a little surprised by at least one element of the process. There was always at least one thing that I was unprepared for.
Not this time. For this interview, I was completely prepared. Every question they asked, I had already asked myself. In fact, I’d spent many sleepless nights pondering these very questions. They asked things like: How will you deal with it if your long-time patient dies or you can’t cure them? What will you do if a patient is upset with you because your treatments aren’t helping or making them worse? To name a few.
I spit out deeply thoughtful answers without even needing to think about it. I was completely in my element. By the end of it, it wasn’t even an interview anymore; it was a conversation with people of my tribe. I feel as though they are both old friends.
The interview gave me quite an epiphany. I want to be a doctor. I would be a great doctor. The fact remains that I don’t want to go to medical school. I don’t want to step foot into another classroom. I never want to take another test. But I want to be a doctor. And because of that, I’m willing to do all of these things that I hate. I realize that it’s time for me to grow up. This will not be handed to me and I finally see the beauty in earning it. I’m ready to suffer for what I truly believe in.
So here I am. They have officially accepted me into their doctoral program. There are details to be worked out, but, unofficially, I believe I’m going to defer my acceptance for a September 2013 matriculation.
That gives me one year. One year to entertain my wild ambition. One year to seize every single opportunity. One year to find a way to make a bigger, more profound mark on this world than I’d be able to make as a doctor. And if I don’t find it, then I will enter medical school and I will die before I quit.