At a time in everyone’s life, we come to find ourselves in a situation where the music stops, and we must go on.  The unfortunate truth about life is that the unexpected will happen. Some of us learn from it, some of us change because of it and some of us find our life’s calling because of it. The latter was the case for me.  After our dad picked us up from middle school, we spent that afternoon like we had every afternoon that month. We went to the oncology unit at the hospital, where my brother was admitted.



I remember him. I remember the man in the dark blue sarong the same way I remember the lines on back of my own hand. He was hunched over next to a column on a dirty platform at a railway station in Calcutta, India in the middle of the harsh summer sun. His hands were withered, his fingers and toes looked like tiny nubs, and he was completely malnourished and alone. He had opaque blue eyes, as if fog had taken place of his irises and pupils.



I studied insects in college; my favorite insects were the bees (I found them diligent and so helpful to humankind).  One of my favorite classes was about medical diseases caused by insects. My professors noticed my interest in the medical side of things and connected me with a professor who did clinical research. Our work focused on a clinical trial for children with intractable epilepsy and exposed me early on to patient care and patients.


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After excelling in my first semester of organic chemistry during my sophomore year, my professor asked me to undertake an independent project characterizing different chemical compounds with NMR. I spent hours running the spectrometer, characterizing species, and lecturing high school and community college students about NMR. It was invaluable experience. I continued to work hard, and by the end of my sophomore year, I had applied to two National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs. I was selected as one of eleven students in the country to get paired with a mentor at Western Kentucky University (WKU) for a summer of research. My project would use NMR to characterize biochemical reactions between platinum-based anticancer drugs and DNA nucleotides. I would later learn that my acceptance into the program was largely predicated upon my extensive community college training with NMR.

Following the summer, I was offered a research assistantship in the laboratory and therefore elected to transfer to WKU. Transitioning from basic bench research at ECTC to more clinically relevant research at WKU affirmed my decision to continue pursuing medical school. We continued our research, and by the winter we were publishing our data in a peer-reviewed journal. By the following February, it was again time to apply to summer research programs, and soon after I found out that I was accepted into a surgical research laboratory through the German Academic Exchange Program’s (DAAD) Research in Science and Engineering program. I would spend the summer working with surgeons to develop training curricula and modalities to enhance laparoscopic skill transfer to surgeons-in-training. While there, I asked my mentor why their team selected me out of dozens of other applicants from more renowned institutions. She shared that I was the only student who had helped author a peer-reviewed publication.

After another engaging summer of research, I began my senior year at WKU. I knew that I wanted time off between my undergraduate studies and medical school, so along with my mentor in Germany, I designed a new research project that I could use to apply to the Fulbright Student program with the hopes of matriculating after graduation from WKU. I was selected as a grantee, and after graduating and submitting my medical school application, I moved to Germany for what would be the most influential year of my life. The research year was packed with novel work, extensive manuscript drafting, research presentations, and exposure to general and laparoscopic surgery. All this work solidified the fact that I had made the right decision to apply to medical school, and during the fall of my year abroad, I was notified that I was accepted into UK. The following summer, I had a week to reflect between my return to the United States and the start of medical school. Looking back, I could string together my experiences, both good and bad, to see how my unconventional path had led to me walking across the stage at our white coat ceremony.

I was asked to explain what experiences led me to pursue a career in medicine. The answer is that an initial spark in high school anatomy was fanned into flame by the educational and research experiences in which I was fortunate to partake. Looking back, each experience led to the next. Perhaps I would not have been accepted into medical school if I hadn’t received the Fulbright grant. And perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten the Fulbright grant if I hadn’t already done a summer of research in Germany through the DAAD program. We know it’s unlikely I would have been selected to the DAAD program if I hadn’t already had a published authorship, and that authorship came from an NSF REU summer program to which I was selected for my previous NMR experience. I would have never had NMR experience if I hadn’t gone to one of only several community colleges in the nation to have a spectrometer, and I would have never ended up at ECTC if my family hadn’t moved to Kentucky. Of course, my family never would have left Michigan in the first place if it wasn’t for the recession.

Much like the scientific process, where data and evidence are provided with interpretation, this story would be lacking without an application. I have three lessons. The first is that poor circumstances don’t always lead to poor outcomes. Starting at community college without money does not preclude you from going to medical school. Let’s keep in mind that since my work as a dishwasher eight years ago, I have since become an NSF, DAAD, and Fulbright grantee, and anticipate graduation from medical school in a little over a year. The second is that, as my middle school football coach always said, hard work does pay off. There is no overnight event that creates success. Rather, it’s a continuous mindset and work ethic to improve and grow daily towards your goals. The third lesson, and lastly, is that we should always reflect on where we are and how we got there, because we rarely reach our goals without support and opportunistic circumstances. There have been many people and organizations that have helped me along the way and led to my understanding of these lessons, and to them, I will always be grateful.

Like many medical students, my interest in medicine arose during high school anatomy courses. Unlike many medical students, I did not begin my collegiate studies at a university.

I went to high school in a suburban town Northwest of Detroit called Clarkston. It was my junior year between 2008-2009 and the recession and housing bubble was crippling the Detroit economy, causing many, including my father, to lose their jobs. By the beginning of my senior year in late 2009, he found a new job in a location that offered more stability and promise – Elizabethtown, KY. For my senior year, my mom, two of my sisters, and I lived in our Michigan home, trying to show and sell the house in an unforgiving buyer’s market, while my father and third sister moved to Elizabethtown, KY. Knowing I wanted to pursue medical school, I applied to several universities throughout my senior year. The only problem was that I didn’t have an official residence in either state. Since I was graduating from a Michigan high school, I was considered out-of-state for Kentucky universities, while Michigan considered me out-of-state because my family’s permanent residence would shift to Kentucky before I started college. Furthermore, the Michigan Promise Scholarship – a program similar to the Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship – was repealed my senior year due to the financial constraints of the state during the recession. Our house foreclosed and I was faced with a decision to take out loans for out-of-state rates for universities, or move to Elizabethtown and begin college at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College (ECTC), where I was offered in-state rates. I chose the latter.


What began as a frustrating and lonely start to college proved to be one of the most transformative periods of my life. I was working full-time as a dishwasher, while also going to school full-time. It was a dismal time of my life. I resented my job and felt overwhelmed with life, uncertain if I would ever be able to reach my goal of becoming a physician. I acquiesced my circumstances and trusted the words of my middle school football coach, who always said that “hard work pays off.” That was easier said than done, considering the number of family and friends with deeply entrenched biases of community college who were questioning my finance-driven decision to enroll. Difficulty in making friends made me further second guess my decision. All that said, these doubts pushed me to work harder and forced me to focus on my studies throughout my freshman year. I excelled academically, developed faculty mentors, and was awarded several scholarships. By my sophomore year I had found a better job and began volunteering within the local community. I made friends, but perhaps most importantly, I found out that I attended one of only several community colleges in the nation that had a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer. This, I would later realize, was perhaps the fulcrum to my springboard into the scientific community.


Jon is a third-year medical student at UK and is currently undecided on a specialty. He enjoys playing soccer and basketball, cooking, reading, and spending time with family and friends.