Pastor to Premed. 49 yo 1st year Med Student Shares His Journey

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Session 508

This non-traditional student spent 31 years as a premed before achieving his dream of medical school acceptance. Antonio is a 49-year-old first-year medical student who has an amazing story and he shares it with us today!

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

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[01:47] Interest in Becoming a Physician

In 1988, 15-year-old Antonio collapsed at church one Sunday morning due to a heart attack. He was rushed to a hospital and they found no pulse. The nurse begged for him to be airlifted to St. Dominic’s Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi where he got revived. He stayed at the hospital for seven days while they tried to figure out why he suffered that heart attack. During that time, the cardiologist allowed him to follow him around the hospital.

Antonio comes from a military family and grew up seeing men in uniform. So he initially wanted to be in the military prior to the heart attack. So he went to college as a premed biology major. In 1994, he was called to ministry,  took a drastic turn, and went to study theology. He served the ministry, wearing different hats as a minister, musician, associate pastor, and youth pastor. Then he decided he wanted to finish the biology degree, having been three years in.

In 1995, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and eventually succumbed to it, the reason he got behind. Then in 1997, he finally decided to pursue full-time ministry, thinking the science side of things wasn’t working.

Fast-forward to 2006, he woke up one Sunday morning thinking he was not a doctor and went into a very deep depression that just came out of nowhere. He had not thought about medicine for several years and then went into depression for three months for not having gone to medical school. He talked with his wife and she gave him his full support even if they just had a kid at that time. At a bare minimum, he wanted to at least finish his biology degree.

'It's a calling. It's something pulling me to it, and I can't shake it.'Click To Tweet

[08:16] Navigating the Premed Waters – Again

Antonio went to college in rural Jackson, Mississippi, and they would not allow him to finish his credits outside of school. They had a rule that you have to finish your last 30 credits there. He had 18 hours left so he went back to Mississippi to take his classes. He was told that since he had been out of school for eight years, those credits don’t count. None of his science credits counted.

In 2006, he started the four-year journey including two years of science classes. He moved away from his wife and kid and was in Mississippi from 2006 to 2008. He was going to school part-time at night, while he was working in a men’s clothing store. Eventually, his family moved with him in 2008. And because he left biology to go to theology, his grades weren’t so great. When he left, he had a 2.5 science GPA. Although he did well when he went back, he ended up with a 2.85, with a biology degree.

[13:48] Why People Equate Struggle with Giving Up

For a lot of people, it’s the litmus test. If it’s easy, then it means they’re called to do it. But if it’s the opposite, then it shouldn’t be what they should be doing.

'Sometimes when you struggle, that's the test to see if that's really where you want to be and what you should be doing.'Click To Tweet

Antonio says there were a lot of times he doubted what he was doing. He remembers moving from his nice four-bedroom and three-bathroom home into a house that was chopped up into three bedrooms and one tiny bathroom. Then in 2008, his wife got pregnant with their second child.

Although there was plenty of doubt, he clearly understood what the end goal was. It was just to finish his biology degree and see what happens. He knew people had the best intentions. They want to tell you what they think is good for you because they don’t want to see you get into a spot where you’re stuck. And he understood that.

Failure is a Part of Life – We Need to Embrace It

We have to stop perpetuating the mentality that everyone gets a trophy. We need to fail because failure is a part of life. And we need to learn how to handle failure from a very early age.

Antonio also thinks that failure is demonized and people take a hard stance against it. They use that as a litmus test to whether something’s going to work or not. And that’s definitely not the case, as he is a testament to that.

[17:17] Juggling Work and School Full-Time

In 2008, Antonio planted the church from the ground up and they also started a nonprofit youth mentoring program. Because Mississippi was having such a shortage of teachers at that time, he started teaching high school science on an emergency license. He was making $150 a week. Since his wife was pregnant with their second child, she wasn’t working at all. And so, Antonio was still taking classes at night, while teaching school full-time, pastoring full-time, or running the nonprofit full-time. This was all prior to his graduation.

At this point, he still had medical school in the back of his mind. But the end goal was just to finish the biology degree, and then see where it goes. He graduated in 2012.

[20:44] The MCAT Struggles

Antonio remembers taking the MCAT in 1994 and bombing it terribly so it put a dark cloud over him.

This time, he wanted to take a full year to study for the MCAT. That’s on top of him still teaching full-time, pastoring full-time, and running the nonprofit full-time. And since his wife got back to work, it took a little of the stress off. He studied for a year until his father-in-law got sick and he ended up not being able to take the MCAT. His wife was in emotional distress so he had to waive the MCAT for that year.

At this point, his wife got pregnant with their third child. He decided to take the time off to study, with two years of studying under his belt. Yeah. This is the transition from the old MCAT in 2014 to the new MCAT in 2015. So he took it while being prepared for the old MCAT. He never took sociology or psychology during undergrad. Apparently, it was another MCAT bomb.

[25:43] A Fork on the Road

His mother-in-law had some health challenges so Antonio and his family moved from Mississippi back to Arkansas. In Arkansas, he had a Mississippi license to teach so he was awaiting reciprocity, so he could teach there but he found things to be very unsettling. But his license expired so he had to go through the whole Arkansas program to get recertified to teach in Arkansas. He found himself at rock bottom, so he decided to take a job in construction.

A Drive to Study for the MCAT Again

One day, he passed by Barnes and Noble and saw some MCAT prep Kaplan books. He got them and started to study for the MCAT. He was already studying for the MCAT when the principal at his school offered him an assistant principal position. He was told he could go to Arkansas State to get a master’s in educational leadership.

An Option to Take a Master’s Program

Since he needed a recommendation letter, he reached out to one professor from his undergrad. And it turned out that he was encouraging Antonio to enroll in a program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. It was a Master’s in Biomedical Science. His teacher told him it would be a good jumping point to get back into classes and get a master’s degree that will boost his GPA if he ever decided to pursue medicine.

Finally, the professor told him that if he applied to the program, he would write a letter of recommendation that he could use both for the Biomedical Science program and the other program that the principal wanted him to take.

Now, he had to decide which one to take. He decided on going back to the University of Mississippi Medical Center to pursue a master’s in biomedical science. 

The premise of the program was that if you got this master’s degree with a 3.4 or higher and if you’ve already taken the MCAT, you don’t have to retake the MCAT. Then you can apply to medical schools. There’s no guarantee that you will get in but you can apply and you get prioritized because you applied to their program.

And so, Antonio got a 3.4. But this was the year that Governor Bryant decided that the University of Mississippi Medical Center is no longer going to take out-of-state students.

[31:06] Heeding the Call

While doing all this, Antonio was a direct care worker in the CNA program that was licensed through the Mississippi State Hospital there, which is a mental facility. So he had some clinical experience several years ago. Coincidentally, when his mother passed away, he was an orderly at that hospital when she passed away.

'We call it a calling. This is something that you have to do. I cannot leave this world without at least trying to pursue this.'Click To Tweet

And besides his own experience, he didn’t have any hospital context. He was working at a clothing store and working at school. But he still felt the calling to pursue medicine.

Antonio says he had seen a lot of people in rural areas particularly suffering because they weren’t adequately educated about their health. They didn’t have the resources. In some of those communities, unfortunately, if you don’t see someone who looks like you, you don’t have the trust factor. And having seen his mom and his uncles suffering from illnesses, along with this heart attack, all those became his motivating factors.

[34:51] Applying to Medical School

In 2019, he finished his master’s program and retook the MCAT. He didn’t do great but it was a significant increase from 494 to 495. Still not great, but his GPA was trending upward. He also thinks that his age was an advantage for him.

So he decided to throw caution to the wind and see what happens. He applied to eight schools, two MDs, and six DOs. He got seven rejections and one interview at a DO school. He got waitlisted in January, and then by March, he got denied.

He knew he had to do things differently, and he knew he could do better on the MCAT. So he took all four full-length AAMC tests. He ranged between 500 and 507. He also got some clinical experience. He got into a four-month medical assistant program and he studied for the MCAT again. He landed a medical assistant job then COVID hit.

[38:02] Getting All These Different Certifications

In July 2020, he got an email from the school where he got rejected and which was the one interview that he had. They told him they were starting a new Master’s Program in Biomedical Science. At this point, he already has a teenager, a pre-teen, and a six-year-old. Anyway, they interviewed him and got on their waitlist.

He got accepted into the program and at that time, he was working as a scribe at a DO clinic. If you’re a medical assistant with phlebotomy certification, you can make so much more money with the EKG certification. So he did the phlebotomy and the EKG. He also decided to go back to Allied Health School to get his X-ray tech license.

[41:13] An Acceptance at 48 Years Old

Now, 48 at this point, Antonio also developed some relationships along the way. He talked to the director of the program and explained that he was doing two programs at the same time, X-ray tech, and the master’s program. Everything was virtual and since his kids were home the whole day, he was also totally distracted every day. And it wasn’t for academic reasons that he didn’t do well, it was just the environment.

He finished the program and upped his GPA to 3.8. Then he reapplied. He went ahead and put the application in because you can always update your MCAT score later. So he applied with the 495 MCAT and 3.8 Master’s and two master’s programs now. And he’s waiting.

Finally, he has been accepted to the class of 2026 at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine in Arkansas – with no interview and he didn’t need to take the MCAT again. After the interview, he was told he didn’t have to take the MCAT because they accepted him on the basis of a 3.85 GPA. Although his application had the 502 MCAT because he never got to update the MCAT score since he already got the acceptance.

Ultimately, it was 100% worth it! It made his family stronger. And he developed a greater sense of what people need, not just patients, to make it in life. And so, he knows he has more of himself as a person to share with people to go along with what he will have to share in the future as a physician.


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