From Respiratory Therapist to Med Student After Seven Years

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PMY 529: From Respiratory Therapist to Med Student After Seven Years

Session 529

​​Benjamin put his application to medical school on pause for seven years before he found the strength to apply despite feeling nervous and discouraged.

Ben shares his story – the journey that he went on as a parent, as a spouse, as a son, and as someone who got into med school, and is now figuring it out together with a professional wife who has her own career.

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

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

[00:50] The MCAT Minute

The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT.

Hopefully, it doesn’t take you seven years to get into med school like it took Ben as you’ll find out. One of the best things that you can do to make sure that it doesn’t take more time than needed is to plan your time. Plan your prep for the MCAT.

We know that life happens so Blueprint MCAT makes it super easy to adjust your schedule as you go. Sign up for their free account, and get access to their amazing study planner tool. You can tell it when you’re going to take the MCAT, when you don’t have time to study, tell it all of your stuff and it will spit out a customized schedule just for you.

[02:51] The Dream to Become a Physician

Ben says he did a lot of daydreaming about becoming a physician. It took a lot of years for him to materialize and flesh out that dream to become a reality. 

He says, being in medicine and being in healthcare helped him do that.

The Path to Becoming a Respiratory Therapist

Ben started undergrad and was originally a philosophy major. Unfortunately, he says, philosophy does not pay the bills. His nephew had an unfortunate incident where he was intubated and hospitalized in the ICU.

That was the first time Ben had a one-on-one experience with a respiratory therapist. A lot of times, that profession, that career path is hidden behind the scenes. You hear about physicians, you hear about nurses, but the respiratory therapist is not really in the forefront.

With his nephew being intubated, Ben’s brother was grilling the therapist with questions about the types of settings, what was going on, and why such a thing is alarming way too much.

Ben was intrigued seeing the therapist respond in a very eloquent manner, with a great bedside manner that he ended up speaking to the therapist.

Fast-tracking his story, he was able to attend a healthcare conference in the Dominican Republic, and was the associate chair at the time, who is currently the chair of respiratory therapy at Stony Brook University, Lisa Johnson, was part of the trip. They had a conversation and as they talked, he had that switch split in his mind.

Ben ended up doing all his prerequisites in about a year and a half to two years. Something he would not recommend but he did that. He was fortunate enough to be part of the program and graduate.

[06:05] Fears and Self-doubt

At that time when Ben was taking up Philosophy, even though it was something not related to medicine, he was already intrigued with the thought of medicine and healthcare. But for him, the classes were intimidating.

He admits that there was self-doubt, some uncertainty, and first-generation fears. Especially hearing some of your friends say “This class is difficult, avoid this, avoid that.” For Ben, part of the maturity process was realizing that you can handle certain things. You don’t just take other people’s word of mouth. You can take their advice and their perspective but with the understanding that you can make your own.

“Hard work really is a great equalizer.”Click To Tweet

[07:08] Life as a Respiratory Therapist

Ben went down the path to become a respiratory therapist. He graduated and worked as an RT. He was living life.

It was during a stretch of time in the ICUs and the ER when a physician approached him asking him what he wanted to do with his life. He did not know what that meant because, for Ben, he was already living his life as a respiratory therapist.

The physician whom he had a great relationship with gave him some good advice saying that while he’s enjoying it now, he shouldn’t lose sight of his potential.

He saw Ben’s potential more than he did himself. He told him to really think about investing his time and think about advancing his career. He has a lot of potential and there is something that looks like he was passionate about.

Ben was already working as an RT for two and a half to three years at that point. But because he was fortunate enough to graduate from a really good program, in those years in his profession as an RT, he felt that he could have his own in the ICUs and in discussions with physicians.

[09:55] Transitioning from Respiratory Therapy to Med School

When Ben spoke to the physicians who are also his mentors, he did not talk to them about becoming a physician. He was not shooting for the moon about trying to become a doctor.

He was thinking of making a transition from being a regular RT to something more of a supervisory position and working for a company like Philips Respironics and becoming part of their umbrella of RT.

Ben was engaged to his wife now at that time when he decided he was going to pursue medicine. He said his wife, who is also his best friend, is one of those people who invested time and energy in him.

He could not give the specific time or day he told his wife about it but he could distinctly remember taking some classes. He was not a conventional premed. There were some classes he needed to take to even apply and be an applicant.

“Let me just see if I could handle the academic rigor, working full time, engaged..trying to live my life, travel, enjoy this time that I have.”Click To Tweet

The first class he took was genetics. It was a good class in the summertime and he did well. So he thought maybe it was okay, maybe he could do this. In the fall, he upgraded and took organic and took the prerequisites and also did well.

The postbac work was something he did well so he was now looking to transition to a different position and  pursue a master’s degree.

[12:37] Taking Up a Master’s Degree

It was Ben’s master’s degree that made him say he can handle it now. That was when the transition switched. It was a big step and every step of the way, he remembers asking a lot of people, his wife, and his parents if he was just delusional.

He remembers during his master’s degree, the more he was learning academically, the more experience he got in respiratory therapy, especially. He started to envision that he could do this. At that time, he had a lot of autonomy as a respiratory therapist. He was given a lot of leeway to make decisions. Those small moments of hope were something he held on to for inspiration.

He admits to getting discouraged. At that time he had his children coming into the picture and there were a lot of transitions happening in his personal life. He had to find ways to tell himself that this is the real thing that he wants to do in his professional academic life.

[14:39] News About His Transition to Med School

Ben says his transition from RT to wanting to become an MD was something he kept close to his chest. His mentors knew that he was pursuing this.

However, he did not “advertise” it because, for him, there was a high risk of failure. He cannot go telling people he is going to medical school and if unfortunately, he gets a rejection, he will just fall flat on his face.

There were some other respiratory therapists in his department, even outside his department, who knew that he was preparing for a transition. They knew he was doing something to prepare himself to do something big in the future.

[16:00] MCAT Prep

MCAT was difficult for Ben but he prepared for it. He requested to be on the night shift which helped a lot. He also requested to be more in a chronic care setting where it’s not as fast-paced. He can have some downtime to open up his iPad, do a bit of reading, put it down and then do his rounds and still be present with the patients, their families and the physicians.

His master’s degree and his recent postbac helped with the preparation.

The humbling process for him was the CARS section. He says it was horrific but fortunately enough, he performed well. Thinking of the questions and changing the framework on how he was going to approach a question was also challenging for him in the preparation.

It was a lot of sleepless nights for Ben and it took a lot of work. He thinks it still does. But he feels that he has developed a certain sense of resistance to say, “okay, the work has to get done, it’s gonna get done.” 

[17:55] Application Preparation

Ben was in the situation where his job as a non-traditional student was a clinical job in itself. But making his application was challenging because there was a big gap when he was on the actual undergraduate campus and being able to show some of his passion and volunteerism.

He believes it is important to make sure early on to go for career advising. He says don’t plan for a gap year. Hopefully, everything goes well and you get your first round.

“Try to have a plan B that you can utilize your degree and that can easily go into...entry application and get that experience that you need to be a competitive applicant.”Click To Tweet

Ben says he was lucky enough to be in healthcare and that made a big chunk of his application. He was also able to include his time in his undergrad at Stony Brook University, where he did a lot of community service.

He was fortunate enough to do an overseas fellowship as a respiratory therapist. Even within his position as an RT, he had leadership within the department and he got recognition for his performance in certain aspects of healthcare.

He used those small nuggets to highlight his commitment to health care, his passion for healthcare and his patient involvement.

[20:04] Biggest Fear

For Ben, rejection is always difficult but it was ok. He is still going to be a respiratory therapist. He will still have the things he cared about in front of him.

His biggest fear was restarting. 

He was afraid of what the transition is going to look like for his family if his application goes through. His wife was already thinking if she has to leave her job. The actual relocation of a family of four, getting the serious assistance they would need, taking care of the kids and restarting. These make up for his biggest fear.

“That's thinking ahead, but I a husband, a father, I'm sure you know, you're always thinking ahead.”Click To Tweet

Those were the things that he was navigating through the application process.

For Ben, it was challenging. There was a lot of communication with his wife and a lot of encouragement. Even though anybody could say they are superhuman, there are those moments of doubt. Those moments when you are alone having thoughts of “where am I in all of this?” 

[22:34] Conversations with Family

There was a lot of brainstorming happening within his family and extended family. He feels very blessed to have his family, extended family, and mentors because sometimes he needs constructive criticism, for him to hear if he is wrong, if he is stretching himself too thin, and what he was missing.

“Perspective, for me, is really important.”Click To Tweet

For Ben, deciding where to apply meant trying to apply where you can get in and seeing yourself being there. They checked off schools in Florida because they live in Florida. They have family in New York where they can live or move a bit further northeast, the Boston Vermont area. Virginia, and Connecticut were also places they considered. They were checking off locations where there’s family.

If they had to relocate and restart, they were looking at places where they would imagine themselves living. A place with a great school system, where we can potentially buy a home, find a job for his wife, and where in-laws would want to be incentivized to visit.

[24:30] Application Cycles and Interviews

A One and Done

Ben only had one application cycle. One and done. He had a lot of interviews and had a good application cycle. He says he was fortunate to say “no” to a couple of them at a certain point in time.

He recalls during one of his interviews, he was asked “Why not PA or MP?” and he said he will be happier as a medical student than a nurse or anything else. That he just wants to be a medical student and he thinks that’s going to be his happy place. He did not like his answer, he regrets that but that was his answer.

Leaning Into Patient Care

What he really wanted was patient care in a way that he can incorporate the health care team. He started the healthcare team from the back seat. He wants to be able to take care of the healthcare team at the front.

“Seeing the different roles in medicine… I want to have the most impact on patient outcomes” Click To Tweet

His RT experience came up but not as much as he thought. It was more about who he is as a person, why now, why at this age, and what drives him. He spoke more about his family and his children as his inspiration and spoke about his wife.

The Biggest Regret

A lot of the time, Ben would think if he could have done it sooner. But if he is being honest, he also was not ready earlier. He does not consider it his biggest regret but something he wishes he could have done because he sees his classmates and they are 22 right out of college and they are in.

Getting His First Acceptance

When Ben found out that he was accepted, he said it was very exciting. He was in a bit of shock, a bit numb, and not knowing how to feel. But it was a lot of excitement and a lot of peace. And then realizing that it was happening, automatically he was thinking how he is going to relocate, and what is next. To him, it was like a ramp-up.

[28:50] First Few Weeks of Transition to Med School

Ben says managing full-time work with school, prepared him for medical school. He feels he developed good work habits and study habits. He was persistent enough with his schoolwork that he feels can hopefully get him through to the end. It made him feel relaxed, not having to work and just focus on school and his family. Focusing on school for him was a bit of a relief.

[30:16] Being a Parent while in Med School

A lot of parents who are in medical school think that being a parent is actually an asset. They say it forces you to have the time you have on campus to be the most effective time because you want to get home to your kids and to your spouse.

For Ben, being more organized and more effective so he can have family time, is something that he has not yet mastered. He tries to be home by dinnertime but during the first semester, he thought it was something he could not do.

He had to restructure in a way that he is home by bedtime for his kids. Still, it fluctuates depending on the block of the semester he was in. Squeezing in all that time is the part that has been hard on him. He takes the weekend to do that.

There is something called the “golden weekend” where after you are done with exams, you have that stretch of time. Ben takes that time very seriously. He tries to leave from where they are now and visit some other places. They relax and take some time. He takes some free time for his wife. But he admits that he has not been good at that.

“That’s the one part where I'm trying to be better...being home at a certain time and it's very, very difficult.”Click To Tweet

[32:00] Final Words of Wisdom

'All your life experiences are very valuable. Don't discount that.”Click To Tweet

Ben says that the resilience and the work ethic you develop in your nontrad years, as a parent or whatever role, would be vital and essential for your pre-application process and going forward.

Don’t give up hope. Don’t give up the dream. It is there within your reach. Just keep going forward.