Just D.O. It
By Christopher Sutton
Kicking this off with an introduction of myself and my journey in the pursuit of becoming a physician. Right off the bat, I am going to mention that my posts will be oriented in the direction of Osteopathic Medicine and medical schools (DO schools). The application service for DO school (AACOMAS) differs slightly from that of MD school (AMCAS). Most things, however, are universal, and I will not go into any major opposing components in this post. My posts will be able to help both aspiring MDs and DOs.
My name is Christopher Sutton, I am 27 years old and have been working towards medical school for about 3 years now. My interest in medicine came to me in a very progressive way, which I will be happy to explain in further detail in upcoming posts. I will be straight with everyone here because I think that it is important for people to understand that there is no one true path to becoming a doctor and because I want to reduce the stigma that in order to go to medical college you must be a genius and have amazing grades all your life.
Originally, I was not a goal-oriented person. I was uninterested in my future and lived entirely in the present. I chose to take a couple years off from school before starting college. Life was good. I can honestly say these were the best years of my life. Care-free living. No rent. No bills. Just living my life to the fullest doing things that made me happy. Me and my group of friends, at least most of us, were good people at heart, but wow did we push our luck at times. I can count a few instances where we seriously endangered our lives and risked our futures. We can certainly thank a good amount of luck to have come out on top and most of us being as successful as we are today. Anyway, I think it is important for my readers to know vaguely where I came from before reading the rest of this post. It is a real example of what people are capable of and a great disqualifier of so many stigmas involved in becoming a doctor.
This dangerous and rebellious lifestyle would eventually reach its limit. I was involved in a car accident on September 19th, 2011 and presented to the emergency room in critical condition with broken vertebrae, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a concussion. An amazing surgeon fused my spine back together and saved my life with the help of his incredible emergency medical team. Without me knowing it, this is what sparked my intertest in medicine.
I began undergrad at Penn State Behrend, in Erie, Pennsylvania a few months after this incident. To say the least, my first couple years of college were horrible. I was in pain both mentally and physically, and it was slowly eating away at me as I was trying to adapt to this new life. It felt as though my peers did not understand what I had been through and sharing the events of my crash left me feeling anxious and alone.
My world changed so quickly, and suddenly I was not top shit anymore. I was damaged, weak, and surrounded by people much smarter than me. The accident took my freedom away and my academic performance suffered as I became more distressed. These feelings persisted for close to half of my college career.
During my junior year I sought to change things. Thinking critically about my life I developed a plan for self-directed learning and development. I built a schedule, studied differently, began strength training, and pushed myself to be social again. Balance and structure were key to my success. My grades improved and I found a passion for science. That year, I declared my major in the Environmental Sciences, which would pave my path into scientific reasoning by introducing me to the scientific method, research design, data collection and interpretation, and statistical analysis.
Now the ball was rolling! I was hitting the Dean’s list each semester. But it just was not enough to recover my already pitifully low GPA. I graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and a cumulative GPA of 3.12 – not exactly med school material. But I had not even considered medicine yet. I was passionate about environmentalism then and still am now. I wanted to get involved in the oil and gas industry and was focused on jobs related to natural resources. I never imagined that I could be a doctor. I made the same mistake so many young adults do: I wrote off the idea before I even gave myself a chance. In my mind, a doctor was a highly intelligent individual, a 3.8+ student, and a human biology pre-med major in undergrad. But I soon learned that environmentalism was better suited as a hobby for me.
Questioning what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, there was one thought that I could not seem to get out of my head, “How did my surgeon do it?” It was amazing to me that another human being was able to repair me and put me back into normal life. The team of doctors, nurses, residents, paramedics, techs, and radiologists who worked together to give me a second chance were people I would likely never see again, but literally owed them my life.
The idea of healthcare began to enter my mind. This is a good place to put a very important idea: In healthcare, you need to treat everyone equally. Every patient deserves the same level of care, compassion, and treatment, even if it may not seem like they do. An alcoholic who destroyed his liver is just as entitled to a transplant as a mother of three children who has never drank a day in her life. That alcoholic might go back and kill this liver too… or maybe he will learn from his mistakes, better himself and do something great with his second chance at life.
If you asked the people who knew me in high school where I would be today, I bet the last thing they would say was that I would be on a plane right now to Sarasota Florida to interview with one of the best Osteopathic medical schools in the country. You never know what people are capable of and because of that, as a doctor, you must give everyone the same degree of medical justice in practice. It makes you human.
My father is a rural Allopathic Family Medicine Doctor in our hometown of Warren, Pennsylvania. He has been practicing medicine there for 30 years. Who better to talk to about a future in healthcare? As we began to have these conversations, and as my dad began to take me more seriously, he told me about Osteopathic medical school. The more I learned about DO school, the more it connected with me.
Osteopathic medicine, to me, is a revolutionary, more abstract, and even in some ways, a more contemporary approach to healing. Osteopathic medicine is just that, it is healing. In order to heal a person fully, you must attend to all aspects of their being. The four tenants of osteopathic medicine state that a person is composed of mind, body, and spirit; that the body regulates its own health; that form equals function and function influences form; and that effective treatment is possible through a comprehensive understanding of the three aforementioned principles. Peoples’ emotions and spiritual well-being play a large role in their health.
Many DO schools are focused on serving medically underserved communities in the form of training competent primary care doctors. If you want to get into DO school, you NEED to sell the admissions committees on the fact that you want to serve underserved and underprivileged communities. Rural America accounts for a huge portion of this medically underserved population.
I love Rural America and decided that this profession was something I could really get involved in. Life as a rural primary care doctor would let me continue doing the things that I love, such as hiking, snowboarding, kayaking, rock climbing, and camping. Personally, I do not want to live in the city. But that’s just me. And there are plenty of DOs who practice in the urban world as well.
I made the decision to go back to my undergraduate university and take the remaining prerequisite courses for entrance into medical school, do some clinical shadowing and volunteering, take the MCAT, and apply. If only it were that easy... I think this is the point where a lot of people give up. But if you really want something you keep going. That is what makes for a good doctor. If you do not truly want this life, you will not fight to get it. The application process is grueling for just this reason. They want to make sure that the students who get accepted are committed to medicine. And with a failed first attempt, I had to figure out a new approach.
Thereafter, I spent a year in the city of Pittsburgh earning my Master of Science in biomedical science and learning all there was to know about medical school and the application cycle. We were educated by professors and by admissions committee members of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. I completed extensive clinical experience through the University of Pittsburgh's Medical Center (UPMC) and hundreds of volunteer and community service hours. Most importantly, I found my true calling for rural family medicine and what it really meant to be a physician. I also learned to manage my future life as a professional through burnout awareness, professionalism, mindfulness, and self-development. Attending the Biomedical Master’s Program (BMP) at Pitt was possibly the best move I ever made. They coached us through medical school-level coursework and the application cycle which we would soon be entering.
Applications are a nightmare; the more schools you apply to the worse it becomes. I will dive deeper into the application cycle in future posts, but for now, let me just say that I am currently in the heat of it and have had my first of four interviews. Secondary applications are excruciating, and I quickly learned that you must put adequate time aside and start early in order to write good convincing essays.
I also picked up another job in healthcare since graduation at a skilled nursing facility. During my gap year, I am working exclusively with dementia patients on a memory unit, and it is super interesting. I believe it is very beneficial for future doctors to experience the grunt work of medicine as well. I think it is important for doctors to have experience working on the floors, bathing and feeding patients, and even cleaning up feces – yes, I am serious. So many physicians enter the medical field with no experience of what goes on below them. As a doctor you need to be aware of what nurses, CNAs, and other staff members are experiencing in order to make good decisions and benefit everyone together.
I currently have three interviews scheduled, one of which I am on a plane towards right now, and one that I have already completed. Honestly, I never thought I would be at a point in my life where I would be flying across the country interviewing for medical colleges. The way that I used to live and the way that I used to think would have never aligned with my current perspectives. It really is crazy to think that I’ve become this hard-working, goal-oriented and organized person. If I can make it this far, I swear anyone can do it. There is no magic involved. You just need to prioritize what you want in your life, plan well in advance, and take it one day at a time. Nothing is impossible with the right level of discipline and determination.
I hope my story is compelling and I hope that those of you who need the extra push and dose of self-confidence, just like I did, can take the deeper message away from this post. Because I was just like you, probably even worse, and I want to see you succeed and prove everyone who did not believe in you wrong.
Nothing in this world is impossible
Follow what you believe in
Stop talking about change
And just D.O. it.