As a junior at Purdue University studying mechanical engineering, I realized I was being called to be a physician. I decided to apply to all the schools in Ohio, my home state, but also to Indiana University.
My first interview was at IU. I had a Fu Manchu mustache at the time because, yes, I was a typical college kid — and I was so serious about getting into medical school that I shaved it off, just on the outside chance I would run into an old-fashioned doctor doing my interview, who might not appreciate my well-groomed facial statement.
The very first question I was asked at the interview was why I was applying to Indiana University. After I answered, the interviewer ignored what I had just said and replied to me, “Young man, you are from Ohio, where there are multiple medical schools. Here in Indiana we have only one medical school. The only out-of-state students we take are geniuses, and you are certainly no genius!” Cross IU off my list.
About one month later I received an invitation to interview at the Ohio State University School of Medicine. It was in February 1974 that I got into my beat-up green Dodge Dart to drive from West Lafayette, Indiana to Columbus, Ohio. I remember the high temperature for the day was below zero. As I drove east on I-70, my car broke down and I was stranded on the side of the road. Thankfully, a state police officer stopped and told me he would drive to the next town and send a tow truck. I was hoping I would not freeze to death as I waited. (Remember, this was well before cell phones were in use).
I was towed to a local garage, where my water pump had to be replaced. There was one small problem: I only had $30 in my wallet, and that was not going to quite cover it. I did not own a credit card, either. I called my parents in Cleveland to ask for help, and they promptly agreed to wire the money. (I’ll bet the millennials reading this don’t even know what that means.)
As I nervously waited for the phone to ring to verify that the transaction was confirmed, I watched each minute go by. It became later and later in the day, until I had finally missed my interview. I called OSU and an empathetic secretary told me if I got there by 5 p.m. she was hopeful she could still find somebody to interview me.
The minutes continued to tick down, and soon it was approaching 4 p.m. I estimated it would take about one hour to get to campus. If I did not leave right now, I might lose my only chance at getting into OSU. As I nervously paced around the small waiting room, I noticed my car keys were sitting on top of a desk that for the moment was abandoned. Both mechanics were in the garage working on the next broken-down car.
I knew my parents would come through with the money, and I also knew my future was slipping away with each minute. I nonchalantly moved closer to the desk, grabbed the keys and sprinted to my rejuvenated car. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw one of the mechanics open the glass door and yell something at me as I sped away. I’m pretty sure it was not words of encouragement.
The moment I arrived, I ran into the building with hair disheveled, praying it was not too late. On the third floor, I found the kind young lady that had talked to me on the phone earlier. “So, you’re the guy whose car broke down. All the interviews for the day have been completed,” she said. My heart sank. Then she continued, “I cannot make any promises, but the entire Board of Admissions is meeting right now behind that door and I will try to interrupt them to see if someone would interview you.”
A moment later she returned with a big smile and said, “The entire board would like to meet you and interview you right now.” I walked into a very elegant room, where about a dozen doctors were sitting at a long table. They offered me a chair and some hot coffee.
The interview began with each physician getting their opportunity to ask me questions. It later occurred to me that as the questions became more and more challenging that they may have been trying to impress each other with their interviewing skills. They slowly but surely destroyed me! I remember one of the doctors asked me why my scores were so low on the MCAT. The MCAT is like the SAT or ACT you take before college, only for medical school. I actually took them twice because my scores were not very good the first time. On the second try I thought I had brought my scores up substantially. I answered the question by referencing my improvement the second time. The doctor curtly replied that he was actually referring to my subpar scores on the second try. Ouch!
Finally, all the doctors had had their chance and the questions stopped. The admissions chairman, who I later learned was a prominent OB/GYN physician by the name of Dr. William Copeland, asked me if I had anything further to say. I stood up, looked around the table at all the doctors and to this day remember exactly what the Holy Spirit directed me to say: “I know that I did not do very well today, but I still believe I would make a good doctor.”
The youngest man in the room, who I think was an administrator because he did not participate in the questioning, put his arm around my shoulders and walked me to the door. As I was about to exit the room he said to me in a whisper, “Don’t give up, there are other medical schools in Ohio.” As I slowly walked back to my car, I didn’t even notice the subzero temperatures as my heart ached. I had blown my chance to get into the Ohio State University Medical School.
Two weeks later an envelope arrived in the mail that was so thin you could just about see through it. My rejection letter had arrived. Despite the fact I had little hope, my hands shook as I slipped the one-page letter out of the envelope. I had to read the first sentence three times before I comprehended what it said. “Congratulations, you have been admitted to The Ohio State School of Medicine Class of 1977.” After reading it multiple times, I became worried that is was a mistake: So, the very next day I mailed my letter of acceptance with a check to hold my place. I figured that they couldn’t back out if they accepted some of my money.
Fast forward to my second week in medical school. Dr. William Copeland, the admissions committee chair, invited all the new medical students to his home for a cookout. I waited until near the end of the party, when there were no longer 10 students surrounding him, vying for his attention. I asked him if he remembered the interview that took place in front of the entire board. With a little smirk he told me he remembered it well. He said there were only two people in the room who wanted me to be a medical student at Ohio State: him and a female oncologist. He then told me that he had a feeling about me, and he would not relent to the other doctors until I was accepted. He basically wore the other board member down until they said yes. He said the pressure to succeed was now on me.
I often wonder where I would be and what would I be doing if I had never been given this once-in-a-lifetime chance. What if the Holy Spirit had not stepped in and guided these two doctors to fight for me? I know one thing: I would not be writing articles for “The Catholic Doctor Is In.” What a blessing it has been for me to be able to share.
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