The generic sounds of a woodblock melody woke me. I rolled on my right side and fished around a wayward pillow to find my phone trapped underneath. I expected to see an alarm clock graphic, but instead a strange number flashed across the screen. I almost didn’t answer. An elderly lady by the name of Dorris from North Augusta had recently been mistakenly giving away my phone number to everyone she knew. I half expected to get in another argument with one of her hearing impaired friends. “No this isn’t Dorris and I don’t know what her phone number is…Yes, the number she gave you is incorrect. You have the wrong number… No, I don’t need lumber. Who said anything about lumber? Number, I said number. Wrong number!”
After a brief moment I realized that the area code was local, and unless Dorris’s network of friends was rapidly expanding, this phone call may be legitimate. “Hello?” I mumbled groggily into the phone, swinging my feet onto my rarely vacuumed apartment floor. A chipper female voice greeted me from the other side. “Hi, I’m from University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. Is this Matt?” My heart quickly ramped up a couple beats per minute, as I tried to pretend I hadn’t just been startled awake at 10 a.m. on a Monday.
“Mmm…yes, this is Matt.” I tried to make my voice sound awake and proper. I may have overshot proper and sounded a little British. I didn’t have time to worry about whether or not I sounded British; the voice on the other end went right into something about the “Admissions Committee” and it sounded very important. I tuned back into the conversation just in time.
“I have very good news. You’ve been accepted to the charter class!”
I couldn’t contain myself. I instantly shot out of bed and darted to the living room. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. I can’t even remember if I said “Goodbye” before I hung up. I slid over the kitchen linoleum, and crashed into the door of Roommate #1. I burst through the door and saw Roommate #1 face first into his pillow, drooling and mumbling in a deep sleep. I slinked backwards and regained my momentum on my way to Roommate #2. I burst through the door and quickly remembered he was at a final exam. Determined to triumphantly enjoy my moment, I headed for the front door. In my mind I was going burst onto my porch like a warrior shouting a war cry into the sun after a long battle. In reality, I got a splinter from our deck instantly after leaving the apartment and I could only muster a silent fist pump. A confused jogger returned the fist pump as he went by.
Backtrack to my undergrad years. Orientation day at Clemson University was an incredibly exciting event. Droves of lost future college kids and their annoyed parents followed around the ever-smiling tour guides. Bouncing from one meeting to other, all I could think about was the freedom, partying and adventures. Earlier that year I had decided I wanted to be a doctor somewhat on a whim. I had no family members or friends who were doctors, but I liked biology and I knew I didn’t want to spend my life behind a desk. I liked the show “Scrubs” and thought “Yeah, I could do that.” I declared my major as “Pre-Professional Health Studies.” When everyone divided into groups by major at orientation, I went with the other students who had the same whim. A gruff looking woman began the meeting by emphatically stating, “Pre-Professional Health is not a real major. It is a stopgap for people who want to go to medical school, but don’t know what to study. You cannot get a degree. I hope everyone knows that.” I nodded in unison with the rest of the students. I had thought I could get a degree in Pre-Professional Health.
Switching majors was seamless and after the allure of freedom, partying and adventures wore off; I began just attempting to survive as a college student with bigger dreams in mind. I loved my new focus in microbiology, but like college the allure wore off. I wanted to study diseases and all the cool microbes that caused them. As it turns out, microbes can be just as boring as vertebrates. Studying bears is cool. Studying cats is less so. The same applies to bacteria, but on a much smaller level. I had fun, but I always knew that I wasn’t learning exactly what I wanted to learn. I was just making it through a steppingstone to something else.
In October of my senior year, I remember sitting in a bar with friends on a Friday night. I got an email alert on my phone. At that point I was obsessively checking emails to hear back from the medical schools I applied to. That night I got my first interview offer. My friends and I celebrated. It almost felt like I l had already gotten in.
Months later I remember looking at my email obsessively refreshing the page. It was a familiar habit but the mood had shifted drastically. I had finished my interviews. I was “wait listed” at three out of four schools. The fourth sent me a rejection letter that I taped to my wall for motivation. I had good grades. I had decent test scores. I had good letters of recommendation. I had all the pre-med activities that were expected. At the same time I knew I had done just enough in college and it was starting to show. Medical schools don’t just want smart, they want smart, hardworking and special. I could hardly prove the latter two. I really felt dejected and I began making half hearted back-up plans. I spent day after day just checking my mail and getting more nervous. And then the call from the USC School of Medicine Greenville saying I was in.
I knew I wasn’t any school’s first choice. In fact, I’m almost a hundred percent sure someone had to decline an acceptance for me to have even gotten a chance, but I also know in a lot of ways that has made me a better student. I know this is an opportunity I can’t take for granted. The more time I spend learning about the medical field, the more I understand that I wouldn’t be happy in any other profession. I also know I wouldn’t be as happy at any other school. I fell into the right profession at the right school and I have a hard time believing that it all came down to chance. The morning I got accepted, I was just relieved to finally be on the path to my future career. If I could relive that moment again, knowing what I know now, I would be exponentially more excited. I definitely would have scared that jogger with some shouting.
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville