But college was more demanding than I had anticipated. High school hadn’t been challenging for me, so when I got to college, I found I didn’t really know how to study. I struggled with chemistry and calculus and only managed a 2.66 GPA after dropping a course. It took lots of persistence, practice, and patience to learn new study habits.
In spite of my academic troubles, I decided to volunteer at the university’s emergency department. On Thursday evenings, I would suit up in a bright red volunteer jacket and run blood and urine specimens to the lab or transport a patient to or from the radiology department. Even though I was just a volunteer, I always tried to listen to the conversations of the doctors and nurses to get a better sense of the “how and why” of patient care and to see if I could make sense of any of the X-rays. The department staff was friendly, but my presence certainly wasn’t vital and I largely went unnoticed.
That all changed one evening when nearly all of the staff were busy caring for two critically injured patients. People were running back and forth, shouting orders, and attending to the two trauma patients. I seemed to be the only one who noticed a pale man in a wheelchair, his face and neck covered in cold sweat, and his right hand wrapped in a bloody towel. The only attention he was receiving was from an aide who had been hired the day before. I had to do something. I pointed the aide to a gurney off to the side, and we got the man out of the wheelchair and into the bed. I performed basic first aid: I laid him flat, raised his arm, and together with the aide, found bandages to get the bleeding under control.
When things calmed down, the attending came looking for me and asked me for my name. I thought I was going to be sent home for my actions. Instead, he said, “Well John, I think you’re going to be a good doctor.”
For a struggling student who wasn’t sure if he could succeed academically, those eleven words had a profound impact. They inspired me. It took another full semester for my grades to improve, but I knew then that I would eventually make it to medical school. And like the staff at the university’s emergency department who supported me throughout my time as a volunteer, I look for every opportunity to encourage struggling students who have a dream.
Dr. John Prescott is the Chief Academic Officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Originally from White Plains, N.Y., he matriculated at Georgetown University where he earned both his undergraduate and medical degrees. While in medical school, he met and married his wife, a fellow med student, and both of them completed their residencies at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Dr. Prescott is board-certified in Emergency Medicine, a former Dean, and has served in his current role at the AAMC since 2008.