Aaron Hollis Palmer
Undergraduate: Walsh University, 2011
Medical School: Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, 2016
Residency: Plans to enter a neurosurgery residency upon graduation
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up aspiring to be a professional athlete. Specifically football. This dream persisted through high school and into college as I was granted an athletic scholarship. It was not until I was given the chance to observe a local general surgeon that my dream changed direction.
I grew up in project housing, so I was never exposed to professional jobs as a youth. We rarely, if ever, went to the doctor; so medicine was never on my radar.
Who or what inspired you?
Like many children, I looked to my father for guidance as I grew up. Though he never graduated from high school, he was always my hero. Even in his later years, when he was battling cancer, he continually pushed me to excel academically. He fought so hard to make sure I was given an opportunity to succeed, regardless of our environment. From his fight with cancer to how hard he worked to provide for our family, he served as an inspiration for me.
What made you decide to apply to medical school?
When advised to pick a major, I decided on a science major purely on the sound of it. It sounds foolish looking back now, but it was my mindset at the time. My college encouraged post-graduate education and, by chance, I was allowed to observe a local surgeon through a pre-medicine program. His leadership, the way he interacted with patients, and performed surgical procedures reminded me of my father and how he served as a pillar of leadership in our impoverished community.
Afterwards, I knew wanted to become a physician, yet I had no idea on how to pursue this dream. It took approximately four years from the day I decided to pursue medicine for me to apply to medical school. In that time, I dropped out of college twice, accepted my father’s death from cancer, and adapted to support myself financially.
No story is exactly the same. I stumbled a lot in my pursuit of medicine, but I never gave up. I just reminded myself that as long as you keep moving in the right direction, one day you will reach your dreams.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
I have been blessed to have had many mentors in my pursuit of medicine. For me, not having any family or friends who are physicians, the process of preparing to apply to medical school was very intimidating. I began volunteering at local hospitals to get my foot in the door and network.
I was fortunate to meet Dr. Raymond Clarke and Dr. Joseph Zarconi, both of whom took an interest in my dreams. They both were actively involved in the hospital’s resident medical education and realized that I would need a mentor to reach my goals. They understood and eased my concerns, but more importantly advised me throughout the process.
Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?
My father, for sure. He was the first person to believe in my ability to excel academically. He even believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.
Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?
I don't think you can take the MCAT and not have any concerns about the process. Whether it be from the different sections, the time restraints, or the overall importance of score, I think it all plays a part in the "MCAT anxiety." I was terrified of the fact that one single test could significantly change the competitiveness of my application. I didn't know it at the time, but after being involved in our admission committee, I realized how important the entire applicant was, not merely MCAT scores.
What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam?
My one tip would be to relax. It does not determine the rest of your life. You are so much more than a score. My advice is to make MCAT preparation like any other priority in your life: Work your best, leave it all on the table and be happy you did your best, regardless of the results.
Did you have any fears going into medical school?
I was concerned that I would not be able to handle the academic rigors of medical school. I soon realized that all my classmates shared the same fear. Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine played such a significant role in providing tutors and endorsing a noncompetitive, collaborative learning environment.
What made your medical school the right fit for you?
Wright State Boonshoft School of Medicine's faculty and alumni were absolutely wonderful. They always made the extra effort to make sure I was as comfortable as possible with the different adjustments necessary to start medical school. Wright State even offered a pre-matriculation program to nontraditional students. This program teaches lectures of anatomy to incoming first-year medical students and acquaints students to the academic rigor of medical school in a noncompetitive atmosphere. I participated in this program the few months before class officially started and I believe it really helped.
As you apply and respond to schools you will find that some schools are more "non-traditional friendly" than others. I felt, and still feel, that Wright State appreciates the diversity in backgrounds amongst its students and provides every opportunity for me to succeed in its challenging curriculum.
What was your first year of medical school like?
While the first year was very rigorous, I enjoyed the new changes in my life. My study habits changed and I became more effective with my time. I established lasting friendships with classmates that I continue to enjoy on my journey to become a physician.
What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?
After stressful tests, I try to spend extra time with my family. They remind me of the support I will always have with them.
How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
I found this particularly difficult once medical school began. The academic pace caught me off guard, and I found myself struggling to keep up. Thankfully, Boonshoft School of Medicine offers tutors who are second year students who performed well the previous year. I requested a tutor and they paired me with a second year student who shared the same study habits and learning techniques as me. My tutor was personally tailored to help me learn the way I do naturally.
Many schools offer tutoring programs like this. However, it is imperative that you realize you’re struggling early and ask for help! With the extra help I was able to excel academically. I found that getting better control of my classwork eased my stresses and allowed me the initial comfort to become involved in extracurricular activities. I soon found out that continuing my interest in things outside of medicine improved my focus when studying.
What did you enjoy most about medical school?
Medical school facilitates multifaceted growth in so many aspects of your life. Many of my classmates come from very different backgrounds than myself. This diversity in my classmates has afforded me experiences such as practicing the German language, tasting Rwandese dishes, and even learning dance moves from Ghana!
Beyond my experiences with classmates, I think a majority of the growth definitely surrounds patient care. Participating in emergent situations, comforting the terminal ill, visualizing the effects of dementia—these all broaden your understanding of the human condition.
If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?
Never, ever give up. There will be times when your situation seems dismal, or impossible. Don't let these instances sway your dreams. Learn to enjoy the journey, whether that means retaking the MCAT or reapplying to medical school. Don't give up!