Brian H. Williams, MD
Major: Aeronautical Engineering
Medical school: University of South Florida, 2001
Residency Training: Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School
Fellowship: Emory University/Grady Memorial Hospital
Specialty: General Surgery (Residency), Trauma Surgery, Emergency Surgery, and Surgical Critical Care (Fellowship)
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to play football for the Miami Dolphins.
What led to your interest in medicine?
When I was in the Air Force I socialized with a lot of nurses and doctors. Listening to their stories led to my interest in the field.
What made you decide to apply to medical school?
I did not have a sudden epiphany to choose a career in medicine. My decision to apply to medical school evolved over the course of a year or two. I was inspired by the lives and stories of the many medical professionals I knew. Yet, I already had a satisfying career in the Air Force with great opportunities for future growth. Eventually, the calling to pursue a career in medicine was something that I could no longer ignore. I just stopped fighting it and made the leap.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
This was a major career change for me, and I was a non-traditional applicant. Despite that I received overwhelming support and encouragement to apply.
Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?
There was no single person who stood out, but I received advice and inspiration from several individuals whom I wish I could locate and thank now. An obstetrician, who was the spouse of one of my colleagues, was a very important figure. She spent many hours talking about the road to medicine, introducing me to other physicians, and gave me a copy of “The House of God.” Although a little dated, it is an entertaining book considered to be the seminal description of life during internship. There was also an internal medicine physician who imparted a lot of excellent advice and allowed me to follow him on rounds during my free time. Lastly, a dermatologist made a lasting impression when he told me that although the “big money days” of medicine were gone due to the advent of managed care, there was “no more rewarding career than being a doctor.” That sealed it for me.
How did you prepare for the medical school application process?
I purchased an MCAT study guide, completed every question, and read every explanation for the answers; cover to cover!
Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?
I had been out of school for several years, so the thought of taking a standardized test was concerning. However, that motivated me to put in the time to prepare for the exam.
What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam?
Start studying early and, outside of time with family and friends, make it your top priority.
Did you have any fears going into medical school?
I had no fears about medical school itself. But I did have some concern about leaving my comfortable life and career as an Air Force officer. My life as an Air Force was officer was very fulfilling. I was doing interesting and challenging work, was well compensated, and had excellent opportunities for advancement. I also had an amazing group of friends and coworkers. I essentially gave this up to commit to more than a decade of school and training to pursue an unrelated career. I knew it was the right move, but I was still apprehensive about the dramatic change in my professional and personal life.
How did you prepare for medical school before your first day?
I tried to enjoy myself before I started. I had a pretty good idea that my time constraints were about to change significantly!
What made your medical school the right fit for you?
Dr. Marvin Williams and his team in the Office of Diversity were a major factor in my decision to attend the University of South Florida. They made me feel like part of the family during my interview.
What kind of financial aid did you need to pay for medical school?
I was fortunate to pay in-state tuition which significantly decreased my financial burden. I also received several scholarships over the course of my four years.
What was your first year of medical school like?
I’ve heard it compared to trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose. That is pretty accurate. The volume of material you must digest in a short period of time is incredible. You really must master time management skills.
Did you have to change any of your study habits?
I went to the Air Force Academy as an undergrad so the concept of time management was something ingrained from my experience as a cadet. It readily translated to medical school. Medical school requires you to assimilate an incredibly large volume of information in a short period of time. It is impossible to do it all. The experience of a service academy graduate is perfectly suited for this challenge. We spend years balancing academic, military, and physical training obligations. Our schedules are rigorous and tightly maintained. Success is predicated on prioritizing these various obligations, and maximizing the use of your most valuable resource – time.
Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
I participated in intramural sports. If I remember correctly, the medical school men’s team were university champions twice in four years! I also did chart reviews for a couple of research projects. Beyond that, I travelled during my free summers, did my best to maintain my physical fitness, and socialized with friends.
What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?
Exercise, family, and friends. Do not neglect any of it.
How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
I could have done much better. I tended to let medical school trump other obligations. Not exclusively, but more than necessary. That is one thing I would change if I could do it all over again.
What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?
I had a few embarrassing exam scores along the way. I just had to let that go and keep focused on my goal of becoming and MD.
What makes your story unique?
I was a non-traditional medical student. I spent six years in the Air Force as an aeronautical engineer before transitioning to medicine. When I started medical school I had worked in another career and was older than most students. This gave me a different perspective and level motivation about the journey I was taking.
What did you enjoy most about medical school?
The people. Particularly my classmates, many of whom are now lifelong friends.
What surprised you the most about medical school?
How fast it would go by! I blinked and it was over.
Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.
I am an African-American male. There is a dearth of black male physicians, and the numbers entering medical school is declining. That made me part of a unique group from day one. I felt obligated to do well because I felt my success or failure would impact the experience of those who followed me.
Why did you chose your specialty?
I am a general surgeon specializing in trauma surgery, emergency surgery, and critical care. Many now refer to this specialty as Acute Care Surgery. I think it is the most exciting field of medicine. I care for the sickest patients that may come to the hospital. It is exciting, challenging and immensely rewarding. I cannot see myself doing anything else in medicine.
What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?
The road to becoming a doctor is long and challenging, but the rewards at the end of that journey are unlike any other profession.
If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?
You will have to work hard and make sacrifices, but always make time for yourself, family and friends.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?
Do it! You will not be disappointed. The sacrifices along the way may be great, but the rewards are immeasurable.