PLEASE HELP. . . . .

Hello All, (my apologies as this will be a long post)

I have noticed that you all have very good, honest discussion, with an almost dizzying array of experiences and perspectives. . . . I need some serious advice.

I am a former musician who (after MUCH thought and prayer) has decided to embark upon the path to becoming a physician. I am a professional employee of Columbia University, and decided to look into the possibility of enrolling into their postbac program. Honestly, I knew full-well that my academic history would be an obstacle, but decided ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. I left my informational session quite depressed (if I am to be honest). I am now reeling–wondering if the stupidity and academic ‘mistakes’ of my youth will now come to exact their revenge. . . .

I feel a little background is needed:

I attended undergrad on a full music scholarship to one of the countries most solid music programs [I’ll leave that name out here], and POURED myself into the study of my instrument (tuba). Like many musicians, it became my singular goal and focus, and how I defined myself in the ‘world’. I did all this to the neglect and severe detriment of my ‘general educational’ requirements–making sure that I went to Biology or Chemistry just enough (usually just for tests) to get the ‘C’ or ‘D’ I needed to satisfy the requirement. I graduated from college having been offered a professional residency at a music conservatory, I was also a working, touring chamber musician (brass quintet), and a few years later had been accepted to the live rounds of the International Tuba/Euphonium Competition–one of the most prestigious events in the field. I say this not to boast in the least, but to say that I had reached a ‘professional’ level of skill and musicianship on my horn, and was well on my way to career performing and teaching–just how I had always envisioned!

About 4 years after graduating, however, I began to experience some strange sensations and inconsistencies during practice and performance. It became harder and harder to perform on the instrument, so much so that I had to withdraw from the competition I mentioned earlier (much to the dismay of my coach and the selection committee). I won’t bore you with the details… but to make a long story short, I later found (after a battery of neurological tests and referrals) that I was in the beginning stages of a neuromuscular disorder called Focal Dystonia , a condition that just a few months later would come to consume my ability to perform altogether.

Now the unthinkable had happened! As a musician (and especially one who had experienced as much early success as I had arrogantly become accustomed to) you often don’t recognize the importance of anything else outside of your craft. You neglect (to an extent) becoming a ‘whole’ person with varied strengths and interest. Certainly as a student, nothing else mattered to me (I graduated in 1998 by the way), and this was the attitude I took with respect to my general studies. “They are simply an insignificant burden,” I would often think. I just needed to ‘get through’. . . . I mean, I certainly didn’t need anything else outside of my music, did I? Now, as a more mature 32y/o man, the lessons of life and the traumatic ordeal of losing my ability to play, have matured me and taught me the importance of giving an honest effort and doing well in all things I do, If for no other reason than in doing well, you give yourself options when the ‘unthinkable’ comes along. I always knew this truth but, in the blissful ignorance ignorance of my younger days, I chose not to truly listen.

Now we fast-forward to the present–after years of intense anger and depression over my lost abilities and loss of direction, to finding myself again and really becoming a whole person. I can now (finally) listen to an orchestra or chamber concert without having to leave after 10 minutes–and that IS a good thing. But after a lot of soul searching about where my professional life was/is headed, I decided that the ‘musician’ in me needed more than just to exist in a job to pay the bills. I have always needed to work in an arena where I believed in the mission and importance of whatever it was I was doing, but also I discovered that I needed what I had always craved as a performer and teacher. . . . I needed to challenge myself. Not just challenge myself, but push myself beyond what I thought I could do. I wanted to make a positive difference in my immediate community, and I wanted to be able to impact, in a very profound way, the lives of those with whom I would come in contact. After having a series of frank discussions with my best friend (who is a cardio-thoracic surgical fellow) he simply asked, “have you ever thought about going into medicine?” at which point I laughed [out loud]. I have always respected and admired the work that doctors do and the grueling schedule and academic work, but (even aside from my poor science grades) I had also always had my first love, and nothing trumped that.

With the seed planted, however, I began to talk to more people, and was amazed to find encouragement and support. I eventually found this site and was immediately inspired by everyone’s personal stories and struggles. I began to feel, more and more, that musician to physician might not be as crazy as I had once thought… Then I began to receive my transcripts and take an honest look at where I was academically with respect to admission requirements to postbac programs here in New York; and although I have tried to remain positive, it has been hard to do so as I just feel so inadequate right now, and I’m experiencing something I never did as a musician–FEAR. Fear of rejection and being thought a fool. Fear of disappointment for myself and those who have supported this change in my life’s course. And fear that I simply just might not be ‘good’ enough or smart enough to get it done…and now I feel doubt beginning to creep in and I don’t want that!

I won’t bore you all any longer, so here is the ‘rundown’ on my academic shortcomings:

  • graduated (1998) with @2.7 cumulative GPA (@1.75 science/general requirements, @3.9 music)

  • several dropped science courses (5 if memory serves) during my 4.5 undergrad years

    I welcome advice from anyone who has a similar background/experience to mine, as well as anyone with knowledge or advice on how I could/should navigate this process. I sincerely appreciate your indulging me and taking time to read this. (I will NEVER post this long again, promise!) Take care, All.

  • Adrian

Rule 1: Take a breath.

As a fellow New Yorker (who still has a button that says “What Would Bugs Bunny Do?”) let me you give few a things to get you out of playing the blues and into some major chords…

  1. One of my friends here at OPM went to Columbia for Music, went back years later for the Post-Bacc, and is starting Columbia Med School this week.

  2. One of the first speakers I heard at an OPM conference some years ago was the head of a transplant section at NIH who had started as a professional tuba player with the BSO I think and who went medicine after that.

  3. While this isn’t an easy mountain to climb, you are just starting on this. We all have grade baggage from the past. I personally graduated magna cum barely in my original undergraduate degree oh so many years ago. So all you can do is concentrate on what you can do now

  4. Lots of info on OPM to plan, to think, to approach. So start on a few notes, learn your scales, and soon you’ll be playing a full score.

First of all, welcome…always someone from the horn section!!! (Sorry, just a Letterman thing)

First of all let me post the link to my post on being crazy…its a little further down the page……

Next, personally I am quite impressed by musicians. It’s actually on my list of To Do things in the future but I’ve observed , rather empirically, that individuals trained in music tend to be rather good at academics particularly mathematics and physics. Like I said, I don’t know the link but it’s on my list!

Having said that, after reading your “personal essay”-ish post I really don’t see what the problem is. You have direction, you have the motivation, if you can show the capability, I think it’s an entirely doable task for you.

Of course there will be the academic pressure of showing that you have turned a new leaf and are still in full possession of the mental abilities to succeed academically, in other words, get A’s in your pre-requisites. But then all OPMers have that pressure.

I didn’t read anything about focal dystonia affecting an individual’s ability to process and store information so I think you’re good on that end too!

Stop thinking and start cranking my man!!!

Thank you Guys for the [gentle] kick. I do know this (somewhere inside myself…deep, deep inside myself), but it is good to hear it. I guess I didn’t envision or anticipate simply getting into a postbac program to be much of an obstacle–I thought that came after. . . . Oh well, I just tell myself that I’ll appreciate it that much more when my goals are reached.

It’s funny, with the way I lost my playing, I have after that time, been left with this nagging, irrational fear of losing everything that I really decide to go after. I’m told by therapists who work with musicians affected by focal dystonia that it’s normal to feel this way, but the key is to find ways to not let that fear paralyze you… so, I’m working at it. I believe I’ll get there, but it’s always good to hear of others who have worked hard and made it through.

Cheers to you for seeking a way to overcome your fears and pursue your new dream. Many of us have come to or returned to pre-medical studies by way of other, sometimes completely unrelated, careers.

A couple of observations on your academic past and your future plans: First, the breakdown of your GPA suggests to me that you have the capacity to do extremely well in those studies in which you are truly interested. Second, one of the great things about a post-bac program in pre-med is that it often allows us to do penance for the sins of our academic past. Assuming you don’t have 200+ hours of college credit on your transcripts, you should be able to vastly improve your GPA.

I would suggest that if you are unable to gain admission to a formal post-bacc program, you consider enrolling somewhere that you can do an informal series. That is sit down with a pre-med advisor and a list of admissions requirements for medical schools you think you might be interested in, and plan your enrollment yourself.

Thank you, Charles. I really hadn’t considered structuring my own program of sorts–I just assumed that a postbac program would be necessary for someone like me, but I will definitely explore the self-structured option as well.