Local student pursues unique path to med schoolWritten by Holly Tuey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Shermaine Hutchins is not what you would call an average student. Currently in his second year at Owens Community College, the 38-year-old has some hefty goals.
It began when Hutchins felt his career as a radio DJ coming to a close.
“Urban radio has an expiration date. I didn’t want to become the ‘old guy,’” he said.
As he examined his life, Hutchins said the health care field was a natural fit because he had spent time as a medic in the military. He decided to pursue a nursing career.
“Different individuals asked me why I was limiting myself with nursing, no offense to nurses,” he said. “The answer was that it’s easier.”
Yet the idea of pushing himself further with medical school got into his head. Why not consider it?
“Unfortunately, because there’s such a lack of African-American physicians out there, most African-Americans look at it as impossible,” he said.
Not Hutchins. He sat down with his wife to discuss it, and he came up with a plan. His first step was to get any job at a hospital. When he couldn’t land a position at ProMedica St. Luke’s, he became a volunteer. He volunteered in the emergency room, where he observed procedures and developed relationships with doctors, nurses and administrators. He continued to turn in job applications each month, and was eventually hired as a cardiac technician.
As for education, Hutchins chose Owens because it was the least expensive option for him. His plan there was to get the best grades possible and earn scholarships.
So far, so good. He received the Granting Access in Math & Science Scholarship, which pays for his Owens education as well as for Bowling Green State University, where he has been accepted to attend next year.
Next came research. Hutchins said in order to get into med school, students need to participate in research and enrichment programs. Owens doesn’t offer the ones he needs so he applied to programs in the area: The Ohio State University, University of Toledo, University of Michigan. But once again, someone was there to ask him, “Why are you limiting yourself?”
This time it was Owens Honors Program Director Russell Bodi. Bodi asked Hutchins why he wasn’t applying to summer programs at Yale or Harvard.
“Don’t you realize how hard the road is already?” Hutchins said.
But he applied to a Yale enrichment program, just so he could tell Bodi he had.
“I grew up between two projects, in a single-parent household,” he said. “I’m not the kind of guy that’s supposed to be in those situations. They don’t want me.”
He did, however, get accepted into a summer program at BGSU. Two weeks into it, he was working and taking summer courses at Owens when he got the call from Yale. They said he had been on the waitlist, but a spot opened up.
“Everybody was 100 percent supportive,” Hutchins said. “I knew I was doing the right thing, but finance was the biggest aspect to overcome.”
He worked every day for the next three weeks, asking for as much overtime as possible until he would leave for Yale. Leaving his wife and child home while not working for two months was not a responsibility he could just shrug off.
He made it to Yale, and just like everything else up to that point, Hutchins went in with a strategy. He decided the biggest thing he wanted to get out of the program was networking. He wanted to be able to get a letter of recommendation from a Yale professor. He decided to make a good impression by wearing a jacket and tie every day, even though the dress code was casual.
“As an African-American male, I get judged before I open my mouth,” he said. “The suit reminds me and everyone that I’m here about business.”
He did make an impression. He was asked to give a presentation on appearance and presenting yourself during a workshop. He told the other students that he bought his jackets and ties at a Goodwill back home in Toledo before he left. That week, Hutchins took about 25 students to a local Goodwill, because they had never been to one before.
Hutchins took the required prep classes, as well as genetics, physics and organic chemistry in order to get the most out of the program.
Program administrators only require students to take two of the three classes; Hutchins was the first person in the program’s 25-year history to take all three.
“Because I’m older, I have a different insight,” he said. “My job is to go to school, get good grades, get the most out of class by interacting.”
He eventually was presented with the outstanding participant award for the program.
But he wasn’t done yet.
Hutchins took one day while at Yale to visit the med school at Harvard. With nothing but persistence and a bit of happenstance, he met with the multicultural affairs director, the assistant dean of admissions and eventually the director of enrollment on his visit. He told them his personal story and exchanged contact information with all three.
“With Harvard and Yale, what started becoming apparent is that I actually could fit in,” he said. “There were a lot of people who just wanted to achieve and had higher expectations for themselves. … It was one of those defining moments for me that showed, ‘You know what? I can do this.’”
With what he learned at Yale and Harvard, Hutchins founded the Pre-Health Professionals Association back at Owens. The organization helps students find information on research programs and how to get the most out of them.
He is also vice president of Honors Club, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and has been selected for the 2014 All-Ohio Academic Team.
He is now applying for more summer programs, with a goal to do research at the National Institute of Health, which Hutchins said is the most prestigious program for undergraduate students in the country.
And his top choices for med school now? Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins.
“I wish we could bottle him and use that, because he is so charismatic and such a positive individual,” Bodi said. “It really does speak well for our school. … He’s fun to talk to, extremely articulate and his experiences are unbelievable.”
Bodi said the Honors Program at Owens allows Hutchins and other students to go beyond the usual course requirements to explore particular areas of interest.
Hutchins believes he also has many advantages due to his age. He said being older has meant his priorities are aligned differently and his networking capabilities are much stronger.
His advice for others: “The first thing you have to know is that we create our own limits,” he said. “Anything is attainable with the right strategy. If it’s something you want to do, do it. Don’t say you can’t just because you haven’t seen someone else do it.”
His story is far from over and Hutchins said he has great momentum and feels like he was destined to be on this path.
“I’ve been blessed with a lot of great opportunities. The best thing I can do is reciprocate and try to be a positive image and role model, be that entity I didn’t have growing up. … I’m definitely excited. I’m looking forward to the future.”
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