Kwame Eagleton, a 1989 graduate of Crosby High School, had two uncles who were doctors.
"In about fourth grade, when I told my teacher I wanted to be a physician, she immediately responded, ‘You can't be a doctor. You're not good in math and doctors have to be good in math.' Years later, I realized doctors only have to have one calculus course...so, I didn't have to be a math major."
But, for the fourth grade youngster, his teacher's words became the turning point. After high school, he attended The University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a degree in finance and, after graduating in 1994, began a career as a financial consultant with the company formerly known as Anderson Consulting (now Accenture).
With hard work and a 100 percent travel schedule, the ambitious young man became extremely successful. Eventually he married and began a family-his children are now six and eight years of age. However, something was missing...and this realization was growing stronger, even as he became even more financially successful.
"I had a conversation with my brother one evening," he recalled, "and told him how I had always wanted to become a doctor. My brother's advice? ‘If you want to be a doctor, I'd go for it.'"
This conversation was followed by much soul-searching, long talks with his wife and longer prayers. "My wife was so supportive," he recalled. "When she learned what I wanted to do, she was committed. ‘We can make it work,' she said. If she had said she didn't want me to do this, I would have dropped the idea. Finally, however, I was ready to take the next step."
"That's when he showed up in my office," said Susan Allen, professor of biology and director of the successful medical and health sciences pre-professional program at Lone Star College-North Harris. "Kwame was 31 at the time and very successful in his career," she remembered. "That made it even more interesting when he told me he wasn't fulfilled in his work and was questioning the contribution he was making...or not."
The mission of LSC-North Harris' medical and health sciences preprofessional college, which was initiated in 1999, is to prepare students to be competitive in order to gain admission into programs in medicine and other aspects of health care.
"Kwame's goal was to get into medical school," Allen said, "so I told him, ‘You have to be focused, dedicated and as compassionate as you are, but you also have to be a very good scientist'-and that was his main barrier when he came to me.
"However, he was definitely focused as well as determined, so Kwame began taking classes from 6 to 10 p.m. after working all day," the director continued, "and after class, he'd go home and study."
"After I had completed several of my classes, my wife asked me if I could go faster if I wasn't working," Eagleton vividly recalled. "But, I was a husband and a father. Not working, not supporting my family had never crossed my mind, so that was a big decision...one that involved more soul searching and, eventually, putting my ego aside. My wife was right, so I stopped working and dedicated myself, full time, to my class work...and nothing anybody could have said would have deterred me from my goal at this point."
"He was able to take almost all of his pre-requisites at LSC-North Harris-biology, physics, chemistry and anatomy and physiology," Allen said, "and while he was completing these courses, he could take advantage of everything our preprofessional program had to offer.
"Each preprofessional student has a faculty mentor they can go to-for anything-from trouble in class, tutoring, or guidance," Allen explained. "We are with them, every step of the way, watching their progress and development. We stay in close contact, supporting them and helping them develop the right game plan-and we hope they feel the door is always open."
Eagleton spent a total of four semesters at LSC-North Harris, aware of and encouraged by an environment that was supportive.
"During one of my semesters, I was told it would be a good idea to shadow a physician," the aspiring medical student said. "I asked my uncle to help me find an anesthesiologist who was willing to be shadowed by a student. We found one and I learned so much during that time-and that's not something you'll find recommended on a medical school Web site. But, Professor Allen said to do it so medical schools where I applied would know I was serious.
"I took every course that I needed," he said, "and Professor Allen was an amazing mentor. After I completed my classes at Lone Star College-North Harris, I transferred to the University of Houston and completed my upper-level coursework there. Then, Susan Allen wrote my letter of recommendation for medical school."
"Whatever I said I needed, she guided and counseled me and did everything possible to make medical school a reality in my life," Eagleton continued. "In the classes I had with her, I was only an aspiring medical student, but she ‘got me.' She saw my passion-and every year, I sent her an e-mail to let her know what's going on. At end of school year during breaks, I've gone back to see her...and I will tell you, this kind of mentoring is invaluable."
Eagleton's journey from financial consultant to medical school was one that required long hours of study and classes, hard work and a profound determination to reach his goal.
"He was willing to reach as far as he could reach," Allen said. "He was willing to do what he had to do to become a superb scientist. He started at bottom-in the most basic science classes-and then worked his way up.
"He was fortunate because he had the support of his wife and his extended family," Allen pointed out, "but he was the one who had to pass the classes, pass the MCAT and pass the interview to get into medical school. But, he knew he also had the support and encouragement of the faculty here at LSC-North Harris. He was so dedicated, we knew he would do well, but I will tell you, Kwame Eagleton-and his wife-never quit, no matter how difficult and how stressful his journey became. In fact, he was too eager and anxious, we often had to say, ‘Just slow down, Kwame.'"
In the LSC-North Harris preprofessional program, many students begin the program, not knowing exactly where they want to go, but Jim Carroll, professor of psychology, helps them find where they will fit the best.
Eagleton interviewed with several medical schools, but chose to stay close to home and attended The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. During medical school, his enthusiasm and dedication continued. In fact, instead of taking the various vacations and breaks during his studies, Eagleton took classes so he could finish early.
As of March 6th of this year, he had completed all of his course work and will soon begin a residency in the department of anesthesiology.
His choice of anesthesiology came from a life-changing, personal experience. "My son had to have surgery when he was two. I had been doing pre-requisites for medicine," he recalled. "As parents, we were afraid, but the anesthesiologist at Texas Childrens Hospital put us at ease. Then, she personally carried our son in her arms to the operating room."
"The idea of having to go into an OR is scary, by itself," Eagleton continued. "Anesthesiology is extremely important to the healing process because you are responsible for taking care of the patient throughout the time of surgery....so it starts before you go into OR. That's when you, the anesthesiologist, can put them at ease...can relieve their stress."
As he looks back, the soon-to-be resident is grateful for the preparation he received at LSC-North Harris. "Every course I had, I let teachers know what I was trying to do," he said. "They didn't give me special favors, but when I needed help, they helped and were encouraging-Dr. Carroll, Dr. Barclay -- whoever I talked to, they helped. Professor Allen, as a mentor, offered guidance any time I needed it and is an excellent advisor for anyone going into nursing, medicine or any type of health care training. I would tell future students, ‘Heed what she says' because everything she shared with me was good advice."
"We always encouraged Kwame," Allen said, "but the sort of drive needed to accomplish what he's achieved comes from deep within. Realistically, some students have the drive and ability but really don't know how to get into professional school. There are definitely tricks of trade -- like shadowing, what classes to take and how to position yourself for the interviews. That's where we come in-the guidance part."
Eagleton also credits his wife, his children and his family members who were with him, every step of the way of this long, often arduous journey. "We have the most amazing family," he said. "My mom and dad don't live far from us...and I convinced my mother-in-law to move in with us while I was in school.
"Not only did I have the support of my family, but also from my church," the physician explained. "My advice to anyone with any thought of changing careers or making the commitment for any type of professional training is this: Really try to figure out what you want to do and don't be deterred by the challenge or obstacles to doing it. You learn a lot about yourself and what you're capable of and you really learn what you're made of when you accept things you have to do to reach your goal.
"People will tell you its hard, difficult, challenging," he continued. "I had people saying, ‘Are you sure?' ‘Aren't you too old?' I talked to my pastor-who is also my uncle-and he said, ‘If you feel like it's what you need to do, just do it.'
For more information about the college's preprofessional program, call Susan Allen at 281.618.5775.
Lone Star College-North Harris is located at 2700 W.W. Thorne Drive, one-half mile south of FM 1960 East, between Aldine-Westfield and Hardy Roads. For more information about the college, call 281.618.5400 or visit: NorthHarris.LoneStar.edu.
Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including CyFair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. It is the largest college system in the Houston area, and third largest community college district in Texas. To learn more, visit LoneStar.edu.
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