Second Chances Late in Life

Paul shifted in his chair, looking dejected and full of defeat. He was an applicant for the upcoming Physician Assistant (PA) class, but his chances of acceptance didn’t look too good. I was on the admissions committee, which meant I played a role in whether or not he would be joining next year. Paul was applying to attend PA school at the age of thirty-six when most applicants were around twenty-four. He spent his adult life working in a steel factory until a few years prior, when he returned to community college. His goal was to become a Physician Assistant, but his grades were about average. His educational experience wasn’t exactly smooth.

His application, from an admissions perspective, wasn’t very exciting. These programs are filled with high achieving students who graduated from top universities, all vying for a spot. Paul certainly didn’t fit the mold. But his story struck a chord with me and I found myself thinking of my own journey to PA school.

When I dropped out of high school during my sophomore year, my GPA was less than 2.0. I spent several years drifting through life, joined the Navy for a time, and successfully completed a practical nursing program. Then I decided to become a Physician Assistant, which meant attending college first. Since I didn’t finish high school, I was put on probation for the first semester to demonstrate I had the academic ability to succeed. It was a second chance in life.

I had no confidence in my ability to handle a heavy science-based curriculum, but if I wanted to later be accepted into PA school, it meant somehow setting myself apart from the other applicants who were currently attending top universities. I was only attending a community college. So when the semester started, I quickly organized my life. At the time, I was working full time at night as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), which meant there wasn’t any extra time to mess around.

Succeeding would require an immense amount of effort, so I woke up at 4:00am each day, having slept less than three hours, to have enough time to sufficiently study. I rewrote all my notes after each lecture, studied intensely, rested briefly, and studied more. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

After months of this grueling schedule, I finished the first semester with a near-perfect GPA. I continued on this path throughout the next semester and the following school year. By then, I received a letter of acceptance for PA school. All my labors paid off.

As I reviewed Paul’s application, I saw a man who worked hard to get where he was and would likely work just as hard to succeed in PA school. He simply needed a second chance. I actively championed his admission, knowing he was an underdog. That was twenty-five years ago. Paul, who is a good friend now, ultimately succeeded and is an exemplary clinician.

It’s never too late to start your life over. No matter what your age is or what your past looks like, it is possible to live the life you dream of living. Give yourself that second chance to succeed.