Being able to continue working during the pre-clinical curriculum has always been a draw for students at Oceania University of Medicine. Third-year student Brent Meredith, a physician assistant living in Utah at the time of his enrollment, took that option to a whole new level.
During pre-clinical study, Brent spent two weeks at home with his wife, followed by two-week shifts providing emergency medical services at a Native American clinic in rural Alaska, 200 miles from the nearest hospital. If a patient needed hospital care, he arranged the medivac and during each two-week shift he was also on call 24/7. During the winter months in Alaska, -20° F (-29° C) is a typical temperature, according to Brent. They once had a couple weeks of -35° F weather (-37° C) and the coldest he experienced was -60° F (-51° C). (The Fahrenheit and Celsius scales read the same temperature at -40°.)
Even as he was finishing the PA program during the 1990s at University of Texas/Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Brent sensed that he wanted to learn more and do more for his patients. While he was a successful PA, working largely in CT surgery, that urge to study medicine never went away during his 20 years in practice. He eventually reached the point of looking into medical school, both traditional and non-traditional programs, spending nearly three years of due diligence before deciding on OUM.
“I had run out of excuses for not pursuing medical school. The kids were pretty much grown and my wife kept pointing out how long I had been thinking about this,” says Brent, whose four children are now all in their twenties. “She was the one who said, ‘shut up and do it.’ Plus, she got tired of hearing me say, ‘I wish I had gone to medical school.’ ”
But Brent knew he needed to make some career adjustments if he was going to have both enough time to study and enough income coming in.
“I had known people who worked in the Alaskan oil fields and knew there was a need for medical services in the rural areas,” Brent says. The opportunity he eventually found not only offered the two-week chunk of study time at home, but the clinic in Alaska also offered a good bit of study time between patients, he says.
The family that studies together . . .
Right around the time Brent enrolled at OUM, a parallel journey began with his wife, Shaunna. She began working on her undergraduate degree in Neuropsychology at the University of Utah and has now started graduate school to become a clinical psychologist.
“I wasn’t the only one in our household to have put off pursuing a dream,” says Brent. “We moved to Texas when I started PA school and during the 20 years we lived there, she was a pharmacy tech and eventually managed the private pharmacy we purchased.”
Family responsibilities brought them back to Utah, where Brent had grown up, to help with aging parents. Shaunna had grown up in the state of Washington.
“To me, Shaunna’s is the bigger story,” says Brent, the proud husband. “She hadn’t gone to college until we returned to Utah and now, she’s graduated with a 3.94 GPA and working on her master’s.” He can’t say enough about the importance of having a strong support network during medical school.
“My wife has always been behind me 100 percent,” says Brent. “And those two weeks away every month were not easy. If you don’t have the support of your significant other, I truly believe you need to rethink your interest in medical school,” is a message he shared with prospective OUM students at a Meet an OUM Student webinar.
Having both Meredith’s at their respective universities during the same time these past few years obviously presented financial challenges, says Brent.
“So far, neither of us has had to borrow any money for school, which hasn’t been easy. It has taken a lot of sacrifice and long weeks,” he says, hoping he may be able to manage a bit of work between clerkships to continue their journeys with no loans. Shauna will earn her master’s degree about the same time Brent graduates from OUM. As he begins residency, she will start her PhD program.
Clinical rotations in progress
Brent began clinical rotations in mid-2018, first at Jackson Park Hospital in Chicago, with the last few rotations in McAllen, Texas. Since he and his family spent 20 years in Texas and he is licensed as a PA in the state, Brent is pleased to be rotating there. Once he finishes medical school, there will be two doctors in Brent’s family. His younger brother is a cardiologist. So how has his brother fit into the family support network?
“He didn’t think I’d be able to handle medical school,” Brent says with sly smile that could be heard over the telephone. “But, I’m proving him wrong.” Clearly.