Physician Outlook

Against all odds

Once again,Dr. Campbell shares his rich experience with us in an inspirational way. No matter how difficult life might present itself, there is always a wayto achieve your dreams because everyone has the potential to do so. The key is that “YOU have to want it and not do it for anyone else.”

Dr. Robert Campbell is a Physiatrist currently leading the largest pain care practice in Wyoming. He has been sharing the story of the struggles that led him down the dark road of addiction to both opioids and alcohol. Through a series of first-person articles Dr. Campbell shares his journey to recovery and the important life lessons that he has learned along the way. He is transparently opening up about his life, the decisions he made, the consequences he suffered, and the storm brewing inside of his head during his darkest moments in the hopes of shedding some light on this sensitive and prevalent issue. 

In earlier entries (The Comeback Kid, Growing Up Untouchable, A Big Fish With A Big Head, I wrote about how I found a new way of existence in medical school with a “make or break” mentality that helped me excel and change my lifestyle completely. I also hinted at how I lost this way of living and fell to my lowest point.

The difference between my college years and medical school years was night and day. In college I was the big man on campus, I partied more than I studied and graduated with a 2.9 GPA. In medical school, I can count on one hand how many times I went out boozing. I focused my energy on positive things like a strict gym routine, eating the best I could, and studying my ass off so I graduate with a 3.7 GPA. I also poured just as much energy into the USMLE step 1 and step 2 exam, which is completely opposite of how I prepared for the MCAT (the medical school entrance exam).

The USMLE step 1 exam is an 8-hour test usually taken at the end of your second year in medical school. It aims to assess whether medical students can apply important concepts of the foundational sciences fundamental to the practice of medicine. The USMLE step 2 is usually taken in your 4th year of medical school (your last year) and is a two-day test that can assess your clinical knowledge about practicing medicine. I have heard this is the more important of the two in terms of getting accepted into a residency program. The thought is that it is more relevant because you are being tested to see if you “actually have the knowledge and clinical reasoning to be a physician.” I easily passed the USMLE step 1 with an average score compared to my peers and medical students collectively from MD and DO programs in the United States as well as foreign medical students like myself. However, on the step 2 exam, I not only passed it, but I scored in the 94th percentile nation-wide compared to all medical students.

Now with a low college GPA, a horrible MCAT score, and attending a foreign medical school, the odds are greatly stacked against you receiving multiple residency interviews, getting into a reputable residency program and specializing/subspecializing in a competitive field of medicine. Luckily, my medical school GPA as well as my stellar USMLE step 2 score greatly evened the playing field for me. I truly cannot remember how many residencies interviews I was granted but I believe it was between 8-11. I was accepted into 5 or 6 for PM&R (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation) and chose to go to UPMC (The University of Pittsburgh).

For such a high rated residency program (#1 in NIH funding and 5th best PMR residency program overall in the US) I was extremely fortunate. I believe I was the only foreign medical student selected for my program as well. Once accepted to the program, unfortunately, I reverted to my old way of life and resurrected “fun Bobby.” As I sit here writing this, I still don’t have an answer as to why I ended up back there. Perhaps it was my mindset. At that point, my attitude was quite blasé, and my ego had taken over. Seems I put in the hard work that I needed to get into a premier residency program. Now I’ll just slide into cruise control, have fun, and let the residency program and its reputation make me the doctor I need to be.

One of the big lessons I learned was once you are accepted to medical school it doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll get to practice medicine in a specific field that you are interested in, sub-specialize, or even become a physician at all. You have a lot of hurdles and obstacles to overcome, especially as a foreign medical graduate, as well as comprehensive exams that test you in every aspect of medicine. If you want to be an Emergency Room physician, it doesn’t matter. You still must know everything there is about the field of medicine (family practice, oncology, OB-GYN, surgery, etc.) and adequately pass two sets of standardized, multi-day tests that compare your score to every medical student in the nation (US MD and DO programs as well as foreign medical school students worldwide). You are pitted against students from top tier medical schools that are applying for the same, limited number of residency spots.

My mental attitude and drive, as well as strict lifestyle change, was not only what got me through medical school but 100% responsible for me excelling. I graduated in the top of my medical school class and was accepted into a top five, nation-wide residency program as a foreign medical school graduate. I wholeheartedly believe that every individual has this potential inside of them and can achieve whatever goals or dreams they have. You just have to want it and be fully committed and stop at nothing. I have seen countless “kids’’ in rehab for the third or fourth time, only because their family keeps sending them to be “cured.” YOU have to want it and not do it for anyone else.

For me, I had a very strict regimen of attending every class, studying every night until bedtime, studying at least 7-9 hours every Saturday and Sunday, and most importantly, taking 1-2 hours a day to work out. I was chastised and criticized over and over…. “how do you have time to work out” or “you shouldn’t be going to the gym; we have a test tomorrow.” If I didn’t have time to work out for 1-2 hours the day before an exam, then I didn’t properly prepare for that exam. I treated my personal fitness and “me” time like a job. When you do this, you get to the point where you feel guilty for missing a session. Whether it be fitness and lifting weights, going for a walk, talking to a friend on the phone, doing yoga, or just meditating; find something that you enjoy, and if you can, try to incorporate some sort of physical activity. I have heard every excuse in the book, “I have kids, I travel for work, my days are too long, I have to cook dinner for the family” etc. We make excuses for ourselves when we come from a place of LACK. There is ALWAYS enough time to take one hour for yourself, even if it means waking up an hour earlier. You will be amazed at not only how good physically and mentally you feel, but how it positively affects your relationships, your work and productivity, and makes those around you motivated as well and gain a new level of respect for you. 1

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