A high school dropout, pastor, soldier, mother of 3. Older students shine at Mercer’s med school.

At Match Day, Mercer medical students find out which US hospital they’re moving to

Alan Rice and Brian Wright, Mercer University medical students, talk about Match Day, the day they find out which hospital they will be spending the next years of their life.
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Alan Rice and Brian Wright, Mercer University medical students, talk about Match Day, the day they find out which hospital they will be spending the next years of their life.

When a man passed out during Sunday service at The Rock Baptist Church near Barnesville a few weeks ago, all eyes turned toward the pastor, and not because they were looking for a word of prayer.

The pastor was Brian Wright, who will soon graduate from Mercer University School of Medicine with a doctor of medicine degree to go along with the masters in theology that he already holds from Mercer.

The man who passed out was a diabetic who had a spell of low blood sugar. Wright prescribed a drink of Coke, and he was fine.

“I was thrilled that I hadn’t just bored him to sleep,” he said.

Wright, 42, is one of four people over 40 who will graduate Mercer’s medical school on May 4. One is an Army solider, another is a high school drop out and another is a mother of three.

Dr. Jean Sumner, dean of the medical school, said each class typically does have some older students, and they typically do well.

“They are usually very focused, very conscientious and very responsible,” she said. “Very commonly older students are leaders in the class.”

Wright assumed he was the oldest student when he began medical school in 2015, but he isn’t even close. That distinction belongs to Maura Pipkins, who is 54, and managed the grueling study load while raising three boys. Grace McClellan, 41, joined the Army to go to medical school, with the Army paying her way, and she will serve as an Army doctor when she graduates.

But Alan Rice, 42, may have climbed the highest mountain of all of them to become a doctor. He is a high school dropout.

He left school in the 10th grade, but not because he couldn’t do the work or wasn’t interested in learning. He was trying to be responsible. He got his girlfriend pregnant and quit school to get a job and support his child. His girlfriend later became his wife and they now have three kids. He also got his GED.

He did construction work, then managed to get an information technology job and did that for years before before deciding to pursue becoming a doctor. So how does someone decide to go from fixing computers to fixing humans?

For Rice, it was when his mother became seriously ill. He had developed an interest in medicine and kept pestering her doctor with questions, who patiently answered each one. Finally the doctor asked him if he was a medical student.

“A light bulb went off,” Rice said. “That sparked my interest in it.”

For Wright, it happened after he got a divorce. He found it hard to get employment in a Baptist church and started considering other careers. He kept thinking about how often church members were consumed with medical problems and he thought that would be a good way to help people.

His journey to become a doctor began in 2012. He had to take two years of undergraduate pre-med classes just to be able to take the test to get into medical school. After the first year which is mostly academics, students regularly start working in the medical profession.

Wright, who is from a family of factory workers, has seen enough to know he made the right move.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else now,” he said. “I love doing ministry and church but I always felt like we were just talking about people’s problems and you never had something to actually give them. “

‘A different perspective’

Although the students will officially be doctors when they graduate, they have to complete four years of residency and pass the medical board exam before they can practice medicine on their own. In residency, they are essentially paid interns working under the supervision of a licensed doctor. Wright, who plans to become a psychiatrist, was recently accepted to do his residency in the Coliseum Center for Behavioral Health.

He plans, upon completing his residency, to remain in the area because of the need he has seen for psychiatric care in rural Georgia.

All of the older students admitted concerns about starting medical school years after they had taken a science class. Although it was a challenge at first to get back into academics, they found their life experiences have helped them in dealing with the pressure.

“I think as an older medical school student, you just have a different perspective,” Rice said. “The worst thing that has happened in my life is not a test.”

Pipkins said she thought about quitting at times, but her husband finally gave her the inspiration she needed to finish.

“He said ‘What kind of message would that send to our children?’” she said. “I never threatened to quit again.”