After Second Career Change, This Grad Found Her Calling

Class of 2016 grad Shannon Stegall, MD talks about what it's like to be a nontraditional medical student, the benefits of the Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP), and her experience completing clinical rotations in England.

Shannon Stegall, MD ‘16 had to envision a whole new life for herself after getting medically disqualified from a career for which she’d spent years training. Not an easy task—and it would take another degree and a second career change before she found her true passion. But her persistence paid off.

“There were so many times when I thought I wasn’t going in the right direction, but it all led me to where I am right now,” said Dr. Stegall, an internal medicine resident at Nassau University Medical Center in New York. “I absolutely love what I do, and I can’t imagine doing anything else in my life.”

What was your path leading up to medical school? 

I always had an interest in medicine, but I did my best to explore other career paths because my parents were both in the field and I knew how difficult it could be to maintain work-life balance. After I graduated college, I became a Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Navy and went through flight school for a couple years before getting medically disqualified from flying. I was less than two weeks from earning my wings when I found out that I wouldn’t be allowed to fly due to a medication I needed to take.

So I went back to school, got my second bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, and entered a surgical assistant program at Eastern Virginia Medical School. That’s where I got my hands dirty in medicine and began considering it again. I was in the operating room alongside medical students, learning the same things as them, and I thought, "Well, why can’t I give med school a shot?"

What was it like being a nontraditional applicant?

It’s a little daunting when you’re older than the average med school applicant. It’s hard not to feel a bit discouraged because people will advise you against going back to school at your age. But the way I look at it is, the time is going to pass by anyway. Are you going to spend the next four years fulfilling a lifelong dream, or just going through the motions day-to-day?

Looking back now, was it all worth it?

It was 100% worth it. One of the best things about AUC is that even if U.S. schools have said “no” or if you’re a nontraditional student, AUC gives you an opportunity to prove yourself and be successful. It’s definitely a sacrifice—a lot of hard work, a lot of anxiety being away from family and friends, and not knowing whether you’re going to do well. But it’s amazing when you succeed and you help somebody, and even save someone’s life. I absolutely love what I do, and I can’t imagine doing anything else in my life.

You took part in the Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP). How was your experience with the program? 

Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve had the success that I’ve had without MERP. It’s a great way to build up your foundation so when you get into medical school it’s not the fire-hose effect with all the information. At the time, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I thought, OK, if it doesn’t work out, then I’m just back where I started. And now here I am with an MD, in residency, doing my chosen specialty.

What stands out about your AUC experience?

I made a wonderful group of friends. It was amazing to have a support system on the island with people who are all pursuing the same thing that you are and you can all push each other through. A benefit of being a bit older than the typical student is that I knew my limitations—I knew I couldn’t stay up and pull all-nighters before exams or anything like that. I was able to dedicate the study time when I needed it, but I also gave myself some down time and maintained a real work-life balance.

Then I spent my third year at Ealing Hospital in London, and I was able to get a lot of hands-on experience and figure out what subspecialty I liked most—which was all of them! That’s how I decided I wanted to pursue internal medicine. I found it challenging and exciting that every patient would be different, and I knew I’d never be bored.

Where do you see yourself after residency?

My goal is to become an academic hospitalist. I enjoy teaching others and I think it’s a great way to give back to the medical education community.

What advice do you have for current students?

Don’t let anything keep you from pursuing your dream. Every bump and hurdle along the way will shape you into a stronger person, and you never know if it’s going to lead you to exactly where you need to be. And know that you have a big alumni community rooting for you, wishing you the best, and looking forward to seeing you when you come rotate or interview at our hospitals.

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