In the early days of the pandemic, Douglas Paula realized he might have found a calling.
He had finished his undergraduate degree at Yale University in 2019 and had started a finance job in New York at JPMorgan Chase & Co. His interests, however, were towards health and wellness. Then the coronavirus shut down New York in March 2020.
“So I was there,” he remembers recently. “Most people were working from home, and there was a lot of uncertainty. I saw it as an opportunity to make the most of a difficult situation.”
Paula returned to his native New Jersey and began volunteering as an EMT ambulance driver. He was also thinking very carefully about how he wanted to spend the rest of his career.
“I really enjoyed working in the ambulance,” he said. Then I had the opportunity to work at my sister’s hospital – she is a resident. I was working as a writer with orthopedic surgeons. I’m really starting to love him. I had a good relationship with the surgeons I was working with, and was able to see whole days of surgery. “
The experience made an impression, and Paula found himself applying to the University of Virginia Post-baccalaureate pre-medical program in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, a one-year program that helps students without undergraduate science degrees prepare for medical school.
He also recently received a National Scholarship Award from Liaison, creators of the Central Post-Baccalaureate Application Service, for an article he wrote about the future of medicine and technology. Paula recently spoke about the award, his experience on the show thus far, and why it’s never too late to pursue a career in medicine.
Q: When you were working in a hospital and volunteering for an EMT, what made you think medicine might be a career for you?
a. When I started as an ambulance driver, this was my first real exposure to patients in times of need. I’ve also been working on orthopedic injuries, which include a lot of patients from car accidents. I began to realize that with healthcare, there is always a way to get involved and help provide superior care to those in need. It’s a lot like being an athlete. When you have a goal in mind, you try to get better every day and get better with your teammates. I consider myself very lucky to have had these experiences.
I’m really starting to love him. I had a good relationship with two of the surgeons I was working with, and was able to see whole days of surgery. I would take Fridays and sit in the operating room to watch. The first operation to watch was actually an artificial hip replacement. I saw the surgical team wearing full hazardous PPE and thought, ‘Oh, this must be a COVID precaution’ – and then I saw the bone saw come out. And I thought, “Well, that’s medicine.”
I also saw a taste of the heart. I remember the surgical team working in coordination with each other, placing the heart on a bypass machine, filling the chest with ice, and then performing the microsurgery. Next, they take the heart out of the bypass and turn it back on. It’s like watching a modern miracle.