- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Adam has had both disappointments and achievements in his journey to becoming a successful Physician Assistant. His first grade difficulty learning to read and write was typical of a dyslexic boy. Being goalie on a national champion soccer team in college was not typical. His life today is centered on his lovely wife Sandy, three children (Anna, Robert, and Alex), medicine, and staying healthy after a battle with cancer.
Adam is dyslexic and because of it has worked very hard to be successful. He believes his biggest problem in school was dealing with his reading and spelling difficulties which lead to poor self-esteem. He was very frustrated in reading and spelling classes. Before being diagnosed with dyslexia, and due to his difficulty with spelling and reading, Adam was held back in 3rd grade and had to attend summer school yearly through all six of his elementary school years.
In 6th grade he was tested and diagnosed with dyslexia. He enrolled at The Gow School for dyslexic boys near Buffalo, NY. This was his best school experience. All the boys had similar problems to his, and the teachers knew how to deal with them. It was a great atmosphere for learning because of the small class sizes. While at Gow, Adam excelled in sports and eventually became co-captain of the varsity soccer team. While applying to colleges, Adam was offered a scholarship in soccer and lacrosse at New England College. He decided to turn it down so he could participate in the Learning Center Program at West Virginia Wesleyan.
He feels that Wesleyan was the right place for him to pursue education. He already knew that college would be difficult for him because he was informed upon graduation from Gow that he had a fourth grade spelling level and an eighth grade reading level. Adam felt that the extra learning tools offered at Wesleyan's Learning Center combined with hard work would help him accomplish his goals.
He said he particularly appreciated the way he was taught at the learning center. For instance Carolyn Mallory taught writing in the program with a kind and caring manner that helped Adam and others improve their confidence and self-esteem. Adam's grade point average (GPA) the first semester was not to be admired. However, as he adjusted to college life and improved his organizational skills, his grades improved. One aspect of college life that helped Adam was the camaraderie on the soccer team. Being a member of the 1994 and 1995 National Championship Soccer Teams and later being inducted as a team member into Wesleyan's Hall of Fame were two very positive experiences which helped Adam further develop the confidence to achieve his goals.
I remember a frustrating experience for Adam. He came into my office very dejected. I saw tears in his eyes. He was concerned about his science grades. He was making A's and B's in his other subjects, but in science he had C's. He knew he needed good grades in science to achieve his dream of being accepted into medical school. Adam's Grandfather, father, and uncles were all physicians. He wanted to care for people like they did. When I pointed out his high grades in Sociology and suggested a career in social work, he became upset and said, "You don't understand." He immediately got up and left the room. A few minutes later he returned and apologized for leaving so abruptly. When I asked him to explain, he told me that probably his children would have dyslexia and a social worker's salary would not be high enough to send them to the Gow School. This was true as Gow's tuition was higher than many colleges including Wesleyan's. We then looked at other areas of study. He decided to try business courses. Adam changed his major to business management and his minor to economics. He did well in both fields. He continued to be a well-rounded student, graduated in four years, and was president of the senior class.
After graduation, he was offered an accounting job in a Washington, DC law firm. Adam tells me that he still had the desire to go into medicine. What he had to overcome during this time was his own lack of belief in himself combined with ignoring the people in his life who believed that a career in medicine was out of his reach. He decided to study more sciences and to prove to himself that he could put his knowledge to work. While working and supporting himself, he took science classes at night from the University of Maryland. He also had a wonderful opportunity to volunteer at Zacchaeus' Free Medical Clinic which served the homeless and uninsured of Washington D.C. They had a medical training program to teach their volunteers how to draw blood, perform tests using microscopy and bacteriology, and how to properly interview and triage patients. When Adam initially visited the clinic and applied to their medical training program, they told him there were no openings. However, they were interested in him for his accounting and bookkeeping skills. Adam told them he would think about volunteering. He felt frustrated as he left the clinic because of not getting into the training program. As he walked down the street through the homeless and prostitute areas, he began to believe that God was testing him. "It was at that moment that I saw my selfishness and made the decision to volunteer at the clinic in whatever capacity they needed." The staff at the free medical clinic was elated when he volunteered to help them. Coincidently, three weeks after starting, a person dropped out of the medical training program and the position was offered to Adam. His success at the free medical clinic was complemented by honors in his science classes.
After continuing his work in the law office and volunteering four years at the free medical clinic, he decided to return to Buffalo, NY. His grandmother had died and he felt his grandfather needed him. He looked for a way to continue his pursuit of medicine, and took a volunteer position in a research lab at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) in Buffalo. Here he started at the lowest level, but eventually began to learn important laboratory skills such as DNA isolation and other analysis techniques. These were difficult times because he wasn't paid, so he would donate bone marrow to earn $200 every six weeks to pay for a cheap apartment and food. He was accepted into the Masters of Science program at RPCI/ State University of New York at Buffalo. Through the Master's program, he was able to take medical school classes such as histology, biochemistry, and immunology. Through research he developed an early detection system to determine bone marrow transplant failure. While in the research lab, a strong work ethic was necessary, and the average work week was around 80 hours with some projects keeping him there over 24 hours. For his work, he became the first Master's student to publish a first authorship publication and went on to earn his name on multiple additional publications before earning his MS degree.
Through this journey, Adam learned that he had a passion for medicine and a desire to help people. This is when he applied to Medical school and was placed on the wait-list. A funny story that occurred around this time was how Adam heard about a group of Catholic nuns from the convent in Buffalo, who as part of their special ministry, prayed for people. He went to them and asked them to pray for him to be accepted into medical school. To show his appreciation, he caught fresh fish each week and brought his catch to them. Adam was also considering Physician Assistant School. It was at this time Adam decided that becoming a physician assistant would allow him to practice medicine and complete schooling in a more reasonable time. One reason for this was that his wife was expecting their first child, and he was eager to have time to be a good father. If he went the medical route, he would have four more years of medical school plus three to four years of residency. He also understood that because of his dyslexia, he would have to spend more time studying then others. He felt excited about his decision. In fact, he called me giving me the privilege to share his joy. In the end, Adam went back to the nuns asking them to stop praying for his acceptance into medical school. A week or so after talking to the nuns, he received his rejection letter from the medical school.
He then applied to Physician Assistant (PA) School and was accepted. PA school was not easy. He worked the hardest he ever had, taking classes from 8:00 AM to as late as 8:00 PM and then having to study all night. One class that was difficult for Adam was medical terminology. Adam said, "It wasn't the language of medicine that made it difficult, but rather having to spell everything correctly while taking timed examinations. I remember the stress of taking 28 credit hours in one semester and having 15 final exams in seven days when I only had time to study for 5 exams. I remember passing my breaking point and looking figuratively back at the line and feeling like I was in no-mans-land. After passing the exams, I felt like I literally shook for two weeks." Going through this with an infant and a toddler was tough, but he received great support from his wife Sandy. Adam also found comfort in discussing the stresses of school with his father. His father was encouraging and supportive while sharing his own stories of difficulties while in medical school.
He worked very hard, enjoyed his classes, and earned good grades. During his rotation period he had several experiences that he still remembers. During his first week of rotation, Adam diagnosed a woman with ruptured diverticulitis and saved her life by setting up an emergency surgery. He also enjoyed rotating through Surgery and Emergency Room duty. All of the practical experiences during this time were important to him. However, his happiness was short lived. In his senior year he encountered two of the worst experiences of his life. One was losing his father to a painful cancer, and the second one was because he was dyslexic. The Dean of the PA school called Adam in to see him. The dean then proceeded to tell Adam that he didn't believe that an LD student had the right to go into medicine, and he would try to prevent his graduation. Adam was angry. His grades were good and he had worked hard to be successful. This was not fair!
He went immediately to the dean of students. He was still angry when he told her his story and angrily stated he would sue the school. This dean was a kind woman. She listened to Adam and recognized his frustration. She told him she would handle the situation and he should not worry. He would graduate! Adam will always remember her.
Following graduation, Adam passed his national boards and began working in cardiothoracic surgery. After one year, he changed jobs and took a position at Roswell Park Cancer Institute as a physician assistant in Radiation Medicine where he continues to work today. He chose to work with Oncology patients because of his previous research, the loss of his father and sister to cancer, and his own battle with cancer. He felt that with all the adversity he had fought through, he would be a positive voice to his patients during their difficult times in treatment.
Adam knows he made the right decision to become a physician assistant and has since passed his national re-certification examinations twice. He loves his wife and family and has time to be with them. He is also very happy that none of their children are dyslexic and that his early fears were unfounded. As many others have, Adam believes he has turned his experience with dyslexia into a gift that he uses daily to help others. Following treatment of his own cancer, Adam decided to fight his way back to good health and celebrates that through participating in triathlons such as the Iron Man competitions. Adam agreed to share his story in the hope that it would encourage other learning disabled students to find their inner strengths and accomplish their goals.
Adam shared the following tips:
1. Remember life is short; it's a gift, and a wonderful journey.
2. Your hardest times, the times forged from grit and determination, will be your biggest character building moments.
Tim is a 1988 graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College, married to Sheryl Watts, a 1990 graduate of Wesleyan where they met as students. They are the parents of two teenagers, Jack and Devon. They are a great family. At present Tim's career is in Medical Technology in Coventry, Connecticut.
Tim is dyslexic and has struggled with the problems that many dyslexics face, but his positive attitude and coping skills he has learned have allowed him to succeed. His problems began in elementary school. He recalls a painful experience in second grade. It was in spelling class. The teacher dictated the words. After writing them, the students corrected their own tests by looking at the correct spelling on the board. Tim, an achiever, was pleased as he had a 100%. His happiness was short lived when the teacher went around checking the work. She said he did not make 100%. He had misspelled probably. He protested that it was correct as it was exactly the same as the word on the board. He was embarrassed when the teacher showed him the correct spelling and what he had done wrong. He was upset because he thought the other students were laughing at him. Tim is the youngest of 6 children; all were good students. He was motivated to succeed. He knew his family expected him to do well and he didn't want to disappoint them.
In fourth grade when there was more emphasis on reading subject material such as science and social studies, and more required writing, he began to struggle more. He felt he had more trouble than other kids comprehending material. When he read, the words kept jumping all over the page, and he couldn't follow them. His family, realizing his frustration, was concerned. They discussed his problem with members of the Orton Society, an organization dedicated to the study of dyslexia. They were able to help by having Tim tested. Dyslexia was confirmed.
Even though Tim's dyslexia was diagnosed, most teachers in the 1970's and 1980's had not been trained to understand learning disabilities. Many did not even believe dyslexia really existed. The Americans With Disabilities Act was not passed until 1990, and Tim, like many others, needed accommodations that were not available in most schools.
Tim's parents felt that since the public school was not helping him, it would be good for Tim to go to a boarding school like his brothers and sisters did when they were in eighth grade. They enrolled him in a boarding school in Maine. Academically it was a good school and he enjoyed it, but they did not have teachers trained to teach dyslexics.
When Tim was in high school, his parents knew he was struggling but was motivated to succeed. As a result they began looking for other schools. They discovered Gow, a school for dyslexic boys near Buffalo, New York. Tim and one other boy were the first seniors that Gow School accepted. It was just the right place for him and at last he experienced academic success!
The faculty at Gow understood the problems of dyslexics and had developed methods to help them achieve success. Tim remembers Mark Kimble, the headmaster, who helped him write his 40 page paper on horses. To write a paper of that length, he had lots of material, but had problems organizing the information. Mr. Kimble taught him to outline. Outlining was a wonderful skill to learn and he uses it today in his work when writing technical manuals and teaching others to use them.
Tim said he will always be grateful for the study techniques he learned at Gow and Wesleyan. Tim particularly remembers using the book, Using Both Sides of the Brain, by Tony Buzzan, in Wesleyan's Study Skills Class. There he discovered that he was right hemisphered and he began using the techniques that went with his style of learning. This understanding has been helpful both in college and in his career.
Tim found his reading comprehension really improved when he learned to "chunk" words, which is seeing a group of words all at once. Since the brain's short term memory can only hold seven items at a time, Tim would lose the beginning of sentences when he tried to read a long sentence word by word; by "chunking" he was able to understand what he was reading. This is a method that has stayed with him when he reads. It is a method useful for everyone.
Excerpted from CELEBRATION of SUCCESS by PHYLLIS KOHL COSTON. Copyright © 2013 Phyllis Kohl Coston. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Adam Oberkircher.................... 1
Tim O'Connell.................... 7
Chuck Buck.................... 11
Fred Langsam.................... 15
Evan Tracey.................... 20
Allison Mohan Tracey.................... 25
Laura Overly Fisher.................... 33
Isaac Willis.................... 44
Fred Conklin.................... 54
Andrew Collins.................... 60
Tom Merrill's Guys: Jamie Fluke, Gregg McFarland, and Jim Chiang........... 65
Diane Leo Menorca.................... 75
Paul Virant.................... 82
Laura Rogers Ellis.................... 85
Jonathan Langsam.................... 89
Jennifer Shaw Fosko.................... 97
Amy Shearman O'Brien.................... 103
Katherine Kimes.................... 107
Mark Dangora.................... 112
James Hoffman.................... 121
Alice Babson.................... 126
Matthew Wallace.................... 137
Robert Hogan.................... 142
Emily Patton Hogan.................... 146
Christopher Kellogg.................... 150
Catherine Eldridge.................... 153
Patricia Boothe.................... 158
Jack Ewing.................... 163
John Edward Ciszek III.................... 169
Bryan Baker.................... 177
Kelly Pollard Paxton.................... 187
Karim Badwan.................... 192
Jennifer Buza.................... 197
Jeffrey Kulinsky.................... 201
Nick Selan.................... 207
Tips for Parents.................... 213
Tips for Teachers.................... 219
In Memoriam.................... 225