As a kid, Master of Biological Sciences graduate Dwayne Gibbs, thought he might follow in his father’s footsteps and become a paramedic or a firefighter. He remembers watching his dad studying flashcards, memorizing names of drugs and diseases, and poring over medical dictionaries.
“I saw how those jobs impacted my dad,” Gibbs recalls. “There were times when he came home exhausted and saddened by the suffering he saw as a first responder. However, I also witnessed how his work gave him joy and a sense of purpose.”
Gibbs knew the road would be tough, but he wanted to help people in the same way as his father.
Gibbs graduated from a small private college outside of Chicago where, he admits, he had a difficult journey. “Many of my classmates came from affluent backgrounds and had impressive academic pedigrees. I felt insecure around them as I thought of my own humble upbringing in the inner city. There were times when I felt that I was treated as an oddity, and I didn’t feel like my experiences were always validated.”
In addition to adjusting to the campus environment, Gibbs struggled to find balance between the rigorous academics and working nearly full-time. Despite those challenges, he persevered and graduated with a degree in biology. “College was bittersweet, but I wouldn’t change anything because it helped mold me into who I am today.”
After graduating and scoring modestly on the MCAT, Gibbs reassessed his motivations. Having no experience in the medical field, he began looking for employment at hospitals and clinics, hoping that the experience would give him more clarity about whether medicine was the right choice.
“I knew I needed to go all the way, 100%. It was either going to scare me away or draw me in,” he says. Eventually he was hired as a patient transporter and phlebotomist at a hospital in downtown Saint Paul.
While working at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Gibbs realized just how imperfect medicine can be and how it doesn’t always work. “Medicine can be very brutal, and things can go wrong. It’s ironic to think that we cut people open, pump bags of meds into a person’s arm, amputate limbs, and starve people of food and liquid—all because we’re trying to make them better.”
"Seeing the resilience and hope in patients gives me a lot of perspective and inspires me to appreciate life.”
Despite its flaws, Gibbs is grateful to witness the impact of medicine every day he comes in to work. “It’s a tremendous honor to work alongside physicians, nurses, technologists, and other hospital staff who have dedicated their lives to helping those who are sick and in need of medical care. Seeing the resilience and hope in patients gives me a lot of perspective and inspires me to appreciate life.”
For Gibbs, respect and empathy lie at the core of his pursuit of medicine. “I want to see health care change to what it was meant to be, where it’s all about the patients and the people caring for patients. When health care workers are completely overwhelmed and under-resourced, they experience compassion fatigue, and they’re not able to do their job to fidelity.
"I understand that hospitals and health care systems need to sustain themselves, but it isn’t good for patient care when we obsess over saving money and getting the best patient satisfaction scores. I don’t necessarily know how to change all of that, but my eyes are open.”
While working full-time at the hospital, Gibbs decided to go back to school as a post-baccalaureate student, in the hope of improving his undergraduate GPA. He took advanced science courses, including prerequisite courses for medical school.
He eventually took the MCAT a second time, only to be disappointed by his scores once more. Gibbs then applied to the MBS graduate program. While the MBS program is not primarily structured for students preparing for med school, Gibbs found a way to make it meet his needs and his busy work schedule.
“My experiences never jaded me; they made me appreciate this even more.”
“The goal was to challenge myself, improve my confidence, and become a more desirable applicant for med school,” he says. “Through the MBS program, I was able to achieve those goals, and here I am.”
After six years of working in a hospital, three attempts at the MCAT, and one graduate degree, Gibbs was finally accepted into medical school. He will begin his medical education and training at the University of Minnesota Medical School this summer. “My experiences never jaded me; they made me appreciate this even more.”
Gibbs is a recipient of the Nolte-Miller and Mucke-Roff Scholarships.