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Shaking up the med student profile

Career changer Jason Powell trades a successful finance career for doctor dream

Friday Oct 03, 2014

Jason Powell is one of those students who just can’t seem to get enough of life in general.

A conversation with him reveals an insatiable thirst for adventure, for knowledge, for significance. A first-year medical student at Indiana University School of Medicine – Northwest, Powell describes himself as a bit of a “busy body,” meaning that he wants to be involved in many experiences.

When Powell first left his home in Homewood-Flossmoor, Ill. for college, he wanted to be an Air Force fighter pilot, so he enrolled in an aeronautical engineering program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. But when it came time to commit to a career in the military, he wasn’t so sure. He changed his major his junior year and went into finance.

Not quite ready to leave the collegiate life upon graduation, Powell immediately pursued his MBA. He then moved back to Chicago and put his degree to work alongside his parents in the real estate business, specifically in property management and development.

With lots of connections in the finance realm, a family working in real estate, and a knack for entrepreneurship, Powell became wildly successful at buying, selling and managing properties and soon owned plenty of his own real estate. At the age of 24, he admits he was making a lot of money but didn’t necessarily use it wisely. In fact, he admits spending it in a “grandiose fashion.”

In his early 30s, Powell suffered a wakeboarding accident in which he nearly lost his life, severely fracturing his leg in six places. The subsequent recovery, in which he was laid up for several months, prompted a period of reflection.

 “What had I accomplished?” he’d wondered in those lonesome days in his Chicago penthouse condominium, “Was it enough? Was it the right thing?”

Powell began to feel that there was a better plan for him. A more significant career. Now almost 36, he has decided that money doesn’t buy happiness. His “busy body” nature has become one of wanting to experience life in a way that makes a difference for someone else.

When he recovered and got back to work, Powell began tapping into his resources and taking advantage of mentoring opportunities to explore what would become his next career. Powell called on one of his fraternity brothers who is an emergency medicine physician at a Chicago hospital and shadowed him on the job.

Powell was amazed by the impact his mentor had made on a daily basis in his job. He’d remembered that at some point in his childhood, he had dreamed about being a doctor, but somewhere along the way, he’d “let the dream die.”

Given his history, it is clear that Powell does not shy away from risk, or obstacles. As a finance major, getting into medical school wasn’t as easy as filling out an application. He had to first complete a heavy load of pre-requisites, which he did at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a non-degree seeking graduate student.

He said he chose UIC because it is basically “science central” and he wanted to see if he could “hang with the best and brightest.” Clearly, he could, and he embellished his experience by becoming an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and working a summer in triage in a South Side emergency room.

It’s seems more appropriate now to say he’d let the doctor dream “go dormant,” because here he is today, at the age of 36, working through his first year at IUSM-NW.

“I was so happy to be accepted at IUSM-NW and, in fact, I chose Gary as my primary campus,” Powell said.

He explained that the smaller class size and personal attention available at IUSM-NW is very important to him. Having a professor stop by study sessions to ask students if they need last minute help before an exam is a perk he’d never experienced before. He also appreciates the help second-year students provide as peer tutors.

“I had never experienced that before,” Powell said. “I enjoyed my time at UIC, but being in a class of 300 people is much different than a class of 26. Also, I am passionate about the population I want to serve, which is the underprivileged African-American population. I am really interested in this area and being involved in the community of Gary.”

Powell comes from a family of folks with a giving spirit. He remembers that his grandmother always had a guest in her home, usually battered women who needed a place to stay. His mother, originally a chemist, had traded her successful career for a job as a math teacher in a disadvantaged Chicago school.

Perhaps the penchant for paying it forward is indeed in one’s genes.

One can be philanthropic in many ways. Those with money can fund causes they feel strongly about. Those with a particular talent can use it to benefit others with no strings attached. And even those with little time to spare can find ways to volunteer it.

As a “busy body,” it seems Powell isn’t happy with one and has to contribute all.

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