Oh, Creighton pre-med graduate Paul Akre will be wearing a white coat this fall.
He’ll wrack his brain over organic compounds. He’ll wield sharp tools with precision. He’ll learn an age-old language. And though this won’t be an explicit part of his training he’ll no doubt consider the Hippocratic admonition to do no harm.
To food and diners, that is.
Akre, breaking from the pack of medical-school-bound biology majors, is heading to culinary school this fall.
This 22-year-old, who left home in Pewaukee, Wis., for four years at Creighton in part for its medical program, will take a one- to two-year to forever detour to explore the science of food.
No slouch, Akre is headed to Paris, to the crème de la crème of culinary schools: Le Cordon Bleu.
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking,” Akre said. “The kitchen has become a solace.”
Whether it will become his landing place is yet to be seen. Akre plans to take the Medical College Admission Test again before he leaves. He already took a practice Law School Admission Test. He figures the 10 months of culinary training and an internship or two in Paris kitchens will lead him to a more clear decision about his future.
It’s not unusual for college graduates to take a year off between undergraduate and professional school. Some places actually encourage it so prospective grad students can participate in public service programs.
Medical school is so competitive fewer than three of every 100 applicants to Creighton University’s School of Medicine were accepted for the 2010-11 class that taking a so-called “gap year” can help students who didn’t score well on the MCAT or otherwise need to round out their experience. Volunteer work, hobbies and personal interests can be an important part of a medical school application along with stellar grades and test scores.
Still, the drumbeat to start medical school is so strong and the years that follow many that most pre-med students who survive organic chemistry, the MCAT and medical school applications don’t wait.
Of about 100 pre-med students graduating each year, about two-thirds apply to go immediately to medical school, said Charles Austerberry, assistant professor of biology at Creighton.
About two-thirds of Creighton’s newly-graduated medical school applicants get in the first time they try and eventually 70 percent of them become admitted to American medical schools, he said. Some get in one year later and more get in two or more years after earning their bachelor’s degrees. This doesn’t count those who become physicians by going to osteopathic medical schools or to medical schools outside the U.S.
The time away can help applicants become stronger.
“The medical schools don’t seem to care how long it takes an applicant to prepare, they just care about the readiness of the applicant when she or he does apply,” he said.
Tricia Sharrar, Creighton’s associate vice president for academic affairs, commended Akre for taking time to make a conscientious decision, one she believes will benefit him in the long run.
“We talked about law, we talked about health, we talked about medicine,” Sharrar said. “He (realized) he would be working for the rest of his life. He started to think about what might make him happy and give him a challenge and, at the same time, open his eyes to a whole new world before buckling down.”
The decision didn’t come lightly.
Akre bucked family tradition (his parents are Marquette graduates) and chose Creighton for its pre-med program, its science curriculum and its Catholic identity.
He’d always wanted to be a doctor, thinking as a child his pediatrician was lucky to have the job he did. And he did well in science classes. So he followed the pre-med route, majoring in something traditional (biology) and something not (French).
Like other pre-med juniors, Akre took the MCAT in 2009 but felt his score “was not entirely competitive” and figured he’d retake it and then apply. Meanwhile, he plugged into Creighton’s nascent pre-med advisory program a new effort that attempts to coalesce and build on the university’s existing medical school application help.
An outgoing, personable student, Akre led a student pro-life group, taught yoga, logged more than 150 hours as a shadow and volunteer at Creighton University Medical Center and donned the Billy Bluejay costume to play mascot at Creighton home games. When the rigors of college life became too much, he retreated to the same place to regroup: the kitchen. But not for beer and Ramen.
His snacks were three-egg omelets. His dinners, roast chicken, beef stew or salmon, tilapia or halibut.
The sounds of appliances humming and the knife chopping on a cutting board soothed him. He could channel his inner Food Network favorite hosts, Ina Garten and Giada De Laurentiis, and go nuts.
During his final year at Creighton, Akre searched his heart and landed in his gut.
He was decently proficient in French but really needed language immersion to nail it. His parents, while not quite understanding “my ability to let go” nevertheless supported his desire to learn at one of the top culinary schools, a detour that won’t be cheap. (Akre is budgeting about $60,000 for the year, including about $40,000 for tuition.).
He figures now is the time. He’s witnessed family members struggle with health and career and doesn’t want to be stuck or miserable.
“I’m just going to be open,” he said.
Now all he needs to do is send Le Cordon Bleu is his measurements for trousers, shoes, a chef’s hat and that white jacket.
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