Post-Bac Premed Program Helps Alum Follow His Calling
- By Rachel B Carter
Designing snowboards at Burton might not be the straightest path to treating patients in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, but for one alumnus the UVM Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program helped bridge that divide. Major Doug Powell, MD, is humble about his journey to becoming a doctor. "Anyone can do this. I am not particularly gifted, but I put in the work to understand it," he says. "If you are committed and can take one bite at a time, recognize this is a decade-long journey, and enjoy it." His advice for others on the journey? "Don’t worry about having to publish an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, just focus on the next test — for now.”
Back in 1991, Vermont native Doug Powell, was a design team leader at Burton Snowboards. A graduate of Middlebury College with a degree in history, Powell had always been drawn to healthcare volunteering and began visiting and reading to Fletcher Allen oncology patients. Finding his interactions with patients rewarding, Powell decided he wanted to change his career. Advice pointed him to medical school, and he soon learned the most recommended way to connect his unrelated undergraduate degree with medicine was through the UVM Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program.
In 1999, Powell met with Polly Allen, the post-bac program director and respected adviser to many students transitioning into the medical field. Allen encouraged Powell to try one class, and he told himself that if he got good grades, he’d take another class. He was keen at completing components of a larger obstacle, and his background in endurance athletics helped him build up slowly for a big effort sustained over time — a skill which would serve him very well through his medical training. He got an A, and kept earning A’s, all while going to school at night and working at Burton by day.
In 2001, Powell completed his post-bac work which he credits for preparing him to successfully complete the MCATs. “The post-bac program introduced the language of science and medicine which in a lot of ways is training in itself,” he reflects. “The road to understanding the language — not just the words, but how they are applied and are relevant — was an essential building block to everything that followed in medical school and clinical training.”
He admits he didn’t get into medical school the first time around. But on a return flight from an interview in sports design, he sat next to a lady with cancer. They engaged in deep conversation the entire way home, and Powell realized he had work left to do in the medical field.
His second attempt at medical school applications rewarded Powell with acceptance into Wake Forest University in 2002. Way stations along the path have included residency in internal medicine at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., and Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany — taking care of wounded service members in the ICU on their journey back to the U.S. In one of the highest profile deployments in Afghanistan, Powell volunteered as a brigade surgeon, caring for 4,000 combat soldiers. Further motivated by his desire to treat soldiers and their families, he became a critical care medicine fellow at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Graduating from the Walter Reed fellowship in 2013 and moving to Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., Powell is now the first staff intensivist at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg. “Womack is an Army hospital which is really trying to build up its capabilities and take care of more complicated patients. Being a part of such a tight team providing really good care is a great first opportunity out of training,” he says. Now living just down the road from where he went to medical school, Powell and his retired Army officer wife, two dogs, a cat, and a horse have settled in at their new home.
Major Doug Powell, MD, has thought about the post-bac program and assistance from UVM’s Continuing Education Department many times on his journey "from Biology 101 to the present," he says. "Medicine was a calling and the process of going through the post-bac program while surrounding myself with patients as a volunteer helped keep me grounded," he says. "If someone is really meant to do this, patients will help find a way. I remember walking across the UVM Green, thinking of failing chemistry and then visiting a pancreatic patient, and I would remember my calling.” Staying in contact with patients has continued to help Powell through the rough spots, and he reports he's never lost his love of medicine.