Student takes work ethics from football field to a career in medicineTweet
By Jane Ma
Fourth-year medical student Samkon Gado, right, reviews medical information with an MUSC practitioner. photo provided
Samkon Gado, a fourth–year medical student from Columbia, South Carolina, is just one semester away from completing medical school and entering the world of professional health care. But this is not the first transition from school that he’s made; out of college, he signed as a free agent into the National Football League. After six seasons — having played for the Chiefs, Packers, Texans, Dolphins, Rams, and Titans — he returned to school, becoming a full–time student at the College of Medicine.
Gado recalled that the transition wasn’t necessarily easy: “There were definitely some things I was a little rusty on,” he said, “but in some ways, the professional world prepared me for the pressures of medical school. For my part, it was just where life took me, and I don’t regret the path I took.”
It was this pathway that led him back to South Carolina to study medicine. Gado confessed that it was a love of home that attracted him to MUSC: “I grew up in this state, and growing up, MUSC was always the state standard. I’ve always wanted to go to MUSC from the moment I knew I wanted to be a doctor. It was the best place for me to learn and be near family.”
Gado has known since he was in high school that he wanted to be a physician. He said, “The idea was birthed my sophomore year, in a biology class. I honestly was not the best student, but
I worked earnestly. I remember I did really well in that class. I got one of the highest grades and that’s when I began to think, ‘I can do this. This was something I could really do.’ I was genuinely interested in the human body, especially as an athlete. I loved biology, knew how to put in the work, and seemed to be good at the subject.”
These three elements — passion, hard work and natural talent — seem to be the defining aspects of Gado’s approach to his work, whether in a jersey or white coat. Gado said that he was surprised by how much of success in medical school and as a physician, is determined by effort and discipline rather than mental faculties: “You think that doctors are the smartest people in the world from the outside looking in. To a certain degree I think this is true, but I think one of the most important aspects of a successful doctor is the ability to work hard and endure difficult circumstances. That’s really something I developed early in my life on the field, the capacity for hard work, and to do it day in and day out until it becomes second nature. I think that’s important in medicine, developing and maintaining good habits. I don’t think that the NFL is the only place to learn that, but that’s one of the schools that taught me this important lesson. I always had to work harder than those with more natural talent in the League.”
On the other hand, Gado believes that at the end of the day, competency and results matter because of the nature of medicine. “It’s good to work hard, but sometimes trying hard is not good enough. You’re dealing with people, with real patients. It’s a lot of pressure. That can’t dominate the conversation, but there’s a place for results. It’s a hefty responsibility when life and death hang in the balance. You need to care enough to work to be competent. The NFL teaches this as well, in terms of performing at a high level for the sake of winning games, but medicine is a much higher calling than that.”
Prior to medical school, Samko Gado was a running back with the Green Bay Packers and five other NFL teams. photo provided
The NFL is not the only place that has prepared Gado for this responsibility, however. He discussed the ways in which the College of Medicine has prepared him for the high demands and standards of a physician’s work.
He credits the shift to an integrated curriculum that focuses on maximizing learning and not ranking students. “There seems to be a shift in medical schools now that’s indirectly addressing the growing incidence of depression and suicide in medical students and consequently doctors. MUSC has switched from a grades–based to a pass/fail honors system, in addition to the many programs in place that cater to the well–being of students. The counseling and psychological program, CAPS, is an excellent example. MUSC goes to great lengths to meet students where they are and help them address issues before they carry them into their respective fields where it can negatively impact patients.”
He also believes the idea of eliminating competition by highlighting MUSC’s team–based methodology was a sound move. “I think this change in perspective is healthy and beneficial. Classmates are more comrades and not competitors. This isn’t a race, each man for himself. We’re all on the same team facing the same opponent and everyone has a place on the team. People learn better in this environment, and that leads to better doctors. If we’re all on the same team, then we all succeed together.”
These distinctive experiences have helped Gado, on and off the field, prepare for his future as an ear, nose and throat doctor. Looking back, he reflected on lessons learned from football and the College of Medicine that he will carry with him into residency and beyond. Ultimately, he’s just thankful that he’s made it to this point. “Football was wonderful, and I will always be thankful for that time. But it wasn’t something I could do indefinitely, and I knew that. It was always medicine for me, since that high school biology class. Being at MUSC was a great experience simply because of the opportunity it afforded. Getting into medicine was the biggest hurdle, and I’m so grateful to MUSC for giving me the opportunity to be a doctor and bring my goals to fruition.”