AS A CHILD, I NEVER DREAMED of the possibility of growing up to become a doctor.
But here I am. In June, I will graduate from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA with the title M.D. after my name. Soon after, I will begin my residency in emergency medicine at the University of Virginia. I will be 33 years old.
How did I arrive here?
Though I have known the value and satisfaction of hard work and dedication to community since an early age, my path to a career in medicine has not been traditionally straightforward.
My family has a long-standing history of military service. After graduation from high school in Rialto, California, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where I trained as a firefighter and graduated from the National Fire Academy. I was assigned as an airport/structure firefighter, and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal for serving during a time of war. After completing my military service, I continued to serve as a firefighter and EMT in Clearwater County, Idaho, and also volunteered with Americorps to teach adult basic education to incarcerated individuals at a maximum-security prison, assisting more than 100 of those prisoners to earn their high school diplomas.
There were many lives that I was able to touch as an EMT and volunteer, and it was tremendously rewarding, but the phrase I kept repeating to myself was, “I can do more.” With the encouragement of my mentor, Dr. Curtis L.V. Adams, a local physician whom i came to know during an EMT certification course, my experiences as a firefighter and EMT and my commitment to public service and bettering society in whatever way I can were coalescing into a new career direction.
I was no longer content to be the emergency medical provider who transported and delivered the patient to the emergency staff at the hospital; I wanted to be that doctor to whom the patient was being delivered.
So after two years, I made the difficult decision to return to school to pursue a degree in medicine. I enrolled at San Bernardino Valley College and then UC Riverside to complete my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. At first, the long process of going back to school was an arduous task, and my goal of a degree in medicine seemed almost unattainable. However, when moments of doubt arose, the values I learned from my previous life experiences strengthened my resolve to accomplish my dream. Much like being in a structure fire, giving up was not an option. I put my head down and diligently completed my premed requirements at UCR.
While there, I continued my volunteer activities, facilitating organic chemistry workshops for the MESA program at San Bernardino Valley College. During my four years of medical school, I have volunteered with the UCR/UCLA student run homeless clinic to help homeless and indigent patients on the streets in the Inland Empire and with the Flying Samaritans at a small clinic in the Baja California community of El Hongo. And I work hard to balance these activities with recreation outside of the hospital such as martial arts and scuba diving.
I did not start out with the goal of one day practicing medicine. It was instilled in me slowly over the years, the sum of my many varied experiences and with the strong support of my family and role models. The journey to arrive here has not been easy, but the life experiences I have collected along the way are precious, and they will be invaluable to me as I embark on this new journey as a physician. So when I opened my envelope on Match Day in March to learn where I would be going for my residency, the flood of excitement and satisfaction that I felt reaffirmed my choice to take the chance and pursue a dream that I didn’t even know I had until I was already well along the path of my life.
Thomas S. Laughrey, M.D. ’10, is the first member of his family to earn a professional degree, but the others are following close behind. Both his parents are pursuing graduate education – his mother toward a Ph.D. in psychology and his father toward a master’s in education – and one of his sisters is a senior completing a premed program, and another sister is a college freshman.