A Call to Medicine
Antonio Patterson can recall several times throughout his life when he felt a pull towards medicine, and one particular moment in 2016 led the now 50-year-old NYITCOM-Arkansas student to finally pursue his dream.
Patterson, who is an ordained minister, was on a medical mission trip to Haiti when his team was visited by a young boy who had been burned badly in a fire.
“When you’re in that clinic and you see someone suffering, something tugs on your heart,” Patterson says. “He was just wailing, crying so hard. I was praying for him and trying to comfort his family, but I said to myself, ‘Why can’t you use your hands to physically help him?’”
It was on that trip that Patterson circled back to a dream that began to take shape as a student at Ethel High School near Jackson, Mississippi.
Growing up, Patterson wanted to either play in the NFL or follow in the footsteps of his father and 11 uncles by pursuing a military career. But during his sophomore year at Ethel, Patterson suffered a heart attack following a football game, and that medical condition derailed both of his preferred career paths.
“Besides the fact that I never hit that growth spurt, my condition wouldn’t allow me to play football, and the military wouldn’t medically clear me either, Patterson says. “So, I buckled down and got into the books. I really grew to love biology, so I chose to major in it in college.”
Patterson attended Tougaloo College, a small university in Jackson. A short time later, he felt called to ministry, which led him to focus more on theology than his original course of study.
Over the next two decades, Patterson pastored churches and used his biology degree to teach junior high and high school science. He also held part-time positions as an X-ray technician and medical assistant, which kept medicine top of mind.
Shortly after his trip to Haiti, which reenergized his passion for medicine, Patterson moved to Bentonville, Ark., to be close to his wife’s family. Approaching 50 years old with a wife and three kids, Patterson spent much of his spare time studying for the MCAT after his days of teaching at Lincoln Junior High School.
Soon, his principal encouraged him to pursue a master’s program that would allow him to get into educational administration. The program was at Arkansas State University (A-State), which provided another moment of what Patterson believes was divine intervention.
“I got to Jonesboro and learned that (New York Tech) had opened a medical school on the A-State campus,” Patterson says. “I was grateful for the opportunity to study to be a principal, but I knew medicine was my calling at this point.”
Patterson wants to pursue family medicine because of the many hats the specialty allows a physician to wear. He’s committed to practicing in rural areas like the one where he grew up.
“I know it can be difficult to get physicians to practice in small towns, but those are my people,” Patterson says. “I’m one of them, and that’s where I want to be.”
While his journey is unique, Patterson believes he’s much more focused than he would have been had he started medical school when he was younger.
“I feel crazy sometimes,” Patterson jokes. “I think it’s more about the timing that life has for you. You can’t get around that. I’m at a point where I’m thinking about my legacy, and I want it to be one where I fulfilled my calling and was able to help others through medicine. I’m very grateful for an opportunity to pursue that.”