Sep 11, 2019

Dr. Chan: What makes a professional ballet dancer want to be a doctor? What's it like to live in San Francisco on a ballet scholarship at 17 years old? How do dance-related injuries spark medical curiosity? What's it like to transition from a hands-off approach, home school education to a kinesiology degree at the University of Utah? And how is an interview for medical school like an audition for a dance company? Today, on "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life," I interview Eoin, a first-year medical student here at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Announcer: Helping you prepare for one of the most rewarding careers in the world. This is "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life" with your host, the Dean of Admissions at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Dr. Benjamin Chan.

Dr. Chan: Okay, we've got another great guest today, Eoin, incoming first-year medical student. Hello, Eoin, how are you doing?

Eoin: I'm good. How are you?

Dr. Chan: Good. So let's see. We're going to start school in a few weeks. How does it feel right now?

Eoin: You know, it's starting to set in. At the beginning of the summer, it still felt really far away, and then it was this distant prospect, but now with three weeks to go, it's starting to really set in and making plans for family coming out for white coat day. I'm like, "Oh, this is actually going to happen."

Dr. Chan: This is actually going to go down. All right. So let's start at the beginning. Like when did you think about applying to medical school? When did that first thought come into your head?

Eoin: So if I go way back to the beginning where it first was an inkling, I would say it was around when I was 25 and I was still dancing professionally and it would kind of pop up as this idea and I was intrigued by it, but I also thought it was unrealistic. And so I kept on disregarding it and just saying that, you know, "I'm too old to try to start in on a path for medical school." And also, I didn't feel like I was really academically-minded. And so I put it on hold for a long time, and then it was really when I was 29 and I was working as an EMT and going to school part-time and I just felt like that this was something that I had to do and I had to try and if I didn't try, I would always regret not trying. So that's when I made the leap, full-time student started studying here at The U, and that was three years ago.

Dr. Chan: Okay. Let's back up because you alluded to the dancing. So how . . . I'm just, I want to learn more about this because how old were you when you started dancing? Let's talk about that, that part of your life.

Eoin: So I took my first ballet class when I was six years old.

Dr. Chan: Six? Okay. Wow.

Eoin: Yeah. I had friends who were in productions of "The Nutcracker," and so my parents had been taking me to see it since I was three and then asked me, you know, "Is this something you think you'd like to try?" And I said, "Yeah," and . . .

Dr. Chan: Where's this at? Was this Utah or . . .

Eoin: No. This is in Boston.

Dr. Chan: Boston. Okay.

Eoin: Yeah. So I started in a little ballet school, one studio in a basement when I was six and just started taking ballet classes. And for the first five years, it was just fun activity I did along with doing some theater and doing soccer and basketball. And then it was really when I was 11, I started enjoying some more success with ballet and getting cast in bigger parts.

Dr. Chan: Is that what . . . I mean, do they have like auditions and tryouts?

Eoin: Yes.

Dr. Chan: Yeah, I mean, what does success look like when you're that old?

Eoin: When you're that age, it's you're trying out for a part, say in "The Nutcracker" and you're getting a big part, you're getting to dance "The Nutcracker" lead. And it definitely helped that there's fewer boys in ballet. And so I started enjoying the success, getting on stage a lot, really enjoyed performing. And that's when I . . . When teachers talked to me and said, you know, "If you want to do this professionally, you have to commit and start training a lot."

And so it was when I was 11 that I started in on a pre-professional track, which is taking ballet class every day, and then throughout the years, the intensity just increased more and more. When I was 17, I got a full scholarship to a ballet school out in San Francisco, one of the top ones in the country. So I moved across country, went out there, started studying. That was an all-day program. And then, yeah, that led to me getting my first job with a ballet company when I was 19 in New York City.

Dr. Chan: So in high school, did you go to the, quote-unquote, normal high school or?

Eoin: No, I was homeschooled.

Dr. Chan: Oh, you were homeschooled?

Eoin: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Chan: And was that to help your ballet career or? It's like, I'm just trying to like . . . like what does a typical week look like? I mean, you said ballet every day. I mean, so we're talking hundreds of hours a week or . . .

Eoin: Yeah. Yeah. Typically with ballet, especially, once I was a teenager, I would be taking about four and a half hours of ballet class a day, plus sometimes going to rehearsals on top of that plus trying to do some cross-training. So it could really take up my whole day.

Dr. Chan: Is it like a class, class with others, or is it more like one-on-one teaching?

Eoin: Mostly a class with others. Yeah, usually, you know, you could have anywhere from 20 to 30 kids in a ballet class all in this pre-professional track. And I should say I have been homeschooled always since I was little, but it definitely helped a lot with ballet and allowing myself to devote myself completely to ballet. So to put that all into perspective for schooling, I really didn't do much school as a high school student, and I only got my GED when I was 23.

Dr. Chan: Do you mind me asking, like why did your family homeschool you? What was the impetus for that?

Eoin: So I have an older half-sister, and she had had a bad experience in the public schools with being bullied a lot. And so like my parents had a bad taste in their mouth right then. And so they decided, you know, "We're just going to try homeschooling and see how that works." And then they also had this . . . they have this philosophy that children can teach themselves whatever it is that they need to know. So that was something that we were really exploring as I was a kid, this idea that children just naturally learn by themselves. So it gave me a lot of time to pursue all my interests. At the same time, I really felt like I was not academic at all, and that definitely contributed to me thinking that med school was never going to be a possibility since I had never formally studied academics in the way you would in school.

Dr. Chan: You know, in Utah . . . I know a little bit about the homeschool movement, but like homeschooling means different things to different families. Sometimes it literally means like their mom and dad being their teacher, but sometimes it means like these little co-op formings or like other families who are homeschooling and they bring in outside teachers and sometimes they allow their kids to go to the local school for a couple of classes, like sometimes in the arts. So there's kind of like a wide variety. I mean, did you kind of have a consistent model growing up, or did it kind of fluctuate depending on what's going on?

Eoin: So our model was called unschooling, which was basically just completely hands-off in terms of a structured academic curriculum. You do need to check in with the school department, the local school department regularly so you are registered as a homeschooler. And then what was nice about growing up in Boston is when I was about 10, I think there was about 100 other families in the vicinity doing various forms of homeschooling. So there was definitely a community, which was nice, but there were definitely people doing all different types, some didn't. Like this was before online, but they were doing it through correspondence. I knew families doing that or some yes, the parents would make lesson plans, but our type was definitely more of a hands-off approach.

Dr. Chan: Okay. Okay. So you're studying ballet, you're becoming better and better, you're getting more and more parts. And you kind of alluded to, like there's not that many boys. Like how many boys would be in your classes? And then would you start recognizing people doing auditions because it sounds like a pretty small community or . . .

Eoin: Yeah, it's interesting. So when I was younger, say like 11, 12, 13, I'd have maybe like one or two boys in my class and 20 girls and then . . . but as you get more and more advanced, as you get more and more boys in your class. And when I went to San Francisco, it was pretty incredible because I was suddenly in a class with just boys, and there were 16 of us and they had come from all over the world to dance. And especially with . . . Ballet was more popular for boys in other parts of the world, but the U.S. has a lot of professional ballet companies, so the U.S. attracts a lot of male dancers from all over the globe. And so that was really cool, suddenly being surrounded by a whole peer group of boys, all 17, 18 years old. And I think out of the 16 of us, I think 15 went on to dance professionally.

Dr. Chan: Wow. Wow. How was that growing up in Boston, but then making a huge jump to San Francisco? Was that seamless or were you homesick or . . .?

Eoin: I loved it.

Dr. Chan: It seems like a big jump. Yeah.

Eoin: I remember I was really homesick on Christmas. I think for the rest of the year I was just so excited to be there. We were living in these awesome dorms. Someone had donated this mansion to the ballet school, and I think you're familiar with San Francisco. It was in Pacific Heights.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. I lived in the Bay Area for a while. Go, Stanford. All right.

Eoin: Yeah. So it was in Pacific Heights, this absolutely huge mansion. It's like Bill Gates had a mansion, I think two blocks away from us. So there was 25 of us living in this dorm, and yeah, it was just like a very exciting time having moved across the country, studying ballet all the time, being with this great peer group. And I was just loving every minute of it. It was funny though, so Pacific Heights, one of the most expensive ZIP Codes, probably in the country, when I got into the company there and was no longer on scholarship and earning a paycheck, all I could afford was the tenderloin. So I went from Pacific Heights to the tenderloin.

Dr. Chan: So how did that work? So like you got a scholarship, but then you mention a company, so depending on your performance or how you did in the school were you guaranteed a position? I mean, how was that set up?

Eoin: Yeah, so if you get into a company, it's a yearlong contract. Yeah. And so you audition for companies.

Dr. Chan: And that's pretty standard.

Eoin: Yes. Usually, when you're like 18, 19 years old and you'll go around audition for companies all over the country, often people will audition for maybe 12 companies. And it kind of felt like applying to med school. You just put yourself out there, go audition.

Dr. Chan: Do they watch tapes of you or just show up and do a performance? I mean, how did they do it?

Eoin: Often, you send material ahead of time, your resume, photos, videotapes, and if you're lucky enough, then they will invite you to come take class with their company or . . . And that's the best way to audition for a company because then the director's going to be there watching you. If they don't do that, often you can still go to open audition, which they call a cattle call and . . .

Dr. Chan: It's like a free for all.

Eoin: Yeah. It'll be in New York. You may have a couple of 100 people there all auditioning for the company. There's probably like two or three spots open, and you're all . . . you have numbers on, you're all vying for attention, and they just teach a ballet class, they watch you dance, and then afterwards, you know, they say, "Thank you, we'll be in touch." And then you play the waiting game for a couple months.

Dr. Chan: And do you like, do you have an agent that kind of helps with this? Or when they make a contract offer, they're just dealing with you and? Is there any negotiation that happens or . . .

Eoin: Well, what's nice with ballet companies is that all of the major ballet companies, they're part of a national union called the American Guild of Musical Artists, which covers ballet companies, opera companies. And so it's called AGMA, and it's an AGMA contract. So you just sign into that, you become a member of AGMA, and then there's all sorts of protections for the dancers and they set what the salaries can be and they set your hours and stuff like that. So you don't actually have to negotiate yourself and go back and forth for money, that's something that the company will do as a whole.

Dr. Chan: Interesting. This is fascinating. This is like a whole separate like universe that I've peripherally been aware of, but don't know too much about the details. You're okay with me keeping asking?

Eoin: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. So it seems to me that, you know, like dancing, you know, like I get the sense like these tryouts, for lack of better word, like it sounds like they're very singular by yourself, but also there's this component of like you're dancing with other people. I mean, would you ever have tryouts like with someone to kind of show off, like how you get . . . like the chemistry and how well you dance together, or is it pretty much singular and they just expect everyone that gets selected to learn how to dance together? Do you see what I'm saying?

Eoin: Yes. When you're first trying to get into a company, when you're say 19 years old, it's very much you're just by yourself, and they're just watching you dance solo. Once you get into a company, now you have your contract, you have your weekly paycheck, but there still can be plenty of competition because every production that's done, you're never guaranteed what kind of parts you're going to get. And so someone may come in to choreograph a production, and usually the first couple of days feel like a big audition and they're trying different combinations of people. So you're with one person and they're seeing how that looks, and then they'll mix you up and put you with other people. So once you're actually in a company, yes, there's much more. They're looking at your chemistry and how you work with other people. And so, yes, all through your career, you do still feel like you're auditioning to some extent.

Dr. Chan: Okay. All right. So you're at ballet school, and how long was ballet school for?

Eoin: Ballet school. So my intense training was 11 until I was 19, so 8 years of pretty hard training.

Dr. Chan: And then that's when you . . . like that's when you started auditioning for these different companies?

Eoin: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: And where did life take you then?

Eoin: So it took me to New York. That was my first job.

Dr. Chan: That's really great, right?

Eoin: It was. Yes.

Dr. Chan: Is that a great ballet . . . We're going to get in the weeds of it, but I know like there's different companies with different reputations and different styles, and . . . yeah.

Eoin: Yes. So I got into . . . it's called the second company or it's called Studio Company, which is basically like medical residency for American Ballet Theatre in New York City, which performs at Lincoln Center. So one of the top companies internationally. So that was really exciting, getting to live in New York. And I was there for a year, and then I actually, since it's a yearly contract and my contract didn't get renewed. And so, again, auditioning for companies all over the country. Got hired on with San Francisco Ballet.

Dr. Chan: So you're just living in these cool parts . . . You're just bouncing from coast to coast? Yeah.

Eoin: Yeah. Basically all my belongings fit in three suitcases for a number of years. And so I moved back to San Francisco. There I was an apprentice with the company, so that's maybe like your final year of residency. I did that for a year, and then at the end of the year, they decided they needed to downsize the company by a few dancers. So, again, I got let go and so, again, third year auditioning for companies all over the country, and that's when I got the offer from Ballet West here in Salt Lake City. So when I was 21, moved from San Francisco to Salt Lake City for the company here.

Dr. Chan: Okay. And how'd you feel about that? Because we're talking New York City, we're talking San Francisco. Utah's kind of a different place.

Eoin: Yes, definitely. It was a little bit of a shock when I first moved here. So I had been living right in the middle of San Francisco, which was really fun. I, you know, was kind of scraping to make my rent, but it was fun. And so moved here to Salt Lake City. It was 2008. I felt like the city was a little dead. They had knocked down the whole City Creek Mall in the middle of downtown and hadn't built anything yet. So it was a little bit of a shock how quiet it was for me.

And at first, I didn't like it at all and I was like, "This is just for a couple of years, and then I'm going to move." But then the longer I stayed here, the more I liked it and then I started to get into hiking and going down to southern Utah. And then also the city, I felt like has really come alive over the last 10 years. And now, when I think of moving, I'm like, "Ah, you know, I could move, but it wouldn't be Salt Lake. I'd miss Salt Lake."

Dr. Chan: So. And then did your professional career start taking off as well? Were you getting more and more productions and . . . I mean, what did that look like?

Eoin: Yeah, it was really exciting when I got here to Ballet West because now I was a full company member and so, I was eligible to be cast in any part in any production. So my first season here, I got a couple soloist parts, and that was really exciting. Dr. Chan: What were those in? What were some of the names of these productions?

Eoin: Yeah. So . . .

Dr. Chan: I'm going to nod like I recognize them because I bet like I recognize Nutcracker outside of that. It's like, "Oh, okay." Yeah.

Eoin: Yeah. So I got some solos parts in "Nutcracker," especially opening night, got to do the lead in the Russian Dance. So that was really exciting. Got my name in the paper. That was fun. And then there was another ballet called "Prodigal Son," which is choreographed by a famous ballet choreographer called Balanchine. So we did that, got to dance the lead in that, that was fun. There was also a ballet version of the opera, "Madame Butterfly."

Dr. Chan: Okay. I am familiar with that.

Eoin: Yeah. And I had one of the soloist parts in that, so that was fun. I got to be a villain in that, which is always fun to do. And so, yeah, it was really exciting.

Dr. Chan: Did you get to travel the world?

Eoin: Yeah. We did get to . . . I don't think we ever toured internationally when I was in the company, but we went back to New York, performed there. We went to D.C. and performed at the Kennedy Center. We went to Chicago, performed. Big amphitheater there, performed there, went to Las Vegas. So yeah, it was really, it was really fun.

Dr. Chan: And what's it like to be a full company member? Because like you eat, breathe . . . It's like a full-time job, so like we're talking like 60 hours a week, 70? I mean would you get like Mondays off? Because mostly performance on the week? I mean, what did that look like?

Eoin: So we would have rehearsal weeks and then performance weeks. And during rehearsal weeks, we'd only work five days a week. Typical ballet day starts 10:00 in the morning. You have a ballet class to warm up. That lasts for an hour and a half. Once that's done, get a little break, then you have three hours of rehearsal, break for lunch, and then after lunch, another three hours of rehearsal and you're usually getting out of there around 7:00. And some weeks will be harder than others. You'll have weeks where you're just going the whole time, rehearsing continuously and other weeks where maybe you do have, you know, an hour off here and there. So that's rehearsal weeks.

Performance weeks are a little different. We only work six hours a day . . . Sorry, six days a week. And usually for that class will be at say 11:00. You'll warm-up, then you'll have only two hours of rehearsal in the afternoon, then you'll get a big break. And then typically you'll come back to the theater often around 6:00 and show starts at 7:30 and then we'll go till 10, 10:30 at night.

Dr. Chan: So Eoin, when I first started this conversation with you, I thought you were going to tell me like, like if you had some sort of orthopedic injury like that started the journey to wanting you to become a doctor. Is there any truth to that?

Eoin: You know, there is. I had a lot of contact with PTs ever since I started dancing because I had so many injuries. I had stress fractures in both of my feet, different points. When I was 15, I had two stress fractures in my L5 vertebrae, which was awful. I was in a back brace for nine months. I also had to have an ankle surgery to remove a bone spur. I had to have knee surgery to clean out some fibrous tissue that was catching on my kneecap.

So, yes, I spent a lot of time, especially with PTs and I think that did definitely contribute to my interest in medicine. While it always really sucked to be injured, I was always interested in what was going on in there, what was the mechanics and why was I being given these specific physical therapy exercises and what was it going to do for my body? So while I hated being injured, I did find the recovery really interesting.

Dr. Chan: So you're thinking about medicine more and more. How did those discussions go with Ballet West? I mean, did you kind of tell them like, "Hey, I'm kind of thinking about doing this," or, you know, I mean, how would that look like?

Eoin: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Because, obviously, you sound like you had to start taking some classes, and so, did you have to kind of step down a bit or, I mean . . . Yeah.

Eoin: So what happened for me is I taken a couple online classes my last year at Ballet West, just, you know, elementary English, beginning algebra, just trying to get myself ready cause I was thinking of transitioning. Wasn't exactly sure what I was going to do. I kept on thinking about medicine, but wasn't sure if it was realistic. I'd always say to myself, "Well, maybe if I was 18 and was starting all over again, I'd go for it." And I ended up deciding that I was going to become an EMT. That seemed like a much more realistic goal for me at age 26 now and also a good way to kind of try out health care, test the waters. So I just retired from the company. I told them that I wasn't going to be resigning my contract for the next year and then I immediately started and . . .

Dr. Chan: Was hard to walk away? Because it sounds like you've been doing all your life.

Eoin: Yes. It was yes and no. I felt like I was ready to be done dancing since I . . . At this point, I'd really been doing it for 20 years and for 15 years pretty intensely and my body hurt and I felt like my career had pretty much gone as far as it was going to go and felt like it was starting to plateau.

Dr. Chan: You peaked.

Eoin: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Yeah, yeah. Sorry if I'm being so blunt. Yeah, yeah.

Eoin: No, no, no. That's completely accurate. And so, I was ready for a change. The one thing I did miss was the community of the company. There's 36 dancers in the main company, and you're a very tight family and you get to see each other every day. And so, walking away from that was definitely hard. It was nice that I still stayed in Salt Lake City, but it was . . . I definitely missed that sense of community, going from ballet to a different path.

Dr. Chan: I'm sure that we're all understanding, though, of what you wanted to do.

Eoin: Everyone was really excited for me. I had so much support from everybody because that's something that's pretty daunting for all dancers, is that at some point every dancer is going to have to transition into a new career. Some do it in their mid-20s, like me, some wait until they're in their mid to early 30s, but everybody has to figure out what they're going to do after they're done performing.

Dr. Chan: And I think like everyone's path must be unique and, you know, different people have different mentors, but sounds like everyone's just kind of has to figure that out. And sometimes, you know, I just, again, like you lived it, you're part of it, but, you know, when I hear, you know, like . . . You know, I follow sports a fair amount online and it sounds like, you know, when players in professional sports, which Ballet West was, when you have like a catastrophic injury, all of a sudden, you know, on Monday, you're doing this and then on Wednesday you need to kind of reset your life. And I don't know, this just sounds very daunting, like you said, but it sounds like the company was extremely supportive and helped you out.

Eoin: Oh yeah. Yeah. Everyone was very supportive. All the dancers, the artistic staff, they were all really excited for me, said anything they could do to help me, letters of recommendation, whatever I needed.

Dr. Chan: I'm going to say this, and I have not done any research on it. Is it safe to say that you're probably the first, and perhaps only ballet dancer that went on to medical school at least at Ballet West, or is there someone else in the history? Do people say, "Oh, what you're trying to do, like, so and so back in the day did." Yeah.

Eoin: Let's see. I know of one person. I haven't known anyone to go with their career as far in ballet until they're in their mid-20s and then transitioned to medicine.

Dr. Chan: Pivot to medicine. Yeah.

Eoin: Yeah. I do know, I did have a friend, he danced for, I think it was two years professionally, and then now he's a fourth-year at Columbia. So, yeah. So it has been done. I . . .

Dr. Chan: Eoin, I tried to give you some thunder there to take the credit.

Eoin: I appreciate it.

Dr. Chan: To set the path. Yeah.

Eoin: But it is interesting, I have known many people to go into health care in general, say nursing or other paths, but I haven't known anyone to dance as long as I did go until they were 26 and then decide to start on such a long route of education as medical school.

Dr. Chan: Okay. All right. So you're EMT, you're doing the premed recs. And you mentioned, you know, just kind of tie this back in what we talked about before, like the unschooling or the homeschooling, it sounds like you . . . Well, I know because you did really well in the classroom.

Eoin: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: So like was that a shock to you or did you just feel like, you know, you're more mature now and this is something you're very focused on?

Eoin: It was a bit of a surprise to me, and I definitely built it up step by step, but I did feel like it helped because I was very goal-focused and I really did. From ballet, I was very good at staying focused for long periods of time. So I felt that maybe I didn't pick up the material quite as quickly as some of my classmates who had more academic experience, but I had no problem sitting for hours at a time going over the material. And I also felt that I was pretty good at say, I had a test that didn't go as well as I wanted, just, you know, saying, "Okay, what do I need to figure out to do better next time?" Which I also felt like was something from ballet because, in ballet, you're constantly, things aren't going right and you're having to analyze yourself and saying, "What can I do better next time?" You know, "What can I tweak to make this work?"

Dr. Chan: That, to me, speaks to like resilience and self-adaptability. That's beautiful. That's wonderful. And then did you work with a premed advisor, or do you just kind of set your own path? Did you have anyone that kind of helped you in the journey?

Eoin: I had a few people who helped me. Initially, I'm working as an EMT and I decide I should start taking the prerequisites for to become a paramedic and that seems like the right path for me. So I started doing that, just taking those classes and then I talked to an advisor. I was going to Weber State because they have a good paramedic program and at the time The U didn't have one and she kind of talked me out of paramedic and into the nursing path and so, then I started taking prerequisites for nursing school and I was pretty set that I was going to do that.

And I applied to nursing school, I got into nursing school and then it was really . . . I had the acceptance letter and I just had to sign the form and send it back, and that was that part of me that was like, "I really want to try for medicine and I feel like I'm going to regret it if I don't." And so that's when I started meeting with academic advisors here at The U, which was awesome because I wasn't even a student here and I could come and . . .

Dr. Chan: Get their advice. Yeah. You probably took some classes here though, eventually.

Eoin: Yeah. So then I switched to the University of Utah and started out on a kinesiology degree and so . . . and start taking the premed classes. And so this was . . . I was 29 at this point. Yeah. And then it took me three years to get the kinesiology degree, get through all the classes, take the MCAT, all that good stuff.

Dr. Chan: Okay. All right. So if you don't mind sharing, how many schools did you apply to?

Eoin: I applied to 14.

Dr. Chan: Fourteen. Okay. And how many interview offers did you get?

Eoin: I got five.

Dr. Chan: Okay. And did you end up going on all five?

Eoin: No, I went to four of them. The last one came in after I already had an acceptance here and someplace else. So as much as I love interviewing, I decided.

Dr. Chan: Save a little money. So no stress. All right, so when you go out and go start doing interviews, did your audition history, did that help you? I mean, what's more stressful, trying out for a company or a med school interview? Like what was your technique? How'd you navigate that? Were you just like calm as a, you know, in the middle of a storm kind of thing?

Eoin: So I actually, I really liked the MMIs and I think one reason why I like them is they kind of reminded me of a performance.

Dr. Chan: Interesting.

Eoin: They take about 80 minutes to do and I definitely felt that rush during MMIs that I would during a performance, you know, where you really just have to be on, you have to be sharp, you have to be ready to adapt to whatever's coming up. And so, I definitely felt like it helped, especially with the MMIs, just that ability because you feel the adrenaline rush and then also then just talk yourself through it and be like, "Okay, I've got this. I'm just going to focus."

Dr. Chan: To manage the performance anxiety.

Eoin: Yes.

Dr. Chan: I mean, did you still get that at the end of your career or that little rush?

Eoin: Definitely. Well, and that's the thing, is I feel like it helps. If you can control it, you know, that little bit of adrenaline, that definitely can help push you to dance your best. It's just then trying to manage that because if it gets too much, then you're just going to get tense and you can start to get in your head.

Dr. Chan: You start thinking too hard about it. Yeah, yeah.

Eoin: Yes. So it's constantly trying to have yourself, you know, be on and very heightened and aware, but not tense.

Dr. Chan: Did you do any practice MMIs before you did them MMI or . . .

Eoin: I did so many practice.

Dr. Chan: Practice makes perfect.

Eoin: Yeah. And that was another thing that I felt, you know, because in ballet you practice weeks and weeks before you go for performance, and so that really helped me with MMIs. My wife was such a big help. She would sit on the couch with a laptop and you can just find like banks and banks of generic MMI questions online and yeah, just asking me those and I, you know, would take my two minutes to think about it and then answer. And I don't think I got any of the MMI questions that I had practiced for, but going through that whole thought process definitely really helped for MMIs.

Dr. Chan: That's excellent. And then, Eoin, like, why . . . Like sounds like you got another school. Why'd you pick Utah? What attracted you to the program?

Eoin: So there were a few things. I will say that one of the biggest is location. My wife is still dancing at Ballet West. She is a principal dancer there.

Dr. Chan: Since you opened that door, I'm going to ask you about that, but keep on talking.

Eoin: Yeah. So she's been with the company for 15 years now. And, yes. And so she . . .

Dr. Chan: You met in the company.

Eoin: We did. And yeah, she's really at the height of her career now and . . .

Dr. Chan: Can we say her name?

Eoin: Yeah. Her name is Arolyn. Stage name is her maiden name, Williams. And yeah, so she was ready to move if we needed to, but it's . . .

Dr. Chan: It works for her career and your career?

Eoin: Yes, definitely. If we stay here. And so, yeah. So that was . . .

Dr. Chan: To be revisited in three and a half years during the match process, right?

Eoin: Definitely. Though at that point she'll probably be ready to retire since, as I said, ballet dancers can't dance forever. So right now, she's at the height of her career, but probably in another four seasons, she's going to be ready to move on too.

Dr. Chan: So location?

Eoin: Location. And then also, the U.S. ranked very highly in primary care. And since that's what I see myself wanting to do, that really attracted me to the University of Utah. And then also coming for the interviews and getting to meet some of the students here. It seemed . . . What everyone was telling me is that there were just so many resources here and that people really wanted you to succeed. And I got the sense that it was definitely . . . med school was definitely a team sport here at The U, which is not the sense that I got from everywhere that I interviewed. And also I heard that there was a lot of support for older nontraditional students and also students with family.

Dr. Chan: Yeah, we definitely have . . . Our average age is . . . like the national average has been trending up. More and more people are taking time away after they graduate or like you, they have like other careers and, you know, like medicine's almost like this itch they need to scratch. It's always been in the back of the mind. And so, the national age for matriculating students across the country is about 24, 25. We've always been above the national average. So the incoming class is closer to 27. So yes, and a lot of our students do have families and are pretty well established, so you'll fit right in. I would dare say, I don't think you're though either though. I don't think . . . You're definitely not the oldest student either, so I don't know if that's a newsflash to you.

Eoin: I thought I was, but . . .

Dr. Chan: Oh, no, you are not.

Eoin: Okay. That's good.

Dr. Chan: You are not. Yeah, there's like a wide range of backgrounds, and experiences, and ages. So yeah, so it's wonderful, so. Oh, yes, I remember calling you and you were overjoyed and I remember . . . And you're also a little shocked too. And I remember I butchered your name. So let's talk about your name real quick. So is it the Irish writing? Is that the Irish spelling or . . .

Eoin: Yes. That's . . .

Dr. Chan: Okay. Educate us. Educate America.

Eoin: So Eoin spelled, E-O-I-N is the Irish spelling of Eoin. And then my last name, Gaj, G-A-J, that is Polish. So my grandfather, on my dad's side, he grew up in Poland, and so that's where that comes from.

Dr. Chan: All right. You probably had a lot of mispronunciations over the years, but your class will quickly learn. It's pronounced Eoin. I think everyone can learn that quickly, so that's wonderful. All right, so your wife's excited, her career's ascendant. Can we say ascendant?

Eoin: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Are we allowed to say that? Okay. And I assume you still keep in touch with your Ballet West friends?

Eoin: Definitely.

Dr. Chan: And they all know the news you'll be starting a few weeks?

Eoin: Yes.

Dr. Chan: Okay. Will they be out there at white coat? Will they . . .

Eoin: They actually have to work?

Dr. Chan: Oh, okay.

Eoin: Yeah. So, unfortunately.

Dr. Chan: But when the med school . . . when some of your future classmates, when they want to go visit Ballet West, I'm sure you can hook them up with backstage pass. I mean, I'm not sure how that works, so. Cool. Like this is so exciting. Okay. So I guess the last question, Eoin, is for anyone listening out there who is thinking of med school or like you, kind of non-traditional, you know, involved in a career, but thinking about switching, like what advice would you give them? What would you say to them? What advice would have helped you out, so a few years ago?

Eoin: What I think was really helpful, and it took me a while to realize this, but that it's okay to be a beginner at whatever age you are because I feel like the mistake that I was making initially is that I would look at people who had been very successful, people who are in med school, graduated med school, and that just seemed so far away. That just seems so unattainable. And I just felt like there's no way that I could ever be on the same level as them.

But then it was once I started school and I realized, you know, you don't start school with biochemistry. You can start at the beginning. You can start with introduction to chemistry and work your way to biochemistry over the course of three years. And so, that was really surprising to me, that if you just come in on the first step and you can just keep on taking one step after another and working your way up, that you can eventually be at that level that you didn't imagine was possible before. So that's the advice I try to give to anybody who says, you know, "Oh, there's this thing I want to do, but I'm 30 now, I just don't see myself doing that." You know? Or people will say, "Well, if I was smarter, I'd totally do that." And I try to remind people that you can start at the beginning and just take one step at a time and before long, you're at your goal.

Dr. Chan: Awesome. Well, Eoin, we're all going to have to have you come back on the pod just to get an update. But I'm so excited you're here. It's going to be amazing.

Eoin: Excited too.

Dr. Chan: All right. Well thanks, Eoin.

Eoin: Thanks.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to "Talking to Admissions and Med Student Life" with Dr. Benjamin Chan, the ultimate resource to help you on your journey to and through medical school. A production of The Scope Health Sciences Radio online at thescoperadio.com.

For Patients