KOKOMO, Ind. – A hobby as an Emergency Medical Technician changed the life of Peter Deckard. At age 42, he decided to pursue the unknown and enroll in college for the first time. His goal? To become a doctor.
“Indiana University Kokomo offered me everything I was looking for,” said Deckard, a Lafayette resident who graduated in May. “After working with patients and being a first-responder with the fire department, I knew I wanted to work in the medical field. I wanted to get my degree, and I felt like I found the right direction.”
He had spent his life working his way up in the electrical contracting world and became a successful business owner. In his downtime, he found joy volunteering at a local fire department, where he became a first responder and took classes to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
The risk was worth it, as Deckard graduated with a Bachelor of General Studies and minor in chemistry. He will attend Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine this fall.
“It is so surreal,” said Deckard, now 45. “I earned my first degree, and now I will go to medical school. I am excited and relieved to be pursuing this dream.”
Deckard quickly found a home at IU Kokomo, after taking a summer class.
“IU Kokomo is affordable, has so many flexible degree programs and course offerings, and has small class sizes,” he said. “I was building meaningful relationships with my faculty and classmates that are invaluable.”
He was able to get involved and assist Hisako Masuda, assistant professor of biochemistry, with research. Their latest projects focused on trying to break down plastic through bacterial means, which has not yet been accomplished. The goal is to help with plastic in landfills and the “plastic oceans” off the East Coast.
“We were hoping to find a way to break down plastic in a way that wouldn’t harm the environment,” Deckard said. “It greatly impacts us, and I felt like it was important to find a solution. I knew I would be spending my career focusing on medicine, and this research was a way to study something different and make an impact on the world.”
Last summer, Deckard had the opportunity to travel to Kenya, Africa, with Project Helping Hands to provide medical care to a local community. He worked in an outpatient facility in a rural area for two weeks, and with the guidance and help of a physician’s assistant, was able to diagnose and treat patients. This trip affirmed that he was on the correct path.
“I was struggling with many things before I went on this trip, and wasn’t sure I had what it took to be a doctor. Volunteering in Kenya completely refocused me,” he said. “I saw patients with everything from tonsillitis to stage four lymphoma, and from malaria to Leishmaniasis. These people were so kind, caring, and hard working, but they have such limited resources. It was humbling to provide them with health care.”
Deckard is overwhelmed with the thought of attending medical school, as it was a challenging journey to get there. He will spend four years in school, and then perform a minimum of three years in residency for specializations. He hopes to work in emergency medicine, but is open to all of the possibilities.
“It is 10 times harder to get into medical school than what it seems,” he said. “It’s more than your GPA or your Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score; you have to prove from every angle that you are ready for this.”
While taking classes full time, Deckard spent five to ten hours per week volunteering as a firefighter and EMT, and serving as the medical officer for the fire department, where he was responsible for training others and purchasing medical supplies. He said it wouldn’t have been possible for him to graduate without the help and support of the IU Kokomo community and his family.
“I never thought I would accomplish this goal and graduate,” he said. “I used to think people with degrees were always more intelligent than me, but I now know I have always been intelligent, just in a different way.”
Story by Mary Olk. Mary is a writer for the Office of Media and Marketing.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.