Reaching for a Dream

Reaching for a Dream

Path to Medical School Takes Detour Through L.A. High Schools

With his flight to Brisbane, Australia, in January, Anthony Edholm, BS’12, was soaring toward a dream: medical school. And at the prestigious University of Queensland, no less.

But boarding the plane in his home state of Minnesota, Edholm felt a certain sadness. He was leaving a profession and a group of young people who had challenged him, frustrated him, inspired him and, ultimately, touched his heart.

After graduating from Creighton with a degree in biology, Edholm postponed medical school to teach at an inner-city school in Los Angeles as part of the Teach for America program. Teach for America is a national program that enlists recent college graduates and professionals to teach for at least two years in schools in low-income communities.

“It was a big culture shock for me,” Edholm says. “But it was also one of the best experiences in my life.”

Attending medical school had always been a goal.

Edholm had run track and played on state championship football teams at Totino-Grace High School near his hometown of Andover, Minn. Nine broken bones and four concussions had familiarized him with physicians. And inspired him to become one.

He enrolled at Creighton with his sights set.

He became president of the Premed Society. He worked in Creighton’s Hereditary Cancer Center. He was selected for Creighton’s Ferlic Summer Research Program for undergraduate students, and worked in the lab of Kristen Drescher, Ph.D., in medical microbiology and immunology, studying the correlations between b-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia and Lynch syndrome cancers.

He interned with the American Cancer Society (ACS) in Omaha, and when his boss went on maternity leave, he found himself visiting with cancer patients discussing various programs the organization offers. He especially remembers visiting a 5-year-old girl, who was battling brain cancer, and her parents.

“I remember walking into her room, and trying to be as strong as I could,” Edholm recalls. “I tried to give the parents more information and options from the ACS. It was a telling moment in my life. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

He discovered he could do it. And, more than ever, he could see himself in the medical profession, reaching out and helping people like the family of that 5-year-old girl.

Meanwhile, a recruiter from the nonprofit Teach for America program had heard Edholm speak at a Premed Society event, and was impressed with the Creighton student.

“He sent me an email and wanted to meet,” Edholm says. “I told him I would sit down and hear what he had to say.”

The idea of teaching had been percolating in the back of Edholm’s mind. Both of his parents were teachers.

“After hearing the recruiter’s experience of teaching in an underprivileged area, working with kids who weren’t under-skilled but maybe had never had a chance to showcase their skills, it really kind of sucked me in,” Edholm says.

He interviewed simultaneously for medical school and Teach for America.

Teach for America came back with an opportunity to teach science at a Los Angeles high school and possibly coach — all very attractive to Edholm.

“I kind of rolled the dice and said, ‘Why not give it a shot?’” Edholm recalls.

So Edholm put his dreams of medical school on hold and moved to Los Angeles to teach at View Park High School.

“This was far removed from suburban Minnesota, where I grew up,” Edholm says. “I had some huge wake-up calls.”

Violent crime encroached on the school. One day while he was teaching, gunfire sounded outside and a bullet lodged in his classroom’s protected-glass window. Within the span of two weeks, Edholm says, there was a fatal stabbing on the sidewalk across from the school, a drive-by shooting and a robbery at the Cash for Gold business behind the school.

There was also an issue of race. Edholm is white; the entire student population at View Park is African-American.  

“It was tough going in and breaking through that racial barrier,” Edholm admits. “I realized that I had to personally connect with them, and show them that I was there because I wanted to be.

“And by the end of my first year, we had really made some incredible connections.”

In addition to teaching, Edholm coached football and track and field at View Park — which had no track or football field on which to practice or compete. The student-athletes were bused to a nearby high school. “That was a big challenge,” Edholm says.  

But Edholm didn’t use that as an excuse. He told his student-athletes that he expected them to work hard and give their best efforts — in and out of the classroom — and he wouldn’t settle for anything less.

The track team excelled, winning a variety of events at the Los Angeles City Section Track & Field Championships. In football, View Park became only the second team ever from the L.A. City Section to reach the Southern California Regional Bowl Championship. But for Edholm, the greatest joy was seeing student-athletes earn scholarships to further their education.

Whether it was in the classroom or in athletics, Edholm was determined to be a positive influence in the lives of his students. And the students responded. Many still keep in contact with him.

“It’s a powerful feeling,” he says. “It became a lot more than just teaching. It wasn’t just a 9-to-5 job. It became my whole life.”

Following his two-year stint at View Park, Edholm worked for a summer with Envision National Youth Leadership Forum, which provides programming on university campuses for high school students interested in medicine and other professions. He also began looking again at medical school. But when an opportunity to teach and coach at St. John Bosco High School in L.A. opened up, he jumped at it.

He taught at St. John Bosco this past fall semester, when he heard from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Medical school was calling.

“It was a very difficult decision,” Edholm admits. “I saw a future for myself as a coach. Closing the door on that was difficult. The same thing as a teacher. I loved getting up every day and teaching. You’re making such an impact, and it goes beyond the classroom. You’re molding kids into adults at a critical period in their lives.”

He sought the opinions of others. One physician friend gave a piece of advice that stuck:

“You will always be a teacher as a physician,” the friend said. “You’re going to have to work with patients and tell them about illnesses and tell them about disease, and influence and educate them on the ways to maintain healthy lifestyles.”

So now the teacher returns to the classroom — one dream fulfilled and future dreams on the horizon.