The Fixer

By Heather Maurer
Vital Signs » Fall 2014
photo of aaron palmer

From fixing cars to fixing people: Aaron Palmer learns auto repair to pave the way to medical school

Aaron Palmer never dreamed he would be at the Boonshoft School of Medicine studying to become a surgeon.

He grew up in project housing in Akron, Ohio, where college degrees were not discussed. The people in his neighborhood were more concerned about paying their electric bills to keep the lights on and having enough money for food. To make ends meet, he and his father found discarded washers and dryers at street curbs, fixed them up and sold them at a used appliance store.

A football scholarship paved his way to college, where he fumbled through different majors searching for his purpose. As a student at Walsh College, he shadowed a surgeon. That meeting changed his life. Fascinated by how the surgeon worked with his hands to make a difference in someone’s life, he quit football, gave up his scholarship, and devoted his time to taking pre-med classes.

The road to paying for college was difficult. But Palmer was resourceful. He worked 40 hours a week at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels in a mall. “It still didn’t cover the expenses,” he said. “Every week, I went into Walsh’s financial aid office.”

However, his grades improved. “I was so proud of myself,” he said. “I had gotten serious.”

Then, his father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. “My father never graduated from high school,” Palmer reflected. “But he was always my hero. Even when he was battling cancer, he pushed me to excel academically.”

At one point, Palmer worked three jobs to pay for college. He would go for a semester and then drop out the next semester because he ran out of money.

He sold his car on Craig’s List, and realized he could make a profit buying junk cars, fixing them, and selling them. He read manuals and watched YouTube videos to learn how to fix the cars. He was able to buy a car for $1,000 and sell it for $2,000 within a week. He took 10 classes in one semester to catch up on missed classes.

His father died in May 2010. But a year later, Palmer graduated with a 3.16 GPA. His mother, who is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in nursing, and his brothers were so proud of him.

“I know everything on my medical school application says I shouldn’t be accepted,” he recalled telling the Wright State interviewer. “But you’ll never find someone who will work harder than me.”

The admissions committee was impressed, not only by his come-from-behind life story, but also because he overcame his challenges to earn an acceptable undergraduate GPA and then went on to earn an above average score on the rigorous MCAT exam required for admission into medical schools in the U.S.

After receiving his acceptance letter from Wright State, he laminated it and placed it on his father’s grave.

“We are bigger than ourselves. What we do as physicians encompasses so much more than ourselves,” he said. “As future physicians, we have a responsibility to our community to stand as models of leadership and pillars of hope for others. I am very proud to be a part of the Boonshoft School of Medicine, a school that has taken such a proactive role in community service and advancement, especially with the underserved.”

During his first year at the medical school, Palmer immersed himself in various clubs and organizations including Surgery Club, the Student National Medical Association, and Wright State’s Multicultural Association for Pre-Med Students. He also taught classes and held tutoring sessions for local students who are preparing for the MCAT.

“Teaching reminds me that the knowledge we acquire was never ours, and that we have been given the opportunity to learn so much and educate others,” said Palmer. “Without others who believed in me, I would not be where I am today.”

Now one of the top-ranked students in his class, he wants to be a neurosurgeon. “I love how intricate it is. I love working with my hands. I love details,” said the part-time car mechanic who still drives a junk car that he repaired. “In surgery, you get immediate satisfaction. If there is a problem, you can fix it. The whole idea of how the mind works is fascinating to me.”

The Medical Minority Scholarship significantly reduced the burden of paying for medical school. Palmer is grateful for those who supported the scholarship. “Wright State University School of Medicine believed in me as an applicant,” he said. “I will spend the rest of my career doing everything that I can to prove that I am worthy of such trust, honor, and privilege.”


Last edited on 09/22/2015.