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The Reach

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I AM PTK: Josh Pickering

I AM PTK: Josh Pickering

The Stanford University School of Medicine is one of the most selective schools in the country — only 2.3 percent of applicants were accepted in fall 2017. Josh Pickering joined this prestigious group in the summer of 2018, a move he said wouldn’t have been possible without scholarships he received as a Phi Theta Kappa member.

Josh grew up in the small town of Chatham, Illinois, just south of Springfield. His family often took mission trips to places like Haiti and Ghana.

“My dad wanted to make sure we understood how lucky we were to have what we have here in America,” he said.

He was an okay student and did well on exams, but he was more focused on wrestling and on training for the military. Military service runs in his family — Josh’s dad was in the Navy, and his three brothers also served.

So, it was part tradition that led Josh to enlist when he was 17, but it was also a decision borne from a formative moment in his life: watching the news coverage of September 11, 2001, when he was 10. He graduated high school in 2009 and set his sights on his military service.

Deploying twice to the Persian Gulf, he worked as an Operations Specialist on board the USS Mobile Bay. He spent 16 months overseas as part of the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, patrolling the Straits of Hormuz and participating in counter-piracy operations in the Northern Arabian Sea.

He had been stationed in San Diego but relocated to Florida when his service came to an end to be near his now-fiancée, who at that time was starting medical school. College was next for him — he got certified as an EMT and worked for a year in an ambulance in Orlando, so he could qualify for in-state tuition.

He enrolled at Santa Fe College in 2014 and joined Phi Theta Kappa. In 2016, he was named to the All-USA Academic Team, and he was selected as Florida’s New Century Scholar, earning $7,000 in scholarships.

“When I started college, I was looking for ways to get involved with my school and the community,” he said. “The two arms of Phi Theta Kappa match that perfectly. You have the academics of the honor society balanced by strong community involvement through volunteering.”

Josh also began volunteering at Shands Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Florida, and at the VA Medical Center. His prior work as an EMT had sparked an interest in medicine; volunteering in the emergency room at Shands pointed him toward a career in surgery.

He transferred to the University of Florida (UF) — itself fairly selective — and hit the ground running with the goal of getting into a renowned medical school. He knew selective schools wanted to see well-rounded students who were conducting research and had been published. He had actually started doing research at UF while still at Santa Fe College, and he and his fellow researchers have been published three times to date.

“I believe one of the biggest reasons I got admitted to Stanford was because I was able to do research at the University of Florida,” he said. “If not for the Phi Theta Kappa scholarships, I wouldn’t have had the time to do research to the extent that I did.”

Josh, now 27, began at Stanford this summer in the Leadership in Health Disparities Program, during which he worked with patients in free clinics. He is especially interested in influencing the formation of healthcare policy. 

Now in his first year of medical school, Josh is working toward a career in pediatric surgery, although he isn’t sure to what specialty that path will lead him. He knows how fortunate he is to have been admitted to Stanford, especially given the competition.

“There’s an Olympic gold medalist in the class above me,” he said. “I’m, by far, not the most impressive person in my class.”

Still, Josh no doubt earned his spot. He doesn’t have any secrets to share regarding his success — it all came down to hard work. He knew what he wanted to do and how he needed to get there. He had a specific plan for his future, and he treated school like a job.

He points to a quote from author and businessman Dave Ramsey as motivation: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

“You have to be ready to put more time in your classes than anyone else,” Josh said. “If your grades are good, then devote more time to extracurricular activities. When you get those bases covered, find a lab that interests you and do some research.

“You’re not going to get into these competitive programs by doing what everyone else is doing.”

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