Patricia Millner Overcomes Odds; One of College of Medicine's Many Graduating Stars on Match Day

Millner will be doing an internship at her number one choice for Match Day, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

WASHINGTON -- This Friday is "Match Day” for Howard University College of Medicine students and thousands of other medical school graduates across the nation, the exact day and exact hour when they all will find out where they have received a residency, the next vital step on their road to being practicing physicians.

When Howard students are draped with a long white coat in the college's traditional annual ceremony that signals their transition from medical student to physician, there will be many fascinating success stories, including students who have overcome great social disadvantage - such as Dani Gonzalez, a second generation Cuban-American, class president, recipient of numerous academic honors and leader of important committees at the school.

At the other end are students continuing a legacy, such as Gabriel Ivey, the fourth generation in his family to become a physician.  The class also includes refugees from the Middle East and students from every corner of the globe.

But possibly no Howard student's tale is as moving as the story of 25-year-old Patricia Millner.

Millner's journey began at Dillard University in New Orleans in 2004, where she attended under a basketball scholarship.  But after a year, she left a promising future in basketball to pursue training at another institution that could prepare her for medical school.

"I still played basketball, but I went from a Division I-AA school to a Division III school, because I couldn't maintain that high level of competition and still be a doctor,” she explained.   

She went to Wesley College in Dover, Del., but this time under an academic scholarship.  It was close to her home in Wyoming, Del.

Millner's initial ambition was to be a nurse like her mother, Ester, a Filipino immigrant who earned her degree over 15 years while attending school during the day and taking care of her family as a single mother while working at night as a certified nursing assistant.

But Millner's mother, who came to the U.S. with her American military husband, insisted that she go to medical school.

"This is really her dream,” Millner said.  "She would always say, "If you're going to be in medicine, you need to be the boss.  She was the one who pushed me towards medicine. My mom is my rock, my foundation.

"One of the things that kept my mother going, and that she instilled in us is that a strong faith in God is most important.”

But it seemed like her dream would end shortly after Millner received her undergraduate degree from Wesley College in 2008 in business and biology.  She was rejected by every one of the 15 medical schools to which she applied. 

"It looked like it was over,” she said.  "I was getting ready to accept a job in Atlantic City selling resorts for the Wyndham Hotels.

But at the last minute, Meharry School of Medicine in Nashville called to tell her that she had been taken off the waiting list and accepted to the 2008 class.  And her mother, again, was there to help her.

"My mother would work overtime and extra jobs to help pay for my books and the conferences and other things that I needed to attend,” Millner said.  "She has always been there for me.”

Millner excelled at Meharry, but in the spring of 2010, just before her third year of medical school, she discovered she was pregnant with twins.  Millner, already the mother of a 1-year-old, knew she needed the support of her mother in Wyoming, Del., if she were to continue her – and her mother's – dream of becoming a physician.

So, she transferred to Howard's College of Medicine in 2010 for her third year of medical school to be closer to her family in Delaware.  The twins were born shortly before she arrived.  She lived in Washington with her sister and every weekend commuted to Delaware, where her mother took care of the children during the week.

To help pay for medical school, Millner had accepted an Army scholarship that required her to join the military.  She entered as a second lieutenant and began meeting her military responsibilities while in school, such as attending various training exercises.

Things went well at Howard, but last fall, two months into her fourth and final year of medical school, Millner did something that stunned her instructors, advisors and her fellow students. 

She changed her concentration from general surgery to orthopedic surgery, one of the most competitive fields and most difficult in medicine in which to get a residency.

"A lot of people thought it was a bad idea,” she said.  "A lot of people tried to talk me out of it.  It's very, very competitive when it comes to a residency.
"And they said it's mostly male, it's mostly white.  But it was something I wanted to do.  When I was playing basketball for my high school, I broke my right ankle and sprained a left ankle.  My orthopedic surgeon because one of my mentors.  So, later I gravitated towards it.”

Millner proved all the doubters wrong.  She will be doing an internship at her number one choice for Match Day, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., that could lead to her finally become an orthopedic surgeon, one of the most competitive fields in medicine.

"The really good thing is that my children can now come and live with me,” she said.

One of the special traditions of the "Long White Coat Ceremony” at Howard this Friday is to have the students draped by a person of their choosing who they feel has been instrumental in their success.

This year, Millner will stand on the stage before the hundreds in Cramton Auditorium as a 49-year old Filipino nurse who raised her in tiny Wyoming, Del., puts the coat on her daughter.   Ester Millner will be joined by Millner's sister, La Creshia.  And together, they will send daughter and sibling onto the next step in her medical journey.
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