Three Careers, an MD, and a PhD: My Unconventional Path to Medicine

Antoinette Leonard-Jean Charles
Published on Jul 2, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

What road led you to medicine? Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Antoinette Leonard-Jean Charles shares the winding path that ultimately led her to the American University of Integrated Sciences. Three career tracks later, Toni can safely say that it’s never too late to follow your dreams!

The call of medicine can come earlier or later in life. I always knew I loved science and wanted to be a physician. I worked hard, did all the right things, and boom! There I was in college as a premed and an athlete. 

In my premed years, I should have been happy and focused—until now, everything had gone according to plan. Instead, I found myself feeling lost, yearning for the other loves of my life; art and design. Eventually, my feelings caught up to me. 

One day, I woke up and wanted it all to change. I realized I was not ready for a career in medicine, nor did I think I would be ready if I stayed in the present course. It was time to let loose and explore the world. Here is where it all began.

From premed to Parsons, from designer to doula

I dropped out of premed and pivoted completely, spending time in the retail industry in multiple areas, working as a Sales Associate, Department Manager, and Merchandise Assistant Buyer. At one point I even moved to Norway as part of my work with H&M, before returning to the US to study Fashion Design. 

While I loved what I was doing and relished all these changes during my undergraduate years, I never stopped loving science and medicine. 

The next decade saw more major changes in my life. In 2000, I gave birth to my first child, and in 2001, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In summer 2006 I had a severe MS attack, which gave me a greater appreciation for life, and reminded me of my resilience and refusal to accept “No” or “Can’t” in my life. 

2006 was a year of many gifts. That Christmas, I learned I was expecting my second child. Happiness, excitement, and anticipation should have been my reaction; instead, there was fear, sadness, and hesitation. I didn't trust my body to care for this growing life and me, as it had betrayed me so many times before. 

My MS support group suggested I get a birth doula, as many of them had had negative experiences in the delivery room at the hands of unsympathetic staff. I searched and searched. Instead of being the warm and welcoming people I expected, many of the doulas I spoke to were unsupportive—others were simply too expensive. I hated that feeling and knew I wasn’t the only mom with MS or another chronic illness who was pregnant and in need of support

At 34 weeks pregnant, I started studying to become a doula, and was eventually certified in 2007, three months after the birth of my second child. 

As a doula, I specifically work with at-risk, high-risk pregnant people, and their families. I provide support and informational services, helping with every aspect of pregnancy and birth, from breastfeeding, to childbirth education, to emotional support, and family planning education. 

Through my work teaching families and working in multiple Labor and Delivery Departments throughout NYC, I began to see issues in how women's reproductive health is handled at these institutions. I found myself searching for more ways to help women and families at risk, and discovered an awesome organization called The Doula Project, which supports the education, advocacy, and support of women in all their reproductive choices. The organization's founders, Mary and Lauren, were a breath of fresh air for me; they placed a real emphasis on the importance of women's health and its benefits for families and communities.

 Osmosis illustration of a group of pregnant people at an MS support group.

My triumphant return to medicine

My work with the Doula Project reignited my desire to become a physician and helped me appreciate the importance of the patient narrative in care. It’s probably a no-brainer that I plan to specialize in OB-GYN (Maternal-Fetal Health) or Family Medicine as a clinician. 

In 2009, I restarted my journey to medical school. It wasn’t easy: there were struggles, disappointments, and many moments of self-reflection. From 2012–2017, I attended Long Island University and earned two Master's degrees: one in Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and a second in Exercise Science & Nutrition. In Fall 2017, I learned that dreams can come true, I was accepted into Ross University School of Medicine. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t last. 

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria joined me at RUSM. I tried to keep up and adapt to all the changes, but I fell short. With a heavy heart, my time at RUSM ended in December 2018.

As I said before, “No” and “Can’t” simply aren’t part of my vocabulary; in spite of these setbacks, I would not be deterred. I applied to other schools in Barbados, and to my delight (and surprise!), I was able to continue my journey at the American University of Integrative Sciences. Here, at this humble institution, I have been able to develop my voice as a future leader in medicine and zero in on ways I want to contribute to improvement of healthcare.

Osmosis illustration of a medical student's patient care philosophy.

Applying life’s lessons in my clinical practice

Quality of healthcare is determined by the provider and their education; patient outcomes are based on the clinician’s ability to educate the patient about their condition. Realizing this was my “aha!” moment: I’m a firm believer that a strong foundation in health education is the key to increase the provider’s quality of care and patient outcomes. This led me to Walden University’s PhD program in Health Education and Promotion

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend my path to everyone, I do think that having a solid background in “Life, Human Experiences, and Hardship” is a huge benefit for future physicians who truly want to empathize with their patients. In the clinic, physicians must treat not just the illness, but the human behavior, societal/cultural norms, disparities, and biases that come along with that illness—they’re all part of the pathology. 

I hope my story has provided you with some inspiration on your own medical journey. I’ll  leave you with this: if your calling to medicine is true, I believe you will end up there—perhaps when you least expect it.

Osmosis illustration of an OB-GYN physician greeting a patient.

About Antoinette 

Antoinette Leonard-Jean Charles is an MS III at American University of Integrative Sciences School of Medicine, and current participant in the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship Program. She is passionate about women’s health and clinical education.

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