From Squalor to Scholar

John Schupbach isn't one to take "no" for an answer easily, even though that's what he initially heard from the 17 medical schools he applied to, including the one right here at Mayo Clinic. Schupbach knew that he wanted, even needed, to become a doctor, so he followed that dream all the way to northern India, where he devoted himself to helping the region's impoverished children receive medical care and education through a nonprofit organization he created called Squalor to Scholar.

Squalor to Scholar class with John Schupbach"Getting rejected was a blessing in disguise," Schupbach recently told The Aspen (Colo.) Times. "It allowed me to reflect on my life and find the real challenge I was looking for."

As the Times reports, Schupbach found that challenge while spending five months with a host family in a small town called Faridabad, outside of New Delhi. Because of his pre-med background, Schupbach worked at area hospitals, where he says he once watched two surgeons perform 220 laparoscopic surgeries in one day. "That really put the vastness and dire straits of the local population into context," he told the Times.

Then fate kicked in. One evening, while returning to his host family's home, Schupbach passed the same private school he always passed on his way home. Only this time, the front gate was open. "It was a sign," Schupbach says. He decided to go inside, where he met the school's principal, Sister Pushpa, who Schupbach says, "couldn't believe I traveled 9,000 miles to help kids in a slum she'd never visited." Schupbach took Sister Pushpa on a tour of that slum and afterward, he says, she agreed to take in three kids and educate them at no charge, in Schupbach's name.

Scholars600They "thrived immediately," according to the Times. So much so that the other Sisters at the school encouraged Schupbach to bring in more children. So he did, and agreed to try to find sponsors to help pay for their tuition. That was the official birth of Squalor to Scholar. "It was like having the stars align," Schupbach says. "I realized right then that this was a way to really make an impact. I found the passion and purpose I was missing in college."

Schupbach tells us that he then directed some of that passion toward getting into medical school. "When I came back from India, I no longer saw applying to medical school as a chore but as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he says. "I devoted myself entirely to the process, and over two months, I wrote, rewrote and refined more than 200 essays to 26 schools. When applications opened at 9:30 a.m., I had mine in by 9:32."

Six months later, his phone rang. "While at an interview for another school, I received a call from one of the physicians who had interviewed me at Mayo Medical School who was calling to let me know that I would be one of just 42 M.D. students in the class of 2017," Schupbach says. "The rest is history."

Indeed. Schupbach has since divided his time between medical studies and continuing to help his young friends back in India. And while that hasn't always been easy, Schupbach says having the opportunity to do both is nothing short of an honor. "Being incredibly passionate about what I'm learning here and watching our students in India become some of the most successful students and leaders in their classes makes working seven days a week seem like a privilege," he says.

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