What do you want to be when you grow up? Most of us struggle with this question well into adulthood. As a boy growing up in France, Pascal Scemama de Gialluly thought he knew at least one thing he didn't want to be: a doctor. He couldn't stomach the sight of blood. Instead, he found himself drawn to the world of finance. However, several decades later he would re-think that childhood fear.
Scemama de Gialluly moved to the United States in the 1980's to work on the derivatives desk at Bankers Trust. "It was an industry going through a lot of innovation," he said. "When you're in your early twenties, it's very exciting."
But the world around him started to change. He was in the Twin Towers in 1993 when the truck bomb went off below the North Tower. On September 11th, 2001, he was working at Merrill Lynch in the World Trade Center when the 2 planes piloted by terrorists smashed into the Towers. Seeing the aftermath of those two horrific events, made him desire to be of more immediate help to people in need. He started volunteering with his local ambulance squad in Summit, New Jersey. "I realized that being involved in medicine was something that was really interesting to me," he told CNBC.
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He liked it so much that a friend suggested he apply to medical school. But at age 40, Scemama de Gialluly thought he was too old. Plus, he had a wife and 2 children to support and another baby on the way. "How's it going to work out for us?" His wife, Bettina remembered asking him. "Are we going to stay here in New Jersey? How's it going to look time wise? It was kind of an on-going discussion."
Scemama de Gialluly went in search of answers. First, he spoke to the dean of admissions at NJ medical school and discovered that older students were actually valued for their backgrounds and maturity. Then, he sat down with his wife and a financial advisor to figure out how they could afford 2 years of pre-med and 4 years of medical school. In the end, they survived on the bonuses he saved from his Wall Street days and some financial help from his in-laws.
"There were times when I had withdrawal symptoms, say from having a job, knowing you're getting paid every month," he admitted. "All those things at different times would shake me up like you know, 'am I doing something crazy that I shouldn't have done?'"
Despite the doubts, he stuck with it and finished his schooling in 2009. Then, he was rewarded with a residency in anesthesiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, the largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.
Six years later, Dr. Scemama (as he is known to his patients) is still at Mass General. He says his paycheck is nowhere close to what he made on Wall Street but the feeling at the end of the day is worth so much more.
"One thing that's really good about medicine," Dr. Scemama told us, "… is you always know why you're doing what you're doing because most days you have a patient in front of you and you have to take care of them. I think that's very special."