Don't Let Stuttering Keep You Out of Med School

By Louis Pollack, MD
Soon after my 40th birthday, I realized for the first time in my life that I was no longer preoccupied with how I was going to speak my next words.  My mind had always been working overtime, searching for alternatives to avoid a struggle.  No longer preoccupied with my speech, I was forced to confront the question of Who am I?
I am the oldest of three, and while my two sisters spoke with ease and assurance,  I had difficulty with my very first words.  I was a six year old who learned quickly to hate the first day of school.  I was a ten year old pretending to decide what to purchase, all the while simply trying to build up the courage to ask How much?  I was a 16 year old who struggled for six months to ask a girl to prom, terrified to speak to her in person and paralyzed to use the telephone.  And I was a 22 year old who was summarily dismissed after a ten minute interview with the admissions officer at a prominent medical school, told that it was a waste of both of our time because no medical school would ever accept someone who spoke so poorly.
Yet I survived adolescence by establishing my identity with success in athletics.  Following college and an additional year of post-graduate course work, I was accepted to medical school.  And after three years of pediatric residency and two years of specialty training, I spent the next thirty years as a physician working with critically-ill newborns in intensive care nurseries.  During a rewarding career, I had a sense of accomplishment and gratitude for having an opportunity to have a meaningful impact on peoples’ lives.  I have delivered presentations at a number of national medical conferences, and had scientific papers published.  Having taught so often, and in so many different settings, I came to enjoy public speaking.  And actually learned to love the sound of my own voice.
And now some twenty years later, I have arrived at a sweet place in my life.  It is about the joy of who I am in this world, and the quiet reflection of what more is left for me to explore.  There is nothing more to prove to anyone.  I am passionate about my involvement in overseas medical volunteer work. And I continue my long-standing commitment to the practice of the martial art of aikido, teaching adolescents and young adults its philosophy of resolving conflict without violence.  
Regardless of our individual stories, I have come to believe that stuttering shapes each of our lives in fundamental ways and inevitably instructs who we are and what we do.  We no doubt have all endured mocking ridicule, and the pain of that embarrassment usually results in a tremendous anger that is mostly turned in on ourselves.  But I have also come to believe that our hard-earned humility allows for an essential depth of empathetic sensitivity toward others.  The noted songwriter and rabbinic scholar, Leonard Cohen, eloquently reminds us that, There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in
You can contact Louis Pollack at
From the Winter 2013 Newsletter