P&S Class of 2016: Paul Blackcloud

When Paul Blackcloud, MD'16, was in the fourth grade, his teacher told him that his handwriting was so bad, he had to become a doctor.

The idea remained a lark until the seventh grade, when he wrote a report on schizophrenia. “I recognized how debilitating it could be,” he recalls, and it sparked his interest in medicine.  He planned on being pre-med when he got to college.

It didn’t work out that way, though. “At freshman orientation, I saw what pre-med entailed, and it didn’t allow for me to pursue a lot of the other interests I wanted to explore in college,” he says. “I was also interested in environmental work and languages and I wanted to take advantage of Dartmouth's study abroad programs. It didn’t feel like I was giving anything up, it just felt like an opportunity to see what else I might like.”

By the time college graduation rolled around, he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He had worked at the Gap part time over the holidays, and they had a supervisor position open. He took it, intending to stay a short time while he made other plans. Instead, he stayed with the company for seven years. He moved up the ladder, eventually managing operations at several stores before realizing that if he didn’t change something, it wasn’t going to change on its own.

He decided to give medical school a shot. He wasn’t prepared, “but thankfully there are postbac programs to help with that!”

Dr. Blackcloud is happy he made the leap. “If I had stayed in retail, I would have been counting down the days until retirement,” he says, “but now I feel I can do this for life.” He will spend his intern year at Memorial Sloan Kettering and then start his residency in dermatology at UCLA.

His advice for incoming P&S medical students: “Find a field you truly love. Who knows what medicine will look like in the future, but if you are passionate about what you are doing and the patients you work with and the diseases you treat, I think you'll be most happy and best able to handle change. It is much easier said than done, but there is a lot of opportunity at Columbia to gain exposure to different fields, through rotations, research, and mentorship.”