2014 Shaping the Future

From fighting fires to fighting disease

Ryan Rimer has wanted to be a physician since he was 10. It just took a little longer than usual to make that happen. But after several years as a firefighter and paramedic in Nevada, Rimer — 37 and a father of four — will receive his long-awaited medical degree at Commencement.

Ryan Rimer

Ryan Rimer wears his turnout gear in Henderson, Nev., where he was a firefighter-paramedic before leaving that career for medical school.

He will receive his medical degree at Commencement.

After graduation he will remain in St. Louis for his residency training in diagnostic radiology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. His wife, Jamie, is a postdoctoral researcher at the university.

How will your experience as a firefighter and paramedic help you as a physician?

It gives me a unique perspective on how things happen outside the hospital. I have taken care of people from all walks of life and have seen the different challenges people face and how it relates to their diseases. For example, people call 911 who don’t have direct access to health care, so I think knowing things like that will help ground me. If someone tells me they’re not taking their medications, I’ll have more understanding and patience for why they do what they do.

How did being an older, nontraditional student help you during medical school?

The experience of working through my undergraduate years gave me the skills to balance things and multitask. And I think having a family gave me more drive. The end goal was a little different because it not only affected me, but my whole family.

Tell us about the leap from a full-time career to medical school.

I walked away from a career in which I was one of six hired out of 2,000 applicants. So, it was a big risk for me to give up a position where I had retirement, benefits, a good schedule and was already helping people. But even as a paramedic, I would read physician-level textbooks to keep that flame kindled to become a physician. Every day I still thought about it. I would interact with doctors and know, “I want to do that.” I could have stayed there, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t what I felt I was meant to do.

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