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Jacob Thum OMS-IV: Overcoming the Odds

Jacob Thum is a 4th-year medical student at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine who overcame multiple obstacles in his life to arrive where he is today. Despite the circumstances of his upbringing, Jacob has gone above and beyond in his studies and in his extracurricular efforts to become the stellar student he is known as by his faculty, staff, and peers at the Burrell College.

Jacob’s childhood was filled with uncertainty and instability. “Throughout my childhood and teen years, my mother worked with a Mexican cartel to transport and distribute illegal drugs across the US border,” explains Jacob.  “I’m still unsure of her specific job title, but I remember that living in her home as a child was the most chaotic environment I’ve ever been a part of.  Home invasions by police, bounty hunters, and thieves occurred regularly.  There were people yelling angrily and fighting at all hours.”

In his early teens, Jacob was court-ordered to stay in a group home for minors, which came with its own host of issues and problems. Rather than deal with the constant harassment by the other residents, Jacob choice to leave the group home against the court order, working in construction while attending high school. “I managed to attend school most days, however, I was sustaining a 1.8 GPA, and college seem far out of reach,” says Jacob. “It would take a major event to build the motivation to pursue a medical career.”

Jacob was involved in a severe motorcycle accident at seventeen years old after colliding head-on with a truck, resulting in seven broken bones, a subdural hematoma, and a spinal cord injury. He credits that experience as his main inspiration to pursue medical school.  “Learning to walk again took 1 year, and was a significant turning point in my life,” says Jacob. “I thought I could offer a high level of empathy and motivation to improve patients’ lives as I had personally experienced what it’s like to be a patient.”

After recovering from his severe injuries, Jacob pursued his undergraduate degree, completing his bachelor of science degree in kinesiology from California State University – San Marcos, with a research focus on exercise in able-bodied persons and those with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). Following his graduation from CSU-San Marcos, Jacob applied and interviewed with the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine. “I remember being very impressed with the application experience,” recounts Jacob. “Compared to other schools, Burrell’s response timeline was extremely streamlined, and my interview was relaxed and inviting. I truly felt like they wanted me as their student and appreciated what I could bring to the college.”

A first-generation college student, Jacob has set himself apart for his work ethic and determination. He has been listed as a co-author on multiple research projects related to physical fitness, exercise science, and spinal cord injuries. He was awarded the Spence Asset Management Foundation Scholarship earlier this year, a special scholarship designated for students at the Burrell College who have spent time in the foster care system.

Jacob was assigned to Burrell’s Regional Academic Center in Tucson, AZ. Currently, he is rotating at Harvard Medical School Hospital in Boston. He is extremely appreciative of all the specialists he has encountered during his rotations. For his fellow classmates who are anticipating their rotations, he offers this advice: “If you have a hard time placing yourself last in line, rotations are probably going to be pretty tough for you. No doctor actually needs the help of a medical student, and everything they let you do for their patients is a favor. Once you adopt this mindset, people notice, and amazing opportunities will be handed to you almost every day.”

Jacob is a non-traditional medical student who has defied expectations to become a committed student of medicine, overcoming his harrowing upbringing, difficulties in school, and even major physical trauma to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. The faculty and staff at the Burrell College admire him both for his tenacity in pursuit of his academic goals, but also for his pleasant and optimistic demeanor with his colleagues and supervisors. The College is looking forward to seeing him continue to exceed expectations following his completion of medical school and his journey into residency training. Jacob will be pursuing a residency in anesthesiology after graduating.