By Aubrey Lively, BA ’01 PhD ’21
Standing over an open cadaver in Gross Anatomy Lab has echoes of the grueling 7.5 hours one must spend hunched over the MCAT in order to get to that lab. For Thomas Pecha, BS ’20, this is daily life: “memorizing several hours' worth of lecture material, performing patient exams in hospitals or dissecting a cadaver.” An MCAT score in the 100th percentile indicates solid preparation, but the workload is still commensurate with the entrance exam. “I am constantly awed by the sheer volume of information presented to us every day,” said Pecha, “but I'm fascinated by the material, and I know that the more I learn, the better physician I'll be.”
High MCAT scores, dedication and passionate curiosity were cultivated in the classrooms of UD, where Pecha benefited from small class sizes that “helped me develop close relationships with my professors, many of whom were able to mentor me and write me strong letters of recommendation.” Pecha said the variety and scope of the Core set him apart from other medical school applicants, and led him to discover a love for philosophy and the liberal arts. While he graduated with a B.S. in biology, the Core led him to pursue concentrations in applied mathematics and ethics.
“I believe the well-rounded nature of the education I received at UD served me well in my medical school applications, personal statement and interviews,” Pecha said.
Besides class size, the habits he had formed at UD of reading and synthesizing large quantities of information gave him an edge. “Aside from the 30+ hours of studying a week while balancing coursework, the most important MCAT preparation has always consisted of the ‘pre-med’ fundamental science courses freshman through junior year,” he said. In this, he felt very lucky to have some of the best professors, particularly the now-retired Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Chemistry Bill Hendrickson, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Scott Boegeman, Ph.D. With the test’s heavy focus on biochemistry, Pecha remembers “feeling grateful for my strong UD chemistry formation while taking my exam.”
Currently attending Baylor College of Medicine on a full scholarship, Pecha is part of a large family with a long history at the University of Dallas: “Close to a dozen relatives of mine have attended or currently attend UD.” While not the only college he considered, he observed, “UD struck me as being more academically rigorous and well-rounded than other Catholic competitors, and its location in my home state near a large city sweetened the deal for me.” While rigorous study was an important part of Pecha’s time at UD, his alma mater offered rich memories beyond the Core: “the Greece trip, meeting my wife during a freshman year orientation mixer … and free snacks in Anselm Hall on Wednesday nights (‘Open A’)” are among them.
He noted that the beauty of UD, however, is its embrace of the whole person, and memories are not as easily dissected as cadavers. Intense studying and intense friendships often coincide. “One of my favorite memories at UD was being part of the O'Hara program,” said Pecha. This eight-week program offers exceptional students the opportunity to complete General Chemistry 1 and 2, including the labs, the summer before freshman year. “While the coursework and study schedule was extremely difficult,” Pecha recognizes that “it was definitely a bonding experience. Half a dozen of my O’Hara classmates even attended my wedding.”
While his post-med school plans are not fully formed, he is considering physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), neurology or otolaryngology. “I'd love to be able to work with my hands ... as well as engaging with patients,” he said.
Whatever route the young medical student takes, his “college sweetheart” Julia will help “keep my work-life balance in check.” Marrying the love of his life during a pandemic is yet one more example of how his UD experience changed his life.
His advice to current UD students? “Don't settle for the easy route,” he said. “Take the extra classes you're interested in, get a concentration (or two) in something you enjoy, go to daily Mass, and make the best use of your life and intellect in the service of God.”