LEWISTON – Joseph Dessent was in his early 30s, an electronics technician with a wife and three children, when he had an epiphany: He wanted to become a doctor like his father.

Jinaya O’Neal, a young mother of two, was separating from her husband when she decided she needed a new career: She, too, wanted to be a doctor.

This summer, Dessent and O’Neal, students at Lewiston-Auburn College, will begin to make their dreams come true. Both will attend the University of New England’s medical school.

They’ll also make history. It will mark the first time any L-A College senior has been accepted to a medical program right out of college.

Dessent was taking engineering classes at the college three years ago when he changed direction. His father, a longtime family doctor, had just hired a young associate to join his practice. Dessent realized he wanted the job.

“You finally find out what you wanted and it’s been in your face all the time,” he said.

Dessent dropped engineering and began looking at pre-med. The Auburn resident wanted to stay in the area.

“When I finally decided what I wanted to do in my life, my local college was the closest and it had a great science program,” he said.

O’Neal was a recently separated mother of two when she decided to go back to school.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “I just started taking classes.”

She quickly found science both challenging and interesting. Like Dessent, the Mechanic Falls woman enrolled in L-A College’s natural and applied sciences program. Although graduates often become teachers and laboratory workers, O’Neal planned to become a doctor.

“I didn’t think L-A College was anything that would limit me,” she said. “It’s what you put into it.”

Dessent, 35, and O’Neal, 30, have spent the past few years juggling family, work and school. This spring, each applied to the College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of New England in Biddeford with hopes of becoming family doctors.

The college accepted both. Officials were so impressed with Dessent that they offered to admit him without the last few credits he needed to officially graduate from L-A College.

Med school starts in July.

“It’s going to be tough. But we’ll do it. We’re not the only ones in the world to have done it,” said Dessent, who expects a 50-minute daily commute while he takes 70 credits in classes every year. “In the end it will be well worth it.”

Dessent and O’Neal will spend four years in UNE’s medical school and three years in a residency before they can practice.

L-A College students have routinely gone on to law school, graduate school and a host of careers since the college opened in Lewiston in 1988. Medical school is another honor to add to the list.

“It speaks to the strength of our science program here, the strength of our faculty and the strength of our classes,” said L-A College spokesman Roger Philippon.

The college, which is part of the University of Southern Maine, has bolstered its science program in recent years, adding more classes and tougher requirements.

Although Dessent and O’Neal are the first L-A College students to go directly to medical school, they may not be the last. One or two underclassmen already are talking about their own plans to become doctors.


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