Russell Ledet, 34, a former hospital security guard at Baton Rouge General Medical Center, who studied flashcards and shadowed doctors while on shift, is now a medical student at Tulane University, studying at the same hospital.
The Louisiana native was raised by a single mother, and never anticipated he’d go to college or attend medical school.
“I thought growing up only rich people go to college,” he said.
Ledet, who recalls times of looking through dumpsters alongside his sister to find food as a child, enrolled in the Navy after high school because he saw it as “a way out.” During his time in the military he became aware that there were many opportunities available to him and that success was attainable.
He met his wife during a tour in Pensacola, and she encouraged him to pursue higher education. “You’re smart as hell; you just don’t know it yet!” he recalls his wife telling him.
Ledet left the military and he and his wife settled in Baton Rouge where he enrolled at Southern University. While a student, Ledet worked shifts as a security guard at the medical center for five years.
While a guard at the hospital, Ledet asked several doctors if he could shadow them, although most said no, claiming they were too busy. Dr. Patrick Greiffenstein, the chief surgery resident, agreed to mentor Ledet, who studied chemistry on flashcards during his shifts. During this time, his first daughter was born.
After graduating, Ledet went on to earn a PhD in molecular oncology from New York University and was subsequently accepted to the Tulane University School of Medicine on a full scholarship. On the same day he learned of his admittance, his second daughter was born.
He is now studying as a medical student working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic in the same hospital he worked at as a security guard, and is set to graduate in 2022. Ledet said working at the medical center reminds him of his “humble beginnings.”
“Coming from where I come from, nobody tells you that you can do things in the world, you can make an impact,” he said. “If nobody tells you, you don’t know. But now that I know I can tell the kids.”
Last year, Ledet organized a photo shoot and posted a photo of 15 Black Tulane medical students standing in front of slave quarters at the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana. “We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” read the caption of the post, which has been shared thousands of times on Twitter. Since then, the organization 15 White Coats has provided Black medical students with experiences around the globe.
Ledet plans to work in pediatrics and psychiatry as a physician, and hopes to inspire Black youth, and increase access to mental health care in low-income communities.