Dr. George Naum gives provides an insight into becoming a doctor and his premed journey.
“I’m a firm believer in this, things happen in your life for a reason. You may not understand what the reason is when they’re happening, but if you keep an open mind, eventually, hopefully, you’re gonna see why those things happen.”
– Dr. George Naum aka Dr. Jeep, MD and Physician marriage Coach
Dr. Jen Barna is pleased to welcome back Physician Marriage Coaches Dr. Jeep and Vanessa Naum to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Previously featured in DocWorking Episode 145: “Why Physician Marriages Have Challenges with Dr. Jeep and Vanessa Naum,” today’s episode is about grit. This episode features Dr. Jeep’s own story of how he overcame multiple obstacles to become a physician. In this conversation, Dr. Jeep details his prolonged journey to becoming a successful MD after initially being rejected from medical school, then leaving the only place he had ever known to study abroad in Grenada, only to have his studies interrupted later with a subsequent military invasion and rescue, after which, upon eventually landing a place in a US medical school, he had to start all over. Dr. Jeep’s story serves as an inspiration to aspiring physicians on mindset during failure, adversity, and times of perseverance. He says it was all worth it, and made him a better physician in the long run. We hope you enjoy this personal story from one of our favorite guests.
DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast Episodes featuring Dr. Ryan Niemiec:
145: “Why Physician Marriages Have Challenges with Dr. Jeep and Vanessa Naum”
Best Friends Again is a Physician Marriage Coaching company. Our specialty is in helping physicians and healthcare professionals reignite their marriage through a customized approach based on the unique needs of physician and healthcare professional families.
Our own battle-tested physician marriage, generational physician family heritage, and expertise from coaching hundreds of marriages off the ledge has paved the way for our revolutionary program: 90 Days to Clarity and Connection, a blueprint for guiding healers in healing their own relationships, saving their families, and enjoying their careers. You really can have it all.
Our Gift To You: Go to our website at www.BestFriendsAgain.com and scroll down to receive a FREE copy of the chapter: Love Letter Method with Your Spouse, from Dr. Jeep’s book, What’s Forever For? A Physician’s Guide for Everlasting Love and Success in Marriage.”
I encourage my new connections to do a relationship needs assessment. It’s a good health and wellness check for your relationship. My clients have found it extremely helpful!
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Podcast produced by: Mara Heppard
Please enjoy the full transcript below
George: I’m a firm believer of this. Things happen in your life for a reason. You may not understand what the reason is when they’re happening, but if you keep an open mind, eventually, hopefully, you’re going to see why those things happen.
Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast I’m Dr. Jen Barna, founder and CEO of DocWorking. Welcome to the podcast that talks about ways you can maximize your own potential on your own terms and prevent burnout. If you’re interested in being a guest on the podcast, please reach out to us at [email protected]. Thank you for being here. Today, I’m excited to have back Dr. George Naum, also known as Dr. Jeep and his wife, Vanessa Naum. They have a coaching company called Best Friends Again, that coaches physicians to have better marriages, and have also authored a book called What’s Forever For?: A Physician’s Guide for Everlasting Love and Success in Marriage.
Dr. Jeep and Vanessa were here on a prior podcast Episode number 145 back in February of 2022 titled “Why physician marriages have challenges” If you haven’t heard that episode yet, I hope you’ll go back and check that out after listening to today’s episode.
welcome back to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m so excited to have you both here.
Vanessa: Thanks so much for getting us back.
George: Oh, Jen, it was such a such a great time last time. We were so honored to be part of the great work that you do, and to be able to do this again is just like icing on the cake. [laughs]
Jen: Well, likewise. It’s a thrill to have you guys back and I especially enjoy talking with you because you’re such great storytellers, in addition to the tremendous work that you’re doing with your bestfriendsagain.com helping physicians with marriage coaching, and also your book, What’s Forever For?: A Physician’s Guide for Everlasting Love and Success in Marriage. You guys are seeing tremendous success with the physicians that you’re working with and I love collaborating with you. So appreciate everything that you’re bringing to our community.
George: Well, thank you.
Vanessa: Thanks so much.
George: Thank you very much. It’s the least we can do.
Jen: Well, one quick question before we get started on our topic today, which has to do with resilience and building a career in medicine. I wanted to ask, what the history is behind your nickname, Dr. Jeep?
George: Am I allowed to give you the one version that’s a little bit of off color?
Jen: Let’s try it.
George: What I will tell you — Okay. I tell people initially it’s where I was conceived. [laughs] But that’s not the– [crosstalk]
Jen: That’s not what I expected.
George: My dad he owned a postal jeep, but I was born after he bought the postal jeep. But in reality, it comes from George Philip GP. They were going to call me GP, but my aunt, God rest her soul, lovely woman, decided that she did not like the initials. And so, she just started to call me Jeep and it has stuck now for 63 years.
Jen: Oh, I love that. That’s great. Being an aunt, especially, I love stories like that.
George: Oh, yeah. Awesome person that she was.
Jen: Well, Dr. Jeep and Vanessa, we’re going to talk about what your story is, going back to when you were applying to medical school, where you decided to go to medical school, and what happened subsequently? I really love to talk with you about this, because I think it is such a wonderful example for people who are in that premed part of their lives, they’re struggling to do everything they have to do, to apply is such a stressful process and ultimately, they know that they want to serve people in healthcare and it can be really difficult to get there sometimes. So, if we can start back at the beginning, what made you decide to go into medicine and what was the process for you in getting to medical school to begin with?
George: Well, as cliche as it may sound, Jen, I wanted to be a doctor from a very early age and my earliest memories are when I was five and really what inspired me was my dad, who was a physician for 50 years before he retired. But he went into family practice in– It was part of his routine that he would have patients come over to the house. And so, I would sit in this room off the side of the living room and I would see patients come in the door, he would take his arms, put them around them, take them into the living room, and they would talk about whatever the problem was, and he would treat them in there, and then they would get up, walk out. He had his arm around their shoulders, oftentimes, there were hugs and, and I said to myself, “This is what I want to do with my life.” People were so happy. I could see that connection and I was so motivated to be able to do that for people.
So, fast forward, I continued to want to do that, there wasn’t anything else that I wanted to do. I got into college. I went to Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia and majored in zoology and premed. It came junior year, I applied, I applied to a number of schools including my state schools, did not get in. Senior year, same thing. Had pretty reasonable MCATs and science average was about three-three, and I thought that that was good enough, but it wasn’t. So I was, to say I was pretty deflated probably, it isn’t really going far enough. I had the possibility of taking a gap year, which is what they call it now. But – I could do a master’s in public health, but I really didn’t want to do that. My dad found out about this school in the Caribbean called St. George’s University, and got some information about it, and he said, “You ought to apply.” So, I applied, we were given an interview, we flew to Bayshore, New York, and had the interview, flew back the same day, and in a couple of weeks, I found out that I was accepted.
Then I had to really make the decision. “Okay, this is where the rubber meets the road.” Here I am a homebody, who really had never been anywhere. I had to make the decision, was I going to completely leave the country and go to school. To say the least, when it came to making that decision, it was daunting, but really it’s all I wanted to do. I decided to take a step in courage and do that. And so, August of 1982, came to New York or came to Pittsburgh, very, very difficult for me to leave everybody, but I did. I flew down to Grenada and about three or four hours later, I reached there, landed at the airport and really came face to face for the first time in my life destitute poverty. I ended up taking a trip down from the airport to the dormitory and I got started. To say it was a big adjustment, really doesn’t tell the story. It’s the best I can do unfortunately.
But I learned a lot from being there. I learned how tremendously lucky we are to be born into this country that we live in and how tremendously lucky that I have been to have been given the things as I’ve grown up because so many of the people over there were living in cinderblock houses, tin roofs and this is what they were used to. I really, I really grew and matured. Liked school, did pretty well at school. Following year 1983, the first semester 1983, not long after school started, came to find out that there was a problem inside the government of Grenada.
To make a long story short, Grenada was basically a satellite of Cuba and the Prime Minister was extremely well liked. But he started to see that his country wasn’t getting what it was promised. He made overtures to the United States. Well, those within his government did not like that. They took him under house arrest and while he was in house arrest, they beat and tortured him, people found out about it, got into his house, released him, took him down into The Center Square. I happened to be on top of my dorm lifting weights and you could see right down into the center of town.
Next thing I know, I’m hearing machine gunfire, I’m seeing a tank down there in the middle of town. We knew something bad had happened. The people, the Grenadians, who were working at the dorm, doing maintenance and cleaning, started to cry. And so, they already had had an idea what happened. Very fearful about what was going on and so, there was a radio blackout for approximately four hours and then the blackout ended and the person who came on was the head of the military in Grenada, who decided that the military was going to take over and he talked about how Mr. Bishop, the Prime Minister and his government had all been killed and that there were a number of other people killed. There was a 24-hour shoot on site curfew for anybody that had the guts to have any issue with the government.
For the next couple of days, we were pretty much confined to the dorms. And Grenada at that time did not have relations with the United States, the closest person was in Barbados and was an attaché, who came over and he tried to arrange release for those of us who wanted to leave the island, which was pretty much all of us. We just wanted to get out of there. They were not able to come to any kind of agreement. The military could not guarantee our safety to the airport. That night ended it was a Monday night, next day 5 AM, I hear anti-aircraft fire across the street from where I was staying. Put up a mattress next to the window, so we weren’t hit by any kind of stray gunfire. The next couple of days was just dealing with that, hearing all of this happening around us, wondering whether we were going to be taken hostage by the military, which thank God, none of that happened.
And so, the US who had intervened were now trying to get to where we were, which was down off the beach. Later the next day about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, they came in to get us and they took off from a destroyer that was off the coast of Grenada. Before they came in to get us, they fired some pretty large shells that were exploding behind us. It was an instance where I was so scared. I was actually laughing. I was not crying. I was that scared, as bizarre of a reaction that was, that’s what I was doing. And so, next thing I know, I’m hearing English voices. Thank goodness. And so, the Marines came in, got us out, flew us in a helicopter from that area under gunfire to the airport, and then we left and came back to the States. It was a surreal experience when I came back.
People wanting to know my story talking to me and all I could think about was the 19 guys that I knew had been killed trying to help me get off the island. I was so somber. What do you say to somebody who’s given their life for you? They don’t even know who you were, but they wanted you to be able to get off. I said to the soldier that I spoke to, I said, “I will never be able to adequately pay any of you guys back.” The best I could do is to try to make you understand that this sacrifice was worth it. And I will to the best of my ability live my life, so that these guys know what they did was worthwhile.”
And so, I ended up finishing the semester in the United States and went back for a couple of years. My brother who was already in medical school at the time, he said, “You ought to come back here and try to apply again.” At the end of the semester, I applied, I was granted an interview at The Osteopathic School in West Virginia. I went, interviewed, and I was accepted. This was, let’s see, 1985, and this was approximately five years after I had started to apply to a US school to get in. The academic dean or the dean of students, I went to him and I said, “Can I get a year of credit for what I did?” Because we were being taught down there from professors from medical schools all over the country. Experts in pharmacology, physiology, histology, and they would come down and teach different aspects of each course. We use the same books. I’ll never forget this. He said, “Jeep, we want you, but you got to start over.” Then I was like, “Okay.”
Jen: Oh, my goodness.
George: I spent two and a half years over in Grenada and a couple of satellite islands. And so, I’m like, “Okay.” Again, this is where the rubber meets the road and my desire to be a doctor had not waned at all.
Vanessa: If I could interject here, the part that I think is missing is that the reason he didn’t finish in Grenada was that he ran out of money and could no longer afford to go there. That left him coming back home and deciding, “I’m out of money. I can’t go back there. What am I going to do?” And then he applied to the West Virginia School.
George: And my dad who had been helping me couldn’t, because I had two brothers and two sisters, one who was in medical school, and three that were in college. And so, I couldn’t add another burden to him. Came back like Vanessa said, got in, and was given that verdict by the dean who I ended up, I just had a tremendous relationship with him. I said, “Okay, this is what I want to do.” It wasn’t a waste– I don’t consider Grenada a waste. Like I said, I matured. I learned so much about myself being over there and going to Lewisburg, The Osteopathic School, I was able to become involved in student government and got to do a lot of things probably that I never would have been able to do. Constructive outside of school type of things, volunteering, and that I probably because of studying wouldn’t have had a chance to do so, basically, it’s all good.
The other thing is, if I had not gone over there and if I had not have restarted in Grenada, Vanessa and I would have never met. I could go on, but I know trying to keep this restricted to this. But things happen in your life and I’m a firm believer of this. Things happen in your life for a reason. You may not understand what the reason is when they’re happening. But if you keep an open mind, eventually, hopefully, you’re going to see why those things happen. I’ve been able to have that kind of, been given that wisdom to understand why it happened in the long run. Like I said, I don’t regret any of it. It made me who I am today.
Jen: What a beautiful story of grit. You really had to go through so much to become a physician and, we won’t get into the trauma and the loss that happened in Grenada, because we don’t have time to address that. But your experience there it sounds like, even prior to any of that, probably had a strong influence on how you practice medicine, because it opened your eyes to how a large percentage of the population in the world lives.
George: Yeah, one of the things that we talk about now in medicine is health equity and, obviously, or healthcare equity. In countries like that, there is no healthcare equity of anything. I got to see that. The patients that I took care of over there or was a part of their care were just so ecstatically happy to have any kind of healthcare and to have anybody that cared about them and wanted to see them get better. You’re right. That carried over with me, too. When I started into practice myself, it’s why I became a family doc. Other people have chosen different paths with specialty, but primary care has always been in my blood, it’s what my dad did. I have always enjoyed the relationship aspect of getting to know grandfather and then taking care of son, grandson in that whole aspect of getting to know everybody. And knowing people beyond what their diagnosis is and getting to know them as human beings first. It’s what drew me to that.
Jen: And I think that speaks to so many of us. It’s really incredible that you witnessed that in first person seeing that happen in your home as you were watching your dad practice medicine and that inspired you. I think so many of us have that vision of that type of relationship with patients and understanding people from a human perspective when we go into medical school, and it can be difficult to maintain that sense of purpose given some of the problems we have in our healthcare system.
One of the things that you guys do and one of the things that we do at DocWorking is help people try to regain that perspective and come back to that by maximizing their own potential, finding where they can have agency in their own lives. By doing that, come back to the practice of medicine, but I think what we’re observing is that most of us are here, because we want to be in the practice of medicine and we need to come back to that sense of purpose. So, I love the story that you tell, the determination to become a physician and ultimately, everything you learned along the path that took longer than you expected, and had some very serious obstructions along the way to ultimately come to be a better physician than you would have been, otherwise is an incredible journey and incredible story. If people want to find you to learn more about Best Friends Again, tell us a little bit about where they can find you.
Vanessa: Sure. They can go to our website and it’s bestfriendsagain.com. And everything they would need to know is right there on the website.
Jen: We will put all of the links in our show notes. So, if you’re interested in reaching Dr. Jeep and Vanessa Naum, please check out the show notes and we’ll have links there where you can find them.
George: Thank you so much for having us. Thank you for letting me tell this story. Next October, it’ll be 40 years-
George: -since that happened. I was able to take Vanessa back at the 20-year anniversary, where we paid our respects to those who died. So, she really got to see what it was like over there. But it’s fresh in my mind now 40 years later as it was back then.
Vanessa: It’s unbelievable story.
Jen: I can only imagine. There’s so much more to your story, but I love hearing about this part at the beginning, because I think it’s so inspiring. I just really appreciate you both coming and talking with me today on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.
George: Thanks, Jen. Have a great rest of your day.
Jen: You, too. Thank you.
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