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From Engineer to Doctor: How Wish Granting Changed Patrick's Career Path

Patrick Ward
Patrick Ward, 28 years old, always wanted to be an engineer. And until recently, he was one. But not long ago, he realized the things he truly wanted in life had changed, and it all started when he got involved with Make-A-Wish® Missouri & Kansas.

His wife, Mary-Kate, first learned of the organization and the opportunities to get involved with it from her co-worker, who had volunteered as a wish granter. After learning about their experience, Mary-Kate became interested in making wishes come true herself. Once she brought it up to Patrick, they both found themselves on board with the idea, “I thought it sounded like a great opportunity to get involved and give back,” Patrick says. So soon enough, the two began their roles as volunteer wish granters, and they had absolutely no idea what to expect.

The responsibilities of a wish granter are many. From going out and meeting with the wish kid and their family, getting to know who they are, finding out what their one true wish is, and figuring out the logistics of making that wish come true. Eventually, the volunteers also help to put together the child’s wish reveal, where the wish kid learns their one true wish is coming true.

As Patrick points out, part of the job is also simply to “put a face to the organization as a whole.” And on their first day as the face of the organization and the makers of wishes, they were a bit nervous, a feeling only amplified when their first wish kid was a bit withdrawn and anxious about talking with them. Yet, in the end, Patrick and Mary-Kate “couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” he said. While their first wish kid was a bit quiet, both he and his family were “super appreciative” of what they were doing, and the two walked away feeling like their work “is actually going to make a difference in somebody’s life,” he said. The two have since been volunteering as wish granters for the past 2-3 years, and while they usually don’t take on more than two wish kids at a time, they are always working on at least one.

At some point, Patrick started to think about making a bigger change in his life. From working with the wish kids and their families, he realized he wanted to interact with more people on a day-to-day basis, and after seeing the difference treatment could make on the wish kids, he wanted to devote his time to helping others like them. He then started taking steps to change his career, from engineer to doctor.  

Before making any big decisions, however, he wanted to get a taste of what a career in this field might actually be like. So Patrick spent some time shadowing a few doctors at Barnes Jewish Hospital. Seeing firsthand the way the doctors and nurses worked together reminded him of his days playing sports, with everyone working together to achieve a common goal, and witnessing the impact being a physician can have on people’s lives solidified his desire to do similar work with his own.

Although he knew it was what he wanted to do, taking the leap of faith into a new career from something stable was a bit of a concern for Patrick. But throughout the process, Mary-Kate was “extremely supportive,” he says, with both knowing it was something that would not only work out in the long term, but also lead to a happier place for them. Patrick described his family and friends as being supportive as well, but a bit surprised too. Surprised, mostly because he had never expressed any interest in medicine before in his life, but supportive, as some friends began signing up as clients before they even know what he’ll end up doing in the field. When asked what that might be, Patrick said he hopes to do more procedure oriented, hands-on work in the future, but he’s still keeping an open mind.  

Patrick is currently a student at Washington University in the MD program, taking the classes all students must go through, starting off with the study of anatomy, human physiology, and other introductory subjects. While 28 years old might seem older than a typical college student, Patrick says it’s actually not that unusual. “Our median age is a little bit older than you might expect,” he says. In fact, according to Patrick, there are a number of students in his class making career changes like him. Some are even married.

Overall, Patrick describes his college experience so far as being exciting, but also a process of “acclimatization.” Getting used to the foreign subject matter has involved a lot more rote memorization that he has been used to, and with so much content to learn at once, it’s a feeling that he and others have described as “trying to drink from a fire hose.” At the moment, he has just finished up his first week of actual classes and is well aware of how much more he still has to learn. Yet, despite the challenges he’s faced and the ones still to come, Patrick describes the experience as being “very enjoyable.” And even with all on his plate, Patrick and Mary-Kate both plan to continue to help make wishes come true. In fact, he says, “we just sent our last wish kid off to Disney World last week.”

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Make-A-Wish® Missouri & Kansas
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