SIOUX FALLS - Brandon Hanten is doing what he's always wanted to do.
He's working in a hospital and helping patients up close. He's also on his way to medical school, even if he took a longer route of getting there.
Hanten, 26, will begin medical school at the University of South Dakota in July. That will occur despite roadblocks and being told no throughout his post-secondary academic career. He was accepted at USD last month, with a targeted graduation date in 2023.
To get to this point, Hanten - who was the top student in his class at White Lake High School when he graduated in 2011 - saw his grades slip while an undergraduate at USD. They were good enough to get decent marks, he said, but not good enough to gain entry into USD's Sanford School of Medicine. He took the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, numerous times, and saw his score get worse from the first test to the second try.
"I just wasn't taking steps in the right direction," Hanten said. "It was a pretty humbling time for me."
That was when Hanten decided he needed to take on the challenge of really learning and studying to a degree he never had before, or do something else. His mentors, Hanten recalls, made the latter a non-option.
"I had a little self doubt," he said. "I just wasn't fully confident that this is what I should be doing. It took a talk with Dr. (Martin) Christensen and my boss at the hospital to reset my feet. They told me that this is what you're supposed to be doing, and really it was a reason just to be more dedicated."
His relationship with Christensen, a retired Mitchell physician with more than 30 years of experience of mentoring aspiring health care professionals, has included Christensen being the Hanten's family doctor growing up. Hanten said the doctor provided sage advice to him.
"When you have someone you respect like Dr. Christensen, you give a lot of thought to what they have to say," Hanten said.
When that story was relayed to Christensen, the doctor didn't deny that he tried to influence the young student.
"When someone has the potential to be a great health care professional and he has all of those characteristics, you want them to be successful," Christensen said. "He has the determination to be a great physician."
What helped make the difference for Hanten was his time in a master's program at USD, studying basic biomedical sciences. Combined with his time spent studying for the MCAT again, Hanten, who decided while he was in the fourth grade that he wanted to work in medicine, said he completely re-learned how to study and to dedicate himself to his education. He replaced some of his own confidence - or arrogance, as he admitted it could be called - with persistence.
"I learned a lot from it," Hanten said. "You need to put the effort in what it is you want to do."
In addition to his recent acceptance into USD's medical school for the Class of 2023, Hanten currently works full-time at Avera McKennan Hospital as a patient care technician, working alongside nurses, something he's done for the last 3 1/2 years. Of a number of roving responsibilities, he's had a chance to work with acute care patients ranging from those recovering from strokes and paralysis to car crashes and brain injuries.
"I learned how to care for patients, and learned how to do that day in, and day out," Hanten said. "I know what's going on in a hospital so much better than I ever would have just being in a classroom."
He will now proceed to medical school, where he aspires to be a physician focusing on either family medicine or potentially neurology. He said he likes the opportunity to build a connection with patients over the course of years, similarly to how he has had a long-running relationship with his role model Christensen.
"I've really enjoyed that and there's a lot that happening there," Hanten said of family medicine. "It's a high-need field, and there's just not a lot of people going into that."