Quante Singleton had the typical boyhood dreams of what he wanted to be when he grew up: fireman, policeman, doctor. Now he’s well on his way to becoming two of the three.
Singleton, 30, a third year student at Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, recently received a $10,000 American Medical Association Minority Scholars Award for his achievement. But long before medical school, he joined the fire department in Atlanta. Singleton wanted to be a doctor as a child and that dream was rekindled when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in high school playing basketball and ended up working with an orthopedic surgeon.
“I could see myself being this guy,” he said. “But I had no idea if it was even a possibility.”
Singleton did not know who to ask about it.
“My parents are just normal, blue-collar working people,” he said. “They don’t have college degrees. They don’t have any idea what it takes to get to this point. There was no one around me, there was no one I knew personally who was a doctor.”
But his uncle and some family friends were firefighters and so at age 18 he joined the City of Atlanta Fire Rescue Department.
“It was one of those things where I didn’t know what to do but I wanted to do something where it was meaningful, it was helping people,” Singleton said. “And I ended up falling in love with it. I liked the fact that I was able to help people and to be able to see the end effect, knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life.”
People may not know it but firefighters can make a difference every day, from fires to car wrecks to someone having a heart attack, he said. After a while, Singleton decided to go back to school while still with the department and then the long-delayed dream of entering medical school began to loom as a reality. And it is in part because of the fire department, Singleton said.
“I think the fire department changed me,” he said. “At 18 years old, you’re going into these burning buildings, people are depending on you, it makes you grow up fast. It matures you really, really quickly.”
After about nine years with the department, Singleton was ready to leave to go to medical school but there was still something he had not done: he had never pulled someone from a burning building who survived.
“It’s the one thing that every fireman wants to do, to know that this person would not have made it out without you putting your life on the line to pull this person out,” he said.
He had just mentioned that to a co-worker when a call came in to respond to a burning house.
“We pull up on this fire and there is a lady in the yard screaming that she knows there is an old lady in there,” Singleton said. It turns out the woman had dementia and there was furniture blocking her door. Without waiting to pull all his gear on, Singleton rushed to the door, broke it down, and found the woman lying on the floor inside.
“She was unconscious and I ended up pulling her out and resuscitating her,” he said. “And she lived.”
The rush of working with trauma patients has him now leaning toward orthopedic surgery and potentially becoming a trauma surgeon.
“I just enjoyed that environment, the high intensity,” Singleton said. And then he laughs. “I bet you that stems back to the whole fireman thing, too,” he said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org