Cam Holland became a teacher so he could challenge young people to change the course of their lives. Little did he know they'd do the same for him.
A few months into his second year teaching science at R.B. Glenn High School in Kernersville, N.C., the former North Carolina offensive lineman (a three-year starter at center from 2009-11) was talking about college with a student when they asked a question he didn’t have an answer for:
‘How can you sit here and lecture me about following my dreams when I know you want to be a doctor and you’re not following yours?’
Holland liked teaching but it wasn’t always his plan. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa., quality healthcare wasn’t always available. Holland remembers a free clinic in his neighborhood that offered help when his family needed it and he wanted to go to medical school so he could help families like his.
But after two brief stints in the NFL, Holland started substitute teaching at Glenn to pay bills and before long, got a full-time offer.
Holland enjoyed sharing his love for science and considered making a career of teaching but couldn’t forget about his dream. He quit his job at the end of the year to take a post-baccalaureate program at UNC-Greensboro, which he finished with a 4.1 GPA, and enrolled in the Medical Education Development program at UNC the following summer.
The MED is an intensive nine-week summer program designed to give students from underrepresented groups the opportunity to gain insight about careers in medicine. The courses are taught by UNC faculty and designed to simulate the first semester of medical school.
Holland admits he entered the program with a chip on his shoulder, feeling he had something to prove for all Carolina athletes whose academic rigor had been questioned after the academic scandal.
“When all this stuff was going on, I was the captain of the football team so I kind of took it personally,” Holland said. “I want to change the impression of UNC football players because there have been a lot of things in the media and that represents the minority. There are a lot of great men on the football team and a lot of great students.”
Fittingly, the regimented schedule of football prepared him for long hours in the program. Holland’s hard work was vindicated July 25, when he graduated the program at the top of his class. Holland was the first African-American male to do so in recent memory.
“My family was very excited and proud of me and all of my classmates said the same thing,” Holland said. “(My classmates and I) were kind of in it together. We were helping each other, supporting each other, teaching each other, and pushing each other, but also kind of competing with each other as well. So it was nice to hear that from them.”
Holland said dealing with academic stereotypes about athletes is difficult and that eventually it can affect your confidence. “I actually kind of started to believe that maybe I did not have what it took to be a physician,” Holland said. “This kind of solidified that I did.”
Holland is now applying to medical schools with UNC at the top of his list. While he’s completing the application process, he will return to teaching with the intent of starting medical school in Fall 2016.
“I want to work in family medicine and be a primary care physician because I think that would allow me to have the biggest exposure to the people who are in the most need,” Holland said. “My goal is to provide for other people what was provided to me.”
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