Kennedy: It's never too late for medical school, even if you haven't been to college

Kennedy: It's never too late for medical school, even if you haven't been to college

September 5th, 2019 by Mark Kennedy in Opinion Columns

Dr. Michael Teuton / Photo by Mark Kennedy

Dr. Michael Teuton / Photo by Mark Kennedy

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Midlife career changes have become a 21st-century cliche.

But Dr. Michael Teuton's midlife career shift wasn't just a detour, it was an abrupt U-turn.

Teuton, 46, was a successful businessman who decided in his 30s to change lanes and go to medical school. There was just one problem: He had never even been to college.

Before his career shift, Teuton, now a Chattanooga physician, was a construction company owner, restaurateur and sporting goods store owner living with his family in Charleston, South Carolina.

In the back of his mind was a nagging feeling that he was miscast as a businessman. Although his ventures were profitable, he could never shake a childhood impulse to become a doctor.

He remembered thinking, "Yeah, [business is] good, but is this really it? Is this what life's about?"

Teuton said he was inspired by the book "The Purpose Driven Life" by Christian minister and author Rick Warren to re-evaluate his career. The book tells people to look for a guiding light, or purpose, in their lives, and cautions them that " being successful and fulfilling your life's purpose are not at all the same thing."

As a child, Teuton had multiple surgeries at Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa, Florida, where doctors lengthened one of his legs by more than four inches due to a condition called "leg length discrepancy." He said he grew up imagining himself as a bone surgeon, but nobody showed him a path of plausibility to that career after high school.

"I went to a school with 4,000 people," he explained. "I got lost in the mix."

Then, one day in his 30s, he mentioned to his second wife, Lori, that he might want to switch careers and go to medical school. He said she gently reminded him, "You can't just go to medical school, you have to go to college first."

After high school in Panama City, Florida, Teuton had immediately gone to work because that was his family's culture, he said. He later learned that his near-perfect SAT score would have paved the way for college scholarships.

By his mid-20s, Teuton found himself a single dad (after a divorce from his first wife), with a nose for business. His business acumen took wing as he built homes, opened a Chicago-style delicatessen in a suburb of Charleston and later opened an independent sporting goods store in a former big-box retail store.

Later, at age 29, he met and married Lori, and his family eventually grew to include three children.

His long-ago SAT score earned him substantial financial aid when he finally did begin to take undergraduate classes at Charleston Southern University. For a time, he was running three businesses and going to college full time.

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

He earned his undergraduate degree in three and half years, finishing at the top of his class, and was accepted to medical school at Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara in Mexico.

In a leap of faith — he didn't speak Spanish — Teuton, his wife, and three children moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2010 and stayed for four years while he attended medical school. He sold all of his businesses interests to clear his path.

"My wife home-schooled the kids. We all had to learn Spanish. It was a struggle," Teuton said of his time in Mexico. "Of the 93 [students] I went through with, only four of us made it through at the end of four years."

After a pre-internship at New York Medical College, Teuton completed his residency in Augusta, Georgia, and then came to Chattanooga to serve a fellowship in surgical obstetrics.

He is now working at the Erlanger Primary Care office on Pineville Road and is scheduled to make a move to an Erlanger Medical Group location in Cleveland, Tennessee, in November.

Although his road to medicine was full of twists, Teuton said he thinks his young adult life experiences — wearing a tool belt, waiting tables and becoming a single father for a time — makes him a more empathetic doctor.

"I don't think it's too late to do anything in life," he said. "I don't think age defines your purpose."

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315