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CMU medical student Nicholas Cozzi inspires students with stories of failure, persistence


CMU MD Candidate Nicholas Cozzi speaks at presentation on Jan. 11 in Charles V. Park Library.  

Six years ago, Nicholas Cozzi applied to dozens of medical schools across the country and received 40 rejections. 

He never let rejection stop him. Through perseverance, he is finishing his last semester of medical school at Central Michigan University.

Students packed into Charles V. Park Library Auditorium Thursday to listen to the Chicago medical student speak about his experiences working in three top-rated children’s hospitals.

In his speech, “Experiences in Pediatric Oncology: Observations of Hope and Resilience,” Cozzi spoke about the obstacles he faced on his way to becoming a physician. After receiving the 40 rejections, Cozzi chose to attend business school and earned his Master of Business Administration two years later. Now, he is set to finish medical school.

Cozzi encouraged the audience not to fear failure. 

“If you’re not failing once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough,” Cozzi said. 

This fall, Cozzi spent one month working with pediatric oncologists at three hospitals: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Boston Children’s Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Before that, he shadowed a pediatric oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He did everything he could to stand out amongst other applicants, which included cold-calling physicians and working for free.

“I challenge every one of you to think of an internship, an opportunity you haven’t taken advantage of because maybe you didn’t think you would get looked at favorably, maybe you just didn’t want to apply, but, I challenge you to make the ask,” Cozzi said.

He also reminded them to remain optimistic and to stop comparing themselves to others. He had friends who got into medical school right after graduating with their bachelor’s degrees, and he didn’t get accepted anywhere. 

“Celebrate other people’s wins, because their success does not mean you are failing,” Cozzi said.

The message that resonated the most with students, however, was to value hard work over intelligence.

“I am never the smartest guy in the room, but what I lack in overall test-taking skills, I make up for by outworking people,” Cozzi said.

Canton physical therapy student Alexandria Roberts liked that idea.

“I’m not the smartest test taker, but I make up for it with hard work and integrity,” Roberts said.

Roberts spoke to Cozzi after the speech and asked how he got into pediatric oncology. She is interested in that specialty, as well. 

“That’s a gap for physical therapists. We can help this population, and we should be providing our services. Whether they’re going through chemotherapy or they are done with chemotherapy, we have a role to play,” Roberts said.

The event was sponsored by the College of Business Administration, the Collegiate Health Administration Preparatory Society, the Health Professions Residential College, St. Jude Up ‘til Dawn.

St. Jude Up ‘til Dawn is a Registered Student Organization at CMU that aims to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Cozzi’s speech was meant to raise awareness for St. Jude and to encourage audience members to help fundraise or donate to the hospital.

After the speech, members of St. Jude Up ‘til Dawn distributed flyers that included information about how to donate to the hospital. According to faculty advisor Karen Arthur, CMU students have raised $20,000 since April 2017. The goal is to raise $32,000 by Feb. 16.

Lexington senior Katelyn Massaria is the sponsorship director of the RSO. She has been involved with St. Jude Up ‘til Dawn for three years. A cancer survivor herself, Massaria is exceptionally passionate about supporting research for pediatric oncology. She enjoyed listening to Cozzi’s speech because he shares that enthusiasm.

“Nicholas Cozzi is my spirit animal,” Massaria said. “The fact that I can see someone else who has that same passion is so enlightening. I truly love what I do.”

The RSO’s main event, Up ‘til Dawn, will take place Feb. 16. Students who raise $100 on their fundraising page will receive a free T-shirt and an invitation to the event. Up ‘til Dawn is meant to celebrate the end of their fundraising season.

Arthur said the event is meant “to honor families who stay up ‘til dawn with their children battling life-threatening diseases.”