TCOM student delivers for his family, now he’s ready to deliver for his community
Dennis Kulp sat in his car sobbing, his work clothes soaking wet. The TCOM fourth-year student was starting to crumble from what seemed like insurmountable pressure — stress of medical school, financial woes, family struggles and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Why am I doing this,” wondered Kulp. He was working part-time as an Uber Eats Driver to help support his parents, whose financial hardships before the pandemic worsened as COVID-19 spread.
Kulp had driven to the designated spot for the delivery when he saw who he assumed was the potential customer. After he politely asked if it was her delivery, she approached his car and inexplicably doused him with an alcoholic drink. Instead of wallowing in the foul stench of failure, Kulp composed himself, and 24-hours later was back at work.
That’s who Dennis Kulp is, and his long and winding road through 2020 has delivered him to one of the biggest days of his life, Match Day. Here is how he got there.
The difficulties for the Kulp family, who live in California, began before pandemic hit. Dennis was halfway through his third-year at TCOM when the financial hardships hit his parents. His mother was working as the pandemic started, but his father had health issues and couldn’t risk leaving the house.
Their hardships got worse. In Texas, Dennis knew he had to do something.
“I couldn’t bear watching my aging parents struggle like that, so I diverted the money I was allotted for living expenses to them and elected to take on a part–time job with UberEats every day,” Kulp said. “During a significant part of 2020, the business my mom worked for had to suspend operations, but my family still had mortgages, bills, medicine, and living expenses to pay.”
It was a challenge. As the pandemic spread, in-person rotations became harder and harder to find to fulfill credit requirements. Medical school is like a full-time job and then some, so adding a part-time job to his responsibilities made it even more challenging.
“I had to learn to live very frugally and to plan my schedule meticulously so that there were no conflicts between my clerkships and job,” Kulp said. “And it was worth it because my family banded together to make ends meet. I found a rhythm for my schedule and maintained it so that we could have enough financial coverage in case my mother had to stop for future lockdowns.”
Taking action for his community
With a plan in place to take care of his parents, Dennis shifted his attention towards the community he serves. COVID-19 was spreading and testing sites were hard to find. HSC stepped up and opened up a mobile testing site in Fort Worth. Dennis was one of its first volunteers.
“It was a priority for me to help the HSC mobile testing site,” Kulp said. “The initial mission of the clinic was to offer testing to first responders and support county infrastructure. I wanted to be a part of something bigger, particularly at a time where I felt that my skills could be put to use while rotations were beginning to be cancelled.”
He was part of something bigger. Kulp and his fellow classmates from TCOM and across HSC gave a much-needed boost to first-responders and the healthcare system. The students helped other first-responders at the testing-site, but it also reunited them with classmates who hadn’t seen each other in nearly a month.
“It felt wonderful to be able to see my colleagues again and to work with them almost as a microcosm for the real world training I would undergo in a little over a year,” he said.
At the testing site, Kulp felt himself growing. He saw his future colleagues’ passion to help others every day and it struck a chord.
“This time has given me a larger appreciation for the maturity and wisdom of healthcare workers that have come before me, and I hope to depart TCOM for residency with that capacity to serve my patients compassionately and comprehensively to the best of my abilities,” Kulp said.
Balancing life and medical school with help
Supporting his parents and working part time through a pandemic while attending medical school was tiring enough. On top of all of that, he and his classmates were scrambling to find clinics sites that would take medical students, not just to end his third year but also looking ahead to his fourth year.
“Early in April, I had started contacting sites, clinics, groups, and independent physicians for my fourth-year,” Kulp said. “I kept an extensive list, updating it daily with new sites, contact information, responses, approvals, and rejections. I made calls every day mostly to be met with answering machines, practices managers, and physicians telling me they would not take medical students. I don’t think I’ve encountered so many rejections in my life.”
Rejection after rejection seemed almost insurmountable, but Kulp, with a dose of stubbornness, only grew stronger.
“I was not deterred. The more ‘no’s’ I got, the more it made me determined to search for additional sites,” he said. “My effort paid off when I was able to coordinate and schedule my clerkships with the generous sites and physicians that took me. The mix of gracious physicians, my stubbornness, and a never-ending list helped me fill a large part of my fourth year with rotation opportunities.”
Eventually though, Kulp could no longer keep his challenges bottled up.
“Earlier on in the pandemic, I kept my personal and family issues to myself, not feeling that it was as valid as the people who were sick with COVID or had loved ones with COVID,” he said. “I didn’t feel it was valid for me to complain to my classmates about my problems since I was healthy, I had a relatively intact clerkship experience, and I was able to work. I just didn’t feel that it was appropriate to bring up. As the months dragged on, however, I started opening up to my classmates.”
Kulp found support among his classmates.
“All of the classmates I told gave me their support and were very empathetic to my situation — I’m sure they faced many challenges themselves through this time,” Kulp said. “They gave me the space to vent and feedback for me to come up with different ideas for my situation. Some of my classmates have even gone out to ask me to make personal deliveries, buy my artwork, or even come up with ideas for alternate ways to make money.”
Kulp made sure his schoolwork did not suffer. Kulp set a rigid daily and weekly plan to make sure he didn’t overwork himself, keeping his medical education at his number one priority. It paid off. Kulp has navigated his way through his fourth-year, virtual interviews and is nearing graduation.
When Match Day arrives on March 19, Kulp is looking forward his residency in Internal Medicine, a discipline he has always wanted to pursue. Today he can smile and speak about helping his family and working part time while finishing medical school.
“I am proud to say that I have over 1,000 deliveries and my satisfaction rating is a strong 100 percent,” Kulp said.
When he begins his journey into osteopathic medicine, his family will already know of his love, and his patients will see his empathy.
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Our students are not immune from the real-world struggles that can get in the way of higher learning—loss of income, medical bills, food insecurity, auto emergencies, and homelessness. The Student Emergency Fund assists students who need support as they balance their studies and everyday lives.