David Riley

“You’re never too old to be young.”

David Riley, 58, of Marshall, takes that famous quote from the beloved Disney movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” one step further. In his case, you’re never too old to go to medical school.

Riley is completing his second year of medical school at the American University of Antigua College of Medicine.

Why go back to medical school and start a new career in medicine when many people his age are thinking about retiring? For Riley, the answer is simple.

“I’ve always had a lifelong commitment to learning, so the idea of going back to school to achieve a new goal was not something I see as unusual or extraordinary” says Riley.

Riley’s love of learning started young. As a teenager, sleep apnea kept Riley up into the night. Averaging just four hours of sleep, he would capitalize on the extra time by reading, establishing a trend of continuous learning that would define much of his career.

Riley’s career track went from health care to IT and then back to health care. In his younger years, he flew Air Evac while serving in the Air Force as part of the Enlisted Medical Corps. He then transitioned to the Pentagon where he oversaw the creation of a medical records system that allowed the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to share medical information. The system is still in use 16 years later.

After leaving the military, he ran a health IT consulting group as well as plumbing and construction businesses. But the desire to return to medicine at an even higher capacity prompted him to apply to medical schools.

Age is meaningless to Riley, but it seemed to mean something to many of the U.S.-based medical programs he reached out to.

“Most of the medical directors spent a lot of time talking to me about my age, whether or not I would be able to keep up with the physical demands and long hours of the training programs and whether or not they would see a return on their investment in my education,” he said.

Riley does not buy into that logic, and was fortunate to find a program that judged candidates on their merit outside of arbitrary figures. Accepted at the American University of Antigua College of Medicine, a school where the vast majority of students enrolled are U.S. citizens, Riley will soon be returning to the U.S. mainland to do his clerkships and his residency. Ultimately, he hopes to practice medicine in Missouri.

“It would be a disservice and probably illegal not to allow him the chance to help based on presumptions of what people can or can’t do at any age,” said Neal Simon, president of the American University of Antigua College of Medicine. “As education professionals, we should consider the whole applicant, will she/he make a great doctor? Numbers like MCAT scores or one’s age do not tell the whole story.”

“Once I have completed medical school and training, I intend to see patients, teach medicine and perhaps do clinical research in personalized medicine and health engineering,” Riley said. “I realize as I get older I may slow down, but I don’t see a time right now where I will completely stop working in the foreseeable future.”

Walking around campus, Riley has become something of a local celebrity. His experience and intensity are legendary, as is his willingness to help and inspire. Papa Dave, as he is known by his younger peers, meets new challenges with an admirable excitement, a testament to years of bold exploration.

“For most people change comes as something unplanned or unexpected,” Riley said. “It involves a lot of chaos and anxiety. For me most of the major change points in my life have involved learning a new field or mastering a new set of skills. This is where my habits of lifelong learning have paid off for me. You’re never too old to learn a new trick.”