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Nicholas DeNardin

From Auto Mechanic to Medical Student

Nicholas DeNardin was always interested in medicine, but he knew his attitude toward school would be an obstacle.

“I didn’t ever do really well in school because I couldn’t find a reason why grades were important. I never even thought I’d go to college.”

His attitude shifted during his senior year of high school when he entered a vocational track and learned about the Automotive Youth Education System.

“I liked the car classes. When we had a test, we fixed a car. You could see the results. Either things were going to run right or they weren’t.”

DeNardin was hired by Acura as a mechanic after graduation, and he liked the work, especially electrical problems. “We called it the glory work,” he said.

“I guess I was always sort of a problem-solving person, and that’s why I liked the electronic stuff. It’s really not made to be serviced so you get to do your own thing. That’s the fun part of cars.”

Still, the idea of medical school stayed in his mind, and his successes in the auto industry gave him some confidence. He entered college as a business major. Fortunately chemistry and biology were required subjects; he excelled and became a biochemistry major, graduating from CU Colorado Springs.

But when it was time to have surgery for a broken shoulder, DeNardin didn’t have much faith in a good medical outcome. The joint had dislocated repeatedly starting in high school, and he believed it wasn’t fixable.

Not only did the surgeon fix the shoulder, Richard Stokelman, MD, became a mentor.

“I was right at the tipping point,” for medical school, says DeNardin, 26, who will be in the first CU School of Medicine cohort to perform third- and fourth-year clinical rotations at the Colorado Springs branch.

Will time with Stokelman be enough to ensure an orthopedic specialty? “Well, I’m good with drills and hammers, but I’m not sure what I will end up doing. I talked to my surgeon, and he said that when he started medical school he knew two things: he definitely was not going to be an orthopedic surgeon or an ER doctor.

“So I guess I’m open to anything.”