August 14, 2013 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
“She went back to America; I went back to England”—that’s the start of an inspiring alumni story, one with cinematic potential.
Here’s the opening shot: A 16-year-old boy—he recently dropped out of high school—is working on a construction site outside London.
Fast forward, and a fetching young American tourist enters a pub and spots the boy, now a young man. Next, he’s on his lunch break at a construction site, studying a GED prep book she’s sent him.
Last of all, the camera pans over stunning Hudson River views as seen from a respiratory therapy lab at BMCC, and settles on the students themselves—including our protagonist.
“Nigel Knox was one of the finest students we ever had,” says Everett Flannery, Allied Health Chairperson and Director of the Respiratory Therapy program at BMCC.
He adds that Knox won the BMCC Respiratory Therapy Award, a BMCC academic scholarship, graduated Magna Cum Laude, and “was very inquisitive. He asked questions in and out of class, and tutored other students. He was extremely helpful to everyone.”
‘Why not this life?’
“My father came from a family of ten, and his priority was keeping food on our table and a roof over our heads,” says Nigel Knox, thinking about his early years, and the family moving from England to Ireland. “My priorities were somehow, ‘survive’, rather than ‘thrive’.”
He looks back on a conversation with the American tourist who became his wife.
“She said, ‘If you could do anything, what would it be?’” and I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to be a doctor; well, maybe in my next life’—and she said, ‘Why not this life?’”
He flew to New York to take the GED, then returned to his construction job outside London, and “She called me at work on my cell phone to tell me I’d passed,” he says.
His next step was to move to New York and enroll at BMCC, which he accomplished with the help of family friend Denis Doody, an attorney whose office was in the South Street Seaport area of Lower Manhattan.
“He would walk over to BMCC to help me with the forms,” says Knox, who worked as a waiter and restaurant manager, as well as on building sites, laying concrete, while he attended school.
Also, he says, “Professor Flannery was a great component in my getting into the respiratory therapy program at BMCC, making sure I had everything in order.”
‘Straight in the middle of it’
In retrospect, says Nigel Knox, it’s possible that his father’s passing—after battling lung cancer—had something to do with his interest in respiratory therapy and the medical field in general.
“I’ll never forget what it was like, being 19 and not really understanding what the doctor was saying,” he says.
“But also, I’ve always liked physiology. I’m a very conceptual person. Lists, I can learn, but concepts of how the heart works, for example, are easier for me; the opposing pressures, the anatomy of the chambers—it’s all physiology.”
He marvels at the cultural milieu he became part of at BMCC, in one of the country’s largest and most diverse urban colleges. “I came to America and right away, I was straight in the middle of it,” he says.
At BMCC he also volunteered for the Office of Accessibility, as a note-taker for students with sight impairment.
“I took the notes then read them into a recorder,” he says, adding that the student he was helping out “didn’t mind” his accent. “He told me, ‘You sound like the Beatles’.”
At BMCC, Knox also completed rotations at New York Downtown Hospital, Lenox Hill Hospital, and Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, and spent time in pulmonary function testing labs among other areas.
“They believe you can do it,” he says of the respiratory therapy program at BMCC.
“They show you, and then they expect you to be able to do it. They brought in a doctor from Mount Sinai Hospital, which has one of the best anesthesiology departments in the country, to train us to intubate a patient.”
“That helped a lot in medical school, having that strong technical background and experience with procedures such as drawing blood or intubating a patient,” he says. “Other people were scared to do it, but I was eager to get my hands on it.”
‘Over the moon’
Knox graduated with an associate degree in respiratory therapy from BMCC in 2006, then earned a B.S. in pre-med at Purchase College, SUNY in 2009.
He attended Saint George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada, West Indies, and completed clinical rotations in New York and New Jersey “consisting of hospital exposure in all the fields of medicine; surgery, OB/GYN, pediatrics and others,” he says.
He also completed research on non-invasive positive pressure ventilation (NIPPV), at Hackensack Medical Center, won First Place in the New Jersey State Society of Anesthesiologists Resident Research Presentations, and applied for residency programs.
“Waiting to hear was nail-biting,” he says. “Residencies are very hard to get these days. I was ‘over the moon’ when I heard I’d gotten it.”
His residency in anesthesiology at New York Medical College in Westchester, New York, began in Summer 2013. He’s taken two of three licensing exams—“residencies are based on those scores,” he says, and plans to take the third before his residency ends.
Then of course, come the notoriously challenging medical board exams.
Looking back, he’s grateful for his wife, Patricia Knox—they now have two small children, and she’s begun a career as a pediatric nurse—for his family friends, in-laws Marita and Dan Doody, and professors he’s studied with, along the way.
“I really couldn’t have done it without them,” he says.