For Greene County News
FAIRBORN — It promises to be a busy summer for Wright State biology students Kayla Crager and Kyle Hazlett. In April they get their college degrees. In June they marry each other. And in July they go off to medical school together.
That’s the plan. And it’s all happening in front of Kayla’s proud father, Mark Crager, who is taking courses at Wright State that he hopes will get him into medical school as well. Next semester, he and his daughter will be in the same Wright State class.
Mark Crager is an internal medicine physician’s assistant who co-owns a Chillicothe company that provides health care to post-acute and long-term care patients in central and underserved southern Ohio. He is on-call 24 hours a day, and since August has put 10,000 miles on his car making calls at nursing homes and attending classes.
Crager is also the father of four children, who range in age from the 21-year-old Kayla to a 16-month-old baby. And Crager looks young enough to be Kayla’s older brother.
Kayla Crager and Hazlett attended London High School, but Hazlett is two years older so the two didn’t really know each other at the time. Hazlett attended Mount St. Joseph University, a private Catholic college in Cincinnati, and was introduced to Kayla Crager at a friend’s house in London when he was home from school. She was preparing to attend Mount St. Joseph and play basketball.
She and Hazlett become good friends at Mount St. Joseph. Both were initially thinking of becoming physical therapists, but Hazlett decided the field was too narrow for him.
“I ultimately decided I wanted to go as far as I can and go to medical school,” he said. “There were some late nights talking to Kayla, and she seemed to express the same desire.”
Meanwhile, Kayla Crager’s father was doing a little research and gently suggested the couple consider transferring to Wright State.
“I’d been in school all my life. I have four degrees, and I understand the huge amount of student loan debt that comes with that,” he said. “You spend a lot of money to go to a private school, and I’m not sure you’re benefiting from a better education. I didn’t want my kids to have to experience that same kind of burden.”
Hazlett and Kayla Crager transferred to Wright State in 2013. Both are majoring in biology.
“I love Wright State. It was like the perfect medium between a big school and a small school,” she said. “Classes are more challenging, but it prepares me to do what I want to do.”
What she’ll be doing is going to medical school. Both she and Hazlett have been accepted at the University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, where classes begin July 25. She wants to become a family physician; Hazlett is leaning toward internal medicine.
In the meantime, her father is working on his Post-Bac Certificate in pre-medical studies, a Wright State program offered by the College of Science and Mathematics that enables students to prepare for entrance into competitive professional programs in the health sciences.
“Their biology program here is quite challenging,” Mark Crager said. “I have a couple master’s degrees, and to be honest the professors here are challenging.”
He has an associate degree in respiratory therapy, a bachelor’s degree in business and finance, a master’s degree certifying him as a physician’s assistant and a master’s in family medicine from the University of Nebraska.
“It’s not about the letters after your name. The truth is it’s what you do with those and how you serve humanity,” he said. “I’m going to work until I can’t work anymore and continue to serve. If I wasn’t willing to do that, I would surely not be going back to medical school.”
Next semester, Mark Crager will take a class at Wright State with his daughter. Blessed with youthful looks, Crager often gets double-takes when students learn he is Kayla’s father.
“Students don’t typically realize I’m my age, and they definitely don’t think I’m Kayla’s father,” he said. “When we’re together, they think we’re friends or brother-sister.”
Mark Crager doesn’t believe he’s too old to launch a career as a doctor in family medicine.
“Many years ago, God called me to do something, and I was never able to step into that. I feel like this is something I was called to do,” he said. “I don’t want some day to have that one regret.”