Finding success beyond the diploma

West Milford. After a shaky acedemic experience in high school, resident Ross Miller found success in college, moving to the top of the class.


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  • West Milford's Ross Miller graduates from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in May. submitted photos




  • Ross Miller and wife Jamila during his graduation in May.




Born in the tiny fishing village of Mousehole (pronounced mow-zol) in Cornwall, United Kingdom, Ross Miller was transplanted back to his father's home country, the United States of America, prior to beginning his education.

Ross's father Peter said that the educational systems of the two nations differ greatly.

"In England, an individual's fate for their career path is set by junior high." Peter Miller said.

As "connectivists", individuals educated abroad are "subservient to the needs of the culture"; whereas, career choice in the US is made as "Individualists" - making it truly "the land of opportunity," Peter Miller said.

This is what the Miller's wanted for their children - opportunities and choices.

Once back in the USA, the Miller family relocated several times due to job transitions before they finally came to settle down in the Newfoundland section of West Milford Township.

It was just in time for young Ross to start 1st grade at his new elementary school, Paradise Knoll.

Ross Miller quickly became a "typical" West Milford kid, his father said.

He made friends and did well in elementary and middle School, and was even assigned to some "advanced" classes.

He also discovered social and recreational enjoyment through skateboarding.

But things changed when Ross entered West Milford High School.

Although he continued skateboarding, joined the high school's fencing team, and also took an interest in Video/Media Arts, Ross said he began to struggle in school both socially and academically.

His home life was changing due to divorce.

He was bored at school, started having difficulty in classes, and became frustrated with what he described as a "lack of support" from his teachers and guidance counselors.

He said he felt completely misunderstood.

His father Peter said the more Ross struggled academically, the more frustrated he became, and he began to act out behaviorally in school.

Ross's self esteem suffered.

He said he didn't think he was smart, and said his guidance counselors "gave up" on him.

"It felt like they were making no effort to help me," he said. "I didn't like them. They didn't seem to care."

Barely passing his required English/Language Arts class his senior year in 2007, Ross managed to finish high school with a lower/middle of the class ranking, and received his diploma.

A new beginning

From the age of 16, Ross began working part-time jobs after school and on weekends to make his own spending money to buy things he wanted.

One of his first jobs was working in the high school's Audio/Visual Department as a member of the Auditorium Staff, running the lighting and audio for various events that were held at the school.

This was his primary area of interest, and became the career path he would choose to pursue at community college.

After high school, Ross attended the County College of Morris for Media Arts/Production.

It was during this time that things began to change for him again.

He said he began to mature, exploring and developing his own independent identity.

He began on a personal journey of self-discovery and change.

"It takes a lot of time, effort, and humility to change yourself, but as I did, I also gained confidence," Ross Miller said, "(I) realized that there's always room to grow. I was finding myself, my place in the world."

His dad Peter noticed the changes in him too.

"He matured a lot. The changes he made in himself were impossible to ignore." Peter Miller said, "In college, he began to feel less like an inmate and more like a client. He showed and earned respect. He began to use and show off his intelligence in a positive way, rather than being 'dumbed down' by his peers."

Peter Miller said that community college provided Ross with a supportive environment where he could be himself, gain confidence, and learn the study techniques and self discipline he needed to succeed.

Ross graduated from CCM in 2009 with a 3.0 GPA, earning his Associate in Arts Degree in Broadcasting Arts and Technology.

He decided to continue his education in Media/Broadcasting at Montclair State University.

As he began his studies at MSU, Ross said he chose a Biology course to fulfill a Science requirement, and immediately fell in love with the challenge it provided for him, and he changed his major to Biology soon after.

It was also during his first semester at MSU that Ross said he met a beautiful, sweet, and extremely intelligent young pre-med student from Rutgers University that would change his life forever.

Ross said he began spending more time with his new love interest, Jamila Pena, and her fellow pre-med friends.

"I realized that I was as smart as they were," Ross Miller said.

That revelation made him realize that he could also pursue a medical degree if he chose to.

"This was something I didn't think was possible before," he said.

He consulted with his University Mentor, Dr. Petroff for guidance, and was encouraged to explore that possibility.

A new direction

Ross had worked several different jobs throughout high school and college including, aluminum siding installation, lifeguard at Mountain Creek, swim instructor at New York Sports Club, a clerk at a Blockbuster video store, a pizza delivery guy, and other jobs.

But at this particular point in time he was working as a bartender.

With the help of Dr. Petroff, Ross was able to get a paid position in a good Laboratory with an IH Grant, which enabled him to quit bartending, and work full time on his studies and at the lab while gaining important related medical experience.

Jamila turned out to be Ross's greatest support system and his inspiration throughout his continuing process of self awareness and personal growth, his newly found self-awareness, his improved, yet humble, confidence, his desire to become a better version of himself, and his ability to believe in himself, he said.

"She is my everything, my biggest support system and my inspiration," he said. "She's easy going, practical; she's the one that helped me realize that I was smart."

After not scoring well his first time taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in a previous year, Ross took it again his senior year at MSU and was successful.

He graduated in 2014 with a 3.8 GPA and his advanced Degree in Biology.

He was then accepted into Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, the only school he applied to.

Taking it to the next level

Prior to attending Rutgers, Ross decided to take a job position for 1 year as an ER Scribe at Chilton Medical Center, where he gained additional medical experience as well as a chance to save up some money to prepare to attend Medical School.

"You need to have a lot of stamina, and you can't really work while attending medical school full time with the number of hours you need to dedicate to your studies, lectures, clinical work, learning the role of a physician, board exams, etc," he said. "Speak to your trusted mentors and family members- decide if you can make that commitment. Once you get to the first year of Medical School, there's really no turning back - the financial debt will be far too great to just quit at that point."

Through all this, Jamila has remained by Ross's side for the past nine years.

"She is my inspiration and biggest supporter," he said. "I wouldn't have made it without her. This is not just my achievement, it is also hers - my career is due to our joint effort."

Jamila has since changed her own career path choice - and now enjoys a successful career in the fragrance/perfume industry.

Ross Miller and Jamila Pena exchanged their wedding vows in an intimate wedding ceremony in the presence of their immediate family members in February, 2019.

"She is an incredible person," Peter Miller said. "She has been a great influence and help to Ross in keeping his feet on the ground. It is priceless to have her as a daughter-in-law."

Ross successfully completed medical school at NJMS and attended his Convocation Ceremony on Monday, May 20, 2019.

He started his Anesthetics Residency at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, which he will complete in June of 2020.

He will then complete a 3-year Residency in Anesthesia at Montefiore Medical Center's Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, which he plans to complete in June of 2023.

"It's important for people to know that the best thing to do for your kids is to encourage them," Peter Miller said. "From the time they are little, always say and do things to make them feel special, because they are."



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