Russell J. Ledet spent four years patrolling the doctor parking lot at Baton Rouge General Medical Center in Louisiana, where, as a security guard, he watched people in white coats come and go from the building. He fantasized about what his life could be.

In a moment of bravery one day, Ledet was walking with a surgical resident and asked: “Hey, do you think I could shadow you?” To Ledet’s surprise, the doctor replied:

“Yeah, why not?” Ledet recalled.

Whenever Ledet had free time over the next several months, he was in the operating room and visiting patients with the resident, Patrick Greiffenstein.

“It just so happened, God put me in the right place at the right time,” said Ledet, 34, of Gretna, La.

Now, seven years after he was a security guard at Baton Rouge General Medical Center, Ledet is assigned to the same hospital as a medical student. He’s doing his pediatrics rotation there and is in his third year at Tulane University School of Medicine.

“It’s like the ultimate comeback,” he said.

Ledet grew up in Lake Charles, La., with a single mother who worked as a certified nursing assistant. They relied on food stamps to eat. After high school, Ledet joined the Navy and was stationed in Washington, D.C., from 2004 to 2007. He entered the Reserves, and his wife — Mallory Alice Brown-Ledet, whom he met in high school — persuaded him to go to college while she worked at a bank.

They moved back to Louisiana in 2009, and Ledet enrolled in Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge.

Ledet initially thought he would become a social worker, like the ones who had helped his family when he was a child. But one day, his chemistry professor told him that based on his performance in class, he should major in biology or chemistry. Ledet took on both sciences as a double major. That same year, he started the security-guard job to help support his family — which included a new baby, Maleah.

Ledet didn’t have his sights on becoming a doctor then, and certainly did not view the hospital job as a backdoor way into the medical field. He said he simply needed a job to pay the mortgage.

But once he started working there, he became enamored by the hospital environment, with its intensity and variety: In one building, you had everything from gunshot wounds to babies greeting the world.

“Being in a hospital was to some degree a motivating place, because you saw these really smart and talented people walking around who were really cool to be around,” he said.

Ledet graduated from college in 2013 and left the security job but didn’t decide to become a medical doctor right away. He moved east with his family to attend New York University, where he earned a PhD in molecular oncology in 2018; meanwhile, his wife got a psychology degree at Kean University in New Jersey. His research on prostate cancer earned recognition, but Ledet fondly recalled his shadowing days in Baton Rouge and felt called to the clinical, hands-on work of a physician.

“I knew a lot about prostate cancer … but I really didn’t understand how to treat a patient,” he said. “That’s a whole different ballgame.”

Ledet decided to apply for medical school. Just about an hour after his second daughter, Mahlina, was born, Ledet got an email from Tulane University in New Orleans: a full scholarship to its medical school. He moved back to his home state and started school in 2018.

Over the summer, Ledet started his third-year rotations, after indicating his location preference for Baton Rouge General Medical Center. He was thrilled when he got it.

“It was just about counting down the days until I could walk into the hospital,” Ledet said.

And when he did return, it felt like a homecoming. Ledet lives in Baton Rouge during the week and drives home to the New Orleans area on most weekends. He wants to earn a triple board residency: pediatrics, general psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry. He plans to open a clinic in New Orleans offering mental health services for marginalized communities.

And to be a better business owner, Ledet is also working on an MBA. He said he wants to be an inspiration for his own children and to young people who may be struggling.

“This world isn’t going to hand anything to you; you’ve got to get it,” he said. “Time is a nonrefundable resource. Anything that you want to accomplish in life, it’s within your reach,” he said.

He plans to graduate in May 2022 and then will do a residency. He likes the idea of staying in Louisiana but will go wherever he matches.

“I’m just grateful, man,” he said. “I’m grateful I made it here. I’m grateful that I didn’t give up. I’m grateful that people believed in me.”