Mary in Virginia

Hi everyone,

Dave has pleaded with us moderators to get more traffic going on the site and I can’t think of any hot topics… plus it’s late, I’ve spent the whole day studying, and my S. Adams Double Bock (8.45% EtOH!! #### it’s good) is down to the last few swallows, so I dunno if I am safe to talk about anything more challenging than my bio! So here goes…

I was 41 when a friend laughingly told me, “You should go to med school!” It’s a much longer story than that, but the end result is that after about 24 hours of thinking and researching, I realized he was right. In that time I had accumulated all sorts of reasons why I could and should take this step, and as much as I tried, I couldn’t find any reasons not to.

My previous careers had been as RN, mom, volunteer, and non-profit manager. I’d used my interests in science and health care in all those positions (yes, including mom), and had ended up being noted for having good management skills. So I had been wondering if my next degree would be an MBA when the med school suggestion flew by me, and I instantly knew that medicine was a much better fit. The truth was, while I was a very good manager, it wasn’t much fun.

I figured I would take a semester of gen-chem and see if it was as bad as I remembered from my first semester of college, when I was briefly pre-med before getting distracted by my husband-to-be :-). To my shock I found it… FUN. I LOVED it, and did really well. I figured this was a sign that maybe this medicine thing was actually a real idea, not just an infatuation, and I signed up for the second semester of gen-chem and the intro biology course, too. (fortunately I had a flexible job)

That second semester was both exciting - I did great in my classes - and horribly frightening, as I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis right before my spring exams. I’d known for several years that I had “possible MS,” and so I concluded that it wouldn’t change my plans, but nonetheless it was an appalling amount of psychic work to get through.

My second post-bacc year, I was able to quit work (it’s really nice to have an employed spouse) and do school full-time, so I completed my prerequisites with more bio, o-chem, and physics. I also took the MCAT and got my apps in order.

I’d originally thought that I might as well apply to all schools within a few hours of my home, with the idea that I could do the “weekend commute” thing if I got accepted, say, at Medical College of Virginia. But home life with teenagers convinced me that this was a stupid fantasy on my part, and I pared my list down to two of the nearby schools, George Washington U. and Georgetown.

My thinking was, I got married at age 20, had three kids, and was still married and happy. Why would I throw away a 20+ year investment? No, my med school application was going to be on MY terms, even if that meant flouting the convention of applying to lots of schools. As much as I knew that I’d realized my vocation, I still knew that the life I’d already established, and invested so much in, came first.

Having done the “wrong” thing in terms of numbers of schools applied to, I tried to make sure to do everything else “right.” I got a 4.0 in my prereqs - pretty cool for someone >20 yrs out of college! and did fine on the MCATs. Got my AMCAS application in during the first days. I did take my time with my secondaries, wanting them to be just right and having been advised that a month was an acceptable turnaround time. Still, my applications were completed by mid-August.

Got interviews at both schools in September 1999 and thought, oh YEAH I am going to have my life all planned out by Thanksgiving! Not that I was sure I’d get in or anything, but to be honest, I thought that if I’d made the cut to an interview, I had a really good shot. As OPM veterans know, I got waitlisted by both GU and GWU and spent the time until the following May composing, and occasionally sending, follow-up letters assuring them of my strong interest.

I got pulled off GWU’s waitlist on May 18, 2000, not that I remember or anything :slight_smile:

So I became a member of the GWU School of Medicine Class of 2004, at age 44 (oldest person in my class). I’m now on the downhill slide of my second year, and it is VERY hard to believe that my days in lecture hall are truly numbered. It has been, in a word, EXHILARATING. I really enjoy school, I get along just fine with my classmates, although many of them are the same age as my oldest son. I even served as class secretary last year. Even in the throes of getting ready for a test (big exam Monday), I am having SUCH a good time that I can scarcely believe it.

Definitely the best discovery of this adventure has been that I have not had to divorce my family in order to be a good student. First, I learned to redefine “good student” - those two post-bacc years had me feeling pretty intense about being at the top of the class, and I had to make a serious adjustment to realizing that average (or, in some cases, below average) is just fine. “P = M.D.” after all.

Second I realized that while there is always studying to be done, there are sometimes more important things. My mother was diagnosed with a particularly nasty form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma right before I started my first year, and I was damned if I was going to sacrifice time with her (in person or on the phone). Occasionally I sacrificed sleep, or grades, but I did manage to get everything done. [Mom got into a study at NIH and is enjoying a complete remission; she got a genetically-engineered vaccine and so we are hoping that the remission will last… forever.] It is SO COOL to realize that I am the same person I was when I started, only now I’ve learned a bunch of stuff that hopefully will come back to me when I go on rotations in a few months.

My own health has stayed good - YAY for interferon-beta-1a, aka Avonex, which has kept my MS in remission for almost four years now. I still worry about it, especially with the physically demanding 3d year coming up, but thanks to all my other successes, I am sure I can handle whatever comes my way.

The bottom line is that I am having FUN and I am 100% certain that I am in the right place.

Sorry to be long-winded; I’ll blame Mr. Adams’ fine beverage and on that note, I’m off to rack up some zzzz’s prior to another long study day. (something else I’ve internalized: it is NEVER worth staying up late to study)

Oh, for newbies, an explanation of my .sig: I just absolutely loved that very silly Tim Allen movie, “Galaxy Quest.” It came out while I was languishing on waitlists, so it seemed a quite appropriate phrase to adopt as my mantra. Larry in NJ can even say it in Norwegian or Swedish or something.

Mary R.

Wow! I came across your bio and I’m really impressed! (I’m 42; hopefully 43 when I start med school). Just wanted to let you know that this was really good to read and is inspiring. I loved chem and even chem and o-chem labs too…couldn’t wait to go cook up the next experiment each week. Go get 'em!
—Mary (in PA)