This Student Started Medical School at 50

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PMY 472: This Student Started Medical School at 50

Session 472

Today, we chatted with Jen, a 50-year-old medical student who has so much wisdom for fellow nontrad students. Let’s talk about her journey!

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:42] Interest in Becoming a Physician

Jen recalls dreaming of wearing a white coat as early as five years old. Then life happens along the way so that med school just wasn’t necessarily a possibility. Jen is a mother to twin boys who are now a freshman in college, and one of them has autism. 

As a mom of a boy who was diagnosed in the very early 2000s, there was not a lot of funding available to help him with the services he required. A lot of it was paying out of pocket for therapies. And as a single working mom, Jen didn’t have that kind of money.

It just seemed logical for her that if can’t afford specialists, then she just had to learn how to be a specialist. 

As a result, she went back to school and got her master’s in special education specialized in autism research, which is what she was doing for a living.

Jen was specializing and doing a lot of research on educational interventions for kids with autism. In doing so, she was also working with some physicians who were studying the genetic components, the biochemistry, and the neurology behind autism. And this sparked her interest in medicine again.

She wanted to learn more about the actual science and the chemistry of the genetics behind different neurological conditions and different aspects of behavioral medicine. And everything dovetailed from there.

At 45, Jen would keep putting up reasons why she couldn’t do it. And her husband was very supportive of her to pursue her dream.

[06:32] Silencing the Voices

Back in high school and undergrad, Jen admits her grades were not stellar. And in college, medical school would not have been an option for her at that point, had she not gone on to later do graduate work and do some postbac and some master’s work. And at that time, medical school wasn’t her end goal as she was having a fabulous time.

Additionally, she had some negative experiences with some educators in the past. She had teachers in high school who told them that girls aren’t good at math so they were made to sit at the back. She remembers having a professor wishing he could give two separate lectures to the boys and girls in the class so he could dumb it down for the girls.

Then another professor told her that training girls in science was a waste of his time. And to hear that message enough times, Jen points out that you start to believe it.

[11:21] Gaining Confidence to Get Into Medical School

When Jen started doing her graduate work, she started making grades she didn’t believe she was capable of. Then she started taking some elective courses and genetics and biochemistry, because it interested her. And she realized she was really good at science and she loved it.

Jen says that once you’re in a different place, when you’re in your 30s, or, in her case, her 40s when she went back for her master’s degree, it was no longer all about her having a good time. It was a 40-year-old single mom, with two kids and having a powerful motivation. She had something to prove, not to other people, but to herself.

'I was told on a very regular basis that I wasn't smart, that I couldn't do anything.'Click To Tweet

In her previous message, she was always told that she couldn’t support herself and that voice has been in her head for the better part of 10 years. And so, it took having those academic successes and receiving those accolades to start to get that voice to quiet down.

Jen started the same year both of her boys started college. But his son who’s on the autism spectrum is an exceptional student. He received a scholarship from an organization that helps support students on the spectrum who want to pursue higher education. And it was life-changing for all of them. Her other son, too, got an academic scholarship and then decided he wanted to be a Navy officer. So he did the Naval ROTC program at school.

The boys saw how their mom wanted to go to school too so they decided to work as a team. They applied for those scholarships to enter those programs and they busted their tails in high school to get those grades. It was a team effort.

[16:36] Finding the Stamina to Be in Medical School

Financial situation aside for nontraditional students, stamina is something that comes up among older students. That being said, Jen is a high-energy person and she says she’s very protective of her health.

Jen makes an effort to fuel her body every day with the right food and limit her caffeine. She has set rules for herself. She wakes up at four in the morning and that is her most productive time. Her hardcore studying is between four and seven in the morning. She goes to class and at 6pm, the books go away.

Jen makes a conscious decision to be present for her family and be in bed at 9pm, at the latest. And that has really helped a lot in terms of her stamina piece.

[19:26] Overcoming Bias and Self-Doubt

Jen remembers reaching out to schools and then one school sent her an email telling her they didn’t want to waste their time on a medical student who will probably only be in practice for 10 to 20 years. Other than that, if it was an issue for another school, they didn’t mention it. Although she had no way of knowing it.

Jen admits she’s not very concerned about being discriminated against for being too old to be an intern largely because of the specialty that she’s hoping to get into. 

Living on a farm in a tiny little town, Jen wants to do rural medicine and do primary care. She wants to practice in a rural environment. And when she spoke to different practitioners in those environments in that field, they have all expressed to her that it won’t be an issue. And there’s an extremely high need right now.

[23:15] Thought Process Behind Choosing a School

Jen says her boys were going to be going off to school and one was going to be doing Naval ROTC. Their other son attends school online right now so he’s with them. then her husband works remotely, so anywhere he has a laptop and Wi-Fi is home. So there were no limitations geography-wise for her.

It was very important to her that the schools she interviewed had open communication with other students. She wanted to have a chance to have an open house setting. She felt she needed to meet with the students and one of her biggest draws is they had a huge open house.

Everything was online, of course, because of COVID. They had the whole Zoom screen with all the students. She looked around and she was listening to all the stories. She was seeing students from every race, every religion, every nationality, every age, you can imagine.

Ultimately, she narrowed her school list down to those schools that were walking the walk and that were really looking for people from diverse backgrounds and they were looking for nontraditional students.

[27:56] How much did age come up in interviews?

The closest to age that medical schools asked Jen about in her interview was whether she was concerned about how she will fit in being a different age from the other students. And she just addressed that by saying she’s not their mom, but a lab partner, a friend, and their classmate. It will be established from day one that no one’s going to call her mom.

Stepping foot on campus, Jen was astounded that it has never been an issue. She recalls telling her husband that she was fully prepared that she’s going to probably be sitting alone at the lunch table. But it has never been an issue from day one. And she has never felt treated or viewed any differently by the students or the faculty.

'You have such an amazing sense of self at 50.'Click To Tweet

Jen says that there’s a lot of self-awareness that comes with her age. And when you’ve been through a bad marriage, a divorce, through financial struggles, and through illness and recovery – and just all that life gives you in your 30s and 40s, then a bad grade on a test is nothing. And so, it just gives this amazing sense of perspective and you learn not to freak out over things.

Now, although she feels like she’s still 25 years old, sometimes carrying a heavy backpack everyday can be a task. There are those little physical reminders she’s no longer 25, but it’s all good.

[34:13] Why She Started TikTok

Jen actually started a little farm life blog. Then when she decided to go to medical school, her husband suggested she switch her profile. And so she did. Her son’s friend taught her how to do reels, upload them on TikTok and then it automatically gets uploaded to Instagram.

So she did her first Tik ok and uploaded it straight to Instagram  ntil she got an email from one of her son’s high school friends saying that she got 11k followers. And everything just took off from there.

Being on TikTok and social media has definitely made her more approachable. She considers it as her diary where she also gets to be her dorky, optimistic self, which is good for people to see.

And a lot of what you see on the internet posting about med school is horrible, so it’s good to be that source of positive energy. She wants them to see the positive side of medical school, and that you can go to med school and still have fun.

'I want people to see that medical school isn't this torture chamber? They're not hazing you there. It's fun. It's absolutely amazing. And it's full of these incredible aha moments.'Click To Tweet

[38:55] Final Words of Wisdom

That voice in your head that’s telling you you can’t do it. That voice isn’t real. That voice is based on voices you’ve heard in the past. That voice is based in insecurity, based in fear and that fear based voice is not real.

Jen leaves us with some wisdom telling that it doesn’t take extreme brilliance to be a doctor. Most people possess the innate ability to handle and disseminate the material that we receive in medical school. But it requires tenacity because you’re receiving that information so rapidly.

The analogy where you’re trying to drink from a firehose is how they present the material in medical school. It’s fast and furious, and there’s a lot of it. But if you can teach yourself time management skills, you can teach yourself how to focus on the material. You can teach yourself how to manage the sheer workload of it.

'Success in medical school is just based on how bad you want it and how hard you're willing to work for it.'Click To Tweet

[40:42]  The MCAT Minute

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