Mindset Matters: Conquering Medical School at 52

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PMY 546: Mindset Matters: Conquering Medical School at 52

Session 546

Jen was here previously to talk about her journey to medical school at 50. Now, she’s 52! Let’s check in with her to see how she’s doing.

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

[01:42] Overcoming Obstacles in Medical School at 50

Jen faces the challenge of having osteoarthritis in her knees, which affects her ability to stand for long periods of time. This is the primary issue she encounters, often requiring accommodations such as taking breaks to stretch during exams or using a stool in anatomy labs. Despite this physical limitation, Jen can’t think of any other significant struggles that hinder her.

'The older you get, the more life experience and just the more perspective you have about things. It just makes the road so much easier and so much smoother.'Click To Tweet
  • It’s not the end of the world!

  • Jen’s wisdom and experience teach us that setbacks and failures are temporary and can be overcome. She maintains a positive outlook, refusing to let these moments define her self-worth. Jen understands that tests can be retaken, mistakes can be rectified, and growth is always possible. 
  • Instead of dwelling on self-doubt, she learns from her missteps and moves forward, knowing that a single failure does not determine her ultimate success. With determination and a smile, Jen proves that setbacks do not define her potential.
  • You are not your grades!

  • According to Jen, it is the relationships we build and our performance in real-life settings such as clinics and hospitals that carry greater weight. The way preceptors and faculty speak about us and the connections we make play a significant role in residency applications.
  • While grades are important, Jen highlights that they are not the sole determining factor. This perspective may be difficult for many medical students who have been conditioned to seek academic validation throughout their lives.

Finding Perspective Through Adversity: Jen’s Journey

In the midst of a challenging period, Jen shares her personal experience in the titled account. Facing a devastating divorce coinciding with the 2008-2009 housing market crash, Jen found herself emotionally and financially drained. Juggling two jobs, night school, and raising five-year-old twins, she lived in a small apartment, unsure of what the future held. It was a time when positivity seemed elusive, and tears became a nightly routine.

Finding Gratitude in the Smallest Things

This difficult phase ultimately granted Jen a newfound perspective. The contrast between her past struggles and her current situation provided clarity. Even failing a physiology exam paled in comparison to the hardships she had overcome. Simple things like paying the electric bill and her husband receiving positive health reports became reasons for gratitude.

Jen’s transformative experience led her to remind her classmates that the challenges they faced in medical school were not representative of real life. She encouraged them to keep things in perspective, recognizing that while medical education was important, it did not define their overall existence.

Life’s Lessons: Perspective, Challenges, and Resilience

The Power of Lived Experience

Jen’s husband’s favorite phrase, “Some things are better felt than told,” resonates with her as she reflects on life’s experiences. She realizes that conveying the wisdom gained through age can be challenging, as true understanding often comes from personal lived experiences.

Navigating Criticism on Social Media

Dealing with criticism is a common occurrence for Jen on social media, where her perspectives are often dismissed. One particular critique accuses her of toxic positivity, suggesting that she portrays medical school as effortless and constantly positive. However, Jen clarifies that she acknowledges the challenges and hard work involved at every stage of life.

'There are certain things that you really only know until you've walked down that road.'Click To Tweet

Jen emphasizes that struggles and hardships are not limited to specific ages or circumstances. She highlights the experiences of her classmates, who face personal health issues, loss of loved ones, homelessness, and other significant challenges. It’s crucial to remember that everyone carries their own burdens, and those who have faced adversity tend to develop resilience over time.

Embracing Positivity and Resilience

Despite facing criticism, Jen maintains her positive outlook on life as an inherent part of her personality. She clarifies that it’s not about sugarcoating the challenges of medical school or life itself but rather finding the strength to persevere. Approaching life with positivity and resilience becomes a guiding force in navigating obstacles and hardships.

[11:38] Advocating for Change: Fostering Support and Empathy within the Healthcare Community

Jen acknowledges the pressing need for change within medical schools, residencies, and healthcare practices. The concerning prevalence of mental health issues, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and even suicide among healthcare professionals weighs heavily on her mind. While she may not have all the answers, she aspires to become an advocate for meaningful transformation.

Communication emerges as a crucial element in addressing these challenges. Jen believes that honesty and open dialogue are key. 

Rather than tearing each other down, she advocates for a shift towards building each other up. Jen frequently witnesses instances of negativity on social media, where individuals undermine the achievements and aspirations of others. These comments not only dampen spirits but also erode the sense of support and camaraderie within the healthcare community.

'If we want to stop the negativity, the anxiety, and the suffering that we're seeing in the healthcare community, it has to start from within. We have to start supporting each other.'Click To Tweet

Jen highlights the importance of fostering a culture of support and empathy. She narrates the disheartening experiences of individuals who have their enthusiasm dampened by unsupportive remarks. To counteract the negativity and anxiety prevalent in the healthcare community, Jen emphasizes the need for unity. It is through standing together, supporting one another, and refusing to tear each other apart that lasting change can be achieved.

By promoting a supportive environment, healthcare professionals can mitigate the mental health challenges faced within their ranks. Jen firmly believes that the transformation must begin from within. Genuine support, encouragement, and empathy will pave the way for a brighter future, free from the suffering that currently plagues the healthcare community.

[13:33] Embracing Support and Resilience in the Face of Setbacks

Jen got her COMLEX level one score back today as she’s supposed to be transitioning into your clinical rotations. And she missed by just two points. But she was almost immediately followed up with being surrounded by supportive voices.

Two Minutes to Go Spiral

Jen reflects on another moment of academic setback when she bombed an exam. Overwhelmed by the fear of failure, she turned to her friend Alexis for support. Jen vividly recalls the panic in her eyes as she expressed her concerns about passing the class. In response, Alexis displayed remarkable calmness and understanding. She allowed Jen a brief period to spiral in her anxiety, giving her the space to process her emotions. With a watchful eye on the time, Alexis gently reminded Jen that once her spiral was complete, they could step away from the stress and enjoy a coffee together.

Jen recognizes that this is typical behavior for her. She tends to initially react with intensity, filled with self-doubt and worry. However, with the support of a trusted friend like Alexis, she gradually regains her composure and begins to see the situation from a more rational perspective.

Amidst the initial panic, Jen’s mind races with thoughts of potential failure. Yet, she finds solace in realizing that she possesses the resilience to bounce back from setbacks. The momentary feeling of “oh crap” soon transforms into a determination to overcome challenges.

Finding Strength and Resilience from Challenging Times

Jen reflects on the numerous challenges she has faced in school and in her personal life over the past two years. Despite the setbacks, she recalls a pivotal moment after her divorce when she found herself in a small apartment with only $200 in her bank account. It was at that moment, with her children looking up at her, that she heard their innocent question, “Now what, Mommy?”

This phrase, “Now what, Mommy?”, has become a powerful reminder for Jen whenever she encounters difficult situations. It serves as a catalyst for action, prompting her to consider the next steps and how to move forward. While she acknowledges the importance of allowing herself to wallow and indulge in some ice cream, she knows that action steps are crucial.

[19:44] Embracing Diverse Backgrounds: The Value of Real-Life Experience in the Medical Field

Jen consistently receives feedback from faculty, staff, and professionals in the medical field who appreciate diverse backgrounds and real-life experiences. They value individuals with military, EMT, or teaching backgrounds, as well as those who bring unique perspectives.

When selecting residents, they prioritize interpersonal skills and the ability to connect with people beyond academic achievements. Having a life outside of medicine is crucial to prevent burnout.

“If you don't have a life outside of medicine, that is a fast track to burnout.”Click To Tweet

[21:31] Embracing Life Outside of Medical School

Pursuing a Dream without Sacrificing Life

Jen’s journey into medical school brought about concerns of balancing her education with the precious moments she shared with her family. As they cherished their farm, took unforgettable bus trips, and immersed themselves in music festivals, Jen was determined not to lose these cherished aspects of their lives. With an unwavering commitment to finding balance, Jen and her husband embarked on a mission to maintain their vibrant lifestyle.

Despite the challenges, Jen discovered that medical school opened doors to incredible experiences and connections. She realized that pursuing medicine didn’t mean giving up on adventures or meeting amazing people. In fact, it enhanced her life by providing new opportunities for personal growth and unforgettable adventures. Jen’s belief in the importance of holding onto non-medical pieces of life became even stronger.

'It's so important that you hang on to those non-medical pieces of your life when you start medical school.'Click To Tweet

Nurturing Passions Amidst Medical Studies

Jen witnessed fellow students sacrificing their passions as they succumbed to the demands of medical studies. However, she firmly emphasizes the significance of maintaining those activities unrelated to medicine.

By making time for hobbies and interests, individuals can prevent burnout and avoid feelings of resentment towards their studies. Jen encourages aspiring medical professionals to prioritize their well-being and cling to the elements that bring joy and fulfillment outside the realm of medicine.

Navigating Success and Sacrifices

Sure, she failed COMLEX. However, she realized that success in these exams is not solely determined by the amount of time spent studying or the ability to ace tests. Some individuals who dedicated long hours to studying still failed, while others who took a more relaxed approach managed to pass. Jen recognized that different people have varying strengths, and test-taking abilities may not align with other skills, such as giving presentations or performing hands-on work.

Ultimately, she understood that there is a certain level of knowledge required for these exams but also acknowledged the arbitrary nature of testing. In the end, Jen says she’s willing to prioritize experiences like seeing Taylor Swift, knowing that some sacrifices are worth it. That being said, she actually took the exam prior to the day of the concert.

    • [26:07 Prioritizing Life’s Moments: Jen’s Unconventional Study Approach

    • Jen’s decision to embark on a trip to Greece during her medical studies raised eyebrows among her peers. While some questioned her commitment to studying, Jen meticulously planned her study schedule, making sure to dedicate ample time to academic pursuits. She studied on the plane and spent eight hours a day studying in the villa, all while enjoying the breathtaking views and savoring delicious Greek cuisine.
  • For Jen, this trip was more than just a vacation; it was a testament to her unwavering commitment to embracing life’s precious moments. Despite the potential impact on her COMLEX score, Jen never hesitated to prioritize her health, happiness, and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Greece with her husband.

[28:13] The Journey of Self-Discovery

  • The contrast in perspective between a 22-year-old and a 52-year-old is fascinating, especially when it comes to understanding one’s identity. For those who transition directly from undergrad to medical school, as Jen did as a former premed student, there is often little time for self-exploration outside of the academic realm. It is common to witness individuals going through a similar process of self-reinvention after college or during periods of major life changes, such as divorce. Questions about who they are without their previous roles or relationships emerge.
  • However, the dynamics change when you wear multiple hats, as Jen does. She is not just a medical student and a daughter; she is also an intern, a mother, a wife, a hobby farmer, a Deadhead, a Swifty, and a bus lifer.
  • Embracing these diverse identities adds immense balance to her life. Yet, unraveling one’s true self takes time. It requires the patience to navigate various roles and discover comfort within one’s own skin. Instead of making excuses, it becomes liberating to confidently introduce oneself with a simple “Hi, this is who I am.”
'It takes so much time to really figure out who you are and just that ability to be comfortable in your own skin.'Click To Tweet


PMY472: This Student Started Medical School at 50

Instagram: @the.road.to.doctor.jen

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