Late Starters

My intention with yesterday’s post was to reflect on those who have arrived at various moments in life experience on a non-traditional schedule. As I wrote the introduction, however, the topic evolved differently and, as the ideas that transpired seemed to contain their own freestanding message, I omitted my original thought altogether. In coming back to the topic today, I see that this was a micro version of that which I hoped to discuss.

In the constant mental and emotional debate that seems common to most working parents, I find myself often wondering if I should or how I could be spending more time with my kids. When the balance seems especially askew, those thoughts tend to drift into contemplation of why a person would be in medical school/residency/practice during the prime childbearing and rearing years. These thoughts are quieted with acknowledgment of the fulfillment I feel with my work, the value of education and care for others I am demonstrating for my children and acceptance that I am still a significant participant in their development.

These deliberations have, however, reinforced for me that there is no one right way or time, that changing course is always an option and can serve to expose and enrich experiences that may have gone unnoticed when we pursue only an accelerated, unwavering course.

Medical school was always in my plans; in the early years I talked of becoming a veterinarian and somewhere along the line shifted to human medicine. In the latter half of high school, however, the idea of remaining in school for another eight years was daunting and I declared my major as Special Education/Therapeutic Recreation. Three hours into my first day of college, however, while sitting in an art class specific to my major, I knew I had made the wrong choice. When it was my turn to introduce myself to the class, I stated my name and shared that I needed to change my major to pre-med, stood up and walked straight from that class to the registration building to do so. From there I fast-tracked to medical school, finishing undergrad in three years and gaining early admission to Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Against my initial instinct to dive headfirst into the next round of study, I deferred admission and decided to take the year off to race triathlons.

This plan was altered with an ACL tear only a few weeks into the year and, though frustrated with the injury and disappointed in the loss of a racing season, I was grateful for the time opened for me to spend with my siblings and back in England for much of the year. It has long been my thought that the course of events occurred as such to allow me to enter medical school refreshed for studies and far enough removed from my first taste of triathlon to be able to pursue it recreationally rather than full-time.

Medical school was marked at the halfway point with marriage and at its conclusion with the arrival of oldest. Starting internship one month late, I will be ever grateful for the guidance of my director of medical education, reminding me that I would have my whole life to be a doctor, but the newborn days could not be reclaimed. Similarly, as I neared the end of residency and middlest made his grand entrance, I extended my leave to four months, fully enjoying those early days. Youngest came onto the scene in a stage of practice less amenable to extended leave and I had to get creative with days and weeks peppered between my time at work and so enter the contemplation of physician/parent balance.

As instinctual as it was in that classroom on the first day of college, I have complete certainty that osteopathy is my ultimate destination, but can certainly appreciate that alternate routes and timetables may have been used to chart the course. Many of my classmates at MSUCOM were “non-traditional,” arriving much later than their 22nd birthday to the halls of East Fee with children, previous careers and even savings accounts in tow. At the time, I couldn’t believe anyone would want to start the process, incur the debt or return to the studies of a classroom after so many years in the real world. From my current vantage point, however, I can fully appreciate their arrival and ownership of the experience, often much more engaged and enthusiastic than their “traditional” counterparts.   Perhaps they had a similar story to my own, but stayed in that first classroom; saw the alternate major through all the while feeling the draw of that initial instinct.   Maybe they realized sooner than I that medical school was still an option even after children. More often than not, it seemed they came to the decision after exploring life and simply had the courage to change course.

My dear friend from high school matriculates to osteopathic medical school this year and I was honored to write a letter of recommendation for her. This involved review of her CV, an inspirational log of 12 years of tremendous experience. And as I wrote with great confidence about her acceptance into my own profession, I was inspired by the fascinating path she had taken to reach the same end point, impressed by her continued dedication to osteopathy through, and even because of, many work and life experiences.

During my elementary years, my mom returned to nursing school at age 50, in a bit of a mid-life crisis, and in an expansion of her work as a nurse’s aide, which she began after taking a pause from her career at Dow to raise six children. Still keeping track of all of us, including two still at home and working, she made it through the hours of class and clinical studies, seen by her classmates and colleagues on the floor as a mentor.

My cousin has taken up spinning in recent years and, as she reached her 48th birthday, completed her first ever 5k with her daughter, providing a tangible example of daily dedication to wellness and illustrating for both her children that it’s never too late to try something new.

I have had the privilege to run with two particularly speedy women in recent years, neither of whom ran seriously until after college. Both of them qualified for Boston in their first ever marathons and I am confident that their potential is far from met.

These are just a few of endless examples I could share of jobs started, adventures undertaken, hobbies explored, families begun or expanded at all stages of life. They all share the encouragement echoed in the words of John Lennon that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” and if we can allow ourselves to embrace the alternate schedule or course, the result can be more than we ever imagined.

With admiration for my non-traditional classmates, my mom, my cousin, my running partners, my friend turned colleague, and all who have charted their own course and turned toward rather than away from new adventure at all stages in life.

May we all see the benefit of an unexpected delay, find the beauty in a step off course and have the courage to face new challenges and be assured that late starters can still write the best endings.

PS to my 14 day late starter nephew – come on out!  We are ready to snuggle you!



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