Undergraduate: Wake Forest University, 2005
Medical school: Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, 2016
Specialty: most likely pediatrics
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Everything! I wanted to be a professional ballerina, dance teacher, elementary school teacher, broadcast journalist, and a supermodel. I never actually considered becoming a physician. The women in my family were all stay-at-home mothers, which is an incredibly important and noble career that I respect even more now as a mother. That path just wasn’t meant for me and it took some time before I was ready to take a leap into a world that was new to me.
What led to your interest in medicine?
I had always loved children, but becoming a pediatrician had never crossed my mind until after I graduated college. A college degree wasn’t the typical career path in my family. My father graduated from college, but once he passed away, I lost a role model that really pushed the value of higher education. Living in that environment as a teenager, it was difficult to even fathom any career that required an advanced degree.
Once I graduated from Wake Forest and worked on the trading floor of a major bank, I had much more confidence in my intellectual ability and realized that becoming a physician was completely within reach. I knew that I wanted to work with children, help people in a tangible way, and have a career that challenged me intellectually. Going back to school and enjoying my science classes solidified my passion for medicine.
What made you decide to go to medical school?
I had worked on Wachovia’s trading floor for three years in derivatives marketing and never felt that I fit into that atmosphere. I wasn’t passionate about finance and my sweet and caring personality was more of a hindrance than an asset in that environment. I was laid off in 2008 when the market crashed and honestly felt a sense of relief that I didn’t have to work there anymore.
Once the thought of becoming a pediatrician entered my mind, it stuck and continued to expand. I thought it was a career that I could really excel in and would make me happy.
I decided to do a “trial run” for a semester. I had never taken a college-level science class before, so I was a little nervous on how everything would turn out. I enrolled at UNC-Charlotte in biology, physics, and chemistry, worked in a plant/immunology research lab, and volunteered at Levine Children’s Hospital. I found that I loved my new career track and decided to continue with it.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
There were a few people who thought I was crazy to go back to school after being accustom to a large salary, but most friends were supportive. There was a subset of friends/family who thought I would drop the medical school dream once I became pregnant with my son, but that never stopped me. They suggested I try PA school or nursing school to avoid the demands of medical school or the life of a physician. Needless to say, I did not give up on my dream.
I did defer my acceptance to Virginia Tech Carilion for one year once I found out I was pregnant. That was a tough decision at the time because I had my mind set on starting school in 2011 and didn’t want to delay it for a year. I know now I made the right decision. It gave me the opportunity to stay at home with my son, Ryder, for the first 10 months. I was able to spend every moment with him, breastfeed for 10 months (which was important to me) and watch him grow.
Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?
Yes, definitely my husband. He’s in education and was so passionate about his job, even though he made a third of the salary I did. Going to work made him happy and filled him with a sense of purpose and I wanted a career to make me feel that way.
He was my fiancé at the time I left the bank and I had no idea how he would react to my idea of going back to school to become a physician. I was incredibly nervous when I sat him down and told him my plan and I had no reason to worry. He broke out into a big smile and told me that I would make a wonderful pediatrician. He said he would support me and to this day he has lived up to his word.
Did you need financial aid to pay for medical school?
No, I’m lucky in that respect. With my husband working and my savings from my investment banking days, money hasn’t been a struggle.
How did you balance the demands of medical school with these additional obligations and challenges?
My son, Ryder, was 10 months old when I started medical school and he is an energetic toddler now. My husband traveled almost every week (approximately 50 percent of the time) for work during the first two years of medical school. There were absolutely times where I felt overwhelmed and mentally unable to keep up. Having a set schedule was a must as a mother and a medical student, especially when my husband was out of town.
On those days I would wake up with my son around 6:45, get him fed and dressed for daycare and drop him off around 7:30. I’d be at school by 8:00 for class and whatever time school would end (as early as 12:00 and as late as 4:00); I would go to the library and study until 5:00. Then I’d pick up my son and have dinner and family time until putting him to bed at 8:00. After he was asleep, I would study until 11:00. I would also try to bake/cook things at night so I could easily heat them up for dinner the next day, since any parent knows it’s tough to cook with a toddler around. There were plenty of nights where my son had hot dogs or mac and cheese for dinner because I had no time/energy to make anything else.
When my husband was in town, he would take over a majority of the parenting and housework. He would take care of my son in the morning and have dinner ready for us when we came home. Early in the block I would spend most of the weekend with my family, but towards exams he would spend all day with Ryder while I was in the library studying. I hated not spending as much time with my son as I wanted to, but it was comforting to know he was forming a great relationship with his daddy.
What did you enjoy most about medical school?
The other 41 students in my medical school class. I started school with this preconceived notion that I would be different from all my other classmates and that would somehow hinder my relationship with them. I am the first mother that Virginia Tech Carilion has ever had and I’m the only parent in my class. I am different from the other students; however I have such strong relationships with them that I can’t imagine my life being any other way.
They are always encouraging me to bring my son, Ryder, to BBQs and other class events and they are always asking how he’s doing. Over a dozen students have helped babysit or just occupy him for a moment when my husband and I need a break. One classmate calls it “baby therapy” and plays and laughs with my son to help reduce stress. Students who I never thought would have any interest in children get this big goofy smile around my son.
Also aside from being a parent, our class is incredibly close and supportive of each other. There are only 42 of us and I feel like I could be stuck in an elevator with any one of them and have a great conversation. Our class dynamic is to lift each other up and inspire each other to become better students rather than the competitive culture I’ve heard exists at some other medical schools. I missed three days of school because my son was sick with pneumonia and my husband was traveling for work. Classmates covered my share of the work in my PBL group, offered to bring me food, and gave me better notes than I ever would have taken on the material I missed – all without me having to ask. They are a huge part of what makes me successful in medical school.
What surprised you the most about medical school?
How well I got along with and how close I’ve become to the 41 other medical students in my class.
Are you a member of a unique demographic?
Physically, no. As a blue-eyed blond I don’t fall into what others consider a typical minority group. However, I do feel I’m part of a unique demographic since I've gone through the loss of a parent...twice. I was in 6th grade when my father died on USAIR Flight 427. Just over one year later, my mother died from pneumonia complications (ARDS). It’s been almost 20 years and I still think of them and miss them every day.
While I would never want to relive my past nor wish it on my worst enemy, it has given me the ability to relate to patients on a broader and deeper level. I’ve been a part of the “perfect” two parents, two kids, white suburban family. I’ve lived in a single parent household, watching my mother struggle through losing my father. I’ve had no parents and been uprooted from my home to live with relatives. I grew up as an oldest child in a family with two children and became a middle child in a family with four children when I moved in with my cousins.
Last year I interviewed a 13-year-old boy in a psychiatric hospital with depression and suicidal thoughts. His mother had recently passed away and his father was not a presence in his life. Shortly into our discussion, I told the boy that my parents had died when I was his age. He looked surprised and asked, “So I’m not the only one?” I reassured him that he wasn’t and we kept talking. He asked no questions about my parents, but I feel that opening up about my past allowed him to feel more comfortable and reciprocate that openness to me.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
If you even think there’s the slightest chance you may attend medical school, focus on getting a high GPA in any major and any class. One huge asset I had going back to school is that I didn’t not have to “repair” or “fix” a low GPA. There were many second-time students at UNC-Charlotte, and while it is not impossible to go to medical school with a low undergraduate GPA, those students struggled a lot more than I did. GPA repair is far tougher than two semesters of organic chemistry.
What advice would you give to medical students interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?
A working mother from my Wachovia days gave me a piece of advice that I still repeat to this day. She said, “Wherever you are, be there.” She means be present mentally as well as physically.
Especially as a parent, it’s easy for me to be stressing about schoolwork while playing with my son. Similarly, I could be sitting in class thinking about my son and missing him. Neither of those acts is productive. I really try to give 100 percent to my son when I am spending time with him and focus on learning when I am in class or studying.
I’m certainly not perfect and sometimes I can’t control when my mind wanders, but this mantra helps me to focus my energy in the moment.