Our guest post is has come at the perfect time for me personally. Tom is in his last month of rotations before four major board exams. Yes, FOUR! Loneliness is definitely felt during this time. Let me introduce you to Meredith, a pediatric nurse turned stay at home mom to two littles and wife to ER doc, Travis. There is not a glass of pinot noir, aisle of Target, or block of cheese she does not love. Follow her as she attempts to find grace in the messy side of motherhood over at www.motherhoodbymeredith.com.
There’s a lot of jealousy that comes up as I watch intact families stroll through home improvement stores or file into church pews on Sunday mornings, while I struggle to independently child wrangle. Because weekends don’t exist in medicine at least not in the specialty my husband felt called to or in any part of training. That jealousy left unchecked can turn special moments with my children and the wonderful lifestyle we are afforded through medicine bitter and resentful. And those are two things I certainly do not want to be.
I will be the first to admit as an ex-ICU nurse, I really thought I had the medical life down. No holiday is sacred. Nights are not for sleeping. No problem. This all of a sudden got harder when we were dating. Harder still when we got married and medical school gave way to residency in a town with no support system. Add in a family, and even the financial ease of being done with training doesn’t heal all hardship. There are some things I have learned along this journey that have greatly helped me, however. I don’t say this because I have mastered my jealousy. Or because I don’t sometimes wish he’d felt called to a job in accounting, but in the hopes that my mistakes and stumbles may save women along a similar path some heartache.
Find Your People
Whatever this may look like, find your people. Friends that you can call when your three year old is being well, a three year old. Or when surgery runs long…again. Most of my friends have spouses with traditional hours and that works fine, but I do need that venting time. Those friends that get it. That understand that this life is a commitment not just for the physician or physician in training, but the family unit as a whole. The ones who understand what it feels like to look at a calendar and make the choice to request off for either Thanksgiving or your daughter’s first birthday, knowing you may get neither.
One group of women that has helped me tremendously is joining my local chapter of Side by Side Bible Study. I wasn’t particularly “churchy” at the time, but I felt immediately welcome nonetheless. I’d encourage you to check it out if that interests you.
Feel Proud When You Rock It Alone
When my daughter was four weeks old, I took her and my then not yet two year old to two birthday parties solo in one day. I had mastitis and I cried probably five times that day, but I did it. By myself. Even though I felt totally crumby, as anyone that has ever had mastitis can attest. I was so proud to have survived that day that I washed my antibiotic and some Motrin down with a teeny tiny glass of wine. The same goes for days when we make it to church without Daddy on time and relatively clean. Somedays you fail, but the important thing is to keep trying and feel proud of yourself.
Seek Help When You Need It
My independence has blossomed as a medical spouse as well. I have found and utilized resources that other wives/mothers may not have to that have made my life a lot easier. We are fortunate to be in a position to send our oldest to Mother’s Day Out, I get regular baby sitters for date nights or girl time, and I use a drop in day care service for appointments or babysitting when my husband is unable to relieve me. Depending on your budget and phase of training some of these options may be less available, but another option is babysitting trades with other medical spouses or family if available.
With the #ERwifelife, our family schedule runs one way and my husband’s shifts march to the beat of an entirely different drum. This leaves me with a lot of nights and weekends to be independent either with the kids for evenings and dinner or alone after bedtime. There are plenty of times where resentment creeps in to this solo time, especially those young childhood witching hours of evening. I know when these feelings overwhelm me it’s time for a break. That’s when I utilize the drop in sitter or dinner with another med wife and kiddos eating solo that night.
Embracing My Me Time
I say all this, but I have come to really treasure my alone time after bedtime. Some nights are a glass of wine and a pile of laundry with old Friends reruns. Other nights are working on my blog. Others still are a long shower and good book. No one to tell me my shows are too girly. No one to laugh at my terrible selection of murder mystery audiobook. Though my husband is pretty used to all of these quirks after ten years together. Mostly this is a time to catch up or simply to catch my breath.
It’s a mature skill to learn to be alone. Not one at which I always excelled. Another perk it offers, is a true joy and embracing of the evenings I do get to spend with my husband. I try to not do chores or blog work those nights so that we can spend time together starring lovingly at each other catching up on some awesome Netflix. This life has a lot of challenges, but can be a beautiful one if you know where to look. When I struggle most I pray for patience, grace, and remind myself that this is exactly where I am meant to be.
After endless hours of house searching, we finally were under contract! I wrote a little bit about all our previous moves and why as a first-year medical student my husband and I decided to purchase rather than rent a home on my very first blog post A Happy Life of Endless Transitions. Its been two years into home ownership, we are almost done with our renovations, restorations, and remodeling. Let’s be real, we will never be done, but we are certainly at a place where it feels like our home and I’m not constantly walking around noticing all the quirks that need fixing. From a financial standpoint, we would have not been able to afford half of what has been restored or renovated had we not been hit by a microburst six months after moving into our home. There are perks to having hail the size of a baseball hit your home. Here’s to a light-hearted post of the journey of renovating our first home.
Our cute, cream, cape cod house on the corner was pretty well maintained for a 20-year-old home. But there was just one little glitch with the inside…
A custom build BAR!… with track lighting! This might not have been so bad in a man cave or bonus room, but our house is around 1500 sq. ft. A bar isn’t exactly what a young couple about to have a baby wants in their only dining area. Trying to save us a little $, I listed the bar on Craigslist and got a few hits only to find out as we were trying to move it that it was screwed together with over 100 screws all the way to the floor. So rather than making a few dollars, we realized we were going to need to replace the entire first-floor lament. New flooring was entirely fine for Tom because the laminate was buckling in some places and went horizontal in some rooms and vertical in others. A dizzy spell came on if you looked down.
My handsome husband tirelessly worked all of his first-year winter break and then most of the neuroanatomy block putting in beautiful floating laminate floors that flowed through our first floor, including the once dog scented carpeted master bedroom. *If you are every purchasing a home with a strong animal scent removing the padding, then using Kilz on the plywood maybe your only hope of removing the odor. I bathed our carpet in baking soda which did help a TON but didn’t ever fully remove the odor.
Tom raised the home office to make it level with the living room and took out all the transitions that once broke up each room. There were a few glitches to the settling of a 20-year-old house where we had to call in assistance, but the majority was my man’s labor of love. Though I am pretty sure he will NEVER put in floors again…he prefers interventional work. And yes, he did still ace neuroanatomy!
Taking out the bar wasn’t the only renovation needed in the kitchen. There is nothing more that says bachelor pad than dark blue textured walls combined with evergreen Formica counters. Tom and I both tirelessly hand sanded the textured walls. In hindsight, leaving the textured walls or buying a sander would have made for a more efficient process.
My favorite change we made was putting in a herringbone subway tile backsplash. With white walls and a grey leathered granite countertop, our kitchen looked gloomy like a cloudy day before the backsplash went up. The herringbone provides just the right amount of texture and sheen to brighten the kitchen.
We worked with a local granite company and were able to pick up remnant pieces to fit our two bathrooms. For more counter space we went with underlay ceramic sinks and updated the faucets. The new stainless steel kitchen sink required restructuring of piping to get the garbage disposal attached and from that experience, we learned that we could not afford a plumber for anything else…$175/30 minutes :0. The cost also made us rethink pursuing a career in medicine. Tom was able to install the new faucets fairly easily and didn’t need to hire a plumber for the other sinks. Whew!
In buying a house and renovating sometimes you have to take a step back from the ideal Pintrest worthy design and think about what is practical for the price point of your home. In our case, we bought for location, location, location. 1.5 miles from Chick-fil-A and 2 miles from Aldi….j/k. While the market is trending in our fast-growing area we will make money on the home or turn it into a profitable rental after the medical school years. However, our price point isn’t one which a tile shower, as attractive as that is on Pintrest, is a smart financial investment. A tile shower alone is in the upper 8k range. Thankfully we were able to later have the main/Master bathroom floor tiled. My parents also had recently built a house so we were able to use their leftover tile for the laundry room which saved us several hundred dollars. This was only possible because I opted to sand and stain our huge deck to save some insurance $ and use it toward having these rooms tiled professionally. I think many people could tile their own floor but professional leveling was needed between the bathroom and hallway transition. We knew this was beyond several Youtube tutorials and hired a professional tiler. The last step for the bathroom will be new light fixtures and double mirrors, but we have had too many unexpected expenses with cars. This is one to look forward to in the distant future, like when our son grows up to be an electrician…also a lucrative career to consider.
When we bought the house we had agreed to paint, put in tile and engineered floors, and update to granite countertops including a backsplash with a bit of saving we had from working prior to medical school. The rest would be updated as needed when we got extra money or replaced something broke. BUT…When the microburst hit it caused 35k of damage to the exterior and interior of our home and a year-long process of restoration began.
Water came through the 2nd-floor bedroom window. Not enough to cause too much damage, but just enough to thankfully soak carpet that had a pretty serious pet odor and was torn in some areas. This caused damage to part of the first-floor ceiling. Insurance provided the funds to repair and repaint the living room and kitchen ceiling. We had popcorn ceilings but I got thrify and found an excellent painting company that removed all the popcorn, repaired, and repainted the space within the allotment from the insurance company. We did pay a little extra to have the main bathroom done as well so that all the main hosting areas now had freshly painted flat ceilings. Taking out popcorn ceilings makes the 8ft ceilings appear higher because shadows from popcorn ceilings give the illusion of a smaller space. An added bonus to removing the popcorn was updating the light fixtures without leaving a mark.
Carpet color was probably the hardest to pick. There are so many colors and brands but getting a clear picture of what it will look like covering two entire rooms is difficult. The color I ended up with as it has a more golden tint then I was hoping. However, we stayed in the budget by removing the carpet ourselves. Rather than replacing only the carpet in only one room, we were able to cover the two upstairs bedrooms, hallway, carpet runner, and our downstairs master closet! Staying in the budget and getting more is a complete win in my book, especially when considering resell appraisal doesn’t account for the type of carpeting you use.
Before the new carpet, our stairs were half carpeted and my mamma’s heart needed the relief of padding on the stairs. Wanting to keep part of the painted wood showing so I settled on a carpet runner. Paying someone to prep the upper stairs for a runner was out of the budget. Since I just had a baby, my dad and husband came to the rescue and helped tare out the carpet. I then sanded, repainted, and caulked during my daughter’s nap-times and the new carpet runner was installed on the stairs.
Another quirky area was a former ventless fireplace nook in our living room. Having a fireplace would be lovely but with young children, we didn’t want to worry, nor have to get a propane tank. When our daughter started accumulating toys, I realized it was time to put that space to good use and install some shelves. It was so fun to work with a local fireman who’s hobby was custom woodwork with old barn wood. He took an idea for a design and made it happen. GIFTED! They fit perfectly and the baskets offer a “hiding” place for most of the kid toys. The basket system has also provided a simple way to rotate toys and cleaning up is super easy for even an 18-month-old. Trying to install good habits now so that I’m not dealing with tantrums of a three-year-old.
The vinyl exterior of the house was destroyed by the microburst. Our lot is on the corner and we don’t have many large trees, so we were hit pretty hard. Though we already had a fairly new roof after the storm we had to get another and all new gutters. All the windows on the front of the house were cracked or busted around the edges. The vinyl siding was completely destroyed on the right side and front of the house. We were so thankful to work with an amazing contractor and window/siding company that installed the windows just a couple months after the storm. Wanting to stick with the traditional style of a cape cod but also wanting more natural light to come through, I opted for no pains on the bottoms of the windows. I’m pleased with how the windows turned out and feel like it the style brings more warmth to the exterior of our home.
When it came to replacing the shutters, I got a little caught up on Pintrest and decided to build my own for a 1/3 the cost of replacing the vinyl shutters. And the vinyl ones were salvageable, so I sold them on the Marketplace. My dad and husband yet again came to do all the sawing, heavy lifting and screwing, but we absolutely love how they turned out. And my dad and Tom even barred with my absent mindedness when I made four shutters…we needed SIX…opps. So we went back for round two of cutting, staining, and assembling.
My most recent project came just a few days ago. We have a lovely office addition which was the main reason we bought this home. The office would allow us to have space for Tom to study and a guest room. Now that Tom spends most of his time in the hospital on rotation, for Christmas, I asked him if I could take over the downstairs office space for my business and he could study upstairs. I have been wanting to paint the beadboard walls white ever since we moved in, but it wasn’t a necessary remodel. Now that I am caring for two babies all day and working from home, I needed to brighten the space for a mood lifter. It’s so refreshing to start the 2019 New Year with a remodeled office for less than $25!
What are your favorite ways to repurpose a space or redecorate on a medical student budget? Comment below with your wishlist or projects you are working on in 2019.
I received the worst phone call of my life, from my husband’s cell phone. “Where are you?” asked the voice of the attending doctor that Tom had just started working with that day. “I’m out walking the babies!” I cheerfully replied thinking he and my husband were joking around during a late lunch break. What I didn’t realize at that moment was that he was also holding my husband’s hand as he was being rushed to the emergency room after colliding with a semi. His attending proceeded to tell me calmly that Tom had been in a car accident and hit a semi-tractor trailer. It was the longest walk back to my house that I have ever felt with two babies under two. I pray that none of you have to experience this type of phone call.
Two months before, I gave birth to our second child, a son, at 39 weeks and 1 day. Despite being full-term he had breathing complications at birth and was taken to the NICU minutes after holding him for the first time and stayed there dependent on oxygen for 10 days. Warren’s whole story is for another blog post. He is healthy now and was on the walk with my 17-month-old daughter and me at the time I received THE phone call.
Almost losing my son at birth was a scary enough experience, but I had my best friend to walk through it with me. Now, it was my best friend whose life was at stake and I was alone with two babies under two. Immediately, I prayed and then called my closest neighbor. She was able to take care of our toddler so I could drive to the hospital. Once she left, I let the tears flowed as I breastfed my baby and tried to get out of “shock” to move forward with the next steps. It was paralyzing. Then I began calling the family to come to take care of the kids while I went to the hospital. In the middle of arranging childcare and packing for the hospital, I received a call from the Spiritual Care department. The lady let me know Tom said he would be “OK” and he was being taken for a CT scan and X-rays, but she insisted I try to get there ASAP. Due to HIPAA laws, I wouldn’t know the state of my husband’s condition until I arrived at the hospital.
Fortunately, when I arrived Tom was conscious and able to carry on a relatively coherent conversation. He was missing a tooth, had a massive gauze bandage around his head, cuts down his cheeks, and an arm that had been burnt from being lodged between the steering wheel and the tractor-trailer. It took about an hour or two before scans came back but he was CLEAR! Clear of even the smallest fracture to his bones and had clear CT head and body scans. After his 4-inch long gash from the middle of his head down past his left eye was stitched up he was released! A miracle for sure! Inches from decapitation or a massive blow to the head at the least. Tom could remember all of his medical studies and would be released the day of the accident.
The cause of the accident is still unknown. It was the first day of cardiology rotation he was most looking forward to all year and it was going well so far that morning. Several of them were in a caravan to a radio station just miles from the hospital. We have tried to get more information than was on the police report, but our efforts have not been successful. Tom remembers everything before and after, but only a few parts about the accident. Our best conclusion is that someone must have pulled out in front of him from the gas station, forcing him into the turn lane where the tractor-trailer was waiting to make a left. We believe they probably didn’t see him coming around the bend due to a gas price sign blocking their view. Tom was following a co-worker on the one-lane road, he had no reason to have been distracted. His cell phone was in his pants pocket and it was 2pm in the afternoon on a clear, sunny day. Not knowing the cause bought me much anxiety, until my fireman/EMT cousin text, “I wouldn’t worry about it. He is lucky to be alive.” His comment wasn’t profound, but it had a profound impacted on how I moved forward. The cause, as much as I wanted to know, wasn’t important. It didn’t change anything. Tom is alive!
In the days to follow, I expected pure joy and peace. My husband nearly died and was mercifully spared. I expected gratitude to fill my heart and soul, after all, it was Thanksgiving. I was thankful, but I was also bitter and directed it toward him. Even admitting I was bitter for something that he didn’t wish to happen tore me up even more inside. I shouldn’t have these thoughts. We should be responding like those couples on Hallmark Movies whose significant other has a near death experience and they realize all their wrongs, forgive, and become completely different (better) people.
Happily ever after wasn’t happening. Holding onto this false conclusion of what this tragedy should change in our lives was uprooting even more resentment. The resentment that the medical student life is already hard and now I have to endure MORE. How long would it take Tom to heal? Would he have memory loss that we had not discovered yet? Would his hand heal so he could still pursue interventional cardiology? Would he always have scars on his face? Would treatment require out-of-pocket plastic surgery? We were already planning to end the fiscal year with just enough and now we have to replace a car! Where would we get a car wouldn’t cost us in repairs and hassle with the little savings we had left?
The four-week break that Tom has had to recover was the one that was scheduled for the end of the fourth year. We are thankful the school rearranged the break so he could still complete all his rotations on time. BUT we were so looking forward to taking a vacation when the studying ends before we move to a new town for residency. And now that ONE break is being used-up taking care of two under two and my husband during the busiest month of the year for my business. It seemed so unfair and felt like a punishment for being on this journey with my husband.
For Tom, this may have been a break from showing up at the hospital, but he still has to take boards, prepare for exams, act as the regional student representative, and complete his research. He needed to rest, but mentally knew he couldn’t fully rest and not fall behind.
He was stressed and I was stressed and we reverted to seeking personal comfort. As Tom grew more introverted and protecting of “his” time, I became more controlling about the completion of the to-do lists. He was looking for a wife to nurse him, be patient, and understanding as he processed this unexpected event and the permanent changes to his physical body. I wanted less responsibility and fewer people depending on me. I wanted help to parent and to be able to verbally process almost being a widow and all the unknowns of how Tom’s recovery would go. BUT I had a 17-month-old needy toddler adjusting to having a new, baby brother and dad who couldn’t pick her up. I had a two-month-old breastfed baby who was still cluster feeding and waking up every three hours at night. Many people offered to help, but even arranging help seemed overwhelming and then would our toddler be needier after having a sitter? My capacity already felt maxed out and I didn’t want to give anything I had left to my husband. We were “surviving”, but not as a team. Our marriage suffered.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” 1 Cor. 13:4-8
This verse represented everything I wasn’t being and pushed me to pray boldly for God to restore my love for my husband. I wasn’t feeling it. God had saved his life, given us more time together, protected my children’s father, and I was struggling to even like him. Several days later, almost magically, my desire to love in the midst of the processing and comfort seeking human selfishness was budding again. I can’t tell you it stayed budding and then turned into the Hallmark Movie ending, but its moving in that direction. It’s budding through fights, fears, disagreements, tears, suffering, provision, business success, babies’ needs, and holidays. Our love is budding because we have a greater hope that one day there will be no more suffering and one day we will be free from selfishness. It is budding because we know God is at work in each of us to make us more like Jesus, who fulfilled the law and is the perfect love in 1 Cor. 13:4-8 when we don’t have it in us to even fake it. We will not make it by our own strength, but only by his.
Some form of suffering will enter our lives again, hopefully not in the near future. I believe when it does Tom and I will be able to trust Jesus at a deeper level than we trusted this time. We will be less prone to seek personal comfort and more prone to be comforted by Him. And when we are comforted by Him, we will be able to comfort one another more generously.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 1 Cor. 12: 9-10
Monday, Tom heads back to rotations. Its been just four weeks since the accident and his wounds have turned into scars and with the help of some ointment may not be too noticeable in the near future. He is caught up on studying for exams and back on track for the rest of the year. We have experienced evidence of God’s presence with us. The ENT specialized in facial plastic during residency. All medical bills have been covered by insurance! My business, Beautycounter, had its best month in the midst of all that was happening and November’s paycheck alone will cover 1/3 the cost of our new-to-us SUV. We also have had several people donate funds toward unexpected needs related to the accident. The babies are doing well. The baby started sleeping longer about two weeks after the accident and Tom is able to run after our toddler again. Family members took off work and rearranged schedules to help take care of our children while Tom rested and we attended appointments. Friends have brought meals and company when getting outside our house was a challenge. The outpouring of prayer and messages reminds us daily, we have a community who is walking alongside with us.
Scientific studies show that the rate of depression for medical students is 15%-30% higher than the general population and out of those students only 15-20% are seeking help. Much of the challenge is the work load, lack of sleep, the pressures of competition to get in to medical school, to keep up with your classmates, and to score high enough on national board exams to qualify for the residency of your choice. But who has time to seek counsel or prioritize rest when you have an exam on Monday? Just as much and maybe more the medical spouse maybe struggling with isolation, because if his/her spouse isn’t able to pause for a moment for his/her own mental and emotional health very rarely are they giving to their loved one.
Tom and I were married in July 2015 and in July 2016 moved to Bunnlevel, NC a week before he started medical school. I referred to Bunnlevel as the middle of no where. It was the most isolated place I had ever lived. And remind you I lived in a third world country for 7 years. We were surrounded by hundreds houses of military families. We were not military. Our neighbors were nice, but our lives didn’t intersect in any way other than maybe putting out trash on the same morning. Although the area had many neighborhoods due to the military component, there was only two Food Lions, one McDonalds, a Dominos, an ok Mexican restaurant, a CVS, and a terrible Chinese restaurant. For the first time since childhood, I let myself get McDonalds far too many times. We were 30 minutes from all of Tom’s classmates, the church we started to attend, and a familiar suburban culture. Both of us felt isolated.
In our two years of this medical school journey, I’ve found more and more husbands and wives struggling with isolation. Many share the expectation that stress from medical school applications and interviews, possibly newly married, and a big move would decrease after the first block starts. Only it increases. The medical student is overwhelmed with adjusting to an intense schedule and trying to figure out a study routine where he or she can actually get through the material not to mention one that will allow for enough time to review before quizzes and exams. Sleep. Eat. And not burnout in the first block. Are his/her main goals. While non-medical spouse is left exploring a new town. Alone. Meeting new friends. Alone. Applying for jobs. Alone. Eating lunch and even dinner. Alone. Maybe not everyday but it can sure feel like it.
The constant requirement of having to put oneself out there to meet knew people can be exhausting. Medical school probably more so than undergraduate is so competitive that applicants are coming from all over, especially at a private school such as ours. Meeting people from other areas of the country requires a cultural awareness and understanding that are sometimes unfamiliar. Awkward social interactions often begins to seep lies into your mind that you are different, you don’t fit in, or you are alone. From the way people greet each other, to humor, to the way they establish friendships can vary by region of the US. Add on peoples’ upbring and family dynamics (military, non-traditional, kids, SINKS, animals, etc) and you have a bunch of “random” people put together who share a similar life goal but seem so different.
We can focus on our differences or compare our new acquaintances to our college bffs, but that will keep us from forming our new ‘tribe’. In a season where our medical spouses are carrying an 80 hour work load, we need each other, so we must step forward in faith that deep friendships can form among us even with our differences. And I believe God created us to need to bring together our differences in order to fully know Him.
Personally, the CMDA ministry of Side by Side (www.cmd.org/SidebySide) has been one of the groups of women who have become my tribe. New women join with each incoming year and next year some of us will live hours from one another due the rotation sites our husbands are placed in. Although, I may not see these women sometimes but once a week, it’s a joy to meet together, to share prayer requests, to be vulnerable with life struggles, and especially to know I am not alone. We may raise our kids differently, we may attend different churches or no church at all, we may be different ages, or have different ideas of relaxing, but we have learned to open up and depend on each other. From swapping breast pumps to craft ideas, I have seen these women grow in friendship with one another and be a support system so that we don’t put our burden of loneliness on our husbands. So that we can enjoy this crazy season of being ‘without’ our spouses for 80 plus hours a week.
If a Side by Side chapter or spouse organization isn’t available at your medical school, it might be an opportunity to work with the medical school and start one. We came to a school that was four years old and the one spouse meet up group was struggling to take-off. One of the spouses approached myself and another woman about starting a Side by Side chapter. It was my first time hearing about such a ministry. All of us lived 30 minutes apart from one another, but we committed to meet once a week and host some fun events each block. Yes, it took coordination and extra planning, it takes one night away from home or a Saturday here or there, and it took laying down our fears of others rejections. Over the course of the past two years we have seen our group grow and have recently added a day-time gathering for mainly SHAMS who have little ones they are juggling and can’t always leave them with dad in the evenings. If starting a group seems overwhelming, I would love to talk with you and help you. If you have been transplanted in an area where you know no one are it’s two years into medical school and you don’t know how to even begin connecting with others, I’d love to chat. The medical school journey is a LONG and know one should feel isolated during this journey.
Applying to medical schools often feels like this photo. Tom, my husband, has worked really hard and by God’s grace has balanced his relationship with God, family, and medicine over the past three years. Today he is generously taking time to share his experience and perspective, so that you might feel less like a penguin and know how to stand out.
The whole process of taking the MCAT exam, submitting primary and secondary applications, and attending interviews is designed to take up to one year. Let me honestly tell you… it is exhausting. During this whole process I found myself repeatedly thinking, “Is this really worth it?” I remember how excited I was to submit my personal statement and primary application to my first 15 medical schools. I was rather arrogant and thought that I would surely get interview invitations from a majority of the schools I applied to. Secondary application invitations rolled into my email inbox the week after our wedding. We left for our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic and I decided that I would hold off on thinking about medical school applications until we returned home. When we got back, I opened up all the secondary applications from all the schools I had sent a primary application to. It wasn’t long before I realized that it was just another series of more essays to write, with some medical schools asking for 7-8 more short essays just for their secondary application. I wanted to be a doctor, not a writer, but this was a necessary challenge I had to undertake in order to pursue the career any further. There were several evenings spent on researching more about each medical school I applied to, self-reflecting on why I thought I was a good fit for their program, and re-writing essays. My wife was a huge source of support and encouragement during this time, which made me so thankful to be married. I finally finished my secondary application essays and submitted them to the respective schools. I was confident I would hear back shortly from many of them offering me interviews. A month or two went by without a single interview invitation and I was starting to get worried. Surely, it was just due to the large volume of applications they receive.
On my way home from work, I received an email notification on my phone. It was an invitation to interview! I was ecstatic. I started reading countless books, articles, and forums on how to ace my medical school interview, then I started practicing repeatedly while trying to imagine any question they could throw at me. I remember showing up to my first medical school interview after driving several hours to get there. It was a group interview with four faculty members. Walking into the room filled me with a mixture of feeling excited and intimidated. They drilled me with questions. Some were expected, while others caught me off guard. Overall, I left the interview confident that I had nailed it. I felt that I was a great fit for their school and was certain that I had a strong chance of getting accepted. This was my first reality check of how competitive medical school is. Two weeks after my interview, I received another email stating that I was waitlisted. I couldn’t believe it. I did everything according to the book and felt like the interview went great.
I had the same experience with another school and was waitlisted again. I started to wonder if I had what it takes to become a doctor. I had read the horror stories about people applying 6-8 times before they got accepted into a medical school. This is when I started to understand that getting waitlisted did not mean I was unfit to become a physician. The complexity of the medical school application process is that there are so many qualified applicants with exceptional life experiences, grades, MCAT scores, research publications applying for a limited number of seats at each school, that the determining factor for acceptance often becomes very subjective. I learned that the admissions department at each respective school is very good at determining which applicants will be a strong fit for their institution. Just because I was not accepted at a specific school, did not mean I was unfit for all medical schools. So then applying to medical school becomes a matter of applying broadly to find the right medical school that matches your personality and gifts.
Late in the application cycle, I started to do more research into osteopathic medical schools. In the United States, there are two types of medical schools to become a physician. Allopathic and osteopathic medical schools have very similar curriculums, but differ in their philosophies on how to approach medicine. The more I learned about the osteopathic approach to medicine, the more interested I became in it. Compared to allopathic medical schools, the osteopathic approach emphasized taking into consideration the health of a patient’s body, mind, and spirit as whole and how these different aspects in a patient can influence their current illness. In addition to the similar curriculum I would receive at an allopathic school, osteopathic schools offered training in osteopathic manipulation, which is a manual skill set that can be used to diagnose and treat many diseases with our hands that can be done apart or in conjunction with pharmacological treatment. I loved their approach to medicine, so I decided to apply to 13 osteopathic medical schools.
Within a month, I received six interviews. The first interview I attended was for a waitlist spot because it was late in the cycle. The medical school was located in my home state and I fell in love with the school and faculty during the orientation. It was my favorite interview experience by far. My interviewers were very understanding of my situation as a non-traditional applicant (being out of undergraduate for 5 years) and offered a ton of encouragement telling me I would make a great physician. This was a drastic difference from my interview experiences at other schools. Only a few days after my interview, I was notified of my placement onto the waitlist and then a week later, I received an acceptance letter to Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine!
By my 2nd year of medical school at Campbell University and loved every moment of it. The workload in medical school is definitely time-consuming and requires sacrifice not just from me, but from my family also. So when you apply for medical school, make sure that this is exactly what you want and that you are all-in. Working in a clinic and having a physician mentor really helped solidify that decision for me. If you are sure that this is the path you want to take, then be encouraged that the investment is worth the wait. There are few other careers in this life that allow you to help people in such exceptional ways while challenging your mind as you learn so much about the human body and related diseases.