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A young "traditional" student choosing a not so "traditional" path

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11 years 11 months ago #70199 by leesha
Hi, I'm a 20 year old junior in college. Microbiology major- Spanish Minor- Pre-Med classification. Wanted to be a doctor since I was 12. Do I sound like your run of the mill pre- med student?

Well, probably not so much. I have also been married for 1 year to an amazing guy from India (and yes, I'm white, so that's kind of a big deal,lol...) and he's a bit older than me, so I feel like I relate to people 10 years older than me better than my college peers. Also, ever since I was 12 I have been horribly torn inside about whether my dream to become a doctor would comprimise my ability to have a family and get married (well at least I got the marriage part figured out, lol...) I also want to start having children BEFORE I get sucked into the abyss of starting my career... if I can't make the balance work from the beginning, then I don't think I could push the pause button later in my career and all of the sudden make it "work" then either. I don't want to have to make a choice between staying in my career OR having a family.


Bit of history:
My parents were pastors when I was young, and we lived in South Africa as missionaries from when I was 10 to age 14. It was definitely from that experience that I felt a "calling" to be a doctor. I had the amazing opportunity to help a team of American doctors set up free clinics in townships and villages on a trip my parents organized. That pretty much sealed the deal- as well as having friends we knew and loved die from AIDS. My heart still goes out to those people who have so many health problems facing them, but without the access to any type of good medical care.

So we moved back to the US when I was in 9th grade, and I only slightly fit in with other high schoolers... most had never traveled farther than Colorado or Texas, while I had an international mindset. Plus, the South African school I had been in was MUCH more academically challenging for me than public high school in the states, so I breezed through the 4 years without much hassle.

But during my high school, my close knit family got turned upside down by my mom getting sick. She had had problems for years, what the doctors called irritable bowel syndrome, but all of the sudden she got really really sick. Long story short, she had a myriad of autoimmune diseases, including autoimmune hepatits, rheumatoid arthritis, and what looks like (not 100% sure) Chron's disease. She had to have gallbladder surgery, take immunosuppressants, and got sick every chance she was exposed to ANYTHING... She was young and vibrant, and then went to being mostly on bedrest, even in a motorized wheelchair for a while. That was such a scary time for us cause my mom is such a rock for our family. I'm happy to say that 6 years later she is doing much better. She is even working as a real estate agent... it's just a miracle. She will always be on medication, but we hope she will live a long comfortable life with no more pain. We also found out that her brothers and sisters started having weird, unexplainable autoimmune problems, so there must be some genetic problem in our family causing this... the doctor's sure don't know what's going on. It's more "diagnosis of exclusion" than anything else.


Without thinking about it that much, I happened to apply to a prestigious research program the summer after I graduated high school, and got into it by some miracle. That summer was so humbling to me, because it was such a learning stretch for me. I was a very good student, but not because I am a genius- I just work very hard am very tenacious.

I got to work in the lab of a renowned rheumatologist researcher, and even though my project was not that technically difficult (basically just a lot of PCR on lupus patient samples, looking for 1 specific gene) it seemed really overwhelming to me. My high school chemistry/biology did not prepare me for how to read/write a journal article. I had never even heard of PCR or understood DNA replication. My presentation at the end of the summer was ok, but then in front of everybody my mentor asked me to explain what I meant by Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, and even though I had gone over it a couple of times with my lab supervisor, I still froze up because I still didn't completely "get it." I felt stupid, and I felt like research was just way over my intelligence level.

I got a good scholarship plus a governmental grant due to my family's income level, so I got to go to the best public university in the state for free. I originally picked Biochem as a major because I thought it would be a combination of biology and chemistry (WRONG-- it is much more chemistry than Biology, and chem is NOT my first love, haha... ). I switched to Microbiology without completely knowing what it entailed, but in the end it was the perfect major for me. I wasn't interested in doing comparative anatomy on random animals, and taking a whole class on evolution (there is plenty of it mixed into every science class as it is).

I love how in micro you learn about the intricate workings of the immune system, how people get infections, what antibiotics do, and what makes some bacteria harmful while others are actually quite helpful. My interest has definitely shifted from how the body works to how people get sick, and identifying the root causes... not just making their symptoms get better. This is, of course, influenced by my experience with my mom. She has seen so many specialists that tried to pacify her by making her feel better, but just shrug their shoulders when you ask "Why is this happening?"

So, back to my life story... I met a really cute guy in the church I was going to in my college town... not only was he mature, intelligent, funny, and talented, he loved God as much as I did and we just clicked. It was like we KNEW that we were meant for each other- no question at all, even though we came from completely different backgrounds, countries, even church backgrounds. He had his master's already from my university (I was a freshman) and had just started working a real job. We fell in love pretty quick and were engaged in 6 months and married 1 year after we met. We were so sure we wanted to get married we didn't think there was any point in waiting till I graduated... my dad was kind of reluctant to think it was a good idea, but he liked my husband a lot- the only guy my dad ever approved of! :-) And he definitely had the means to support both of us- it wasn't like I was marrying another poor college student.
Maybe later I'll talk about all the wonderful Indian family dynamics... :-D

So I have continued doing reasearch since I came to college, more as my way of paying the bills- my lab experience after high school gave me an open door, and so instead of working at a restaurant or the mall, I worked in a bioengineering lab studying rat brains. (fun stuff!) I also have recently started working in a Microbiology lab, this time for my senior capstone credit, but it is the same type of experience as my other "job lab". I get to work pretty independently, directed by a professor, and do my own projects. It's amazing experience, and a pretty flexible schedule. I can go into the lab between classes and never work weekends. Plus, did I mention it's great experience?? :-)


This is getting long, but let's end it like this: I really want to get into an MD/PhD program next year because I want to do more than just treat patients' symptoms- I want to tell them at least that I am TRYING to find out "why" and give them hope that my research and the research of others is still seeking answers. And there will always be questions to answer... that's what is amazing about science. Yeah, it is not what I thought when I left that research program after high school, but that was because I felt like I was not smart enough to do it. Now after chugging through so many subjects that I thought were impossible, I feel so empowered to keep learning and growing in knowledge. It still isn't easy for me, but through my old fashioned tenaciousness, I currently have a 3.96 GPA (perfection only ruined by stupid O-chem 2... and a very incompetent professor...lol... pass the blame). That is not anything to brag about- God has been merciful to me and given me the A when I was on the very edge of the grade, and helped me to push through my frustrations and feelings of inadequacy. It is nothing short of a blessing.


Also, I couldn't be happier with my marriage. It is TOUGH at times, let me tell you, but it is so amazing to have someone to come home to at the end of the day who loves you no matter what. He encourages me to never give up and to not take things for granted. I couldn't get through this WITHOUT my husband, and for that I am blessed. We both want to have kids so bad... that was one thing we had in common from the beginning.

"The Plan" right now is for me to get pregnant between May-July this year and finish school by December 08. Then I would have a chance to be at home for a month or 2 before having the baby, and to be home a few months afterward. I will be applying to my local MD/PhD program this summer, and if they invite me for an interview, I would be pregnant, so that is a little nervewracking. I just hope they don't discriminate against me because of that, but we'll see I guess... I've seen on this site that it has been done, so I'll take that chance. I can always apply again after my kid is 1 year old- I'd be cool with that too! :-)

And yes, I know going to med school with a baby in my care would be very challenging, but honestly we don't want to wait 4-6 years to start a family, plus my husband is older, plus I am just impatient! And most importantly, I want to adjust to motherhood in as easy way as possible, and I could have a built in maternity leave if the time works out without comprimising the sequence of school. I just think (don't know for sure, of course) that my schedule in the 1st couple years of med school will be much more demanding than my current schedule... but my intern year of residency will probably be MUCH harder. Do I want to wait till I get that med school degree under my belt, THEN have a baby in the most hellish and demanding time of my career? No way.... I would much prefer that my kids are a bit older, or that at least I will be confident in my skills as a mom. That is why I am pursuing this.

I have been on this site for the last couple of years, since I met my husband, and it has been a great source of encouragment to me. I am the type of person that is motivated by thinking of what COULD happen, and all the amazing women on this site have shown what is possible.

So why did I decide to start a journal now? I wanted to for a while now, but I am finally moving into my last stages of school, and yesterday I took my very first prenatal vitamin! :-) Silly, but it feels like I am getting closer and closer... almost like a countdown to a wedding or something. We are going to start trying in the middle of May... I know it is going to go soooo fast.

Well, this is probably the longest post ever... I really need to study, haha.... but I will write more later. Please let me know if anyone out there is reading/interested in my ramblings. But I'll probably keep posting anyway as a type of self-therapy :-)

Have a great week, everyone out there! Yay for Mondays! :-P NOT!!!

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