Parisian's Pure Indulgence celebrates women over 50 who reinvent themselves. It's never too late to fulfill your dreams. Susan Watson is an amazing example of a woman who overcomes a number of obstacles to return to med school to fulfill her dreams.
Suzanne Watson, Age 57, Cincinnati
Became a doctor 25 years after being accepted to medical school
I applied to medical school at the age that people usually do and got accepted. By the time I enrolled, I had a 9-month-old baby and a commuter marriage, so when I got pregnant again, it was just too much. I withdrew maybe a week into medical school.
My husband and I settled down, and I stayed home with the kids for a while. Then I experienced a call to ministry and became an Episcopal priest. You can do part-time work in the church, and I thought that was what I would do.
But right after I was ordained, my husband took his own life.
He was chief of staff at a hospital, and his fear was that if he reached out for help, it would have to be reported to the medical board. He did eventually reach out, but it was just frankly too late by then. It was the stigma of mental illness that I really think led to his death.
With Suicide, oftentimes life insurance doesn't pay
so I found myself with a huge doctor’s mortgage and four little kids, trying to wonder how on earth I was going to do this. It was a hard time. We sold our big house, and the kids changed schools, and I went to work full time in the church.
But I had never lost the dream to practice medicine.
When I was 50, I started to take stock of the years I had left, and my son said to me, “You know, I’ve heard you talk about this your entire life, and you either need to do it now and sign up tomorrow, or you need to just shut up about it.” And I just decided, you know what, I might as well give this one more shot.
For six months, at night and between services, I was doing flash cards and taking online science courses. On Christmas Eve, we had three services. My sermon was ready, so I sat in my office cramming physics because I was taking the MCAT in January.
My first night of med school
there was a mixer at one of my new classmates’ houses. I pulled up, and there were a bunch of kids in the yard who looked like they were from a fraternity. They were playing beer pong. I panicked and just drove on by! I called my son from the car, and I said: “I can’t do it! I can’t go in!” And he said: “You’ve come this far. Just go in! Five minutes. Just go in for five minutes.”
So I parked and walked up the driveway. One of them walked out to greet me and said: “I’m sorry, ma’am, we’re medical students and we’ve just moved in, and we’re having a little mixer to get to know each other, but if we’re too loud, just let us know. We hope to be good neighbors.” And I said, “Oh, I just wanted to introduce myself:
I’m Suzanne, and I’m one of your classmates.”
On the first day of classes, as soon as I walked in, the whole room quieted down because everybody thought I was the professor. Same thing with my medical school interviews: When I’d walk into the waiting room, everybody would go silent and sit up really straight, thinking I was the interviewer.
Right now, I’m finishing my second year of residency, so I’m seeing patients and slowly getting more responsibility. I think the least I’ve worked, per week, in the past three weeks is 77.5 hours. We’re capped at 80 hours.
I’m a little tired, but sometimes I almost think that I do better than the younger residents because I was a mom, and once you’ve been a mom, you know how to go to sleep in a second and wake up in a second, and you know how to multitask and work even when you’re dead tired. I think maybe parenting gives that to you.
I’m doing two specialties, in family medicine and psychiatry.
When I was in the ministry, I traveled around to little Arctic villages in Alaska. There is a high need for treatment of depression and addiction and a high suicide rate, and I would love to serve in a place like that. If I’m the only medical professional in some small village and someone has a stroke or has a baby or breaks a hip, I’m going to be really glad that I trained that extra year and got that family medicine training under my belt, in addition to psychiatry.
I have a spiritual mentor, and I thought she would discourage me from going to medical school. She didn’t. She said we have to be stewards of all the gifts that we’re given, even those that are won through pain and suffering — meaning that that gift of perseverance, or a more compassionate heart for those who suffer, from surviving something as traumatic and heart-wrenching as the suicide of a spouse, can be used to bring good about in this world.
It's never too late to change channels. Have you reinvented yourself? Tell us your story.
Susan Watsons story as told to Karen Weese, Wall Street Journal