I have known John since I was 17 years old. Today, he is my daughter’s Godfather; back then, he was my high school sweetheart. It’s true – for a time, I thought he would be thefather of my children, not their Godfather. But God has a funny way of making things work, and as it turns out, my former high school flame has managed to remain one of my best friends (he’s also become one of my husband’s best friends) despite the fact that we had avery messy break-up more than a decade ago.
John has always been one of those people who seems to be searching for something. Whether it be adventure, a challenge, or simply something that stimulates his eternal need to simplyknow more, he’s always been restless. That’s why some people might think that what he’s about to do is an act of restlessness, but I know better.
This fall, John – who has worked full-time in the IT field for nearly ten years – is giving up his career and applying to med school. That’s right: even though he’ll turn thirty in a few short weeks, he’s forgoing the cushy government job he’s held since he was 19 years old in order to become a med student. After a recent Skype conversation with my daughter, I commandeered the computer to interview him about this monumental life change.
Me: I know your back story, but fill everybody in on why you’re applying to med school – and, more to the point, why you want to be a doctor.
Him: Five years ago, I was in a motorcycle accident. I really don’t remember what happened – you’d know the details of that better than I would, I’d bet – but I know I was in ICU for more than a month. I know they gave me my last rites. And then I woke up. I really credit those ER doctors; if they hadn’t been so relentless in finding out why I was losing so much blood [note: he had undiagnosed internal bleeding upon arrival at the ER], I’d have died. They saved my life; and now I want to do the same.
Me: Aren’t you scared to death about leaving a field you’ve worked in for so long for a completely different industry?
Him: It’s daunting, for sure, but if I didn’t take this chance, if I didn’t go for it, I know I’d spend the rest of my life asking “what if?”. Don’t think this is a knee-jerk decision – I’ve been mulling it over since I walked out of that hospital five years ago.
Me: You didn’t walk out – your mom wheeled you out in your chair.
Him: It was a metaphor.
Me (rolling my eyes – can you see why we didn’t get married?): So what have you done to get to this point of leaving your job to apply to med school?
Him: Like I said, this isn’t a knee-jerk decision. Two years ago, I reconnected with the doctors who worked on me in the ER, just to talk to them about what happened to me, medically-speaking. That turned into an unpaid internship at the hospital –
Me (interrupting): – you were a candy-striper, John.
Him (he’s getting annoyed with me): Yes, I was a candy-striper. And that’s hard work. But I spent every Saturday doing whatever they asked me to do at the hospital for more than a year and a half. I saw what the doctors did, I saw what the nurses did, I saw patients reacted differently to different medical professionals – and I knew that was what I was meant to do, too.
Me: But you were an IT major in college. You had to go back to school to even get into med school, right?
Him: Yup, that was really the worst part for me. Not only had it been years since I’d been in a classroom, but I was taking subjects I hadn’t studied really since high school – biology, anatomy, organic chemistry, physics. It took me three semesters to get all the prerequisite coursework just to apply to med school. And then I took the MCAT –
Me (interrupting, again – yes, this is what our relationship was like): – and you kicked ass –
Him (annoyed, but happy I mentioned it so he didn’t have to): – so you say. I got a 30, which isn’t amazing in the world of MCAT scores, but it’s good enough to get me in most places.
Me: Are you worried how being a student again – not just any kind of student, but a med student – is going to impact other areas of your life?
Him: Sure. I’ve worked a nine to five desk job my entire adult life. One of the perks of my job is that I’ve never really had to take it home with me. That’s all about to change. And back when I was in school, everybody else I knew was in the same boat. This time, I’m going to be the only one of my current friends who is in school… well, other than Aubrey [that’s his girlfriend, who is a teacher – kind of different, but I’m not going to interrupt him again to point this out]. I worry that I’m not going to see my friends as much, or that we won’t be able to relate. I also worry about my age – most of the other med students will be in their twenties, many in their early- to mid-twenties. By the time classes start, I’ll be thirty. I’m going to be the old man. By the time I get out of med school and my residency, I’ll be pushing forty. It feels awfully late to start a whole new career.
Me: And to start paying off a whole new set of student loans. But it’s going to be so worth it.
Him: It will be worth it. But it’s going to be hard work. And it’s going to be a change. [He pauses, and I can see the smile creeping across his face.] And I can’t wait.
Reader, do you think John is as brave as I do? What would you see as the biggest obstacles to making a mid-life career change as big as this one?