At 54, Medical Student Looks Forward to her Second Career

December 14, 2016

Four years ago, Suzanne Watson received her AARP card and Wake Forest School of Medicine acceptance letter in the same week.

At the time of her admission, Watson was pastor of an Episcopal congregation in the San Diego area. She had been privately studying for the Medical College Admission Test in between duties as a priest and a single mother of four. Only her children, mother and bishop were aware of her decision to actively pursue medical school.

Watson’s journey to be a doctor actually began 25 years ago in California—she was enrolled in medical school there. During her first semester, the married mother of one child became pregnant with her second child. She and her husband decided she would withdraw from the program while he continued on his career path in neurology. Watson later obtained a Master of Education and Master of Divinity degree.

As Watson prepared for her ordination, her husband tragically committed suicide. Watson’s husband had suffered depression in silence for years. She said he didn’t seek help because of the stigma of depression and the financial implication for his practice and family.

“In the years that followed my husband’s death, my clerical career bloomed but my longing to practice medicine never ended,” said Watson. “Losing my husband to depression increased my desire to pursue medicine, specifically psychiatry, and my aspiration to help others find successful treatment for depression and prevent loved ones from having to endure the loss and pain my children and I experienced.”

Watson, now 54, said she based her decision to enroll at Wake Forest School of Medicine on the institution’s Christian heritage and counsel from an academic adviser at the University of California, San Diego, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree. The adviser, a graduate of Wake Forest University, said the School of Medicine would be a good fit because of her background and experience and the school’s approach to medical education.

“As I reflect back on my first day of medical school, I was so nervous about being accepted by my fellow students,” Watson said. “I was worried they would mistake me for a professor or I would get weird looks—but that’s far from the experience I’ve had here. Every student and faculty member has welcomed me as I progress toward my second career vocation.”

Now a fourth-year student, Watson says her medical education has provided the most happiness and fulfillment she has experienced in many years.

“I want others to hear my family’s story and realize you’re never too old to achieve your dreams,” Watson said. “As we near retirement it’s so easy to become complacent, not be fulfilled professionally and be scared to make a life-changing move.”

“Students like Suzanne add new dimensions to our medical school curriculum that extend beyond the academics especially from a cultural perspective,” said Brenda Latham-Sadler, M.D., associate dean, student inclusion and diversity. “Her background and experience are immensely valued here, and we welcome the unique contributions that Suzanne and other second-career students bring to the table.”

Watson is scheduled to graduate in May and start her psychiatry residency in July. She is currently interviewing for her residency program, but will not know where she will be placed until this spring when residency placements are announced.

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