I’m most definitely not your typical medical student.

To begin with, I’m in my 50s.

But the story begins a few years back. In my mid-40s I realized that I simply couldn’t shake my dream of pursuing the study of medicine. Problem was, I didn’t even have a college degree. So I went in fear and trembling back to the undergrad university I’d attended almost twenty years previously, and discovered to my amazement that my brain worked just fine. With no academic foundation (except a 9th grade general Algebra and general Biology course from 1975), I made it through Pre-Calculus and Biology. I battered my way through Chemistry and Physics, and fell in love with Biochem (go figure).

Then I studied and reviewed and stressed, and took the MCAT so I could apply to medical school. Of course med schools would be thrilled to have me as part of their next class, right?

From 2006 until 2010, I applied over, and over, and over. Each year I’d apply a little more broadly. My MCAT expired so I had to retake that infernal test, but I did it.

By 2010, I’ll admit I was a bit discouraged. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something. If even third-tier medical schools were unwilling to accept me, maybe I needed to go in a different direction. So I completed a master’s degree in Neurobiology, and loved every minute of it. During that process, I had the privilege of working with human cadavars for the first time, doing intricate neuro research, and attending a national research conference to present my research work. I TA’d a few classes and remembered that I loved to teach. And, I tried to convince myself that if medical school never worked out, I could be quite happy getting my PhD and teaching at a university.

Problem was, I wasn’t happy. While I’m not the sort of person intent on “having to be happy”, I’m also well in tune with what makes me tick and what I’m passionate about. And, well, I still had the dream, the “itch”, the determination to see if just maybe I could now convince some medical school to accept me.

I graduated with my MS in June 2013. I got a job in a local hospital ICU, and two months later I received a phone call from an absolutely fantastic medical school in California – “you’ve been accepted, come now, classes start in three days”!

And thus began my medical education. WOW! What a thrill it was to sit in the amphitheater with my fellow (mostly 20-something) classmates, work on cadavars, and learn every intricate detail of human anatomy. Three months and $45,000 of debt later, my youngest son had a mental health crisis and I was faced with one of the most difficult decisions of my life.

I withdrew.

And spent the next several months helping my son get stabilized, increasing his local support, making absolutely sure that if some miracle happened and I was able to restart my medical education, he would be just fine.

In the fall of 2014, I flew halfway around the world to begin classes at SGU. Considered one of the top Caribbean medical schools, St George’s University sits on the tiny island of Grenada. The heat is oppressive, the accommodations very third-world, and the support about 50 years behind the rest of the world and verging on abusive. But I was willing to do whatever it took to get my medical education. Three months and another $45,000 of debt later, my son had another crisis. I tried to manage it long distance, but it was not possible.

Once again, I withdrew.

Sitting at my computer surfing around Facebook, I felt completely defeated. I started researching PhD programs, ready to permanently close the book on my dream of becoming a doc.

Then I received a message that completely changed my life. A friend told me about IUHS, a medical school that allowed the first two years of education to be taken online. The first of its kind in the world in fact. And no debt.

I was skeptical. I made a list of questions to ask. Then I went on a pretty intense search to see what I could discover about this unknown medical school that sounded way too good to be true.

First, I wrote to my state’s medical licensing board. Were they familiar with IUHS? Would they accept an IUHS graduate for state licensure? I was amazed by their response – not only were they familiar, but they put me in touch with two recent IUHS graduates who were successfully licensed and practicing in my home state.

Second, I spoke with local docs. Were they familiar with IUHS? If so, what was their perception. If not, in general how did they feel about working with a physician who had taken the first two years’ worth of medical school using an online format. Again, I was amazed at the response. A few physicians were already familiar with IUHS and had positive impressions. Those who were not familiar with the school, were at least very open to the format and felt it was long overdue. Another hurdle crossed.

Next, I wanted to address the whole residency matching issue head-on. Rather than rely on the vitriol most often published on student forums by arrogant 20-somethings intent on putting down any alternative to mainstream medical education, I went to talk to residency program directors and practicing physicians who had graduated from what would be considered “low-tier international medical schools”. Very quickly, all my concerns were laid to rest.

Finally, there was the finances issue. With my prior student loans on hardship deferment (combined undergrad and graduate and the two semesters at two different medical schools, my debt stood at over $200,000 already), I was very nervous about just how creative I’d need to get in order to finance IUHS. And, I was blown away. With a very small down payment and affordable monthly interest-free payments, I’d be able to begin again and graduate with my MD completely debt free.

I was sold.

The journey I’ve been on as a medical student at IUHS is a story for another blog post. This post is about what got me from that repeatedly-dashed-hopes place of defeat, to finally embracing an absolutely wonderful medical school education.