Well hello there, thanks so much for stopping by the Scenic Route to MD. I’m Jess, the massage therapist turned personal trainer turned surgical processor turned OR nurse turned international medical student. (You can probably already see where the term ‘scenic route’ gets it’s name.) I wanted to create this space not only to document my journey, but to hopefully help others when it comes to navigating the stressful unknowns of being a non-traditional medical student (with a side order of global pandemic).
The idea to start this blog has been going back and forth in my brain for months now, flip-flopping between “oh, no one will read this you’re not that exciting,” to “man, I wish that someone had told me this before. I wish there was a way that I could help incoming students.” At the end of the day, if this helps even one person, I will feel beyond pleased. If not, well at least I have a cool little internet diary to keep track of this bizarre journey.
Anyways, a little bit about me before we begin:
I just turned 31 this past month, and am currently working through my first year of medical school at the Medical University of the Americas, located in Nevis, West Indies. Well…supposed to be in Nevis. At the moment we are doing remote lectures due to the covid-19 pandemic (as many are). If you asked me if I ever envisioned finally following through on my life dream and being trapped at home with international border closures all while living with my mom in my thirties, I wouldn’t believe you. Not one bit. But then again, I know I am definitely not the only one dealing with a cascade of change, and I feel very fortunate for my particular situation. I also won’t pretend to say it doesn’t thrill me that I’ve gotten to stay closer to friends, family, and my pup for a tad longer.
While that is now a big part of my life, hence the creation of this blog, it is not the only part. When I’m not studying, I love running, hiking (benefits of being fairly close to the Rockies), adventures with my pup Sadie, patio beers, and photography. I drink way too much caffeine, and waking up at 6:00am is “sleeping in.” I also continue to work the occasional shift as an operating room nurse (less and less often as school starts to get more intensive), which was one of the things that really finalized my push for pursuing medicine.
I love sci-fi and horror movies more than one should, and have an undying love for Jeff Goldblum (no seriously, I have posters of him…if you’re reading this: hi Jeff, big fan). A caesar will always win versus a bloody mary, sunrises are better than sunsets, and I have probably watched Grey’s Anatomy 20 times over.
I have always had a passion for learning, and the eternally curious nature to ask “why” to almost everything I do. It’s one of the reasons I have been in school for as long as I have, and why I will forever hate the phrase “that’s just the way it’s always been done.”
How did I get to this point of deciding, hey medicine seems like it could be a fun life choice? I think initially I started out as many others do: the longing to help others, making a difference, and to be continuously learning. But, being the queen of self-sabotage that I am, as I got older I immediately shut down the thought of being a physician. I wasn’t smart enough, medical schools wouldn’t want someone like me – they only take the best of the best; the most elite. When I graduated high-school, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be. I had many friends that went into post secondary just because it’s what you were “supposed” to do, but I didn’t want to commit to something unless I was invested.
I enrolled for my personal fitness training diploma when I was 18, and I regret doing it immensely. I was not mentally prepared for school, didn’t pay attention, and skipped more classes than I went to. I dropped out just before completing my first year. I ended up spending the next few years working odd jobs and moving around to different cities and provinces, hoping it would spark something of what I wanted to BE. Unfortunately, the pivotal Disney fireworks moment wouldn’t come to me for quite a few more years.
After moving home and deciding I was finally ready to give post secondary another chance, medicine was again in the back of my mind. I was horrified of the commitment. What if you take a four-year science degree, jump through all of the hoops, and still don’t get into med school? Then what? With these thoughts in mind, I settled on a massage therapy diploma, as in my head I still would be able to learn about numerous aspects regarding human health, while also having a tangible patient connection. I enjoyed being a therapist for a few years, but again, medicine loomed in the back of my mind, and I realized massage therapy alone was not going to be enough for me.
I eventually ended up coming back to personal training. What a great combination right? Getting to help people when they are in pain as a massage therapist, but also helping to strengthen their bodies to prevent these types of pain along the way? I very much enjoyed doing the two jobs together, and it eventually led me to a hybrid job of sorts, where I got to put my education together along with my years of lifeguarding. The position was as an aquatic therapist at a physiotherapy clinic where I had previously worked as an assistant. Maybe THIS was what I was looking for? I loved the idea of working with an array of patients, many of which had gone through orthopedic surgeries, especially joint arthroplasty (hip and knee replacements). They were able to start strengthening their bodies in the water much sooner than they would have been able to start serious therapy on dry land, due to the buoyancy in the pool. I enjoyed making training programs for them, and seeing how they would advance and feel stronger as the days went on. This however, piqued my interest for orthopedic surgery. Again, I was getting that all-too familiar feeling that something was missing.
Obviously the next logical choice for someone who was afraid of commitment yet loved learning was a Licensed Practical Nurse diploma (LPN). What was another quick two years? I had it all figured out. THIS was it. I would take my LPN, work for a bit, and could bridge to the Registered Nurse (RN) program afterwards if I really wanted to. Foolproof. And it was, for a while.
Around the same time that I got accepted into my nursing program, I also got hired into an educational opportunity as a surgical processor with one of the hospitals in my city. Full disclosure, when I applied to this position, I had very little understanding of what the job entailed. All I knew is it worked closely with the operating room, which was yet another curiosity of mine. That job ended up changing the whole direction of my career. It was a certificate program, and because it was an educational opportunity position, (departments will sometimes have jobs posted where they will pay for the successful applicant’s training/credentials…highly recommend looking for these when applying for jobs in healthcare) I didn’t have to worry about paying for yet another program while working through my nursing. It was a very vast department with a lengthy training process. I got to deal with surgical equipment: cleaning, making up sets to be used in surgical cases, bringing up emergency items directly to the operating room, setting up case carts with all of the supplies needed for that case, and sterilizing surgical supplies. You name it, we did it. It was amazing. Every time I brought something upstairs, I got a tiny little peek into this new world. And that was when I decided, I needed to get there.
I continued working fulltime while in school, but I barely felt busy. I was so focused on my end goal that those two years flew by. I even got accepted into an operating room final practicum, which very few students had the opportunity to do each semester. I was slowly checking off the boxes to where I wanted to be. It was around that time that I started developing a new outlook and mindset as well.
“If you want something, go ask for it. The worst they can say is no.”
I am still a firm believer in that phrase, and thanks to this, I was able to utilize my connections in the surgical processing department to schedule a meeting with one of the operating room managers. Within a month of graduating my LPN program, I had a nursing educational opportunity lined up in the orthopedic OR, and was enrolled in an advanced perioperative practice certificate program. I loved every second of it. I had a great group of people to work with and was fascinated by the procedures. Afterwards, I ended up moving across the street to the main operating room, where I got to learn and appreciate even more services like orthopedic trauma, general surgery/bariatrics, and some spine as well.
I loved (love) the operating room, and working so closely with physicians made me finally come to the realization that hey…maybe medicine IS for me? (Like I said, we like to do things the long way here). I would listen closely as they were teaching their students, and after work would go home to study the things they discussed during cases. In my mind, I had finally made the decision to commit to doing whatever I had to do to become a physician and hopefully end up in the operating room one day. I will cover more of how I went about doing that in the next coming while, but I think that’s enough rambling for one day. if you’ve lasted this long, congratulations and thank you so much!
If any of these things pique your interest or resonate with you in any way, then not only do I hope you stick around, but I hope you can take something away from these little excerpts and recollections of my journey in real time. Have a great Monday!