Life happens in unexpected ways.
As a premed student, I thought that if only I could get into medical school, I would be fine. Everything I had planned for my life depended on that pivotal achievement. I did all of the recommended things—good grades, volunteering, leadership, shadowing, even graduating a semester early from college. But as I applied to schools, the interview invites were slow to arrive. After interviewing at only a handful of schools, I was wait-listed and ultimately denied.
I did not get into medical school, despite my best efforts. I had to swallow the hard pill of rejection. Everything I had planned for my future was over.
I spent the next two years of my life re-evaluating my plan. Did I really want to be a physician? Is this really what I should be doing? Maybe the medical school admissions committees were right, and I simply was not good enough. During those two years of introspection, I remembered my why. I remembered all the times growing up with a hereditary colon cancer syndrome when I was the patient. I remembered the mission work I did in Mexico. I remembered my fundamental desire to help people during their most vulnerable times. I knew that my passion in life was to be a physician—and nothing else.
Pregnancy, Match Day, a Phone Call from Home
Thankfully, life happened. While I thought that an initial rejection from med school was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, those two years were life-changing. I met and married my husband two weeks before moving to start medical school at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine.
After a long flight from my last residency interview, I arrived home to my apartment and shared the news with my husband—I’m pregnant! Tears of joy ran down my face as we had dealt with infertility. Then, reality set in. Nine months from now, I’ll be a few weeks into my intern year.
Match day arrived and I again shared the news with my new program director at my top choice residency 1,300 miles from home. Thankfully, I was welcomed with congratulations and he explained how I would be supported by the program during my intern year with a newborn.
I can’t lie: my intern year was hard. Having a baby during this time was hard. Being across the country, away from any family support was hard. But I was doing what I loved. Getting out of bed day after day with little sleep and coming to work was worth it. I was incredibly grateful to be where I was, despite the circumstances.
In the last few months of intern year, I was finally accustomed to my new normal, and both work and home life were going well. One day after work, I remember sitting on the couch, waiting for my husband and daughter to get home from the store. My parents called me for what I thought was a call to discuss vacation plans.
“Your mom went into the doctor last week for a nagging pain in her back. The doctor initially didn’t think much of it, but called her yesterday to do a CT scan to look for a kidney stone. Mom has metastatic pancreatic cancer.”
I had no words. Tears ran down my face. How could this be possible? I knew what this meant. I knew that time was short.
I often second guessed myself. I shouldn’t be here. How selfish of me? I shouldn’t be away from my family. This time, it was my mom reminded me of my why. She encouraged me to keep going for patients like her. She wanted to see me succeed. After nine months of fighting, I lost my mom to pancreatic cancer while I was 1,300 miles away from home.
Though she never saw me graduate from residency, become a Chief Resident, or get accepted into gastroenterology fellowship, I knew my mom would be proud. The hardships I faced in life, each unexpected twist and turn, only made the fire inside me burn brighter. My why became so much more than it was ten years ago, when I faced that initial rejection letter.
Today’s New Normal
Chief year was coming to an end, and I had vacation plans and more events to check off my bucket list before starting fellowship. Our long adoption process was almost finished. But, once again, the unexpected happened and life was put on hold.
The past few days, I have gotten out of bed and refrained from opening social media on my phone. I want to see what has happened in the world, but I don’t.
I’ve been going about my morning like usual—but the gym is no longer an option. My clothes are now scrubs—for infection control purposes. Emails are flooding in—testing shortages, the new numbers within our system, the new restrictions, ways to reduce PPE use. The drive to work is calm and without traffic. Walking into work, I’m greeted by a screening process—through one of three doors on campus that remain open. The halls are empty, except for employees wearing masks and the occasional patient. The seating areas are blocked off. The TV outside of my office is updating constantly with the news around the world and the economy. Throughout the day, we share stories and images from our colleagues around the country. The images from other hospitals are visible. The numbers are rising.
While I try to navigate this new normal, I can’t help but wonder what tomorrow will look like, what next week will bring, what I’ll be doing in a month—and with all of that brings fear. Each night, I remind myself that despite the storm of emotions, I was called to do this job. My why has become essential.
Now is the Time for Us to Become More Intentional
I share my story amid all this uncertainty to help you find your why. Many things in our lives have taken unexpected turns—events postponed, tests and school put on hold, celebrations cancelled. So ask yourself, how will you choose to respond? Will you use this time to settle into fear or indifference? Or, will you use it to make you better?
Now is the time for us to become more intentional and find ourselves looking inward.
As we socially distance, we all have plenty of time to be thoughtful about our impact on society, our health, and the environment. Do we really need to stock pile items and leave our neighbors with none? Is now the time to reduce, reuse, and recycle? Is now the time to plant that garden you had been considering? Is now the time to volunteer or donate? Is now the time to eliminate that one processed food item? Is now the time to start a home workout routine? Is now the time to put down the phone and play a game with your kids? What about your prayer life?
As we are all bombarded with the media, please take time away from the screens and the noise to contemplate how to live more consciously. Use this time to make the world and yourself better. Use our unexpected life events to deepen your why, not lose sight of it. Use the things in life that on the surface appear to be pushing you back to propel you forward.
Written by Dr. Tori Jaeger, DO. Dr. Jaeger is a graduate of Pacific Northwest University Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Jaeger finished her Internal Medicine Residency at Texas A&M University/Baylor Scott & White in 2019. She currently serves as Chief Internal Medicine Resident until July 2020 when she will begin her Gastroenterology fellowship. Dr. Jaeger is passionate about inspiring wellness and practicing what she preaches. Connect with Dr. Jaeger and follow her journey on Instagram!