• Jena Martin MD

Lifetime of Learning

My kids are getting ready to start the school year and like many people, a part of me feels like I should be starting school again too.

With all the schooling I've had it is an understandably hard habit to break!  After all, I attended formal education for 25 years and was in training for 6 additional years.  That is:

  • 12 years of elementary and high school

  • 5  years of college (I took a semester off to travel)

  • 2 years of Post baccalaureate studies

  • 4 years of medical school.

Wow, even I find that shocking.  Although I did take a rather extra circuitous route to medical training, the basic foundation requires a lot of time and commitment. For me the extra work was my road to freedom. 

Here's an embarrassing fact - I had to take PreAlgebra in order to take Algebra, which I needed to even begin my premed studies. That is how little I knew and how little I had studied the sciences.

I may have been one of the last people anyone thought would go to medical school. I was an art history and history major and shied away from the sciences - because I was intimidated. But life had other plans for me. Right after graduating magna cum laude with my BA in History, studying the expansion of Europe, I developed recurrent ear infections that were caused by (and causing) a bone disease called cholesteatoma. I had several surgeries that left me deaf in my right ear, and also left with me with a deep curiosity. All of a sudden I needed to understand the laws of biology that were so obviously what really mattered - not the rules of history! (Although now I think it is some of both that matters.) More importantly I wanted to have skills to help other people.  What other great and noble calling was there than medicine?

I undertook the two years of post baccalaureate premedical studies at San Francisco State University where I thrived and loved it!  And now, many years later, that's what I'm doing as a Pathologist- understanding the laws of biology and helping people with applied skills and knowledge.  I didn't know about Pathology when I applied to Medical School but the subject matter is the foundation for all of medicine - so being a Pathologist is being a doctor of Everything*!

Encouraging words can help.  I remember what the biology instructor told me when he allowed me to take the required Biology course even though I hadn't had chemistry beforehand:  "You just need the ability to think abstractly".  I committed myself to that approach and I never looked back.  I used my narrative skills from the liberal arts to teach myself the molecular abstractions of biology and have successfully remembered them for years.  

So to all those of you starting something new this year in school, keep in mind that you never know what you can do until you try.  More importantly, no one else, looking at you in this moment, knows what you’re capable of.  Just you do.

Here's me attacking my premed Bio 240 class, covering the entire evolutionary basis of life:

*Except pharmacology.  Pathologists increasingly study the effects or efficacy of drugs (looking at cellular receptor expression for example) but I know nothing of prescriptions or side effects. 

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