Some 3-year-old girls want to be princesses. Others want to be ballerinas. Me? I just wanted to be a doctor then a judge and then the president.
I was always interested in family – making sense out of who fit where – finding connections between people. One of the things that particularly confused toddler me was why I had a dad, and my mom had a dad (who was my grandpa), and my dad had a grandpa… but my dad didn’t have a dad.
My dad explained to me what cancer is. He told me my Grandpa Bill had malignant melanoma, which moved (metastasized, in medical lingo) to his brain, and it ended up killing him when my big sister was only 2 weeks old.
My parents always pushed math and science on me, because I was good at them, and they would be my best route to getting a job to support myself when I grew up. (Yes, even as a young child, my parents were actively encouraging me to pursue a life where I could make my own way and never have to worry about finances or men.) Fortunately I liked all that stuff, so I didn’t fight it. Plus, I thought the human body was fascinating – how it worked, how it broke, everything about it. And because I was the social butterfly of the family, my mom thought I’d make an excellent family practice doctor.
Elementary school: pretty uneventful. I continued to love math and science – especially health science – classes. In 5th grade I briefly wanted to be a lawyer because apparently I had gone temporarily crazy… but decided I couldn’t defend the guilty or prosecute the innocent. So, back to doctor.
Middle school: fell in love with playing the oboe. Music became my life. Band, honor band, marching band, naming my instruments… (starter oboe = Frederick, “grown-up” oboe = Frederika – Freddy for short). Yeah, I was a huge nerd and decided I wanted to be a middle school band teacher. But although music continues to be a huge part of my life to this day, math and science and medicine won out before too long.
High school: My whole life was school and music and colorguard. I had my first real biology class. I was introduced to genetics & molecular bio. I was my group’s leader for fetal pig dissections. We had to “diagnose” an illness that our bio teacher had faked. It was all just the coolest. Chemistry was a breeze. I hated physics because we didn’t actually learn any physics… Senior year, I doubled up on science – AP Biology, and Genetics – and I also doubled up on math – Calculus 3 (literally a college class, as a high schooler), and AP Statistics (I came to believe that being a statistician might be cool). Plus I was in the most advanced audition-only band in school with a Grammy-awarded music program, and I got to be in the pit orchestra for our school’s production of Les Miserables. High school. Was. Awesome.
In my college search, the whole time it was all about, where can I go that will be my best route into medical school? Where has a good science education, with opportunities for research, and a consistently high rate of alums getting into medical school? Apart from being interested in the science, and having little “baby” Lee’s mission still stuck in my head, I had a few church work/mission trips under my belt which had shown me multiple instances of medically underserved communities; as I abandoned roofing in favor of sitting and talking with clients, to learn their stories and heal their loneliness with my company and attentive ears, I fell in love with service, and the idea of becoming a doctor took on a whole extra, powerful, significance. Searching for colleges, I was all about medical school, every step of the way.
In the end, I chose a small liberal arts college in middle-of-nowhere Illinois which had a track record over the past few years of 100% of its med school applicants getting accepted into a medical school. Plus, at the time they had an early acceptance partnership with Rush Medical College in Chicago, in which we could apply to Rush as college freshmen and, IF accepted, be guaranteed a spot at Rush the fall after we graduated college. It was an exciting prospect. And as a now-college student, I was officially pre-med!
But that is a story for another day.