A mom who recently graduated from medical school proved that women don’t always have to choose between raising a family and pursuing a career.
This month, Sarah Merrill graduated from the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona. Her husband and nine kids, ranging in age from 8 to 20, were there to witness the momentous occasion.
Sarah, 41, will begin her neurosurgery at Indiana University next month, so the whole family will be moving to the city.
“It’s going to be a new challenge, a new adventure,” she told “Good Morning America.” “But everybody is on board and I think we have a great support system.”
Sarah’s journey to medical school started at age 17 when she attended Dartmouth College as a pre-med major. She then met her husband, they got married, and the couple had a five-month-old daughter by the time she graduated.
Sarah had taken the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) while pregnant with her first child. She planned to go straight into med school after college but ultimately decided to become a stay-at-home mom to focus on raising her daughter.
She and her husband started to grow their family. Although it wasn’t part of the plan, they ended up having four daughters and five sons within 12 years.
While raising her family, Sarah tried to do some part-time work in medical research. And when her youngest was 2, she went back to school.
Sarh first thought about going to school part-time to get a master’s degree but decided to go with her original dream of becoming a doctor.
“I was 34 and I decided to go back and start taking some more recent coursework and I had to retake the MCAT,” she recalled. “I remember studying for the MCAT when my two youngest were 2 and 3 years old and my 2-year-old would climb on me like a mountain while I was trying to take practice tests.”
When she got accepted at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, she and her family transferred from Pennsylvania to Arizona so she could attend.
Before applying to medical school, Sarah said they had a family meeting where everybody got to voice out their opinions about her plan. She and her husband also explained to the kids what it would mean.
“They all gave it a big vote of support at the time,” she said.
Luckily for Sarah, she had her loved ones to rely on for support. Her mom moved to Arizona to help, while her husband was able to keep his job and worked remotely.
“A lot of times my teenage daughters would say, ‘Hey, mom, let’s have a homework party,’ so that’s what we do for fun. We’d have snacks and they’d be doing their homework and I’d be studying for medical school,” she said.
Sarah has inspired her children with her studies. She said her 11-year-old daughter now wants to become a neurosurgeon. She also overheard her teen son telling his friends, “My mom’s so cool. She’s going to be a brain surgeon.”
Sarah found that being a mom made her a better medical school student and, ultimately, a doctor.
“Waiting so long to do this, I think, made me appreciate it more and made me enjoy it more,” she explained. “And once I got into my clinical rotations, I noticed that I had a lot of life experience that helped me connect with a lot of patients, especially on my pediatrics and OBGYN rotations.”
Sarah contemplated choosing a specialty that would be more family-friendly but decided to dream big and follow her true passion. She was a neuroscience major at Dartmouth.
Her advice to all women, including moms, is this:
“Set the goals that are what you’re really passionate about, that you would love to do and want to do, and once you’ve set that goal, then it helps to think small,” said Merrill. “If you know what your priorities are, focus on the next step and then you’ll get where you want to go.”
A big congratulations to Dr. Sarah Merrill! You are an inspiration! Learn more about this story in the video below:
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