'Balancing medical school and family is doable'
Laura Gates Feb 22, 2023
Jennifer Watters: Age 41
IU School of Medicine campus: Indianapolis (MS2)
Former career: Physical therapist
Jennifer Watters graduated from high school around the same time many of her classmates at IU School of Medicine were born. As a married mother of two girls and a practicing physical therapist with a doctoral degree, Watters surprised friends and colleagues when she announced she wanted to go back to school to become a physician.
In truth, Watters surprised herself. When she was younger, several people close to her encouraged her to go to medical school. “I refused, stating I absolutely did NOT want to be a doctor or go through medical training,” Watters recalled.
But her career as a physical therapist took an unexpected turn in 2018, when she started working with wound care patients. She found this specialty fascinating and wanted to provide more comprehensive care to these patients.
When the COVID pandemic hit, her daughter’s childcare facility shut down, forcing an extended time off work for Watters. She decided to apply for medical school.
“The biggest challenge, once I got accepted, was just getting over the fear that going to medical school would force me to choose between my family and school,” she said.
Watters enjoyed a flexible schedule at the IU Health Wound Care Center, where she worked two or three days a week, spending days off with her preschooler. With medical school becoming her full-time job, her kids would have to be in school longer.
“It turned out that they loved going to after-school care,” said Watters. “Since so many of their classmates also went, it was like a playdate every day!”
Watters has so far found medical school quite compatible with parenthood. It just takes discipline and sticking to a routine.
“I've definitely had my stressed-out, overwhelmed moments, but overall, it's gone amazingly well—way better than I ever could have imagined,” she said. “One of the challenges is that there are so many great organizations to get involved with and programs to attend at IU School of Medicine. I've really had to be selective. A lot of the programming is between 5-8 pm, and this is really my primary time with the girls when we do family dinner, bath time and read stories at bedtime.”
The upside of having a family is it helps Watters stay balanced. “Being a medical student is not my whole identity, it's just a part of who I am,” she said.
With her background in clinical practice as a physical therapist, Watters is able to connect concepts she’s learning about in medical school to real patient experiences.
“There were so many things that I read in patients’ charts that I didn't fully understand all the pathophysiology or implications of it,” she said. “Now I have had so many ‘lightbulb’ moments when I am studying something and finally can connect those dots.”
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Laura Gates | Feb 23, 2023