A mother of nine who started medical school when her youngest son was 4 years old graduated with her medical degree and plans to be a neurosurgeon.
Sarah Merrill graduated this month from Mayo Clinic’s Alix School of Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband and nine children, now ages 20 to 8, by her side.
Merrill and his family are now moving to Indiana, where he will begin his neurosurgery residency at Indiana University next month.
“It’s going to be a new challenge, a new adventure,” Merrill told “Good Morning America” of her upcoming residency. “But everyone is on board and I think we have a great support system.”
Merrill, now 41, said her journey to medical school began at age 17, when she entered Dartmouth College as a pre-med student.
She then met her husband, got married, and had a 5-month-old daughter when she graduated from Dartmouth.
Merrill said she took the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) while pregnant with her daughter and had plans to go straight to medical school after college, but changed her mind and decided to be a stay-at-home mom while her daughter was little.
Later, Merrill said that she and her husband began to grow their family.
“We weren’t necessarily looking for a large family, in particular, in our planning, but that’s what we did,” he said. “We ended up having four daughters and five sons, and we had nine of those children in 12 years.”
While raising her children, Merrill said she tried to keep one foot in medicine by doing a part-time job in medical research. When her youngest child was 2 years old, Merrill decided to go back to school.
She said she first thought about going to school part-time to get a master’s degree, but then decided to follow her original dream of attending medical school.
“I was 34 years old and I decided to go back and start taking more recent courses and I had to take the MCAT again,” he said. “I remember studying for the MCAT when my two youngest children were 2 and 3 years old and my 2-year-old was climbing like a mountain on me while I was trying to take practice tests.”
When Merrill was accepted to the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, she and her family moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona to attend.
“Before I even applied to medical school, we had a big family meeting and everyone had their say on it and we explained what it would mean,” he said. “Everyone gave him a huge vote of support at the time.”
While in medical school, Merrill said she had the support of a town, including her mother, who moved to Arizona to help, and her husband, who was able to keep his job and work remotely from Arizona.
“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,” she said. “We would eat snacks and they would do their homework and I would be studying for medical school.”
Merrill said she felt lucky to see her children inspired by her studies, including seeing her 11-year-old daughter want to become a surgeon and hearing her teenage son tell his friends, “My mom is great. She’s going to be a neurosurgeon.” . “
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In school, Merrill said she went from being the only mom in her class at the beginning of medical school to being one of three moms in the program when they graduated.
While it kept her busy, she found that being a mother made her a better medical student and, ultimately, a doctor.
“I think waiting this long to do this made me appreciate it more and enjoy it more,” Merrill said. “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 in my pediatrics and gynecology rotations.”
Dr. Michele Halyard, a radiation oncologist and dean of Mayo Clinic’s Alix School of Medicine, said Merrill was known as a focused and dedicated student during her four years in medical school.
“I was very impressed from the start that she went out of her way to undergo the rigors of medical school education as a mother, let alone a mother of nine children,” Halyard said. “Having a mother of nine going to medical school and making it work really speaks, I think, to the tremendous support of her family, including her husband and children, and to her tremendous organizational skills.” .
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Merrill’s next step into a neurosurgery residency at Indiana University will take her into a male-dominated field where only 5% of board-certified neurosurgeons are women, according to data shared by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS). ).
Halyard said he thinks Merrill will have no trouble finishing his residency, saying, “If you can manage to have nine kids and keep your sanity, neurosurgery residency should be a doddle because there’s no amount of stress you can’t deal with.”
Merrill said he explored choosing a specialty that would be more familiar but, again, opted to dream big and follow his original passion. She majored in neuroscience for her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth.
It’s the same advice she would give to all women, including moms, she said.
“Set goals that are what you’re really passionate about, what you’d love to do, and what you’d like to do, and once you’ve set that goal, it’s helpful to think small,” Merrill said. “If you know what your priorities are, focus on the next step and then you will get where you want to go.”
Mom of 9 Graduates Med School, Plans to Become a Neurosurgeon Originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com