January 2007, when I first admitted to myself that linguistics wasn't actually what I wanted to do with my life, marked the beginning of a long, hard road. That year was one seemingly endless slog of roach-infested apartments, community college classes with nobody that I could really relate to, a job I hated which paid utterly crap money (I remember setting a $5-per-person cap on gifts that Christmas), Liz constantly sick with mysterious, painful 'attacks' which wouldn't be diagnosed as gallstones until six months had gone by, and a constant underlying current of stress. Am I ever going to 'get there'? Will things ever get easier? Will I ever feel more secure in what I want, more certain of my place in this world, more sure of what it is that I'm supposed to do?
In January 2008, things took a turn for the better when I got the pediatric nursing job. It was a relief to enjoy something in my life again, and the money situation eased up slightly, although I was still gutting out a full course load at Durham Tech and had virtually no life outside of work and school. Our lives improved further in the fall of that year, when we moved into our first truly decent apartment and I was down to just a couple of prerequisites. Liz started her second master's program at NCSU and met a new group of great friends, which was a great expansion to our social network. Still, the worry: Am I going to get into school anywhere? Are they going to think I'm ridiculous for taking all my classes at a community college? If I do get in, is it really going to be 'right' this time? I truly do *think* this is what I want... but what if I'm wrong again?
2009 was a banner year. Money was still tight, and I was still making a 50-mile round-trip commute every day, but I finally finished my prerequisites, turned in my PA school applications, and continued to work at a job I liked. I still felt pretty isolated in terms of having a true 'community' around me, but as I started receiving interview invitations and investigating the cities I could possibly be living in (Portland, Charleston, Gainesville...), I finally started to feel some twinges of excitement. Then, in the first week of September, I got the phone call: I'd been accepted to UF's PA program. I still had four other applications out, but it was official: I was going to PA school somewhere. It was really happening.
And then came November 12th, 2009, and with it, my Duke interview. I won't bore you by rehashing all the details, but I remember being told that they conducted interviews Monday through Thursday of each interview week, discussed candidates on Friday, and sent out acceptance emails on Monday or Tuesday of the following week. Needless to say, come Monday the 16th, I was a nervous wreck. I had my phone sitting on the desk beside me at work, and each time I returned to the nurses' station, I pressed Refresh on my email inbox. By lunchtime, still nothing. I was beginning to think they were going to keep me waiting until the next day -- or, worse, that I'd only made the alternate list, and wasn't going to hear anything until February.
And then, around 2pm, I hit Refresh for the millionth time.
Subject: Congratulations on your Admission to the Duke PA Program!
I didn't even open the message, just gasped, broke into a huge grin, and jumped up and started running through the office, hugging everyone. I couldn't believe it. Almost exactly three years after the agonizing decision to abandon the known in favor of the unknown... I had actually made it! Somebody had looked at all that work, all that misery, all that stress, and thought that *I* was worthy of representing their school -- and not just any school, but Duke University, the institution responsible for inventing the PA profession, the school with the number-two PA program in the entire country. They wanted me.
Congratulations on your acceptance to the Duke University Physician Assistant program. The Admissions Committee has approved your application for the class entering August 16, 2010. An official letter will be mailed to you this week. In that letter any contingencies to your admission will be clearly stated.
Please note that your $700 deposit and response forms are due in our offices by December 2, 2009. This is explained in more detail in the offer letter of admission.
If for some reason you do not receive your official notification by November 24, 2009, please contact the Admissions Office at...
Now that I'm three and a half months into this program, I can say with certainty that there is nowhere on the planet that I'd rather be, and no place that could possibly be a better fit for me. I remember feeling like this during the IB Program in high school, but this is multiplied exponentially. It's such a relief to feel like I somehow managed to make all the right decisions in the midst of all that stress. I'm slowly getting the answers to all the clinical questions I wondered about during my three years in the medical field, and it's an amazing feeling each time that light bulb goes on. All the things I worried about -- will I be able to keep up academically? Will I make friends -- true friends, not just friendly acquaintances? Will I actually like what I'm doing enough this time to want to turn it into a career? ... all those concerns have long been laid to rest. I love every minute of what I'm doing, and already, I've made friends that I know I'll still be close to a decade from now. I can see my future unfolding in front of me -- the possibilities for the next few years slowly solidifying. If I were to win the lottery tomorrow, I'd still want to have a job and work as a PA, which isn't something I could ever say as a pre-linguist.
It's utterly incredible how far I've come in only three and a half months. We did our physical exam practical finals right before break started -- 154 exam components, performed on a classmate, completely from memory, in under 45 minutes. We had to wear our white coats and move through the exam as though we didn't know the 'patient' at all, using all our 'toys' appropriately and verbalizing everything we saw and felt. During the first week of school, when they showed us the video of a second-year student doing this same exam, we all sat there incredulously, absolutely terrified, each of us certain that we'd never be that professional, that Duke had made a huge mistake letting us into this program. The first time I tried to do a complete run-through of my own, I hung onto my cheat sheet for dear life and needed 90 minutes to get through the entire thing. Again, I was frustrated, scared, and sure that I'd never be able to do it. And then... somehow, during the latter part of October and early November, it all came together. By the third run-through, I no longer needed or wanted the cheat sheet. And when my exam day came (last Monday), I slammed through the entire exam in 39 minutes, forgetting only a few things and earning a score of 94. My classmates all reported similar experiences. I am so incredibly proud of us and how far we've all come in such a short time. I've obviously got a very long way to go (20 more months), and I'm still far from pinning down a specialty or knowing every detail of all the things I need to know... but as of this moment, November 28, 2010, there isn't a day that goes by that I'm not overwhelmingly thankful to be one of the 75 people sitting in that Duke lecture hall. For the first time, I really feel like I'm carrying the Thanksgiving mindset around permanently, the way we're told that we should.
I'm not sure how I got this lucky... but I'm humbled to have such an awesome life.
Anyway, it was a great Thanksgiving. My parents came to Durham for a couple of days (swooped in and fixed the shredder, cleaned the trash can, bought us an ottoman, and did a myriad of other things around the house... they are so amazing) and then we drove to Charlotte on Wednesday. I experienced IKEA for the first time on that trip, and I can say with some certainty that I now know exactly what my downtown Durham loft will look like when I get it... LOL! We spent Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle in Fort Mill (on the outskirts of Charlotte), and then I took the train back to Durham on Friday. (Can I just say how much I love the train? Cheap, easy, tons of legroom, onboard wireless... I wish I had more opportunities to use it.) I went out to dinner with one of my friends that night and then actually did a little bit of studying the next day (yesterday). So far I've spent today cleaning and Christmas-ifying the apartment a little bit, and I'm about to head out to buy groceries and (LONG overdue) new running shoes. Liz comes home tomorrow, and since our class schedule changed and I'm going to be in class longer than I thought, her friend Erin is going to pick her up at the airport. I'll see her when I get home at 5:30. She made it safely from Spain to Italy and had a really amazing Thanksgiving there (you can read about it here).
The month of November has really flown by. Usually I'm the first one off the mark when it comes to holiday playlists, party plans, Christmas gift ideas, and so forth -- I often get going as soon as Halloween is over -- but this year it's really the lowest thing on my radar, probably because so many of my thoughts are wrapped up in school. I'm trying to get myself in the spirit by playing holiday music and decorating the apartment a little (but not too much, or Liz will be upset that she didn't get to help :)). It's been a great mini-break, but the next three weeks are going to be absolutely brutal in terms of school, so any holiday-mindsetting that's going to happen is going to have to occur today. Though I suspect I'm going to be dragged out to purchase a tree sometime in the next two or three days whether I like it or not... :)