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The Power of Caregiving Helps UVM Graduate Refocus Her Career

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By Mariette Landry

Jean Lin’s path to a career in medicine has been a winding one, but the journey was worth every step.

Early on, illustrations in anatomy books fascinated her, and she watched surgery programs on TV over breakfast on weekends. Later, she was able to shadow a local doctor. “The peak moment of that experience,” Lin says, “was my chance to scrub in and observe a surgery.”

She started at Middlebury College on the pre-med track, and without realizing her academic path was about to change, she took an introductory Japanese class. “One course led to another,” Lin says, “and I ended up spending my junior year in Kyoto.” In 2010, Lin graduated with a BA in Japanese Studies and continued to do chemistry problem sets for fun, despite no plans to pursue a medical career.

Since then, she has been an admissions counselor, bookkeeper, office assistant, food server, web designer, childcare provider, and caregiver for the elderly. She also volunteers at Addison County United Way, Lyric Theatre in Burlington, and local community events. She purchased her first house in 2014 and recently finished EMT training with Middlebury Ambulance.

In May 2015, Lin completed UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical program with a 3.92 GPA. We wanted to hear more about her journey away from and back to medicine.

What led you to to UVM’s Post-Bac program?

When I discovered that working in an office wasn’t for me, I turned my weekend caregiving job into full-time work. The pull of medicine became so strong again that I decided to call about the Post-Bac program. It was already mid-July, and I was heading away for a long camping weekend. During the trip, I weighed the realities of burnout and the financial undertaking involved, but I submitted my application a week later and started that fall.

How did being a first-generation student influence your career path?

When we moved to New Hampshire from New York City’s Chinatown, I found myself responsible for helping my non-English-speaking parents with translating bills, making sure we had heat in the brutal winter, and managing accounts for household services. These responsibilities followed me when I went to college, where despite my best intentions to succeed, I overestimated my ability to handle a science course load that would have been highly ambitious for anyone. My parents thought a medical career would be too taxing for me and questioned whether it was the best choice. Straddling two cultures made it hard to come to my own decisions, independent of my parents’ opinions, and “go my own way,” as I had been encouraged to do throughout my schooling. (I do have their full support now.)

You worked full-time through the Post-Bac program. How did you balance work and school?

Effective time management! I made sure to get enough sleep to function, without relying on caffeine to carry me through. I studied during my breaks and took advantage of my commute by listening to audio study guides. I do well with independent study, so I skipped some lectures in order to work, save gas money, or give myself more time at home before calling it a night. I don’t recommend this approach, but my circumstances dictated what was feasible for me.

What are your plans for medical school?

I’m applying to UVM College of Medicine only. I’ve found immense happiness in Vermont and deepened my roots in Addison County. Vermont’s progressive ideals, the community I’ve built, the proximity to my aging parents, and UVM’s strong reputation in primary care make UVM the right choice for me.

You’ve just completed EMT training and saw many of your peers struggle with the complexities of choosing a career. What advice can you offer?

Don’t be overwhelmed by fear of the unknown. Give yourself time to explore your interests, academic or otherwise. And don’t shy away from pursuing medicine because of a few poor science grades. There’s more to you than letters on a transcript. Distance traveled, unique experiences, compassion, dedication to hard work—these matter. If being a doctor is your dream, meet with an advisor and make a plan. Some people apply three or four times before they’re admitted. Don’t give up. You’re not “wasting time.” Trust your journey.

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-Mariette Landry is a senior editor and writer for UVM Continuing and Distance Education.