The Decision: going back to school at 43

In Blog by Eric Benjamin Comments

I made some radical moves in my life last year. I simplified all my belongings, sold my house, lived in an RV and quit my job to follow a dream and figure things out. It seemed crazy, but radically simplifying my life, especially financially, opened up more opportunities. I gave myself a timeline to make things happen before I would need to find regular employment again. Having time off allowed me to spend a season working on myself. I needed to figure who I was and what I wanted out of life.

Since college, my life decisions were based on making money to take care of my family. That was my identity. That was why I moved back to Emporia, to keep my family happy. I loved my identity as a family man. I am happy I chose family first. But once that identity disappeared I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do. It was a difficult place. Continuing in a job that had no meaning to me didn’t make sense anymore. Having a house payment that locked me into working that job didn’t make sense either. I listened to that whisper from within and started making changes.

This summer I needed to figure things out. I gave myself time to think. I did my best to remove all the noise of the world and discover what I really wanted to do. I had to get to this quiet place to let my life speak to me. I rummaged through my past looking for highlights, signs I could use to help me find my direction.

This has taken some time. And it wasn’t an easy process. I read books to help me deal with things from the past and move forward. I meditated. I rode miles of gravel. I sat and thought (with a good cup of coffee of course). I tend to over think to the point of nonaction, but I knew I couldn’t go back to working behind a desk. I would rather work at a grocery store or bike shop or something than to do that again. It is not easy being lost in life, but maybe lost isn’t a bad thing. Some of my best bike rides had moments of getting lost in them. Being lost is when we discover new lands, new roads, new places. Perhaps being lost isn’t lost, it is just a place of uncertainty that the mind doesn’t enjoy but the heart craves. Lost is OK, it is just a transition to a new place. Looking at it now, getting lost is a good thing if we allow it to be.


A tree tunnel on a ride near Pleasant Hill, Mo.

So what did I discover and decide to do?

As I kid, I loved to walk in the country with my dog. My imagination took me places. Living out in the country near a pond and miles of open prairie was a good thing. I loved to explore and I loved biology and the science behind how things worked, especially living things. I could be found dissecting toads, frogs, grasshoppers, feeding spiders, looking at pond water through a cheap microscope and laying in the thick grass with my dog watching the clouds go by. I also drew, loved music, and cameras fascinated me. In middle school my dad brought home some old Anatomy and Physiology textbooks. I loved those books especially the pictures and diagrams, and used them for my 8th grade science project on skin. I drew detailed, labeled diagrams of the layers of the skin, glands and hair follicles. I got in front of the class and talked for some time about the anatomy and physiology of skin. I wasn’t kissing up, I actually found it fascinating. Luckily Mrs. Ervay kept the fire burning in me for science.

I graduated with a BSE in Biology and taught high school A&P and loved it. We lived in Omaha and I taught A&P and took the students to the University of Nebraska in Omaha (UNO) Medical Center to investigate medical careers. That’s when I decided to teach one more year in Omaha and apply to get into a Physician Assistant (PA) program either in Omaha or Wichita State. But life took a turn. My wife was homesick and hated living in Omaha. We moved back to Emporia where she finished her degree, I decided to leave public education and started down a journey into photography, graphic design and marketing. I kept looking at going back to school but the decision to do that got harder with every year. Eighteen years after I quit teaching I found myself at the end of my career in commercial art. I was bored, unfulfilled and wasn’t sure what to do. Every time I got on the internet to research jobs, it always came back to something medical. But going back to school in my 40’s seemed daunting. Quite honestly I was scared.

Learn from the past and move on

Learn from the past and move on

I decided earlier this year that I would go back to school if things didn’t pick up. I wanted to be a PA. Then I looked at the path I’d have to take. It is a two-year program. But since my degree was 21 years old, I would have to retake about 35 hours of prereqs. Plus I needed experience working with patients. And I had to get accepted into a program. And I don’t want to leave my kids in Emporia to go to school. The two closest PA programs were at WSU in Wichita and UMKC in Kansas City, Mo. They are both competitive to get into and require an undergraduate degree and about two years of prereqs to apply.

It took some time to overcome my fears and negative thoughts about going back to school. I finally bit the bullet and decided to start knocking out prereqs at ESU in Emporia. Come to find out you have to be working on a major to get financial aid. I am retaking classes, not getting another BS. After looking at every possible way to get financial aid, I didn’t quality. This was decision time. Did I really want to do this or not? I did. I am tapping into my retirement to pay for my prereqs. UMKC is more lenient. I have to take the upper level biology and chemistry classes and score well on the MCAT and then they will consider me as an applicant. That took two years of prereqs down to about two semesters. I will take the classes and study my ass off for the MCAT. I will find a job at the hospital or anywhere so I can get some patient time. I can do this.

I still have moments when my chest tightens and I feel overwhelmed, but then I remember I graduated with honors and taught this stuff. I can do it! Two things validated my decision. I drove to UMKC to talk with someone in PA admissions. As I got closer to the medical school I had to stop at a stoplight. I looked to my right at a parked car. There was a stethoscope hanging from the rearview mirror of a med student’s car I assumed. It gave me a jolt inside. It was weirdly exciting. It was like something inside woke up. Then when I received my MCAT study materials and began reading them, that same feeling was there. I love this stuff. It felt like I was home again. I knew I was on the right track.

Lots of studying to do

Lots of studying to do

This is going to be an adventure. Next week I will be in class with 20-somethings and I will be a “non-trad.” It is quite comical and scary at the same time. I am jumping into 13 hours of chemistry, biology and biostatistics. Yikes. I am still planning on riding and training for DK200 in 2016 too. I will need to relieve stress so, riding will be key. Unfortunately I had to pull out of Salsa’s Ride Camp. I just couldn’t swing missing a full Friday of classes, a weekend of studying and driving 20 hours to make it all happen. Wish me luck. Getting accepted into UMKC’s PA program is not going to be easy. Nothing worth doing is easy though right?

Sunset in the Flint Hills

Sunset in the Flint Hills

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