Greenland, money, love

A few months ago I heard about an opportunity to take a pre-med course in Greenland. Since I’d be studying an amazing indigenous culture, the effects of climate change on human health, and wilderness medicine, naturally I applied. I was accepted too. Then I balked at the costs and the long travel time (and as someone who’s crossed both the Atlantic and Pacific more than once, I am not using the term long lightly).

But my husband encouraged me.

Which was surprising. I know it’s unacceptable these days to stereotype unless you’re a famous comedian, but we always joke that his Jewish heritage is a blessing even though he isn’t religious at all. The man is good with money. It’s annoying sometimes, for example, when you ask what he thinks about a meal, because he can’t evaluate something independent of its cost. Even if you gave him something free, he might say, “Yeah, but what did you pay for it?”

Mostly it’s a good thing though, of course. Anyway, it was really surprising to me that Kyle was not only supportive, but encouraging about Greenland. I’d expected him to say, “It’s up to you, dear,” with his words, and “but it is a lot of money,” with his eyes. But he didn’t. And when I hesitated about making the deposit for the trip, he encouraged me to do it. He even said, “It’s worth it.” A conclusion he does not often make!

So I applied, paid the deposit, and waited. Then the trip was cancelled. Ha!

I’m disappointed at losing my only real prospect of meeting Inuit people, but it’s okay. Again, with the encouragement of my better half, I made different arrangements. Wilderness medicine in Colorado. I won’t need my passport, but it should be exciting anyway.

Summer is mostly planned now. I’m taking some conventional classes, going on the wilderness trip (crossing my fingers to see a bear), and studying for the MCAT. I need to make some phone calls and try to secure some shadowing opportunities. I’m still looking into research opportunities.

But as I dig myself deeper into this hole I call “wanting to be a doctor,” two things strike me hard. One is good and one is bad; I’ll tell the bad first.

The bad: The medical school application process. Wow. There is much to be said about it, but the real doozy is the cost. MCAT preparation materials can cost thousands of dollars. The test itself is over $300. Applying to an average number of schools, say 20-25, can cost around $3,000. Depending on the number and location of interviews, an applicant can expect to spend hundreds or thousands more on airfare, lodging, food, and time not working. What? And for all the talk about increasing diversity…

But that is a tangent I shall not go on today.

I understand that many, many more people apply to medical schools than can possibly be admitted. Today I was looking at info for a school I am interested in. Last year they received over 7,000 applications–and accepted 184 people. I get it. You’ve got to “weed people out.” I can’t help but wonder if the associated costs of applying are actually a part of the weeding process. I definitely don’t think they should be, but they must be. Let’s be real here.

Again, I can see the tangent line in my mind, but I won’t draw it. American colleges are all screwed up. I don’t love Bernie’s answer. I don’t love Hillary’s. Even if I thought the Republicans had anything thoughtful to say, I can’t vote for any of them because–well, that’d take a book–but the point is it shouldn’t cost more to become a family physician than it does to own a home in New York City. I’m grateful to have the opportunities that I have, but it makes me sad as an American that what I’m doing is completely out of reach for some poor Appalachian who would probably be a way better doctor than me. I don’t care what St. Ronnie himself would say, bootstrapping can only get you so far. We’ve got to figure out a better way… but we can’t even figure out how to deal with K-12 education in this country! Yikes! I’m so afraid to be a parent when I think of this.

The good: Even though becoming a physician requires a ton of time, pain, stress, money, and probably relocating, my frugal husband is being so amazing about it! It’s funny, really. Lately I have been thinking about how people in relationships take cues from each other. From Kyle, I’ve learned that life is so much better in comfortable shoes. From me, he’s learned a lot of sass. But when I first started college, I was planning a degree in Electrical Engineering. I thought it was the next level of what I had been doing in the Navy, and I didn’t know what else to pursue, so that’s what I went with. Kyle made it no secret that he thought it was a bad idea. At the time I was offended, but in retrospect I realize that he realized I never liked working on electronics in the first place.

When I realized EE was a bad mistake, I–for only one semester, in my defense–completely about-faced and decided to study Art History. Kyle knew if I did this we’d probably end up broke, living in Chicago, and he’d get dragged to art museums even more than he does already. He did not protest, but he did not show support. Being a female, of course I took note of this.

Eventually we both kind of agreed that I’d be a good chemist. I love chemistry, and I’m decent at it. Kyle recognized that my chemistry classes put me in a good mood, while my art history classes frustrated me.

For the record: I love art history. If I were independently wealthy, I’d be all over it. But I find classes that require a lot of subjective discussion to be quite frustrating. You could say it’s because I don’t care what other people think, but that’s not true. It’s because in some classrooms what you feel is put on the same level with what you think, and that’s not right.

Anyhow, I knew chemistry could get me into various things. Chemistry is the study of matter after all, and all that physically exists is matter. Food, forensics, waste, solar panels, iPhones, everything depends on a chemist in one way or another. In fact, your body is a big biochemistry lab held together by hydrogen bonds and lipid bilayers and God’s grace and other things.

But when I came home from the medical conference where I pretty much decided I want to become a doctor, it was much like the case with Greenland. I thought Kyle’s eyes would widen with horror, knowing how difficult and costly it would all be. I was wrong though. No one has been more encouraging in the process so far. No one has been more confident about my ability. And interestingly, he is the only one who will be greatly affected by this besides me. It’s quite amazing.

Of course, he could be fantasizing about me having an enormous salary one day, but I doubt it. I’m so grateful. How I snagged this man is right up there with “what’s the meaning of life” on the list of universal mysteries to me.  I’ll just be happy when he’s the hell out of the Navy and pursuing something exciting to him too.

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