We love featuring interviews with young parents who are doing all sort of things: founding nonprofit organizations, writing books about becoming a powerful woman, and going to medical school! Today and tomorrow, we’re posting interviews by Tara Pringle Jefferson with Jessica and Emma, two young moms who are now on their way to medical school, and documenting their experiences on their blog Stethoscopes and Sippy Cups. Today we’re posting Tara’s conversation with Jessica — you’ll hear from Emma tomorrow!
Through my blog I meet a ton of amazing mothers. Quite simply, they inspire me on a daily basis. They might have their struggles, but they continue to smile through it all and continue to be the best mother, wife, sister, friend, that they can be.
I met Jessica and Emma through my blog a few months ago. These former teen moms are on their way to medical school, and shattering all types of stereotypes about what young parents can and can’t do in their careers. Honestly, I was blown away when I read their story and thought it should be shared here, as motivation to any other young parent who was questioning whether they could still make their dreams come true.
You became pregnant during junior year in high school - and graduated high school early. You went to the local community college and took courses there while simultaneously finishing up your high school degree. What was your motivating factor at this point? Was there any day where you felt like, “No, I can’t do this”? And how did you push past it?
I will never forget my mother’s demand when we first discussed my pregnancy: finish high school. She was so worried about this – and rightfully so – because of the statistics against teen parents. I had always been a very successful and motivated student, so I never questioned the decision to finish high school or to attend college. When I became pregnant at the end of my junior year, I realized that I only had five classes left to complete because of prior credit overloads and honors courses. Because of this, I completed two courses that summer and finished the remaining three during the following fall semester. I simultaneously enrolled in four community college courses, completed my SAT exam, submitted college applications, and held a part-time job as a waitress.
I was handed my high school diploma in December of 2004, two weeks before the birth of my daughter and a full semester ahead of schedule. What motivated me to begin college at that time was the fear of falling behind when my daughter was born. I knew I would inevitably have to take the following semester off from college since her due date was December 28th and spring classes began just a couple weeks later. I also knew I would need a job to support her, so I was unsure as to how many courses I would be able to handle each semester in addition to my other responsibilities. I figured that getting a head start would certainly not hurt.
There were times when I was overwhelmed and exhausted, but I never thought about giving up. My motivating factor was, and has always been, the well being of my daughter, Hayley.
You went to college with a single parent program in place. How beneficial was that for you? What would you tell someone who argues that these programs shouldn’t exist on college campuses, because it gives single parents an unfair advantage?
The Keys to Degrees Single Parent Program at Endicott College was extremely beneficial to me, and I know being part of it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I owe my success to the program, and especially to all of the wonderful professors I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with during my years there.
Endicott gave me a virtually cost-free education and allowed me to live on campus with my daughter in a beautiful four-bedroom apartment that I shared with another roommate and child. Hayley’s childcare, which I selected, was fully covered by the school. I even had a meal plan at the college’s dining hall, and Hayley was permitted to eat there free of charge. Being part of this program gave me a genuine college experience, and for that I am forever grateful.
Even though I was a teen parent, I truly lived “the college life.” I do not feel, however, that I was given any advantage over other students by being part of the program. Program participants have to earn their spots by maintaining respectable GPAs, completing a minimum number of community service hours each semester, and following strict residential regulations designated by the program director. Programs such as Endicott’s supply single parents with the necessary tools and support to afford their children stable lives.
Instead of having to rely on government assistance, program participants will graduate ready to enter the workforce and successfully provide for their families. Single Parent Programs are benefitting society as a whole as well as the individual parents involved.
What made you fall in love with medicine/what made you decide to go to medical school?
As cliché as this will sound, I have always enjoyed helping others. I have been a mentor to teen parents and low-income women and children for about four years now, and my goal is always to serve as a role model to those facing adversity. Having been through my own struggles, I enjoy sharing my story so it can inspire others to achieve their own ambitions. In fact, it is my goal as a physician to work with underprivileged populations. In tandem with this trait of mine, I became very interested in medicine during my pregnancy, with my interest escalating during Hayley’s first few years of life. When I introduced Hayley to the daycare setting at eight months old, she was constantly ill, which forced me into constant contact with many medical specialists. My exposure to the medical field through the eyes of a young mother was intriguing, and I developed a desire for knowledge of not only Hayley’s diagnoses, but of disease in general. I then began volunteering at a local hospital to observe the roles of healthcare professionals. My experiences inspired me to change my college major to Biotechnology and complete the necessary pre-requisite courses for medical school. I am applying to medical school this upcoming cycle, and I am keeping my fingers very crossed!
Was there ever a point where you felt like you had taken on too much?
I am not yet enrolled in medical school, but I can reflect upon my greatest challenges during my college years. I believe my chosen field of study, Biotechnology, was difficult to excel in as a single parent. Not only were my courses rigorous, but I also had many late night labs and study sessions, forcing me to rely on babysitters as supplemental care for my daughter. I was constantly pulling “all nighters” because I’d have several exams each week in demanding courses such as organic chemistry and physics. There were many instances where I felt as though my schedule was just too intense to handle; at those times, I made lists and prioritized my responsibilities.
Tell us a little bit about your support system – where does your greatest source of support come from?
My support system was minimal when I first came to Endicott because my family lives on the West Coast. I had to rely on my roommates and babysitters when I needed time to study or if I wanted to socialize with friends. My sister was also my greatest support, despite her living in Arizona, especially because my daughter’s biological father has never been a prominent part of her life. I met my husband, however, during my freshman year at Endicott when he was a junior there; he is my greatest source of support. We have been together for five years now and were married this past December. My support system is presently strong because I have him and his family as well as my many friends. My family is still out West so they are not as much of a direct support with raising Hayley, but they are definitely there for me emotionally.
What do you say to other teen moms who feel like they aren’t getting where they want to be in their career?
I would say to really sit down and visualize your goals; break them down into smaller components so you are less overwhelmed. What exactly do I mean by this? It is probably best to use an example.
One of the high school parents I have mentored over the years really wanted to be a nurse, but she had many obstacles in her way that were preventing her from achieving this goal. We sat down and made a list together of everything she needed to succeed, ranging from a car to full-time childcare for her daughter. We talked about ways she could obtain each component, such as the use of childcare vouchers or living near public transportation.
She is presently enrolled in college courses and is well on her way to success, but she was initially afraid to take that first step. In her eyes, her situation seemed overwhelming and impossible. I want to stress to teen parents that they should never be afraid to reach out for help. If you lack a direct support system, there are many wonderful organizations available to you that were created for this purpose. I would also stress to teen parents that they should not be intimidated by time. Many feel as though it would take too much time and money to complete college, so they forgo education altogether. The time is going to pass regardless; how do you want to spend it?