In her words, Sarah Baker’s journey to medical school was “long and winding” as it spanned nearly two decades. She first applied 19 years ago but postponed that dream to raise a family. On Aug. 5, with her husband and three kids in tow, she received her white coat as one of 120 new medical students in the UCF College of Medicine’s Class of 2023.
“A lot of my friends and family members think I’m crazy!” she said of her decision to begin medical school at age 41, almost 20 years above the average age of the class. “I’m hoping they will vote me ‘Class Grandma.’”
Baker, who grew up in South Florida, had always wanted to be a doctor, as it combined her passion for science and helping others. So in 2000, when she graduated from UCF with a degree in biology, she applied to several medical schools around the country. She wasn’t accepted and decided to try again the following year. While reapplying, she found out she was pregnant with her oldest daughter Lydia, now 18.
“So, I had a decision to make,” she said, “whether I could handle going to medical school with an infant or not. And I ultimately decided to focus on her. So I postponed my dreams and stayed home with her for a few years.”
When Lydia was old enough for school, Baker joined the Florida Department of Health as a statistician in the Epidemiology Department. She stayed there for 12 years and took time off to have her son, Isaac, now 7, and daughter, Mackenzie, now 4. After having Mackenzie, she stayed home for a few years and it was then she decided to head back to the classroom.
“Over the years, I always thought about going back to medical school,” she said. “I just I felt like I was missing out on that one-on-one patient contact and the opportunity to make a direct impact in a person’s life.”
So with her husband Brennan’s encouragement, she retook her Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and applied for medical school at UCF, where both received their undergraduate degrees.
“I really feel like this is where I belong,” she said. “It truly feels like I’ve come home. UCF embraces diversity. They made me feel I would be an asset with my public health background, my nontraditional older experience, or even the fact that I have children, they were very welcoming.”
While Baker knows balancing motherhood and med school will tough, she says, “I’m ready for it!”
“I’m really doing this for them,” Baker said of her children, “to inspire them and show them that they can achieve their dreams no matter what in life, and it’s never too late to be what you might have been. It can be a very inspirational and empowering thing to, you know, show your children that you can pursue your dreams.”
During Monday’s White Coat Ceremony, Dean Deborah German asked students to imagine the person they love most and describe the traits of the doctor they want caring for that person. After the ceremony, Isaac asked his mother, “When the lady asked you to think of the person that you love the most and cared about, did you think of me, Mommy?”
With her husband working from home in real estate, Baker will have much-needed support while she is at school. And her biggest cheerleaders are fully behind her journey.
“I’m so glad Mommy is going to be a doctor so she can fix me when I’m sick,” her son said. “I’m very proud of her.”
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