IU School of Medicine campus: Northwest-Gary (MS1)
Former career: Elementary and special education teacher
Michelle LaTurner was told she could “pick two” of these three: wife, mother, professional. She took the advice given by well-intentioned members of her religious community and tossed aside her childhood dream of becoming a doctor, finding herself, at age 28, a married mother of two with a third baby on the way and supporting her chef husband’s dream of opening a restaurant.
When the business and the marriage failed, she was at a crossroads.
“I bootstrapped myself through school, finishing my bachelor’s degree, and then completed a master’s in teaching to support myself and my kids as quickly as possible,” she said. “I balanced the demands of work and school and parenting, in part fueled by a determination to build a life worth living out of the ashes of lost hopes.”
A few months after graduating, LaTurner remarried and discovered it was possible to balance family and professional life. She became a teacher in Southside Chicago, where the children came from neighborhoods affected by generational poverty, violence and gang culture.
“One of my sweet little second grade boys tragically lost his mother while at a family party,” she recalled. “He already struggled academically, but he now needed support to cope with grief. I fought to get him additional services, and I worked with his grandmother, who became his primary caregiver.”
LaTurner started a school science fair and encouraged her students that “nothing is impossible.” As the encouraging words sprang from her lips, they circled back to her heart as a personal challenge.
She wasn’t quite ready to reopen the door to her dream until life brought another tragedy. Four years ago, LaTurner experienced the first of several miscarriages—one of them in the second trimester.
“I grieved—and then started reading as much as I could,” she said. “I plowed through journal articles and textbooks. I needed to know why.”
If she thought she might be onto something, she would share her research with her husband, Hyrum. When he quipped, “You’re not the doctor,” she responded, “I should have been!”
To her surprise, Hyrum wholeheartedly agreed. As a professor of humanities at Prairie State College, he encouraged Michelle to use the institution’s tuition benefits for spouses. She began taking science classes in preparation for the MCAT medical entrance exam.
Today she is a first-year medical student in the newly launched Urban Medicine Program at IU School of Medicine—Northwest in Gary, Indiana, just south of Chicago. In addition to their six older children, she and Hyrum now have two toddlers.
“I had so many deeply instructive experiences teaching in South Chicago and students that will stay in my heart forever. Their family circumstances significantly influenced my decision to pursue urban medicine as a scholarly concentration,” said LaTurner, who plans to become an obstetrician-gynecologist. “I believe that having a depth of lived experiences—as a teacher, a mom, a single mom—these all give me more access points to connect with and understand my future patients.”
LaTurner discovered she didn’t have to “pick two.” Although it takes an incredible amount of planning and communicating to manage it all, LaTurner says her spouse and children are her biggest cheerleaders.
“My teens see the messy underside of it all—the crazy amount of hours spent studying, the anxiety over whether or not I would get into medical school—all of it. I think it has made them braver about pursuing the things they want,” she said. Meanwhile, the little ones add messiness, joy and comic relief to their family life.
“My four-year-old daughter told me the other day that she is going to grow up to be a ‘mommy-doctor-princess’ just like me. Yes, please.”
While entering medical school later in life has its challenges, most career shifters say the advantages are far greater. Medical students in their 30s or 40s bring broader life experiences and tend to be focused, organized and resilient.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Laura is senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications and loves to tell the stories of outstanding students, faculty and staff at IU School of Medicine. A native Hoosier, she has over 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.