Sunday, May 19, 2013
After seven years in his previous career, Mike Weeks was looking for more of a challenge. Considering that he had worked both as an accountant and a social worker, Weeks would have to find something particularly challenging.
He found it at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.
After four years of medical school, Weeks, 46, graduated again on May 10, this time ready to specialize in psychiatry. He earned his previous two degrees — his bachelor’s in accounting and his master’s in social work — from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“It’s been a really good journey,” Weeks said.
Sibling rivalry played a role in sparking Weeks’ interest in returning to school for a third degree. He said he had always been jealous of his sister — a doctor — and her knowledge of the basic mechanisms of how people get sick and get better.
After a few years in social work, Weeks realized he was looking for more of a challenge in his career. He wanted to know more about the science behind his field and why some people can overcome their addictions while others continue to relapse. Weeks said that professionals believe that is linked to brain chemistry, and he was fascinated by that and wanted to be part of a field in which major breakthroughs in psychiatry might someday allow professionals to target illnesses with specific medications.
Weeks said social work serves as a good foundation for medicine, because in both fields, the professional has to start with where their patient is. But nothing could have prepared him for his first semester, which Weeks said was the most challenging semester of the medical program.
Weeks likened that difficult first semester to drinking from a garden hose: there is so much coming at everyone at once that they do not know what to do with it all. Students must spend their nights memorizing that day’s material, because tomorrow will bring an entirely new set of information.
Weeks said there is no amount of reading ahead that can prepare someone for it, and none of the students seemed to get an advantage from their previous educational experience.
“I came in from an accounting background and a social work background, and there were other kids who came from biochemistry backgrounds,” Weeks said. “It didn’t seem to matter.”
Weeks did not do well on his first couple of tests, and he worried that he might be asked to leave the program. He was able to turn the semester around after he realized that it was far more helpful to summarize everything being taught into simpler forms of information instead of trying to memorize every single thing that was taught that day.
“It’s not for the faint of heart, but I think most people can do it,” Weeks said. “You just have to be ready.”
Even though he did not have the same energy as some of his younger classmates, Weeks had certain advantages over his class in that he already had gone through some of life’s important milestones. His finances were in order, and he proposed to his girlfriend, Elisabeth Bridgewater, at the end of that harrowing first semester. The two were married in June 2011.
“In that respect, there [was] a lot less stress on me as an older student,” he said.
The couple plans to relocate to Seattle. Asked how she might respond if her husband said he would like to try for another career, Bridgewater quickly answered.
“No,” she said, and both she and Weeks laughed. “We have three careers to choose from. Let’s pick one.”
Graduates reach educational milestone despite deployments
Final exams and presentations do not do much to raise the blood pressure of physical therapy graduate Michelle “Shelley” Spencer. But there is nothing like being deployed twice to Iraq to put things in perspective.
Spencer, a Pamlico County native, was first deployed in 2005 after finishing her undergraduate degree. She spent 13 months leading a platoon assigned to convoy security with the U.S. Army in southern Iraq and Baghdad. She was part of the military police unit that relocated Abu Ghraib inmates when the prison was closed.
Upon her return to the states, she enrolled at ECU in 2008 but her studies were interrupted again after two years.
Spencer, promoted to captain, withdrew from school to plan training events for more than 200 troops and prepare for deployment. Then it was back to Iraq in 2011 for seven months, this time leading three platoons spread across three different Army bases.
She graduated on May 10 with a doctorate in physical therapy from the College of Allied Health Sciences — a rigorous three-year degree program that includes 32 hours of clinical training. Surprisingly, she is not alone in successfully juggling military service and school.
“There are so many kids out there who are doing this,” Spencer said. “And they’re younger than me. Sometimes it’s deployment, sometimes it’s training.”
In fact, another student who graduated from ECU this month, Demetrius “D.J.” Baskerville, left school twice following orders from the U.S. Army.
Baskerville earned his bachelor’s degree in special education from the College of Education. He was deployed to Iraq for 11 months in 2007 as a motor transport operator and again in 2011, this time to Kuwait.
“College was only supposed to take three years,” he said. “It has taken seven. But you improvise, adapt and overcome.”
It’s not always easy to adapt, however, when it comes to returning to campus after spending months overseas in a war zone. When Baskerville returned from his tour of duty in Iraq, the peers he had come to ECU with were about to graduate.
“You kind of feel like everyone’s forgotten about you,” Baskerville said. “Nobody understands your story.”
“Most of us are hyper-alert, or we are for a certain amount of time,” Spencer added. “What becomes your norm over there, is not the norm here.”
The support of family and friends helped both graduates through that transition, they said. And Spencer and Baskerville agreed the faculty in their programs went to great lengths to keep them on track and on top of their coursework.
Dr. Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor for Administration, Finance and Military Programs, said he’s proud of the way faculty members have risen to the challenge of supporting students who are reservists and veterans. It’s not uncommon, he said, to provide the work for these students in advance or to continue their education from a distance whenever possible.
“One percent of the people protect 99 percent of us,” Duncan said. “We do as much as we can for that one percent.”
To further these efforts, ECU recently established an office for Student Veteran Services within Student Affairs’ Office of Student Transitions to support students returning from military service.
“Everyone is part of a national defense answer,” Duncan said. “When you step up to help (student veterans), you are part of that answer.
via The Daily Reflector.