Returning Student One of First UC Merced Students Accepted to Medical School

Returning Student One of First UC Merced Students Accepted to Medical School

UC Merced senior Janice Gatzke is living proof that it's never too late to follow your dreams.

"I didn't think I'd be able to go to college," said Gatzke. "I didn't think I'd be anything beyond a legal secretary."

She exceeded her own expectations. Not only is she preparing to graduatein May with a bachelor's degreein cell and molecular biology, but Gatzkeis on her way to becoming a doctor. At age 44, the Covina, Calif., native is one of UC Merced's first students to be accepted to medical school.

Gatzke, a married mother of two, received seven medical school interviews and learned recently that she was accepted to Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) in Bradenton, Fla. She will begin instruction there in August to become an osteopathic physician.

Osteopathic medicine is one of the fastest growing healthcare professions in the United States, according to the American Osteopathic Association. Osteopathic doctors, or D.O.s, and allopathic doctors, known as M.D.s, are both fully qualified physicians who are licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery. Osteopathic medicine, however, emphasizes the inter-relationship of the body's nerves, muscles, bones and organs and applies a whole body philosophy of treatment. Osteopathic doctors also receive training in manual manipulation, in which they use their hands to help diagnose illness and injury and to encourage the body's natural tendency toward good health.

Earning her undergraduate degree and pursing a medical career was a challenging journey but well worth the effort, she said. Gatzke recalled being interested in health and the human body as early as middle school and remembered reading her first nutrition book as a seventh grader. But life had other plans. She got married and had two children. To help support her family, she got a job as a legal secretary, a career she stuck with for 20 years. Several years ago, Gatzke started thinking about going back to school to earn a college degree. By then, her children were in high school. With the support of her husband and family, she took the plunge back into academia.

She transferred from community college to UC Merced in spring 2007. Initially, she was nervous about school. While Gatzke admits being fascinated by the human body and all things health-related, she hadn't taken any substantial science classes in high school -- no biology, chemistry or physics. Then there was the fact that she would be older than some other undergraduate students who started college right after high school. "I didn't know if I would be accepted," she said.

Fortunately, her worries were for naught. Her age "has never been a hindrance." During her academic career at UC Merced, she participated in the university's Health Education Representatives for Opportunities to Empower Students (HEROES) program and was an active member of Delta Epsilon Mu, a professional club for pre-health students. Gatzke also received the Grossman Family Endowed Scholarship in recognition for her outstanding academic achievements, commitment to health sciences, leadership and community service.

"The relationships I've developed at UC Merced are great. I have lots of friends. And I don't think of myself as an older student. We're all in the same place trying to learn. I've always felt accepted."

Gatzke hasn't yet decided what area she would like to specialize in but expressed an interest in geriatrics or becoming a general internist. She hopes that her story will encourage others to pursue their dreams and offers this advice:

"People who tell you that you're not cut out to do something, pretend like you don't even hear them," she said. "Find people who are supportive and listen to them instead. Perhaps I'll inspire some little old ladies to go back to school."

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