suzanne watson- peerspectrum

“Lean toward risk…many more seniors regret the risks they didn’t take than regret the ones they did.” -David Brooks

Name: Suzanne Watson

Location: Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston Salem, NC.

Specialty: Medical Student


Medical school acceptance and AARP card in the same week.

As we find her today, in February of 2017, Suzanne Watson is medical student finishing up her final year at Wake Forest School of Medicine. She’s also a mother of four, a former minister, a widow, and she is 54 years old.

With a growing family, Suzanne voluntarily left medical school in her twenties but never gave up on her dream of becoming a physician. The dream never flickered, even through her career as an Episcopalian minister, all while raising her four children alone after the tragic death of her husband.

We’re going to talk with Suzanne about what happened to her husband (a Neurologist) 15 years ago. We’re going to see how that experience impacted her and her family. We’re going to see how it guides her current mission to become a healer, and an advocate for those suffering with mental illness.

If I had to pick one word to describe Suzanne, it would have be resilience. As you’ll see though, that one word alone really isn’t enough to describe Suzanne. She’s someone with incredible kindness, an inspiring mission, and someone, we predict, you’ll be hearing more from in the future. It was a real privilege to speak with her at the beginning of this next journey in her life. With that said, let’s get started…

Show Notes:

-“One of the happiest days of my life.”

-”Life is so precious.” What can I do with the next segment of my life?

-”I really don’t plan on ever retiring.”

-Who Suzanne consulted with before applying. The elements of her decision.

-Medical School Part I. Suzanne’s first time in medical school.

-Entering medical school at 50, as a widow with four kids.

-Why Suzanne’s financial ad visor suggested that she buy a Ferrari and take a year off!

-How to pay for it? The financial considerations Suzanne faced.

-Would Suzanne be accepted by her younger medical school classmates? Beer Pong?

-Uniting with others through a common goal.

-How Suzanne helped her fellow classmates.

-What has Suzanne learned from her younger classmates?

-How has medical education changed in the last 25 years? Suzanne’s unique perspective.

-Suzanne’s grandfather. An early inspiration.

-Why Suzanne decided to withdraw from medical school the first time.

-Loosing her husband. How Suzanne moved forward after a tragic loss.

-The stigma of seeking help for mental illness.

-Barriers to seeking treatment for mental illness.

-Mental illness in medical school students/ residents. How big is the problem and what can be done?

-Are suicides under-reported in medical education programs?

-Medical board reporting requirements. A barrier to seeking help?

-Are we punishing those who need help the most?

-Suzanne’s career as an Episcopalian Minister.

-How good psychiatric care has helped Suzanne’s own family.

-The link between good mental health and adaptability.

-Suzanne’s plans for her future practice.

-Public advocacy. Her mission and future research goals.

-Resources for mental illness.


Interview with Wake Forest:

David Brooks article that inspired Suzanne to apply for medical school:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

“Creating a Safety Net: Preventing Physician Suicide.”

“Utilization and Barriers to Mental Health Services Among Depressed Medical Interns: A Prospective Multi-site Study.”

One thought on “Lean Toward Risk: Conversation with 54 Year Old Medical Student, Suzanne Watson.

  1. A few weeks ago I read the Bio of Suzanne Watson which I was so impressed by. But after listening to this Podcast, I feel I got to know her on many other levels. There were things I admired about Suzanne, but below I’m listing the things that stand out the most to me.

    I can’t imagine losing your spouse in the prime of his and her life. My hope is that her grief has lessened, though I know it will always be with her and her family.

    That being said, she was faced with raising her 4 children, starting her ministry in the Episcopal church and facing financial challenges.

    She seemed to have always put her best foot forward, even during very difficult times. It was apparent that her strong faith was the driving force. I recently heard a homily by a priest who emphasized that Christians have the responsibility of spreading the gospel day to day, not so much in word, but action and deed. Suzanne certainly exemplifies this.

    Suzanne understands the importance of seeking guidance from others, such as, the Financial advisor and Roman Catholic nun. Even her son encouraged her to continue to follow her dream, when the age gap between her and many of the other med students, caused her anxiety. Turns out the students have learned much from her and her life experiences. She has learned from them, as well, such as their openness and generosity.

    In out 50s and 60s, our society inundates us with ads via TV, US mail and social media to think
    about retirement, AARP, Medicare etc. But Suzanne rose about all of this to continue to pursue her dream and not have any regrets later in life.

    I admired her proactive thinking such as: importance of research in such areas as Suicide Prevention, Lobbying, interest in Ethics Committee, Surveys and Quality Improvement programs.

    Suzanne shared that 2 others in her immediate family were bipolar. But with proper treatment and
    meds, they have been able to go on with their lives. In my personal life, I had a relative who I believe
    met all of the criteria for this. But unfortunately, in the 60s, it was not recognized and the treatment available now, was not the case at that time. On the reverse side, I knew a parent who suffered from this, but chose not to take his meds. Unfortunately, it was a burden on his family and his marriage fell apart. So, I totally support Ms Watson in her belief that we need to do all we can to eradicate the
    stigma associated with depression and other mental illnesses with education & good resources.

    I feel strongly that Suzanne’s experience as a Minister in such areas as ICU and Hospice will be a
    huge asset in her new role as a Psychiatrist. I worked for many years as an RN in Critical Care and the past 8 years as an NP in Palliative Care in the community and hospital setting. Frequently, our Palliative consults start with a family meeting. When appropriate, I have invited Pastoral Care, Psychiatry and other disciplines to those meetings. My belief, is that it greatly added to the quality of the meetings and patient/family education. Also gave me the opportunity to work with the Chaplains and Psychiatry more, to understand how much they contribute to healthcare every day.

    My belief is that there are so many adjectives to describe all of Suzanne’s great qualities. But I agree with Colin, that ‘resilience’ describes her best of all.

    Though none of us know how long we have on this earth, at 54 y/o Suzanne could very well have
    many more years to go. I hope the best for her in her journey. She has already made a huge impact
    in the lives of her family and others in turning a profound personal tragedy in her life into something that can help her patients and others she comes in contact with.

    So grateful for what Suzanne has shared with us in this excellent Podcast with Keith and Colin. Wish her the very best as she completes Med school in May, then her Residency. Hope she will agree to do another podcast in the future, as we have so much to learn from her, which can guide us in how we can help others too!


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