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  Among Brody School of Medicine's Class of 2013 is Mike Weeks, who will embark upon his third career following graduation. (Photo by Jay Clark)

Medical graduate embarks on third career

May 6, 2013

By Justin Boulmay
For ECU News Services

After seven years in his previous career, Mike Weeks was looking for more of a challenge. Considering that he’d worked both as an accountant and a social worker, Weeks would have to find something particularly challenging.

He found that challenge at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

After four years of medical school, Weeks, 46, will once again graduate in May, this time 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,” he said. Sibling rivalry played a role in sparking Weeks' interested 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 how they 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.
"It's not for the
faint of heart, but I think most people can do it."

Weeks said social work serves as a good foundation for medicine, because in both fields, the professional has to start with where their patient (or client) 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’s so much coming at everyone at once that they don’t 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’s 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,” he said. “It didn’t seem to matter.”

Weeks didn’t do well on his first couple of tests, and he worried that he might be asked to leave the program for being academically ineligible. 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,” he said. “You just have to be ready for it.”

Even though he didn’t have the same energy as some of his younger classmates, Weeks had certain advantages over his class in that he had already gone through some of life’s important milestones. His finances were already in order, and he  proposed to his then-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.

After graduation, they will move to Seattle. Asked how she might respond if her husband said he'd like to try for another career, Bridgewater answered quickly.

“No,” she said, and both she and Weeks laughed. “We have three careers to choose from. Let’s pick one.”