On Monday I start medical school. In the Caribbean. I am 62 years old (but feel – honestly – like I am thirty).

I am very excited – for a number of reasons. Here is the essay I wrote when applying:


Lauren Cleaver
Essay for Admission to St James School of Medicine

Why I aspire to be a doctor and why St. James is the right school for me.

I am healthy, smart, energetic, curious. I have been a successful death penalty attorney in Colorado, and built and run a nineteen room hotel in the Costa Rican jungle. I have created some marvelous things – and I want to keep going.

How best to do that? How does one really make a difference? How does one make a better world?

Providing healthcare to those in need is the noblest of professions. It requires brains, determination, tenacity. I have those qualities and believe that I will be a fine doctor. I am fascinated by the science of medicine and hope that I can bring some of the skills that I have acquired over my lifetime to the table in a positive way. I work very well on my own and with a team.

Some may think that I am too old to begin the journey. I don’t think so. I have many good years ahead of me, and in many ways am in a better position than younger doctors to avoid physician burnout. I have already negotiated many of the hurdles that younger doctors encounter: I have had a successful marriage, children and two careers. I am not trying to juggle those things along with becoming a doctor. I have all the time in the world and am solely focused on becoming an excellent doctor. And I possess depth and wisdom that many younger people can not yet possess.

Moreover, we need to recognize and respect the idea that if science continues to find ways to keep people alive (and healthy) for longer and longer periods of time, those aging human beings need to be able to participate and contribute in the game of life. Life without participation, contribution, and the ability to strive for excellence is not much of a life.

Why St. James? It seems the perfect fit for me. I can start right away. Given my varied background, I am obviously not a run-of-the-mill medical school candidate. I think that I can make St. James proud of me, as well as make St. James proud of their willingness to recognize that excellent doctors can come in many shapes and sizes.

Now the Caribbean medical schools have a bad name – that’s probably why I got in. I have no science background and no medical background. On the other hand, I did graduate from law school in the upper echelons of my class, and became a successful death penalty attorney. So, at some level, they knew I had game. But how long ago? Whoa – that was a LONG time ago.

At any rate – now I am IN (as Heidi Klum would say). I am following my daughter who is also in medical school. Over the last couple months while in quarantine, I loved studying with her – and she suggested I take up nursing. All my family knows that I need a project, at all times, or I start driving them all nuts. Nurse? Doctor? Hmmm, well, Lord knows I would rather be in charge.

So Monday I start school, online. And then move to the Caribbean (Anguilla – most beautiful beaches in the world – tough tour duty there!) in September for a year. Then I study (very hard) for a huge exam called the Step 1 – and if I pass I move on with my studies. If I don’t… I go back to Costa Rica and take up tennis, piano lessons, and painting like a fiend (all of which I have been doing on and off for the last twenty years as Toby (my wonderful McHusband) and I built a beachy jungle lodge in Costa Rica). I have been semi-retired since I was forty – when we moved from Colorado to Costa Rica – so I am excited to get back to the books!

Can I handle it? What oh what will happen to my brain?

I am thinking it is going to grow. Do brains grow? Given those thoughts this morning, I read this fascinating article about such questions, and found the answer to be YES. However, what seems to grow is the white matter, and not the grey. Who knew?

Watching the Brain Learn

BTW – my mom had Alzherimer’s and definitely started to go down hill when she was … 80. So, I figure I have a lot of good years ahead of me (see St James essay above). Let’s see what happens next!