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Medical Marvel : At 51, Woman Becomes Oldest Graduate From USC School

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a dream that the years could not fade.

Jean Forman had wanted to be a doctor for as long as she could remember, even though she grew up during a time when, as she put it, women were told to “leave the doctoring to men.”

On Sunday, the 51-year-old Long Beach woman completed a decade-long journey to become a physician. As her husband, children and grandchildren watched, Forman received her diploma from the USC School of Medicine.

She is the oldest student to earn a degree from the school in its 107-year history.

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“We each have one lifetime to do something with,” Forman said. “Even if I had not made it to medical school, at least I would know that I tried. If I had not, I would have always wondered, ‘What if?’ ”

Until recently, it was almost unheard of to find a student over 35 at any medical school in the country, said Ralph Jung, associate dean for student affairs at the USC Medical School.

But Forman represents a growing number of students who have decided to enter the field at an age when some doctors are considering retirement.

“It is becoming the national trend that the average age of the students goes up ever so slightly each year,” Jung said. “Medical schools now don’t feel that an age limit is as important as it was before. People are living longer and choosing to pursue more than one career.”

At 40, after most of her children had left for college, Forman said she found herself wondering what she was going to do with the rest of her life.

She was accepted to college and figured that maybe she would become an accountant.

“I was going to do the practical thing,” she said. “But I looked at the list of classes and knew I wouldn’t be happy. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life behind a desk.”

So she called her son, Scott, who was attending the UCLA School of Medicine, for advice. She asked him to find out if any of his professors thought a woman her age could get into medical school.

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“The answer was a very strong maybe,” Scott Forman said. “That was all the encouragement Mom needed.”

Forman enrolled at UC Irvine, where she earned a degree in biology. Five years ago, she entered her first year of medical school at USC.

Later this month, Forman will begin a family practice residency at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier. She wants to become a family physician and follow in the footsteps of her role model, the late Dr. Donald Crow of Seattle, her family doctor from childhood.

“I want to be the kind of doctor who walks into the room when you are really sick and scared and says: ‘You don’t have to worry about this, I’ll worry about it for you,’ ” she said.

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