Rising above challenges, members of TCOM’s Class of 2023 ready for Match Day: Rachael Haines
Samantha Hustak remembers the taunts as a little girl. Katie Walter will never forget the day she got the news her athletic career was over. At the age of 45, Raechel Haines, a wife and mother of four, was ready for medical school and Clarence Sparks, a one-time college dropout, is now ready to head home to Midland to help his community.
These students from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine have persevered, overcome, and are now ready to reach the pinnacle of their medical school careers, Match Day.
Hearing loss, concussions, doubt and juggling a family, each TCOM student is inspirational to their classmates and the profession they are about to enter. These are a few of the stories of TCOM’s Class of 2023. Today we meet Rachael Haines.
Rachael Haines’ Match Day story
Everyone knows it, medical school is as tough as it gets. It takes a total commitment, from the voluminous amount of work to the time spent studying, on rotations, preparing for tests, and taking board exams. Now add being a mother of four boys and wife into the mix at the age of 45, and you meet TCOM’s Rachael Haines.
Her medical school dreams began in 1996 after graduating college from Brigham Young University, and now 27 years later, she is on the cusp of achieving that dream. Following her graduation from BYU, her husband joined the Air Force, and they began moving around the country, first Texas, then Oklahoma, Washington, Hawaii, Ohio, Virginia and then back to Oklahoma.
They also had four boys along the way. The opportunity for medical school at that time was just not feasible and Haines knew it.
“It would have been really hard, especially with having a bunch of young children and a spouse who was deployed a lot of the time,” she said.
She had always been interested in health, nutrition and lifestyle medicine. After practicing for a few years as a dietitian after college, she started consulting and then was a fitness instructor while also being a full-time mother.
The house became full with four boys, but Haines had a plan. Her circuitous path to medical school began 12 years ago when she started taking chemistry classes. Haines admits that she loves to learn and enjoyed taking continuing education classes.
“I didn’t want to be at the end of my life and wish I had gone to medical school,” Haines said. “If I don’t do this, it will be one of those regrets.”
Slowly preparing herself for what appeared to be a distant dream, it all changed one day. Her husband announced he was going to retire from the Air Force.
“When he came home that day and said, ‘I would like to retire,’ I told him if I do this now, we have to move where I get into to school and then may have to move for residency,” Haines said. “He was absolutely willing to support that, and I was so excited.”
Getting to medical school
Now came the hard part, getting into medical school. After a nearly 20-year hiatus from school, she was essentially starting over again. Haines began studying for the MCAT, and at times it became daunting.
“Having been out of school for so long, that was a big process,” Haines said. “I studied for about a year for the test, and honestly, I almost quit because there is so much material to cover. I took a break for a few months and started studying again.”
It paid off. She passed the MCAT. The family was living in Oklahoma at the time, but she was naturally drawn toward TCOM and osteopathic medicine. She wanted to go to a DO school and was accepted as part of TCOM Class of 2023.
But getting the family to Fort Worth wasn’t as easy, despite leaving from neighboring Oklahoma. Months before the start of medical school, things got very difficult.
The family was preparing to move; they had a high school graduation on the horizon; Rachael’s parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary; and her husband had to help care for his sick father and brother. The months before medical school started were anything but normal.
Things have changed in 23 years
They arrived in Fort Worth, and once everyone got settled, things had to change. Mom needed help. Haines could no longer cook all the meals and do the housework, and her husband and boys stepped in and filled the void.
With her personal life settling into a routine, now it was time for medical school. Haines had taken classes off and on to prepare herself, but she was 23 years removed from school, and many things had changed.
“One of the hard things for me was the technology,” Haines said. “I had been out of school for a very long time. In the past we used textbooks and now everything is on a digital platform.”
At TCOM, her classmates fully embraced her, and that came in handy. Haines sheepishly said she “felt really stupid” sitting in a class one day, having never used any Apple products in her life and having to ask for help from a classmate to find something on her laptop.
“My classmates were so nice and patient with me,” she said. “They were willing to help me out and I was so impressed because so many people were sharing resources all the time. I was honestly shocked at how everyone was so helpful and encouraging. I came home and had to tell my family how wonderful my classmates were.”
She still had three children at home during her first year of medical school and just trying to keep up made for some very late nights. Like many first-year students, she started to figure out things. The COVID-19 pandemic hit during her second year, and everyone had to adjust.
Haines chose osteopathic medicine because she loved the idea of having those extra skill sets when she begins her residency. She’s adding more to her repertoire after graduation, as she wants to become a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, which focuses on lifestyle medicine and wellness.
It will blend in with her the specialty that she hopes to practice, family medicine.
Medical school graduate, DO, grandmother
Along the way, she added another title, grandmother. Her oldest son and his wife brought Rachael her first grandchild on Christmas Day in 2021. Her second son is in college in Oklahoma, her third son is serving a church mission in Washington state and her youngest is a junior in high school.
The family support started her down the road and kept her going mentally. They will all return to celebrate the pinnacle of her career at graduation.
“My parents will come, and my kids will all fly in,” Haines said. “You never think about accomplishing something so great without the help and support of so many people. Nobody is an island. I’ve had wonderful support from my family, kids and friends, and this isn’t something I’ve done by myself. It’s been a group effort.”
Haines will be 49 years old when she graduates from TCOM, but age couldn’t stop her, technology didn’t slow her down, and now she serves as a beacon of hope for others thinking there isn’t time to chase their dreams.
“If it’s something that brings you joy then go after it,” Haines said. “We have to pursue those things. For me, it was learning medicine. I’m excited every day about what I get to learn today. I look at where I was before medical school and it’s like, wow, I’m going to be a physician.”