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Kim Dougan, MD, read the letter from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine. Then she read it again.

“Welcome to the class of 2008,” the acceptance letter began.

The high school French teacher had thought that at age 47, she didn’t stand a chance in the pre-med classes, or even getting past the interviews to be considered for a slot at OHSU. As a mother of two young children, she had to juggle being a synchronized swimming mom, Cub Scout mom and tutor, all while studying for her classes and eventually the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Then there was the hurdle of the interviews. She dreaded interviewing with a 20-something PhD, “who would take one look at me and decide I was too old for medical school,” says Dougan, who started as clinic chief for UW Medicine Primary Care at Lopez Island on June 1.

Then fate stepped in. Her first interview was with a doctor who greeted her with, “Oh, I hear we are stealing you from a noble profession.” The doctor’s wife was a high school teacher. The next interview was with a 20-something doctor who grew up in Quebec, where she’d studied for her undergrad degree. He happened to speak fluent French.

“We conducted the interview switching back and forth,” says Dougan, talking from her 300-square foot tiny home she’s now renting on the island. In a way, landing the job and moving to Lopez has been a homecoming of sorts.

“This is such a great community and I love it here,” she says, laughingly calling her own wish to become a doctor “a midlife crisis.”

Finding her first career

Her journey began when she graduated with majors in French and art history, with designs on working for The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She did not get the job. Dougan and her husband eventually turned their eyes west, and decided to go to Washington state, arriving just as Mount St. Helens blew in 1980.

With all their belongings, three cats and two dogs crammed into a Jeep, the couple finally found a Kampgrounds of America (KOA) campsite where they could wait until the ash settled down and ignore the frantic phone calls from family, wondering if they were having to run from the lava. Nope, no lava. Just ash.

Dougan finally landed a job in Carnation, teaching French, and then eventually at Lake Washington High School, teaching there for the next 16 years. The Columbine High School shooting in 1999 rattled her, and she began to get restless with her chosen career. She left teaching and became a certified nursing assistant. Around that time, her husband lost his job in Seattle, so the couple moved south to Portland, where her husband found a job at Intel and Dougan began working in a cardiac unit at one of the hospitals there.

“I looked around at the doctors and thought, ‘I could do that,’” she says.

Following her heart

So, she started her pre-med classes at the age of 42 at Portland Community College. The community college professors took it upon themselves to help her through the toughest classes — such as organic chemistry. She passed, and then came the medical school application and the dreaded interviews.

Dougan graduated from medical school at 51 and did her residency at Group Health. She loved her rotations but especially focused her passion on working with teens and OB-GYNs.

Her career since has taken her to Bainbridge Island and Olympia, where her kids, now grown, babysit the Olympia house along with four cats and five dogs.

Her clinical interests include ADHD/ADD, addiction medicine, behavioral health, chronic disease management, diet and nutrition. And she still loves working with teens.

“The goal of medicine is to help people and not judge them, especially people dealing with addiction,” she says. “The goal is to help them get to where they wish to be and respect their journey.”

Guest writer Barbara Clements is a writer for the UW Medicine Newsroom.