U. medical school graduation
At age 51, she's fulfilling a dream by receiving her M.D.
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After enduring cancer twice as a young mother, Becky Kroll decided to become a doctor herself - even though she was single with three kids at home and had an undergraduate degree that had little to do with medicine or science.

After nearly two decades, her dream reaches a crucial milestone today when she receives her medical degree from the University of Utah, where her son is a first-year medical student himself.

"I've been given another chance at life. My first responsibility was to raise my children, so I was grateful for the time," said Kroll, 51. "But if I had time what do I feel called to do, what would it be? That's why I started thinking about medicine."

The U. sends off 101 M.D.s at commencement exercises today at Kingsbury Hall. The medical school graduates another 163 students with other health-science degrees.

Kroll is among a handful of "non-traditional" older students who come to the U. medical school after years away from academia, raising families and pursuing careers that may or may not have much to do with medicine. Such students face hurdles their younger colleagues do not, but they also come with life experiences that make them better doctors and more resilient students.

"They already have a car, a house, children and the financial burdens that go with that. Most student loans are $100,000 by the time they get out. They'll be retired before they pay them off," said Amanda Vincent of the medical school's office of student affairs. "They have a greater understanding of life at that point and what they need to do to get through."

Kroll moves to California next week to start her residency at Natividad Medical Center, a county hospital in Salinas on the state's central coast. She plans to go into family practice.

Kroll graduated from college in 1979 with a bachelor's in communication from Idaho State University and went to work in the banking industry before leaving her job to become a full-time mom. Her first brush with a potentially terminal illness occurred when her daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 2 1/2 . During the girl's treatment, Kroll met a pediatric oncologist in Idaho who proved to be a major inspiration.

"She had a profound influence on the lives of family and children," said Kroll, whose daughter, now 26, is healthy. It wasn't until Kroll was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 33, that she decided to join the medical ranks.

"That was a huge goal," she said. "My kids were still little and I was still recovering. I waited until the kids were in college."

She completed prerequisite courses at Boise State University and enrolled in the U. medical school, where she found herself among students young enough to be her kids.

In fact, last year her son Nick Kroll entered medical school after completing his undergraduate studies at the U. Despite being a campus mom, she felt at home among her busy young confederates.

"A lot of people have interesting life stories," Kroll said. "At medical school, you're all in it together. They became my colleagues, they will be my colleagues. The age doesn't really matter."

The Krolls did not have time to work and study with each other, but they did cross paths at school.

"He has been very gracious," Becky Kroll said. "He would always introduce me and say, 'This is my mom. We are really proud of each other.' "

bmaffly@sltrib.com