Mother of 9 who recently graduated from medical school is set to become a neurosurgeon

A mom who recently graduated from medical school proved that women don’t always have to choose between raising a family and pursuing a career.

Sarah Merrill graduated this month from the Mayo Clinic Alix school of medicine in Phoenix, Arizona. Her husband, and nine children, aged 8-20 years, were there to witness this historic occasion.


Sarah, 41 years old, will begin neurosurgery next month at Indiana University. Sarah and her family will then move to the city.

“It’s going to be a new challenge, a new adventure,” she told “Good Morning America.” “But everybody is on board and I think we have a great support system.”

Sarah’s journey to medical school started at age 17 when she attended Dartmouth College as a pre-med major. After meeting her husband, she got married and had a daughter of five months by the time that she graduated.

Sarah Merrill graduating from Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine
source: Sarah Merrill

Sarah took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), while pregnant with her first baby. She initially planned to attend medical school right after college, but decided to stay at home to care for her daughter.

She and her husband began to expand their family. Although it wasn’t part of the plan, they ended up having four daughters and five sons within 12 years.

Sarah tried to find part-time work in medical science while she was raising her family. She returned to school when her second child was 2.

Sarh first thought about going to school part-time to get a master’s degree but decided to go with her original dream of becoming a doctor.

Sarah Merrill graduating from Dartmouth College with her husband
source: Sarah Merrill

“I was 34 and I decided to go back and start taking some more recent coursework and I had to retake the MCAT,” she recalled. “I remember studying for the MCAT when my two youngest were 2 and 3 years old and my 2-year-old would climb on me like a mountain while I was trying to take practice tests.”

After she was accepted to the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Medicine, she and her family moved from Pennsylvania into Arizona so she could attend.

Sarah stated that she and her husband held a family meeting to discuss their plans before Sarah applied for medical school. She and her husband explained to the children what it meant.

“They all gave it a big vote of support at the time,” she said.

The Merrill family
source: Sarah Merrill

Sarah was fortunate to have her family and friends to help her. Her mother moved to Arizona to assist her, while her husband worked remotely and kept his job.

“A lot of times my teenage daughters would say, “Hey, mom, let’s have a homework party,’ so that’s what we do for fun. We’d have snacks and they’d be doing their homework and I’d be studying for medical school,” she said.

Sarah inspires her children through her studies. She explained that her 11 year old daughter now dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon. She also overheard her teen son telling his friends, “My mom’s so cool. She’s going to be a brain surgeon.”

Sarah discovered that being a mother made her a better student in medical school and eventually a doctor.

The Merrill family wearing matching shirts
source: Sarah Merrill

“Waiting so long to do this, I think, made me appreciate it more and made me enjoy it more,” she explained. “And once I got into my clinical rotations, I noticed that I had a lot of life experience that helped me connect with a lot of patients, especially on my pediatrics and OBGYN rotations.”

Sarah considered a specialty that would be more accessible to her family, but she decided to go for her true passion and dream big. Dartmouth was where she studied neuroscience.

Her advice for all women, moms included, is this:

“Set the goals that are what you’re really passionate about, that you would love to do and want to do, and once you’ve set that goal, then it helps to think small,” said Merrill. “If you know what your priorities are, focus on the next step and then you’ll get where you want to go.”

We are very proud of Dr. Sarah Merrill. You are an inspiration! Watch the video to learn more about this story:

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