When Dr. Donna Schulz of Pepperell, who just opened her own chiropractic practice in town, enrolled in the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic in Sept. 2008, she wasn't the prototypical college student.
For one thing, she had already had successful careers in the 1980s in the fields of nutrition and finance. For another thing, Schulz, who was 48 at the time, decided to return to school at the same time her youngest child was graduating from high school.
"I was unsettled with what I was doing and wondering what I was going to do for the rest of my life," she said. "It was through my own (chiropractic) care that gave me the idea and motivation."
It wasn't an easy decision.
"I was leaving a pretty secure job. I had always based my decisions on stability and structure, so stepping out into a new adventure or new calling was certainly a little outside what was normal for me," said Schulz. "There was a little apprehension wondering if I could do it, plus I was jumping in with people who were 22 to 32."
Schulz said she reached the decision by praying upon the matter with her husband. While her now-grown children expressed some confusion at their mother's decision at the time, Schulz said her husband was completely on board.
"The only way I could have gone and succeeded was based on his encouragement," she said. "I think (my kids) were a little surprised at first and might have had to get a little bit adjusted to the fact."
"There aren't many chiropracting colleges. It was quite a commitment to leave home and travel down there every week. I felt like I was living out of my car for four years," she said.
Schulz made a long-term arrangement with a local hotel, living out of her rented room five days a week and traveling home on weekends to see her family.
In the long term, her commitment paid off: She became a licensed chiropractor on July 10 and started practicing on July 23. While she primarily sees people with neck and back pain, she has also treated people with pain in their extremities. She instructs her patients on methods on keeping pain away.
"I like to just see people to get well and to function more omtimally and regain their quality of life," said Schulz.
Schulz's children are now completely supportive of their mother's career endeavors.
"It's really amazing what she's done," said Schulz's daughter Blake Boyland, 23. "She did great in school. It's really been inspiring in my decision to go back to school."
Still, the transition into owning her own private practice can feel intense at times, especially one still so new, said Schulz.
"In fact, I'd say the last two months have been more high intensity than my four years of school. But you get accustomed... In 2008, I was probably feeling the same intensity when I started as I am now," she said.
But at this point, Schulz knows how to handle the nerves of transition and grow from them.
"My motto is 'keep things moving,' in more ways than one. Physically, it's the nature of my practice, but personally, to keep taking steps toward my goal. I might have a bad day. I might have a day where I'm feeling a little discouraged, but I keep moving," she said.
Schulz's has some sound advice for those pondering a big career change.
"You're never too old, that's the bottom line," she said. "If you have the dream, if you have the desire, it's possible."