Sept. 28 marked the first day of Anna Bishop’s third and final year in Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Nursing in Ashland and her eldest son’s first day of nursing school.

And now, after only two weeks in the rigorous, three-year nursing program, Zach Mehl, 22, has a newfound respect for his mom’s tenacity.

“I called her the other day and said, ‘Mom, I don’t know how you juggled all this,’ " Mehl said, adding that the pace of the program leaves very little free time.

Nonetheless, his mom, 45, of Medford, managed to excel in the program even while rebuilding her life after a divorce and maintaining her commitment to her three children and, now, three stepchildren.

Bishop earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from Southern Oregon University in 1992. She became pregnant with Mehl the last term of her senior year. For the next 16 years, Bishop devoted herself wholly to her children as a stay-at-home mom, which she says, “I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

“My friends had careers, and sometimes I felt like I wasn’t doing anything with my degree, but I was doing something,” she said. “I just didn’t know it then.”

After her marriage of 17 years ended, Bishop decided to return to school to get her nursing degree.

“I had really awesome nurses in my life and my kids’ lives, and I kind of surveyed myself when I went through my divorce, and was like, ‘What am I really good at?’ ” she said. “I’m academic, and I’m good at nursing and taking care of people.”

For two and a half years, Bishop took prerequisites at Rogue Community College and, when she needed help in math, she turned to Mehl, who was in high school at the time.

Worried that Bishop was spending too much time in her pajamas studying, her friends persuaded her to join Match.com. And, after one awkward date, Bishop met Emmy Award-winning NBC Dateline producer and father of three, Shane Bishop.

“We met for a beer at Standing Stone (Brewing Co.) in Ashland and hit it off,” she said.

In 2012, they were married, and a month later Bishop began OHSU’s nursing program in Ashland.

Two years into the program, Bishop realized she would need to take a step back in order to focus on her family and deal with some of the challenges that came with being a blended family. Her professors gave her permission to take a year off, which, she said, was "one of the hardest things I've ever had to do."

But now Bishop is back at it, working on homework late at night and early in the morning when the house is quiet. Three of her kids, including Mehl, are in college, and the youngest three — ages 11, 14 and 15 — are still living at home.

“I had to barricade myself so I could get stuff done so I could be available later to help my kids with their homework, go to their dance practices or soccer games,” she said.

Bishop said she was excited when her son, who’d always wanted to be a doctor, decided to follow in her footsteps.

“I hear from him so much more now than I did before,” she said. “I get texts from him daily: ‘Where should I buy scrubs?’ ‘What kind of stethoscope should I get?’ 'How did you do this?”

“I’m just really proud of him,” she said.

Both mother and son are interested in becoming nurse practitioners someday, but in the meantime, Bishop hopes to work as a mental health or oncology nurse.

Although they don’t have classes together, Mehl said he sees his mom on campus from time to time and, one day, wouldn’t mind working alongside her.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.