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Unsung: Rachel Jensen

Unsung: Rachel Jensen
September 4, 2015 No comments

I grew up in the Bay Area and went to college at UC Davis. I started out as an English major and aspired to be a teacher because I loved working with kids. But I ended up enrolling in a random physiology class about human brain diseases, which completely changed my direction. I switched my major to neurobiology/physiology and then decided I wanted to be a doctor! I am now a second year medical student at UC Davis, currently interested in pursuing pediatrics, emergency medicine, or surgery. I spent five weeks in Nicaragua on a medical exchange program between my first and second years of medical school, which is how I became acquainted with MDF. It was an amazing experience – eye-opening, challenging, rewarding, and fun.

In Nicaragua, one of our projects was a research study looking at Nicaraguan womens’ experiences with contraception. We spoke at length with individual patients about their experiences with pregnancy, different forms of contraception, and their relationships with spouses and kids. I really valued the connections I built with the women, even just talking to them for a few minutes. It was clear that contraception wasn’t a topic brought up frequently and a lot of the women really opened up and shared personal stories and asked questions. The experience showed me the value of taking the time to relate to patients, and how taking a few minutes with a patient and making a connection can really have an impact. I hope to take that forward into my career.

When things get difficult, what keeps you going?

I am fortunate to have a great family and a group of close friends who are always looking out for me. Case in point, for the first few months of medical school my mom drove up to Sacramento every week to bring me food. When school is especially challenging, one thing that helps me is going to work at clinic. UC Davis has many different student-run free clinics that provide free medical services to those in need from the greater Sacramento area. Being in clinic reminds me of why I chose medicine. Connecting with patients and being able to make a real, tangible difference in their lives makes the long nights of studying well worth it. I have also discovered coffee! In fact, I spend too many afternoons at coffee shops and far too much money on lattes. I am also a big fan of Netflix study breaks, hikes, adventures, etc.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting in your position?

Try to enjoy school and appreciate the opportunity. Medical school gives you to rapidly grow and expand your knowledge – it blows my mind how much I have learned in the last year – embrace the challenge. I also think it’s important not to get overwhelmed by what you think you should be doing or what your classmates around you are doing. Find out what works best for you and then stick to that. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help or admit that you are struggling – medical school is challenging! Just yesterday we had a simulated patient encounter and I walked away feeling like I’d handled it terribly. Fortunately, I ran into one of my friends on my way; we shared our insecurities and instantly I felt better. Don’t shut people out –stay connected!

Why did you choose to be where you are today?

I chose this because I wanted a career where I could make a difference in peoples’ lives and be constantly challenged, exposed to new ideas, and given opportunities to continue learning. I also love the portability of medicine – virtually everywhere in the world there are people that need health care. Also, I am very grateful that I was given the chance to study medicine at UC Davis where I am able to be close to many of the people that mean the most to me!

What does “Crafting Wellness” mean to you?

I was fortunate to grow up in a place where I had access to education, health care, a place to live, food to eat, and people who love and care for me. That isn’t true for everyone. I think that “Crafting Wellness” is about correcting some of the inequalities that are so pervasive in the world today. This past summer, in a small but important way, we tried to craft wellness in Nicaragua. With the help of MDF instruments we were able to provide a rural village, called Sabana Grande, with stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs. We also stayed in the village for two weeks, going on house visits with the local physicians, working with different medical brigades, playing soccer with the community kids, getting to know our host families, and organizing workshops where we taught community health workers, or brigidistas, how to take blood pressure and correctly use antibiotics, antiparasitics, and antifungals. Our hope is that with these tools and instruction, the brigidistas can identify those in the village that need to see a physician for additional care and direct them to local health centers. A team from UC Davis goes to Nicaragua every year, so hopefully next year we can build on the work we did and continue to bridge the gaps in access to care.

Do you have advice for those traveling to Nicaragua?

Make the most of your time by establishing contact with people before you arrive and making sure paperwork is filled out, required trainings have been completed, etc. It helps to have a few back up plans as well. We prepared for the trip for months beforehand, especially since we were conducting research projects that required prior approval while we were there. Despite the preparation, many things still did not go according to plan and it helped to have other options prepared.

Be smart about resources that you are going to bring. There is no point in donating expensive equipment if no one can use it after you leave. For example, one of the doctors that came on the trip brought an endoscope with him and donated it for gastrointestinal surgical procedures. He spent a week working alongside the Nicaraguan gastroenterologists at the local hospital to teach them how to use the equipment. By the end of the week the local doctors were comfortable enough to do the procedures without supervision.

Try to work with or expand on existing resources instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. When we wanted to improve health services in the small rural community of Sabana Grande, it served us very well to work with the existing community health workers who had a very clear sense of how the community was organized. Working through them saved us a lot of time and made for a much more efficient transfer of knowledge.

Talk to as many people as you can while you are there! The country is full of life and color and I really enjoyed my interactions with local kids, adult patients, friends we met through the hostel we stayed at, etc. It’s also a great opportunity to practice speaking Spanish.

Nicaragua is beautiful, so go see it! We took advantage of every weekend to travel all over the country. Some favorites were Playa Gigante on the Pacific southern coast, the volcanic island of Ometepe, La Selva Negra cloudforest, and Little Corn Island.

-Rachel Jensen, 23, UC Davis School of Medicine, MEDICOS Nicaragua

Unsung, is a feature MDF proudly brings to the MDF community highlighting the incredible MDF’ers who are truly #CraftingWellness. We hope to inspire, encourage, and connect humanity by sharing the stories from the thousands of anonymous individuals whose imprint can be seen in the lives of countless others.

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