By Kaitlyn Reasoner
Ms. Reasoner is a Biology major and biology teaching assistant at Berea College. Following graduation, she will attend medical school. She hopes to practice medicine with excellence and compassion; to never lose her love of learning, and to always live a life of gratitude.
It is always the same setting—a small office or room; I’m in a black blazer and dress pants, sitting directly across from the interviewer. Sometimes the question is specifically about the Shepherd Poverty Internship listed on my application; sometimes it’s more vague, perhaps about the health care system or my opinions on the challenges facing medicine in America. Other times it is simply, “why did you choose to pursue medical school?” But for all of these questions, my answers usually circle back to my experience with the Shepherd Internship Program. The Shepherd Program and my experiences at Berea College continue to have a significant impact on my career goals and trajectory to medical school and beyond.
“During this summer, I became fully committed not only to pursuing a medical degree but also to providing excellent medical care by considering all aspects of patients’ lives, not just their medical problems,” writes Kaitlyn Reasoner, Berea 2016.
I will begin medical school this fall after graduating from Berea College in May 2016. My journey to the Shepherd Poverty Internship—and to medical school—starts with Berea. Not only is Berea the first coeducational and racially integrated college of the South, it is also one of only seven labor colleges in the United States. In a revolutionary model of socioeconomic justice, all students work 10-20 hours per week and pay no tuition. Although Berea has no official poverty studies program (perhaps because all students come from impoverished backgrounds), aspects of poverty studies and social justice are woven throughout the curriculum. While all Berea students come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, each student brings diverse experiences and backgrounds, creating a rich living and learning environment. In general studies classes, I’ve studied the various factors that affect social mobility and have been encouraged to strive for a life of equality, compassion and service. During my freshman year, I learned about the Shepherd Poverty Internship Program and its emphasis on helping student interns to learn about the multiple dimensions of poverty while working alongside individuals committed to ameliorating poverty in their communities.
When I entered college, I was interested in medicine, but I wanted to pursue a sustained clinical experience to determine whether medicine was truly for me. However, I desired an immersive experience that would not only expose me to health care disparities but also allow me to be involved in decreasing these disparities. Remembering the opportunities offered by the Shepherd Poverty Internship Program, I applied after my sophomore year of college. I was placed at Charleston Area Medical Center in Charleston, West Virginia, where I was responsible for working with physicians, nurses, social workers and patients to create patient discharge plans. Because many patients came from impoverished or unstable home situations, it was often quite challenging to craft an effective discharge plan. Coming from a low economic background myself, I had personal experience with the socioeconomic disadvantages associated with health, but an entire summer internship gave me many more examples. Over the course of ten weeks, I met patients who lived in tents, walked miles to their medical appointments, and could not afford their medications. As the summer progressed, I became a creative and inventive problem solver as I helped to create unique discharge plans for each patient’s unique situation. I simultaneously became more committed to a lifetime of service, particularly in the realm of health care. In my internship, I came to realize that socioeconomic factors often had extensive and pervasive impacts on health and post-discharge outcomes. Simple medical issues can easily become exacerbated if the patient is unable to access good primary care or if the patient is unable to afford his or her medications. Too often, avoidable adverse health outcomes are caused by a patient’s socioeconomic situation, which is not always adequately addressed by care providers.
As globalization increases and as the Affordable Care Act extends health insurance to more Americans, the United States patient population continues to become more diverse. More than ever before, physicians are faced with the challenge of providing individualized medical care to an increasingly diversified patient population. As medical care is extended to patients from varied backgrounds, physicians must be sensitive to these unique differences, whether they be cultural, religious, socioeconomic or otherwise. During this summer, I became fully committed not only to pursuing a medical degree but also to providing excellent medical care by considering all aspects of patients’ lives, not just their medical problems.
This school year, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing at medical schools across the country. My decision to pursue medical school, my opinions on physicians’ roles in a dynamic and ever-changing health care system, and my career goals to become a compassionate and well-rounded physician all stem from my life changing experiences in the Shepherd Poverty Internship. From my Berea College education, I gained a foundation in equality, fairness and social justice. But Berea also connected me with the Shepherd Internship Program, for which I am forever grateful. As the medical school interviewer ends his or her question, I smile and start to talk about the Shepherd Internship Program and its extensive impact on my life and career trajectory.
To read Ms. Reasoner’s 2014 internship essay, visit: https://www.shepherdconsortium.org/reasoner-experiences-urban-healthcare/