Each story is unique, intimate, and powerful. Readers, please come open-minded and ready to engage with the following stories. More importantly, be ready to interface with an intimate space and allow yourself to step inside someone else’s life. The following is the narrative of Rachel Jenkins, a second-year medical student at KUMC.
Can you share a one-minute summary of your life?
I was born in 1996 in Overland Park, Kansas. My mom and dad brought me home to the same house that my mom still lives in today. When I was six, my dad passed away from a heart attack. That was definitely a big defining life moment. It’s my mom and the rest of my family who has been super supportive my entire life. I don’t even know how my mom did it, but she’s the reason that I’ve been able to be successful. I went to KU for undergrad, majored in biology and anthropology. And now I’m here.
If you could use one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?
The first word that comes to my mind is ornery because that’s what my mom always called me when I was young. But thinking back to, I don’t know, preparing for my medical school interviews or personal statements or something like that, my aunt who works in HR was helping me with that stuff and asked me a similar question. I was like, “ornery.” And she’s like, “Rachel, that doesn’t have the greatest connotation.” So, I still want to say ornery but maybe that’s the ornery side of me.
So I guess tenacious would be a better word. Growing up with having an ornery, stubborn attitude, my mom always said, “it was very difficult to raise you. But I knew that those characteristics would be good in an adult.” I feel like tenacious is a good word. I’m persistent and once I decide I want to do something, I’ll figure out a way to do it.
What do you do in your free time?
Ironically enough, I used to hate grocery shopping. But now, I love going to the grocery store. I love it. I’m all the time wanting to go to the grocery store. I have to be like, “No, you have food. You don’t need to go to the grocery store.”
What are you passionate about?
I’m just very passionate about humanity in general–understanding people and getting to know people and hearing different people’s stories.
But, if I had to get up on my 30-second soapbox, I think what I’d have to talk about would be international adoption. My little cousin was adopted from Guatemala, and she has been so influential in my life. She was actually one of the last babies that were able to be adopted from Guatemala in the last year or so that they had open international adoptions. It’s become a trend in a lot of countries to shut down international adoption. So, the numbers of international adoption have greatly declined worldwide.
There are certain organizations that go in and encourage the local governments to make this change. When reading about why these organizations encourage governments to do that, it’s understandable. You know, they stress the importance of kids growing up in their own culture and understanding their culture. They say things like, “imagine being taken to someplace where you’re the only person that’s like you and living in a family different from you” and those sorts of things. I can understand it.
But, I don’t know if the way that it has happened in many countries is the greatest. When international adoptions were allowed in Guatemala, for example – because this is the one I know about – there was some corruption. People would kidnap babies and sell them for adoption, which is awful and shouldn’t happen. But when Guatemala shut down international adoptions, they didn’t put in the infrastructure to handle not allowing international adoptions. So there are stories of babies being found in dumpsters and things like that.
It just really breaks my heart. There’s no good way to just care for all of these babies. In an ideal world, parents would be able to have the means and the ability to care for their children. But that’s just not the way it is. So we need to have systems to help that and I don’t know the answer. But I don’t think that shutting down international adoption is the answer.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I don’t think a lot of people know that I’ve studied anthropology and that it is kind of my bigger passion for science. I have a big interest, specifically, in the patient-physician relationship. That’s what I’ve done research on and my senior thesis in undergrad.
Something more fun, though, is I have five tattoos, and I’ve had pretty much every color of the rainbow of hair colors.
What inspires you?
I think the thing I’m most inspired by right now is–and it kind of sounds cliché– the younger generation. I think their understanding of the world is just leaps and bounds beyond what mine was. I listen to my cousin, and I don’t know if it’s because she has greater access to information through social media and better understands it then our generation did since it was so brand new when we were that age that we didn’t quite know how to handle it yet. But the things about this world that she understands and stands up for is incredible. I feel like younger kids are better educated on social media by their parents since parents now better understand it and are able to educate them on the dangers of social media. I think kids are using it better than we ever did to elicit change so that inspires me.
What is your journey into medicine?
I mentioned my dad passed away when I was six. He was an electrical engineer. So, I always had this idea that I was going to follow in his footsteps up until my senior year of high school. I was like, I’m going to be an engineer, hands down, I’m going to K-State. My whole family is a K-State family. Then I took AP bio and I was like, I kinda like this biology thing. Then still thought, maybe I’ll do like biomechanical engineering or something. I always just held on to that idea of engineering.
I can’t pinpoint and put my finger on the time when I was like, I want to do something medically related. But it must have happened because I ended up at KU, and I decided to go to KU because of the big premedical community there. I didn’t know at that point, though, if I want to do research or practice.
It was in undergrad that I decided I wanted to practice medicine. I think it was a combination of me getting into bench research and not really liking it, and then discovering anthropology and realizing people are really important to me. Also learning more about the healthcare system and realizing all the work that needs to be done there. I think all of those things combined were very influential in finally deciding, yes, that’s what I want to do.
What are your future hopes in medicine?
I think I want to be a medical oncologist. Out of everything that I’ve experienced during medical school, nothing has topped that yet. So I’m excited to learn more about that and get more hands-on experience. I think now my decision is if I want to work with kids or adults. I feel drawn to pediatrics, but we’ll see. Obviously right now, I’m really thinking about residency and step one and if I going to do well enough. But in the end, I don’t think that will really matter. I just hope that I’m able to help families and help people. When I think back on why I want to be a physician, I think I had a moment when I realized, I don’t want people to have to go through the same losses I went through. I think that’s really been a big thing. I know those losses do happen. But being someone that’s able to make them just a little bit easier is my ultimate goal. Some of the physicians that we worked with, like the physician that did my dad’s autopsy and talked to my mom about what happened, have been influential. He was like this has happened, we can’t fixate on what could have saved him. Now, you have to focus on yourself and daughters and making you are all okay. So I think being that kind of support, even just in one person’s life, would make me feel accomplished and fulfilled in my career.