Jacquelyn K. Francis
Undergraduate: Hunter College of the City University of New York, 2011
Major: Biology, Chemistry
Medical School: Albany Medical College, 2015
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always wanted to use my intellect to be able to give back to my community. As a young girl growing up on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, I witnessed and lived in a world where social and economic hardships were part of everyday life. I yearned to one day acquire the knowledge and expertise to contribute towards helping to alleviate these problems.
When I became old enough and more astute, I realized that medicine, and health care in general, needed much focus and was a large contributor to many of the country’s problems. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be at the time, but I did know that I wanted to be an advocate for change for the better in the healthcare field. I eventually settled on becoming a physician, because I felt that it was in this role that I could make the most substantial impact.
What led you to your interest in medicine?
Taking a look at the state of the quality of health care in my community, hearing the many health care-related horror stories and being aware of the amount of disinformation that many believed were true, were all major factors that led to my initial interest in medicine. It was not until I had a heart-to-heart with a prominent African American female physician, and seeing the positive influence that she had on the lives of individuals and their families, did my interest in medicine become solidified.
Who or what inspired you?
My mother made it one of her life’s goals to ensure that I at least got a college-level education. As I matured and became cognizant of her sacrifice, I became inspired to make her proud of the many difficult choices that she had to make as a single mother. I try to emulate the hard work that she did and apply it to everything that I do. I am certain that my many successes can be attributed to this. I am grateful to have such a headstrong woman in my life and I am sure that it is the reason for my work ethic.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
For every one person who told me that it was an achievable aspiration, there were numerous others who, in their own charitable way, tried to warn of the ills and difficulties of making medicine a career option. Although the trials of succeeding in this profession are a reality, I tried to focus on the positives.
Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?
They say hindsight is 20/20 and in all honesty, I wish I had had more concerns about taking the MCAT and prepared more rigorously. While a MCAT prep course may seem really expensive, the small investment now will most definitely give rise to many returns later. I always tell premedical students, you want to work as hard as possible to increase your chances in such a rigorous career path. Investing in getting a great MCAT score can only serve to boost your application and it should be a top priority.
Did you need financial aid to pay for school?
Yes. I have all student loans, a few scholarships.
Do you remember your first day of medical school? What memory stands out most?
I remember sitting back and finally being proud of what I had achieved, thus far. It is not every day that someone with my background, being from a small island like St. Lucia where there is limited access to higher education, is successful in gaining a seat in a U.S. medical college. Even though it was just for a brief moment, I reflected on the perseverance and determination that had gotten me to a position where I could be seated in a roomful of other brilliant souls who, like me, had also made the decision to go above and beyond the call of duty to help others and whom I could now consider my colleagues.
What was your first year of medical school like?
What you heard is true. Medical school, especially the first year of medical school, will be one of the most rigorous years of your training in becoming a physician. What makes it hard is the sheer volume of knowledge that one has to absorb in a short amount of time. You study hard; you work hard. The days seem endless. But thankfully, when clinical decisions based on the basic science principles learned in that pivotal year begin to be made, it all comes full circle.
What makes your story unique?
Being born in St. Lucia, I always dreamed of a college education but never thought it was a possibility. We face many barriers there, both financial and social, being so far removed and invisible, it seems, from the developed world.
Now that I have partially navigated the system of getting into a U.S. medical school, I feel compelled to make it my duty to remain transparent enough to ensure that others behind me are aware of my journey and realize that it too is a possibility for them. I want to inspire others from my community or who have had similar barriers placed before them, who have aspirations of doing this, but who may have reservations about partaking in what to them might seem a monumental undertaking. It may sound cliché, but I want to be a beacon for other future physicians who share my background. It will take a lot of people power to address the ills of our health care system and I want to help with this recruitment. I am sure that universal health care for all is an attainable goal, and it can be achieved one person at a time.
What do you enjoy most about medical school?
The most fulfilling thing about this profession is being able to make a difference in people’s lives every single day. It could be as small as informing a patient of the harm of cigarette smoking, and seeing one’s influence change someone’s unhealthy habit for the better, to assisting with the birth of a child and sharing in the joy that this new life brings to a family. It’s these little rewards that help, especially when I am having a particularly bad day, to remind me of why I chose to do this.
Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, study-abroad opportunities during medical school.
I have always had a particular interest in bench research. While medical school does not come with a lot of down time, it is always worthwhile to balance the rigors of school with something one enjoys. I chose to spend my summers and free time in the lab doing cell biology and cancer research. This afforded me the opportunity to network with a whole different demographic while still allowing me to focus my energy on something not too far removed from medicine. It may seem like a time crunch, but if it is something you enjoy, it will happen.
My medical school and hospital are also extremely involved with the surrounding community. Medical students are encouraged to get involved as well. I found that visiting with local children from disadvantaged backgrounds was a welcome distraction from school. Interacting with actual people who may one day benefit from the training currently being harnessed also further serves as a reminder that there is a method to the madness that is medical training.
I want to add a final note on volunteering and volunteer work here: being a physician affords you not only major influence on those around, but also gives you the ability to see the world from a whole new perspective. I implore all medical students to take advantage of this and to use it to broaden their experiences. Your involvement with your community and people from disadvantaged backgrounds will not only help make you a better physician, but may in fact have a substantial impact on someone else’s life.
How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
There is always time for personal time. In order for one to help others, one has to first take care of oneself. For physical health, I like to stay active by being engaged in fun activities. I joined the local tennis association in my community and try to fit training and matches around my schedule. I also am a member of my school’s rock climbing interest team and we try to have an outing once a month. I try to do fun things that will keep me engaged but which are also not too demanding or time consuming and also serves as a distraction from all the studying. I take one day a week as my personal day and try to fit as much as I can into that day.
If there is something you particularly like doing, you should stick with it. As I said before, your physical and mental wellbeing is extremely important. Your studies are important, but your health is more so.
Advice for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
Keep the end goal in sight at all times. The journey can be rough, but it will all be rewarding in the end. Get good grades, network, network, network. Keep counsel with positive people and lastly, believe in yourself. If this is something that you really, truly want, it will happen.