Jenn Lewis '16

Aspiring Doctor Lends a Hand in Ecuador

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Jenn Lewis ’16 never doubted her dream of becoming a doctor. But after graduating with a double major in Science Preprofessional Studies and Spanish, she felt called to go to Ecuador, so she decided to take a gap year to gain more experience working with people in a medical setting. 

Her time there, which allowed her to build on earlier work she had done to understand compassionate care, would help her better connect with patients who are in need. 

“I can’t really explain why I was so drawn to Ecuador,” she says. “I just knew that is where I wanted to go after I graduated, so I started looking into programs. But the experience was incredible.” 

Lewis found Amazon Learning, an organization that offers internship programs designed to immerse participants in Amazonian ecology and culture while they work on projects in a variety of fields—everything from medicine and public health to forest conservation and sustainable economic development. Through the organization, she went to Ecuador to serve with the Red Cross. Working in both a lab and an ambulance provided her with firsthand access to underserved communities. 

“I thought the lab portion would be really boring, but I was the person giving out vaccines and drawing blood,” Lewis says. “I was interacting directly with people in need, and it was all in Spanish, so it was difficult at first. But it was absolutely incredible. And the ambulance would go to communities without roads, so there were times we had to take trucks to get to the emergency situation. It was unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced.”

After spending nine months in Ecuador, Lewis, a New Jersey native, returned to South Bend to finish research she had begun as an undergraduate with Dominic O. Vachon ’80, director of the Ruth M. Hillebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine. There, she focused on learning how medical professionals deliver unfortunate news and how this can be improved—something she hopes to use in her own medical career.

“I want to be one of those doctors where people feel comfortable telling me things and coming to see me,” she says. “I feel so lucky to be able to work with Dr. Vachon because he has been so influential in compassionate care, and it’s something I am really passionate about.” 

Lewis, who plans to attend medical school, is now enrolled in a post-baccalaureate pre-med program at Drexel University and works as a medical scribe at Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, which helps an underserved population in West Philadelphia. 

She credits her time abroad with helping prepare her for a career in compassionate care, one in which she hopes to work with people from a variety of backgrounds who are navigating difficult situations. 

“My time in Ecuador taught me how to connect with those in need,” she says. “Some of our patients only spoke the indigenous language, and I quickly learned that I didn't need language to communicate with them. I was able to understand their suffering and connect with them using body language and eye contact. I learned that people want to be heard and if you can listen, it is the first step in successfully treating a patient.” 

To learn more about the work Amazon Learning does to create meaningful educational experiences, visit amazonlearning.org.

To learn more about the work of the Ruth M. Hillebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine, visit compassionatecare.nd.edu.