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NewsJun 3, 2020

A Call to Heal

With an expanded focus on science, Lesley is preparing more alumni to pursue careers in medicine

Assistant Professor Grace Ferris and Lesley students in the lab
Assistant Professor Grace Ferris works with students in the chemistry lab.

Lesley has always had a strong record of alumni working in the helping professions, but the university is seeing a rise in the number of alumni pursuing careers in the medical field.

Two recent graduates, Rachel Jenkins ’18 and Julie Essick ’17, are heading to medical school this year, joining a number of young Lesley alumni working in medical research and patient care, including Nicole Anim ’09, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Boston Children’s Hospital and Summer Liu ’19 who is working in COVID vaccine research.

Associate Dean of Career and Community Service Alice Diamond is excited about the uptick in the number of students pursuing medical careers. She credits a recently added Bachelor of Science in Biology, newly renovated chemistry and biology labs, and a talented and determined science faculty.

“Lesley’s focus has always been to prepare people to be science teachers. The process of applying to medical school is incredibly demanding — many appointments, essays, interviews over a long period,” says Diamond. “I had never had anyone applying to these types of programs.”

Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division Chair David Morimoto says, “In some way, our first two students getting into medical school is the sign that we are in a new era of science at Lesley, and one that is most timely when it comes to the importance of monitoring, improving, and sustaining individual and ecological health from local to global the Lesley way, with inquiry, diversity, community, citizenship.”

Assistant Professor Grace Ferris teaches Organic Chemistry and General Chemistry and has played an outsized role in advising students during the complex, often intimidating process of applying to medical school. She came to Lesley from Harvard where she often taught classes of several hundred students — the majority of them pre-med — and helped countless students with medical school applications. At Lesley, her classes have fewer than 24 students, allowing for a much greater degree of personal attention and support.

“Grace’s prior experience is really helpful,” says Diamond. “The students really get the preparation they need.”

“We cried, we hugged, we jumped.”

Nicole Anim
Nicole Anim '09

Nicole Anim works at Boston Children’s Hospital as a pediatric nurse practitioner and has a master’s degree from the Yale School of Nursing. She came to Lesley focused on elementary education, but the time that she spent volunteering through the Office of Community Service made her wonder whether human services wasn’t a better fit. A conversation with Alice Diamond was a turning point.

“She asked me ‘When you were a kid, what was your dream job?’ and I said ‘A pediatrician.’ And she asked me ‘Why not?’” Anim recalled. She switched her major to Human Services and did internships at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.

“I was really impressed with Nicole’s process,” says Diamond. “She really researched, talked to people who were working in the field.”

She applied to Yale’s competitive three-year direct entry nurse practitioner program and to her surprise, she was accepted.

“I went up to see Alice — we cried, we hugged, we jumped.”

The program was rigorous and Anim often struggled with the demanding science requirements. But her experience at Lesley working with underserved populations like patients experiencing homelessness gave her an advantage when it came to clinical work.

“While everyone else was standing in the corner, she just walked right over,” Diamond recalls. Since then, Anim has earned an additional certificate in Women’s Health and works primarily with teenagers in gynecological and reproductive health.

“I really love working with teens. I’m so glad I chose this profession.”

Providing an intensely supportive environment for students

Rachel Jenkins at Lesley Commencement
Rachel Jenkins '18

Rachel Jenkins earned a degree in Biology from Lesley while interning at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts where she works in a residential treatment program for patients with obsessive compulsive disorder. She'll start medical school at the University of Massachusetts in the fall of 2020.  

She already had a deep interest in science and medicine, but was hesitant to pursue a pre-med path at a large school. She came to Lesley as a transfer student her sophomore year. "What struck me about Lesley was the location and I wanted a smaller program size where I could work more closely with faculty,” she recalls.

A class in Abnormal Psychology made her “fall in love with psych” and she began to explore the possibility of pursuing an M.D. At the time, Lesley only offered a Bachelor of Arts degree in science, more geared towards science teachers than to aspiring medical professionals, but the faculty and staff helped her complete the advanced chemistry and biology coursework she needed.

Diamond helped her forge a connection that enabled her to shadow a psychiatrist.

“They did a phenomenal job helping me get all the credits I needed to graduate on time,” says Jenkins. “They really went above and beyond.”

Since then, Lesley’s advanced science courses have gotten more robust. “Before we were seeing a lot of attrition from serious science students because the courses weren’t rigorous enough,” says Dr. Ferris. “We have the caliber of faculty to attract students and when the Bachelor of Science was approved, we got the new labs and teaching space — now we have the faculty and the facilities.”

Summer Liu ’19 has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Mathematics and works at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard processing COVID-19 samples in pursuit of a vaccine and improved antibody testing for the virus.

Liu came to Lesley as an international student from Inner Mongolia with an interest in science and medicine. The Bachelor of Science degree was created during his sophomore year, making it possible for him to take higher level science classes. As he worked to improve his English, he found the small science classes at Lesley intensely supportive.

“With a class of eight people, you have a better chance to know each other — you interact more,” says Liu. “When I applied to this job, I asked 13 professors for references and they all helped me — it’s impossible to do that with a big class. The professors here are so good and they really care about the students.”

Summer Liu
Summer Liu '19

Liu plans to work for several more years before pursuing a master’s degree in biomedical science and then applying to medical school. His goal? To help patients the way that doctors helped him during many childhood illnesses.

“I know how painful illness can be. I want to use my knowledge to solve people’s physical pain.”

Diamond expects to see more Lesley graduates pursuing careers at the intersection of science and human services.

“I think now that we have a really strong science program and we have Grace, we’re going to see more alumni going into medicine,” says Diamond. “Lesley has always had an impressive record of students getting into good graduate schools. It’s one of the advantages of the close relationships that our students have with the faculty here — it prepares them for this whole process. These students are pioneers.”