Hawks to Watch: Kirsten Michelle Devin, Medical Student

Kirsten Michelle Devin, 4th Year Medical Student at KU Medical Center, Fulbright Scholar

Age: 27

KU Degree: B.A. Spanish (2011)

Why she’s a Hawk to Watch:

Kirsten is a disrupter, and says she learned how to be one at KU. It all started during her sophomore year when she verged from a commonly chosen pre-medical path in the sciences and opted instead to study Spanish and Portuguese language. She’s an active student leader and President of the Student Governing Council at KU Medical Center, where she’s pursuing a residency in Obstetrics & Gynecology to train as a physician and surgeon. She also intends to use this position to stand up for the voices of the patients and populations who are not being heard in current politics – including women, LGBT communities, minority and immigrant populations.

Sidebar button template 2016 2.0_smallerWhat do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

The Jayhawk basketball fan inside of me wants to say the time I won a school-wide game of “knock-out” at the medical center and was handsomely rewarded by a Chipotle gift card, but unfortunately this glory was very short-lived.

Instead, I will say that my biggest achievement by far is my current endeavors as a recipient of a Fulbright Research Grantee in Brazil for the 2015-16 academic year. Besides the sheer competitiveness of the Fulbright program and the painstaking application process I underwent to get here, this grant year meant something very important to me. It meant diverging, yet again, from a typical medical career path and leaving my beloved state of Kansas to live in Brazil during the year which I had planned to graduate. Getting here required me to embrace my “disruptive” nature as an uncommon medical student and use my unique interests to make good in the world as well as within myself.

As I write this, I am sitting in a small room with spotty electricity due to intense tropical thunderstorms, and I honestly could not be happier. I am convinced that taking a temporary leave of absence from school was equivalent to taking a leave of presence in my life through traveling, studying, and living in another country. In other words, perhaps this time away from medical school will be the best thing I ever do for my education.

What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?

Shortly before I graduated in 2011 I received a collection of rejection letters from medical schools across the nation, and no acceptance letters. I remember this to be one of the toughest moments of my academic career- I was about to graduate, with a seemingly useless degree, I was not going to medical school as I had hoped and planned, and I had no other apparent prospects. I admittedly cursed my decision to study language, thinking perhaps that if I had just gotten my Biology degree everything might have worked out.

But once the remorse passed I remembered that many doctors, including my own father, have struggled to get into medical school and it has not impacted the success of their careers or their ability to do good. I decided that my degree was not useless, but rather useful and rare. I sought out to find a job that would prove that speaking Spanish was an asset to any healthcare team and what I found was an AmeriCorps position at a Lawrence health clinic for the uninsured.

This year of national service was the best thing I could have done with my year out of school. I was indeed admitted to medical school the following year, but that actually was not what made it so valuable. This job taught me to put my heart where my mouth is, to get on the same level as everyday people who are sick, poor, or have simply come upon hard times and are disenfranchised by the healthcare system. I learned how to pay my own bills on a very modest government stipend, and I learned how hard it is to eat on a budget using food stamps. I may never have learned these lessons if it weren’t for being a medical school reject, but I am certain I will now be a better physician because of this experience.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

Due to the nature and lengthiness of a medical education, in 10 years I will likely be newly introduced to the working world after completing a residency and fellowship in Obstetrics & Gynecology. I hope to be a down to earth and compassionate caregiver to the women who become my patients, which will always be my foremost priority.
However, as I previously mentioned I foresee my medical career reaching beyond the borders of clinical medicine given some of the unique skill sets I have to offer the medical community. I hope to continue to advocate for women’s access to reproductive healthcare services even in the face of strong opposing forces in state governments such as those in Kansas. I hope to use Spanish and Portuguese to make quality healthcare accessible to patients from various backgrounds, both in US territory and abroad. I hope to use my leadership skills to represent women and supporters of women in many national venues. I hope to become a teacher and mentor to other young medical students and inspire them to forge their own “disruptive” paths through their careers. And I hope to still be cheering on my Hawks through more championship titles just as I did as a freshman at KU in 2008.

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?

First, I would warn her that freshman year she was going to fall down the stairs at Allen Fieldhouse while being featured on the Jumbotron, and that event would follow her for the rest of her time at KU.

Next, I would tell my 18-year-old self to just slow down. Luckily this is something that my 27-year-old self has learned by now, but I’ll admit that when I think back on some of my early years in adulthood I only remember a blur of stress, anxiety, and hurriedness. I’m not sure where I was in a hurry to get to or why I was so stressed about it, but I imagine the pressures of having an entire family in medicine had something to do with it. Little did I know then that my family was going to be proud of me regardless of what I decided to do with my life or how I decided to get there.

Now that I’ve learned the value of reflecting, I’m convinced that in our goal-oriented and success-driven society we at times forget to take in the experiences and relationships that get us to where we are going. I would want my 18-year-old self to take a second every once in awhile to breathe, to look around, and to value the presence of those around me and the opportunities I have been given.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Two words, a world of a difference: Emotional intelligence.

This is a point of critique against many physicians, that they are smart but lack emotional intellect, that they cannot process their own feelings and that they can’t talk to patients. Unfortunately, I have found this to sometimes be true during my time in medical school. I was fortunate to receive training in motivational interviewing and took a community course on emotional intelligence during my service with AmeriCorps. The intent of this was for me to learn how to optimally interact with patients to help them make healthy life decisions. While it certainly achieved this goal, it also helped me to learn how to make healthy life decisions.

This is my best career pro-tip. It is so important to be aware of and recognize your feelings on different subjects, and to learn how to harness feelings that are productive and conducive to your life while letting go of those that are not. It is also important to be able to recognize similar feelings in others so that you can effectively communicate and collaborate. This has made a big difference in my ability to interact with my patients, colleagues and mentors- but it’s had a big impact on my satisfaction with my personal life as well.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

Because medical students have so little time off the clock, it is important to optimize these crucial moments with an activity that will allow you to unwind. For me this is manifested through exercise of all sorts. On some days I feel like taking a zumba class, others I vigorously spin on a stationary bike or go for a run around the city. This has become a staple part of each day and I often schedule other activities around my workouts. Although, I will admit that every once in a while I substitute my workout with a glass or two of wine and that seems to have the same positive impact.

What is a fun fact about you that no one knows?

During the president’s visit to KU last year I had the honor of attending as a VIP member, seated in the second row amongst all the higher-ups including the Chancellor herself. I was beyond ecstatic to have this opportunity because meeting President Obama while he was in office had been on my very selective bucket list for a number of years. Needless to say when he finished speaking and came down to shake hands with the crowd I stormed to the front. I am pretty sure I may have trampled the Chancellor a little bit; but my eye was on the prize.

When the time came for me to shake his hand, I panicked and struggled to find something to say as we made eye contact. In an attempt to say either his name, or Rock Chalk, something came out of my mouth that sounded something like “Baracka Chalka”, and then I just blankly stared at him. He looked slightly puzzled, politely nodded, and moved on to the next handshake.

I have not shared this story because it’s a little embarrassing, but it will forever be my memory of the day I met the President of the United States.