Finding Her Calling Kristina Ayers '25 is interning at a medical clinic for the homeless in Washington, D.C. through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty.
“We will hardly change the world in one summer, but we are one step closer by making these contributions and learning as much as we are giving.”
~Kristina Ayers ’25
Kristina Ayers ’25
Hometown: Waterford, Virginia
Major: Biochemistry; Pre-Med
Minor: Poverty and Human Capability; Music with a focus in choral conducting
Q: What factors led you to choose W&L?
My decision to attend W&L was based on multiple factors. I visited W&L about four times before becoming a student because my parents loved the school when my oldest sister was touring colleges. Each time I visited, I became more curious of the opportunities offered and I had W&L on my radar throughout high school. I was extremely fortunate that W&L offered me a generous financial aid package that would allow me to graduate undergrad and enter medical school without debt, which had a tremendous impact in my decision to attend W&L over its peer institutions. My decision to attend was also influenced by the robust medical advising, individualized attention from professors and the abundance of opportunities I knew I could take advantage of during my four years without financial burdens. As soon as I stepped foot on campus and was first embraced by the Bonner Program, I immediately knew I had made the right decision and am excited for my next three years. I’ve had opportunities I could never have imagined in my first year, from traveling with the University Singers to Ireland to completing my first triathlon with the W&L club team.
Q: Why did you choose to study biochemistry, poverty and human capability studies, and music?
As a student on the pre-medical pathway, I’ve always had an intense interest in the natural sciences and I’m excited to continue my journey as a biochemistry major (shoutout to Dr. Friend for being the best research advisor!). My decision to become a poverty and human capability studies minor is based on my experience in the Bonner Program through the Shepherd Program at W&L. This program is a volunteer service league that includes a substantial amount of poverty-based curriculum at W&L, and thus, I chose to adopt the minor while I continue to study how this subject matter intersects with healthcare. Finally, music has always been an integral part of my life since I was born into a musical family. After 13 years of classical piano training, about 20 musical theater productions and a lifetime of singing in choir, I knew I wanted to continue pursuing music at a high level while at W&L. As a member of the choral conducting mentorship program, I am training to become a student conductor, which is an experience only typically available to graduate students. This is an extraordinary opportunity that allows me to expand my musicality and gain extensive leadership experience in front of my peers, which will no doubt aid me on my path to becoming a physician. All in all, there truly is no other school that would give me the academic and creative bandwidth to explore my interests in tandem with one another quite like W&L has, and the emphasis placed on academic intersectionality is something that I will explore quite a bit throughout my four years.
Q: How did you find out about this opportunity? Did anyone at W&L help?
This opportunity is definitely one that has been on my radar from the beginning of my time at W&L. As a Bonner Scholar, we are required to conduct one summer of service to work towards accumulating 1,800 volunteer hours by the conclusion of our senior year. Thus, it is very common for students in our cohort to complete an internship with the Shepherd Consortium in order to fulfill this requirement. I found that this was a great way of continuing the kind work I do in Rockbridge County. I am a shelter and hotline manager at Project Horizon domestic abuse shelter, an education and advocacy team member with the Rockbridge Area Prevention Coalition (suicide and addiction prevention) and will be an assistant to the medical nutrition team at Kendal nursing home in Lexington during this upcoming semester. I would say my biggest influences at W&L that led me to pursue my internship are the upperclassmen Bonners who have been extremely inspiring to me, as well as the faculty members who lead the Bonner Program (professors Marisa Charley and Fran Elrod) for their acute guidance and care for each of us. I am incredibly humbled and fortunate to have these mentors and am thankful for W&L for providing this unique opportunity.
Q: What kind of work are you doing?
For my summer placement with the Shepherd Consortium, I am working at a medical clinic for the homeless population in Washington, D.C. called So Others Might Eat (SOME). I am an assistant shadowing the physicians and an integrative behavioral health specialist, responsible for coordinating healthcare and social work for both clients and patients. I also work on an education team for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and drug abuse disorder.
Q: What do you like most about it, and what has been most challenging so far?
I sense that this experience is one I will carry with me for the rest of my life, not only in my future career but as a human being. While doing work with the Bonner Program as a part-time volunteer during the school year has been one of the cornerstones of my W&L experience so far, I never imagined how infinitely rewarding it could be to fully immerse yourself in one organization and its cause. The largest challenge I’ve faced thus far has been grappling with the enormity of it all. As an intern, I’m constantly asking myself if my mere eight weeks at SOME this summer are more than a drop in the bucket in the scheme of the systemic and endemic problems facing this population. After careful reflection, I’ve decided that that’s the beauty of this experience. We are completely entrenched in these issues for a summer to eventually be better students, volunteers and advocates in our home communities. We will hardly change the world in one summer, but we are one step closer by making these contributions and learning as much as we are giving.
Q: What aspect of the work has surprised you the most so far?
I was surprised how much administrative work goes into each patient and how prevalent specific scenarios are for the patients who come into our practice for either medical, psychiatric or behavioral health needs. As an outsider peering into these processes for the summer, I have a unique picture of what elements of the administrative process might be streamlined to remove barriers for those in our nation experiencing housing insecurity in tandem with health matters in our nation’s capital.
Q: How do you think your current summer experience – and others you’ve had in the past – will impact your future career path?
As a college volunteer, I have had two meaningful summer experiences pertaining to medicine. Last summer, I worked at a medical practice that largely catered to rural, low-income populations and am working again at this practice after the conclusion of my internship in D.C. As a student who focuses my intellectual and service efforts on healthcare inequality and social determinants of health, these experiences have sculpted the “why” in my decision to pursue medicine. It is no longer simply to pursue my curiosity for the natural sciences, but also to intervene and provide better care for society’s most vulnerable in a way that no other profession can. After many years of wanting to pursue medicine as a career, these experiences help define a career in medicine as a calling.
Q: Outside of your internship, what have you enjoyed the most about living and working in D.C. this summer?
D.C. is a phenomenal place to be if you’re an intern, and boy, are there a lot of us! From the Shepherd Consortium alone, we have about 12 interns in our D.C. cohort and they are all fantastic people from partner universities across the U.S. I’ve loved getting to know my fellow interns, reflecting on our service experiences from our respective organizations and exploring the city together. Coming from Northern Virginia, I’ve always been adjacent to D.C. and have experienced the tourist side, but I am finally able to view this city from a local’s perspective and absorb the cultural aspects that you miss as a tourist. So far, members of my cohort and I have kayaked on the Potomac river, taken the Metro to restaurants across the city, engaged in protests and social justice initiatives, and often just hung out together playing cards or making potluck dinners in our apartments.
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