“When you asked if I did anything special to get into medical school, I hope you can see why it was hard to answer. I was never trying to get into medical school, I was (still am and always will be) just trying to be a more knowledgeable and more capable provider of care.” — Rachelle Rodriguez
When Rachelle is my Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine lab partner at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, I feel lucky. She has an aura of healing and kindness that can’t be described until you meet her. Her journey to medical school might be the definition of “non-traditional,” but each one of her experiences molded her into a healer.
Rachelle’s winding journey to medical school is filled with twists and turns, with each fork in the road driving her in a novel direction. At age 20, she worked as a waitress, giving her the opportunity to travel and live in new places along the west coast and abroad. Each city brought a sense of excitement and adventure; each adventure brought her closer to finding her true calling.
After two years of exploration, Rachelle decided to pursue a degree in massage therapy at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Utilizing mindfulness meditation and Qi Gong, students learned to be truly present in the moment. Rachelle emphasized, “tuning the world out and focusing on understanding the person in front of you is a skill that comes with practice. All too often, we hear to respond — we don’t listen to understand. Compounded with years of experience in the service industry, I was able to be mindfully present with the people I worked with as a massage therapist, enhancing my ability to provide thoughtful care and form meaningful relationships.”
After a move with her husband, Ian, to Saratoga Springs, NY, Rachelle began to work full time as a massage therapist. During this time, she used her hands to treat patients with chronic pain. Acknowledging each patient’s unique story and different backgrounds, Rachelle practiced mindful interactions utilizing manual therapy techniques. Reflecting, she can see the parallels between her practice as a massage therapist and Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT). For each of her patients with chronic pain, she remained dedicated to increasing range of motion, decreasing pain and improving quality of life. To this day, she plans on using her gift of massage therapy to facilitate relief for her patients, even as a physician.
During her time as a massage therapist, Rachelle obtained her Bachelor’s in Health Science at Russell Sage College, with the goal of attending physical therapy (PT) school. As she progressed through her studies, she conducted research in exercise physiology and mind-body interventions. Her biggest accomplishment in her research was a pilot study on Kinesthetic Motor Imagery, in which subjects watched the sport prior to performing the activity. This combined with mindful meditation yielded significant improvements in performance.
Evidence-based practice has been an asset to Rachelle on her academic journey. Her research helped her develop a sense of curiosity while investigating pain management techniques. Rachelle mentioned that many of her patients struggled with managing their chronic pain using conventional interventions (pain medication and PT). She noted the positive experiences her patients had with myofascial release, counterstrain and soft tissue work. Additionally, she emphasized the effectiveness of meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy and energy work in the management of pain.
Each educational experience Rachelle had gave her new values; the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine taught her the value of mindful meditation and massage, and Russell Sage College gave her the scientific background to investigate these techniques. She stated, “when it comes to pain perception and its relationship with the human condition, I think there is more to it than current science can explain. Expansion of technological capabilities will continue to broaden the understanding we have of ourselves and maybe one day shed some light on concepts we can’t fathom today.”
Just as she was finishing her bachelor’s degree, Rachelle was accepted to the doctorate of physical therapy program at Russell Sage College. The excitement she expected to feel as she read her acceptance letter evaporated into thin air, as she realized PT was not for her. Prior to orientation, she realized she was craving the autonomy to make healthcare decisions for her patients. Although she wanted to continue to use her hands to treat, she also wanted to be the director of care for each one of her unique and individual patients. Thus, she changed her career plans again.
Rachelle’s fascination with the human body motivated her to change her path once again, as she began her pursuit of DO school. After finishing her medical school prerequisites at U.C. Berkeley with a 4.0 GPA, Rachelle applied to medical school at the age of 30. As she applied, one of her mentors reminded her, “You’re already a healer. When you become a doctor, don’t forget that you are a healer first.” Rachelle is the type of provider who will sit and get to know her patients and remember their stories forever, which will be especially important as she hopes to specialize in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. As she grows as a physician, her patients will never forget her healing touch.
I believe that it is important to explain Rachelle’s detailed and winding journey to you all. Although it is full of twists, many students can relate to the pursuit of a dream, even if it changes over time. Circumstances, emotions and goals change over time, and it is vital to realize our pursuit of knowledge will never be complete. Rachelle’s journey shows us that it is perfectly acceptable to change your career plans.
Image Credit: Custom drawing by Megan Pattoli for this column.