Ciara Jenkins on graduation day holding a photo of her dad.

From a young age, Ciara Jenkins knew she wanted to help people.

She considered being a veterinarian or a teacher, but it was her father who inspired her to go to medical school.  

“He recommended I consider a career in medicine,” says Ciara Jenkins, MD Class of 2022. “When I was in high school, it clicked. I liked science, people and flexing my mind. The intellectual rigor of solving problems.” As a high school student in rural Isle of Wight County, she was determined to find the best way to realize her dream.

After weighing her options, Ms. Jenkins selected the Patricia & Douglas Perry Honors College at Old Dominion University. “I chose ODU for the many science-based majors they offered,” says Ms. Jenkins. “I was also impressed with the variety of research opportunities.”

Ms. Jenkins says it didn’t take long for her to realize that she made the right choice. “From the start, I could tell the faculty were very invested in the students,” says Ms. Jenkins. “I said, ‘I want to go to medical school, how can I get there?’ and they were very supportive.”

ODU professors helped her Ms. Jenkins customize her degree in biology. She focused on human physiology, anatomy and even took a hands-on cadaver dissection class. She also had the opportunity to participate in research trials with physicians.

While Ms. Jenkins’ academic life was going well, she faced a medical crisis at home a few months into her time at ODU. “We learned my dad was diagnosed with colorectal cancer,” Ms. Jenkins says. “I was so thankful to be less than an hour away so that I could be a support system for my family.”

As she traveled to doctor’s appointments with her father, her experiences in medicine helped her decode some of the terminology and act as an advocate for her family since they were largely unfamiliar with the medical system. 

After graduating from ODU in 2016, Ms. Jenkins enrolled in the EVMS Medical Master’s program. The one- and two-year degree tracks have a rigorous, immersive curriculum designed to make students more competitive in their medical school applications.

At EVMS, Ms. Jenkins hit the ground running. She joined study groups, volunteered for Community-Engaged Learning projects and sought opportunities from medical mentors.

Then, tragedy struck again. After just a few months at EVMS, she learned her father’s cancer had returned.

Ms. Jenkins says the support and encouragement from faculty, staff and her fellow students was tremendous during that year. “When my dad was so sick, my gastrointestinal final was on a Friday. My study group came and they wrote on the white boards all around me so that I could survive,” Ms. Jenkins says. “You don’t find that everywhere. It’s been a special place for me.”

Soon after that exam, Ms. Jenkins learned she was accepted to the EVMS School of Medicine. She was able to tell her dad the good news. Just a few days later, he passed away.

“Going through my dad’s illness was tough, but it gave me a perspective that many people don’t have,” Ms. Jenkins says. “I hope I’m able to use what I’ve learned to help my future patients in difficult situations.”

Ms. Jenkins was determined to make her family proud. She thrived in medical school. She enjoyed the academics but also pursued opportunities in research and volunteer work. Her classmates elected her President of the MD Class of 2022.

“Everyone talks about how cutthroat medical school will be, and I just didn’t find that [environment] here at EVMS,” Ms. Jenkins says. “I’ve had a front seat in my SGA and accreditation involvement, and the culture here is so supportive and people uplift one another.”

When it was time to start applying for residency, Ms. Jenkins also was planning for an addition to the family – a baby.

“Being a new mom has made everything more real,” Ms. Jenkins says. “Everybody is someone’s child and now you have this new understanding to people and their relationships.” 

She will be taking her newfound experience with her as a general surgery resident at University of Alabama in Mobile.

She says she’s excited to get back to clinical medicine, but plans to make her family and herself a priority. “I hope that I don’t lose what’s important to me,” she says. “It’s easy to get bogged down in just medicine. There is so much more to me than medicine. I’m hopeful that I can go to my training, do well for my patients while maintaining self-care.”