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The Real Transformers

The Real Transformers
Spring 2010 | Volume 33, Number 1 | Features

Learning Patient Care at Mayo Medical School

Rachel Ellis Hammer '07
Rachel Hammer recently visited New Orleans’ Rabouin High School while completing an elective course in pediatric/adolescent primary care medicine and had some of her former students as patients.

As a senior, Rachel Ellis Hammer ’07 was the SPU poster girl — literally. Her laughing face could be seen on banners around campus highlighting the question, “Can a university change the world?” Hammer played many roles at SPU: premed biochemistry student, University Scholar, actor in school plays, on-campus barista.

In 2008, she left the Northwest for New Orleans to work with Teach for America. At Rabouin High School, she saw the bitter aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how it affected the city’s educational system. She taught the school’s complete science curriculum because there weren’t enough teachers. Many of her teenage students were still dealing with severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It was a traumatic event, and they still haven’t recovered,” Hammer said at the time. “I wanted to quit at first because it was so hard, but the kids are what keep me here.”

When asked to serve as assistant coach for the school’s girls’ volleyball team, Hammer agreed, not knowing what she was getting into. “What they really wanted was a head coach,” she remembers. But the surprise promotion didn’t faze her; her commitment to the team went as far as hand-sewing each girl’s jersey and leading them to some hard-fought wins, despite their underdog reputation.

While she worked as a teacher, Hammer had something else on her mind as well: medical school. She devoted much of her free time to filling out applications, and she says she got “the surprise of her life” when Mayo Medical School, part of the distinguished Mayo Clinic, offered her a full-ride scholarship. “My mom got so emotional about it,” she says. “I heard the Lord saying, ‘I have a plan for you.’”

Hammer has studied at Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota, since July 2009. Classes take four to eight hours of her day, and include labs, dissection, physical exams — and her favorite part: “getting to know patients. I’m absolutely enamored with it.”

So it’s not surprising when Hammer says the focus of the current health care reform debate should be on bettering family practice and primary care. “The world needs to emphasize the human aspect of practicing medicine right now,” she explains. “It’s such a fine art, the way that you treat patients. That’s why Obama talks about the Mayo Clinic all the time. It’s the way the doctors are committed to the needs of their patients.”

The current question on Hammer’s mind is which medical specialty to practice. She’s always been drawn to primary care, but she also loves the buzz and excitement that hospitals hold.

The next four years will be both grueling and exciting. “I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to study,” she says. It isn’t prestige or a comfortable lifestyle that motivates her, she adds, but a desire to “make my patients feel like they’re being heard.” After medical school, she wants to practice medicine and write creative nonfiction, citing surgeon and author Atul Gawande as a model.

“Rachel has that right- and left-brained balance going,” says Cynthia Fitch, SPU associate professor of biology and Hammer’s premed advisor. “There are a few students that I can call a gem in the crown. And she’s one of those.”


Rachel Ellis Hammer '07

Ashley Reese '09

Charley "Char" Beck '08 and Daniel "Skiff" Skiffington '08

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