Published April 07, 2020 by Tom Porter

Promoting the Common Good

With healthcare professionals now on the frontline of a global crisis, we profile one Bowdoin graduate as she prepares for a medical career focused on the challenges of keeping the population as healthy as possible.

stone white coat

Olivia Stone ’16

Trainee doctor Olivia Stone ’16 shares her thoughts, describing how an interest in public health took her to Puerto Rico for two years before she enrolled in med school at Brown University, where she’s about to complete her first year. There are, she says, clear lessons to be learned from the current pandemic and America’s response to it.

What have you done since graduating in 2016?

After Bowdoin, I took a job with the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Public Health Associates Program, which led to a two-year placement in San Juan, Puerto Rico. While there, I worked at the health department, specializing mainly in sexual violence prevention and education programming. My main project was program evaluation for a middle school healthy-dating curriculum.

During my time in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria hit, at which time I was deployed from my regular position to serve for three months under the public health branch of the official disaster response. Our team worked to help get the health department’s various facilities and services back up and running after the storm. I ended up traveling around the island to complete needs assessment surveys for the clinics, vaccination sites, special needs facilities, etc. that fall under the health department's purview.

After leaving Puerto Rico, I felt ready to apply to medical school, so during my application cycle I worked briefly as a community health worker and, being a Spanish speaker, as an interpreter for the Maine Mobile Health Clinic in downeast Maine during the six-week wild blueberry harvest. Then I took a job for about a year as a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood of NYC.

Where are you now?

I'm now in my first year of medical school at Brown (Alpert Medical School), in the concurrent primary care population medicine master’s track. I chose this path because I think it's likely I'll head into a primary care specialty, and the program's goal is to supplement the MD curriculum with public health knowledge tailored toward leadership in primary care.

What is “population medicine?”

“Population medicine,” as a term, describes the actions taken by healthcare providers and others to improve a population's health. One aspect of the program I've really enjoyed is being partnered with an individual to help them navigate their own health care and connect them to relevant community resources. In turn, they share with us their perspective on the medical system and their experience trying to be healthy despite certain barriers. My partnered patient is an immigrant currently going through the asylum process who recently had a baby (this was the first birth I've ever seen!). She and I have become pretty close, and it's been very special that she's been willing to share her life with me in this way.

hurricane maria
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017

How has the pandemic affected you and your studies?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to all of our in-person classes and activities being cancelled for the remainder of the school year. This means no more clinical exposure (we usually had weekly shifts with a community doctor-mentor, and many people also sought out individual shadowing experiences), no more in-person small group classes or discussions, and the rest of our anatomy dissections were cancelled.

Although we are still getting all the fundamentals essential to the pre-clinical years of medical school, it's pretty much put us all into our own individual bubbles. A lot of us are very bummed about not being able to engage in things like student clinics, street outreach with the homeless population, teaching at the juvenile detention, and facility/sex ed teaching in a local school district.

On personal level, the pandemic means I’m mostly just trying to stay put at home, limit my trips to the grocery store, keep active as best I can, and keep in touch with friends and family to support them in their own self-isolation!

From your perspective, what lessons can we learn from the pandemic and how it’s unfolded?

We need healthcare for all! I think seeing the ramifications of a crisis like this will underscore how important it is for everyone to be able to access both treatment and preventive services (as we see so clearly how underlying conditions are making people more vulnerable to severe infections and complications). 

Did you imagine you would be where you are now when you were a Bowdoin undergraduate?

I majored in physics and Spanish and, when I graduated, I really wasn't sure whether medicine was the right path for me. I felt it might be too big a challenge!

I think I'd be happy to see that I ended up tackling the med school application process and that being in med school isn't as crazy as I thought (at least, not yet!)