Making the Most of Taking Her Time
Gabrielle James ’13 has never stopped exploring since graduating from Washington College, but she’s finally slowed down enough to take the next step in her goal of becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon—starting medical school.
When Gabrielle James ’13 was nine years old, her cousin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Instead of being afraid that such a disease could attack someone dear to her, James was mystified and curious. She wanted to know what was happening, and she wanted to know how she could help her cousin.
“I think that really was the start of knowing what I wanted to do,” says James, who this summer began her post-graduate studies at Sydney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson University in Philadelphia. “I’ve wanted to become a doctor since before middle school, and I never changed what I wanted to do. I feel like I’ve been working all my life to get to this point, and I’m really excited.”
James, a double major in French and biology, has never stopped pushing toward her goal of becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon, nor has she let any opportunities, no matter how seemingly tangential, pass her by. While in Washington College’s premedical program, she interned for two summers at the University of Pennsylvania’s SUPERS program—Summer Undergraduate Program for Educating Radiation Scientists. During her junior year, she studied in Grenoble, France. She was a member of the French Club and the International Club, she was co-vice president of Safe Ride, and she rowed on the women’s crew team until she had to focus more time on her studies.
Because she went abroad for her French major, she wasn’t able to finish all of her premedical requirements until the end of her senior year, which meant she’d be delayed in getting into medical school. This didn’t bother her.
“The way I see it, I hope to have a long life, and I just want to enjoy everything I’m doing. If I’m not enjoying it, then why am I doing it? I’m in no rush. And I know everything will turn out the way I would like it to be. I don’t plan to stop getting where I want to be. It’s OK if it takes a little bit longer.”
One of her WC teachers, Jennifer Rowsell, assistant professor of biology, suggested that James accompany her to the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, as a teaching assistant on a course in biology of the inner ear. While there, James also earned a position as a course assistant for a class in physiology.
“It didn’t involve research but it was a really fun job, being next to the ocean and just basically unwinding after college,” James says.
After her summer in Woods Hole, she headed for a small town just outside of Paris where she worked as an English teaching assistant. She learned of the program through Katherine Maynard, associate chair of WC’s Department of Modern Languages and associate professor of French.
“I didn’t want to just leave my French, I wanted to improve it,” she says. “Dr. Maynard is very good at pointing out opportunities for using your French skills, so she introduced me to this program, and it was a great experience. I was teaching little kids in three primary schools, ages 6 through 12, so I really did get to teach the age group I like.”
It probably should come as no surprise that teaching wasn’t all James did while in France. She also shadowed a French pediatrician, sitting in on appointments with her twice a week.
“This was really useful because I want to work with children, but I realized that when working with children, the primary people you’re working with are their parents,” she says.
And, a flautist since fourth grade, James also joined a community orchestra where she could play her flute, get to know the local people, and learn the French terms for the language of music. She returned from France in late spring 2014, started applying to medical schools and a year later chose Jefferson. A first-generation American in her family, which hails from Jamaica, James says the other major influence on her desire to be a pediatric neurosurgeon was reading Gifted Hands by Dr. Ben Carson when she was just entering middle school.
“I really identified with his story. I think I had a better upbringing than he did and more opportunities, but I really enjoyed reading how he became who he is now,” she says.
She learned about Washington College through her mother, who was an employee of Beneficial Bank, which made full-tuition scholarships available through the Hodson Trust to academically qualified children of employees. But it wasn’t just the scholarship, she says, that made her choose WC.
“When I visited it was one of those beautiful spring days, the sun was shining, the campus was absolutely gorgeous, and everyone was so friendly. I just felt like I fit in there. And I never regretted my choice. I think Washington College is one of the best choices I have made in my life.”