Page 30 - RU RWJ Medicine Magazine • Winter 2021
P. 30

When Aleksandra was 11, her ships and federal funding. It was so
mom went back to Poland to care for her dying mother and has not been able to return to America. Now, with both of her parents out of the country, continued foster care was certain, so her sister’s well-being became Aleksandra’s primary concern.
Aleksandra took that responsibil-
ity seriously and under the guidance
of a caring attorney, she learned to
be an advocate for herself and her
sister. As a pre-teen, she appeared in
court to share details of the abuse they suffered. It was her testimony that persuaded a judge to remove the girls from abusive homes. This experience at a young age helped Aleksandra become more confident and focused on achieving something better for herself. School became the perfect escape from her troubling reality, and she began to excel in and out of the classroom.
While her home life was constantly changing, Aleksandra was able to remain at the same high school and graduate with her peers in Belleville, N.J., thanks to the strong rec- ommendation of her teachers and principal who fought to keep her in the district regardless of where she lived.
At 14, she enrolled in the high school’s cosmetology program, which led to a job in a hair salon in Nutley. She was living in a foster home in Newark and would take a taxi to the bus and then walk another 30 minutes to get to the salon, but it was worth it. Her boss became one of her biggest supporters, and Aleksandra was able to hone her skills while learning unexpected lessons.
“I learned how important it was to have a good work ethic, and to be well spoken and professional while continuing to learn a trade. I liken my experience in the salon to the medical field because in many ways, clients are like patients. Both industries are constantly evolving and you are always learning from the people above you.”
She continued working at the salon and hoped it would help pay for college. Fortunately, she was able to get schol- arships and grants, which afforded her the opportunity to attend Seton Hall University, without the burden of loans.
“I never dreamed of becoming a doctor. My biggest goal and accomplishment at the time was getting into college,” said Aleksandra. “I had to apply to schools and for scholar-
hard to do it all on my own. I am super proud of where I am, and I am very grateful.”
Following the advice of her men- tor and boss at the hair salon, “to seek what is hard and do what oth- ers are afraid to do,” Aleksandra decided to major in biology because it was challenging. She chose medi- cine to help others and lend sup- port in the same way it was given to her. Once she started shadowing, she realized exactly how much
quality health care she lacked while in the foster care system. “Each time we changed foster homes, we had to go to the
emergency department for a physical exam before being placed in a new home. That was my only experience in receiving care. The idea that doctors ask you how you are was completely foreign to me,” said Aleksandra. “Being ex- posed to these types of disparities motivates me to pursue medicine in a way that improves health care for everyone.”
Her search for medical schools started and ended when members of the admission team from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School visited Seton Hall. Aleksandra shared that Mary Beth Green, program manager in the Department of Education and Academic Affairs, made her want to learn more about the school’s program.
“She was so warm and welcoming. I did more research about the school and I attended every event they held. Every time I visited, it felt like home. I knew it was the place for me and where I was meant to be,” she said.
Aleksandra plans to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, providing care to underserved communities.
Life is much brighter these days. Her sister is on track to graduate college at Montclair State University. Her mom is practicing nursing again in Poland, caring for adults with disabilities, and Aleksandra is looking ahead but not forgetting the past.
“I know I have a purpose and path in life and I look at all of the challenges I have faced as a way to better connect with my future patients,” she said. “I look forward to when I am a doctor and I will provide help to the homeless community, treat children in the foster system with compassion, and serve at a soup kitchen while treating everyone with respect and dignity.” M
28 Robert WoodJohnson | MEDICINE
Aleksandra’s mom was a nurse in Poland, but in
the United States she was only able to get work cleaning and doing odd jobs. As it became harder to pay rent and put food on the table, the family visited soup kitchens for many of their meals.

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