A life-changing moment

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Education
February 08, 2021

Jennifer Werekeitzen was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, to parents who wanted a better life for her. When Jennifer was one year old, her family moved to the United States.

Jennifer and her family faced many challenges as an undocumented family. They were uninsured, so they didn’t have a primary care physician. Although Jennifer was a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals student, she didn’t qualify for federal loans throughout college.

When Jennifer was accepted into medical school, she was unsure of how she would pay for it. Because of a full-ride scholarship at OHSU, Jennifer was able to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor — and follow her passion for improving diversity in medicine and caring for those in minority communities.

“I went into medicine because I’m able to help others and be there for vulnerable populations,” she said. “If I didn’t have that scholarship, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in right now.”

Jennifer was determined to be the change for many who faced similar hardships. Today, she is a fourth-year medical student pursuing a career in surgery.

“Having a surgeon who looks like their patients is a game changer,” she said. “Having someone who can understand your struggles and hardships is worth so much.”

Hear from Jennifer, in her own words, how her scholarship impacted her ability to afford an education.

"I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. My mom was from Lima, Peru. My dad was from Guadalajara. They met there, they had me. They decided that that life was not enough and they wanted a better future for me, so they came here to the States. We were undocumented for many, many years, and for me, growing up there was a constant fear of deportation, family separation. When deferred action became a thing, it was incredible. It was a sigh of relief because I didn’t know much beyond the U.S.

It was scary to think that at some point that could be taken away and I could be sent back to a country that I don’t know a ton about. DACA was huge for me when it came out, and I was able to do what I was hoping to do which was go to school, be a good kid and be a good civilian and give back to the country.

A couple months, maybe even a month before medical school, I was still a DACA student so I could not qualify for loans and federal aid for medical school. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking, like how I planned on paying for it. I think I just had a tremendous amount of hope that something would work out.

When I got in, I was crying and super happy and told my parents, “Oh my gosh, it’s happening.” But that happiness was immediately tainted by “Oh my gosh, how am I going to pay for this?”

Within a few days, I was in class at college — I was finishing up my last couple of credits — and I got an email saying, “Congratulations you’ve been awarded this Presidential Scholarship.” My mom works all night so she sleeps during the day, but I called her phone nonstop and I was like, “You’re not going to believe what just happened. I got a full tuition scholarship. I can’t believe it.” I started crying, she started crying. It was incredible to know that that was going to be taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about it. I was so happy to get into medical school but immediately right after there was this impending doom and pit in my stomach that I don’t know how I’m going to afford this. I know I’m good enough to be a doctor, but I don’t know if I have the finances to be a doctor. And that’s something that I don't think anybody should ever feel.

If I did not have that scholarship, I would not be in the position I'm in right now, which is interviewing for general surgery resident positions. It was literally the difference between becoming a surgeon and not."

Category: Education

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