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From Hot Air Balloons to Infectious Disease: This Transition, and How Sierra Thompson Spent Her Summer

When most people think of summer, they think of lazy afternoons at the pool, free from classes and homework, snacking on food from the pantry rather than stolen from the Rat, and warm weather. Sophomore Sierra Thompson may have experienced the warm weather, but nothing else from her summer was average. While other Rhodents were babysitting, lifeguarding, and scooping ice cream, Thompson spent her summer in Santiago, Chile, volunteering at a hospital and completely immersing herself in the Spanish language.

Thompson was first drawn to Rhodes because of the college’s connection with St. Jude; it seems fitting that her first college summer she would spend working with the hospital. Thompson’s summer was sponsored by a Rhodes Fellowship: the St. Jude Summer Plus Program. Normally for this program, the student will get paid by Rhodes to work full-time at St. Jude over the summer, and then will volunteer over the school year. However, a couple of years ago, St. Jude added an international component to the program, which was ideal for Thompson. “I want to be a doctor and I want to go abroad,” she explained, “so this program was perfect training to help me adjust to a culture.”

On a normal day, Thompson would arrive at the Calvo Mackenna Children’s Hospital early, and spend the morning shadowing Doctor Mathew Cavano, who was a pharmacist. She would go on rounds, see patients in the intensive care unit, and listen to the doctors, even though at the beginning she could “only understand 85% of what they said.” She also spent a significant amount of time creating Microsoft excel spreadsheets, charting drug interactions for different patients to ensure there were no harmful combinations.

In the afternoon, she attended an international school to learn Spanish. “It was really laid back and fun,” she said of the classes. “It was nice to get away from the hospital and get to meet a ton of new people.” In addition to taking classes, Thompson also participated in a homestay to further her Spanish skills, staying with a mom and her daughter near the center of Santiago.

“At first I was really nervous. I didn’t know exactly what I going to be doing, and since the St. Jude program is so new, they were still working things through and figuring things out. Plus, even though I had just taken a Spanish class, I was still nervous about the language barrier,” Thompson explains. Yet within a week, she felt adjusted, and the next seven weeks “were simply an amazing experience.” Because she was in a foreign country, far from the distractions of home, Thompson felt that she could truly focus on the hospital, devoting all of her effort to become immersed in the community.

Now that she’s back in Memphis, the Atlanta-native will be volunteering at St. Jude with the Pharmacy department, once again monitoring the safety of medicine interaction. She’s a Biology-Anthropology-Sociology bridge major at Rhodes, and between balancing classes with volunteering, she has got a tight schedule! In whatever free time she has, she is part of the Rhodes College Modern Abolitionists, a group created to prevent human trafficking, participates in Tuesday Fellowship, and also has a sign language fellowship, and therefore participates in Sign Club.

After Rhodes, Thompson plans to attend medical school. “When I was little, I wanted to be a vet and travel the world in a hot air balloon saving animals. Then I realized I like humans more,” she explains with a laugh. “Being a doctor will give me the potential to go a lot of places while helping people at the same time.” While she’s not sure exactly which field she’ll go into, she thinks Infectious Disease has promise because it affects the most people in poor areas.

To de-stress, Thompson loves watching Arrested Development or any NBC comedy. She’s never been to Central BBQ, but plans to go ASAP.

A sassy small-town blogger who thinks she's a princess and loves the color pink.
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