Success Story: Vanessa Jensen

Vanessa JensenWhy did you choose your specific health professional career?

I like working with my hands, and surgery allowed the opportunity to combine this with the ability to help people.

What experiences did you have to make sure this profession was right for you?

I like science and biology. Therefore I tried different aspects of this field, from research to nursing to teaching. I wasn’t greatly inspired until my surgical rotation in medical school. This is when I learned about surgical intervention and the ability to change someone’s life with one operation. I learned a surgeon is a physician who could do the most harm or the most good, and a good surgeon is someone who masters this art of helping people heal.

Describe any obstacles or barriers to success that you encountered along your health professional career path and how did you overcome them?

There are obstacles in anyone’s path, but there should not be any barriers. The obstacles I have faced and are continuing to encounter are those that I have created for myself. To name a few, I occasionally have thoughts of incompetence or insecurity but obviously I am not. I am a high school, college, and medical school graduate. It is the simple things that I tend to overwhelm myself with; to overcome this I have to continue to have insight into myself. As far as cultural barriers, I am Navajo, so there are some cultural taboos and conflicts with becoming a surgeon. Some tribal members believe healing is through spiritual balance within one’s self and any medicinal healing should be via a traditional Navajo healer only. Surgery is considered extremely taboo by some tribal members. I have consulted medicine men and most believe that traditional healing and western medicine as well the patient’s ambition to get well is a team effort. The physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing should be taken into account and sometimes this healing requires multi-specialists. In keeping balanced, I continue to have blessing ceremonies to maintain this balance within myself and my family. I have overcome many obstacles, and may not have achieved so much by myself. Support from my family, extended family as well as friends continue to keep me striving for the best.

What do you do in your current job?

Currently I’m a surgical resident. I’m learning how to operate and manage patients with the guidance of attending surgeons in different surgical fields. When I’m done, in about a year, I hope to be a competent and safe surgeon with good technical abilities to serve my tribe and community.

What advice do you have for American Indian/Alaska Native students who are interested in health careers?

Remain focused, dedicated and believe in yourself. Take all advice with caution; make informed decisions because this is your life. Make sure that you are happy with the choices you make so there are no regrets. Always look forward to the future, even when it feels dim, because there are always different ways to find your path to your goals.