A medical-school student with a love for rural medicine finds her community in Spokane.
On her seventeenth birthday, Emily Kershaw was driving home with her family when she saw a car accident at the side of the road. They quickly pulled over, and her father, a nurse, ran over to help. He pulled an infant from the car; Kershaw rocked the baby and talked to a woman trapped inside to calm her down while they waited for an ambulance. Being able to help them that day was something she never forgot — and it was an early step on her path to medical school.
Kershaw grew up in McCleary, a rural community outside Olympia. It’s so small that students have to go to the next town over for high school. Both of her parents were deeply connected to the community. Kershaw’s mother was an agriculture teacher and her father coached her sports teams. They instilled in her the value of giving back, from organizing her high school homecoming to helping out with the town’s annual youth livestock auction.
Kershaw’s interest in medicine started when her father went back to school to become a nurse. She remembers him bringing a pig lung to her third-grade classroom to demonstrate how lungs worked. “Watching my dad go back to school was the initial spark,” she says. “I saw my dad really fall in love with his job, and that stayed in the back of my head.”
In college, she studied chemical engineering, but she never stopped thinking about medicine. “Eventually, it became very clear to me that I needed to go to med school,” Kershaw says. A pre-med workshop for underrepresented students in medicine, hosted by the UW School of Medicine in Spokane, convinced her that UW Medicine was the right choice.
“I thought, this is where I want to be,” says Kershaw. “I want to go to Spokane, I want to have teachers who are this enthusiastic, and I want to be around classmates who are this excited about their future careers.”
One big benefit: getting to start working with patients as a first-year student. “Even as a first-year medical student, people will just open their lives to you,” she says. “You’re able to connect what you’re learning and see the value in it for real people, and that’s why we all got into medicine: to help real people.”
Through the Targeted Rural and Underserved Track (TRUST) — a program that prepares medical students for careers in underserved rural areas in the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (WWAMI) region — Kershaw has had the opportunity to work with Andrew Castrodale, MD ’94, at his family medicine practice in Grand Coulee, Washington. “Having a teacher who’s so passionate about teaching is a really cool learning opportunity,” she says.
During college and medical school, Kershaw has continued her volunteering. She’s coached teens in career development, held mock interview clinics for premed students and walked elementary students to school. And, she says, academic and community scholarships made it possible.
“Without scholarships, I wouldn’t have had the time and availability to be able to explore my career path or give back to the community through volunteering and mentoring,” says Kershaw, a recipient of the¬¬¬ Irwin-Collison Memorial and the Friends of the UW School of Medicine scholarships. “Scholarships helped me meet my goals without feeling crushed by financial burdens.”
Although Spokane is bigger than her hometown, Kershaw feels at home there. “Every rural community is different, but what stays the same is the openness of the people and those personal connections,” she says. “I’ll see patients at the clinic in Grand Coulee and then run into them at the grocery store. That friendliness is something I’ve come to treasure.”
Now finishing her second year of medical school, Kershaw hasn’t yet decided what her specialty will be, but she aims to practice in rural areas like the one she grew up in.
“I have a soft place in my heart for small towns, because growing up in a small town really made me who I am,” Kershaw says.