Penn’s hands-on approach and immersion into clinical practice drew Sandra to the School of Nursing. Her desire to work with diverse patient populations and to study healthcare delivery abroad came together perfectly in Penn’s nursing program, which requires students to consider the bigger picture in which medicine is practiced.
As a child in Rwanda, Sandra remembers a hospital experience while being treated for malaria. She encountered long lines and a lack of empathy for those who couldn’t afford essential services. Since that time, Sandra has been interested in the role geography, culture, and financial resources play in one’s access to care.
In the summer after her first year, Sandra went back to Rwanda to do an internship at Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence located in a northern rural area of the country. Collaborating with a local team on the ground, she worked on a quality improvement project aimed at improving knowledge around cancer care. She worked directly with patients, investigated the gaps in health education, and drawing on cultural resources, created informational booklets to demystify cancer treatment. She was inspired to work in oncology because of her patients’ abilities to remain hopeful even in the face of severe illness. The following summer, Sandra traveled with a Radiation Oncologist from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for a research internship to Botswana. During this time, she worked with a wide range of cancer patients, including many female patients.
A long way from home, Sandra sought out connections when she arrived at Penn as a Penn World Scholar. She joined the Penn African Students Association, the Society of African Internationals at Penn, Colleges Against Cancer, PennCAP, and the Assembly of International Students, each of which helped her to form friendships with other students and feel connected.
Sandra has connected with professors and mentors who believe in her, which gives her motivation. During her first semester at Penn, she took a required course in her program -- Biologically Based Chemistry -- which was challenging for her. She decided to attend her instructor’s office hours on a regular basis. The instructor surprised Sandra by how much she wanted to get to know her as a person and learn about how she was adjusting to Penn, which was meaningful. Two of the most important mentors for Sandra are Dr. Loretta A. Sernekos, who taught her Integrated Pathophysiology, Pharmacology, and Therapeutics; and Dr. Lisa Lewis, her assigned advisor. Both have offered significant academic and personal support over the years.