Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Update

Rebekah McCurdy Med'11

Pursuing her dream

It’s not often that a college student interested in medicine purposefully graduates with a B.S. in Biblical Studies. But Rebekah Sangrey McCurdy is not your average medical student.

While traveling to rural Belize during high school, Rebekah first realized that she wanted to become a doctor. Even now, as a fourth year medical student, she remains focused on her long-term goal: after completing a four-year residency in OB-GYN, she plans to move to Africa to practice a holistic mix of medicine and spirituality.

Although a medical degree was her ultimate goal, Rebekah specifically chose the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for college – living at home and completing her coursework online. As she puts it, “Faith-based organizations like to see a degree in a ministry.” To better prepare, she supplemented her education with a year of concentrated pre-med courses at York College of Pennsylvania.

Rebekah knows that she faces a particularly daunting financial future, for she will accrue a debt of approximately $150,000 from medical school alone. “The financial aspect was a big deal for me. A traditional medical student can take on big loans and pay them back in 10 to 15 years, or more,” says Rebekah.

“I realized that with my vision and goals to help the underserved, I couldn’t afford a lot of debt.”

Rebekah was fortunate to be the recipient of the Penn State College of Medicine alumni scholarship, which she applies to tuition and living expenses.

“I’m very grateful, as it’s been a huge blessing to me,” says Rebekah. “I really appreciate the investment that alumni have made in me and my dreams. Sometimes we have to rely on others for help and the alumni have truly helped me.”

Recently married, she knows how to live frugally, packing her lunches and even sewing her own bridesmaids’ dresses. Ever positive, she notes that an alumni scholarship is actually worth far more than its face value, for it also helps to reduce long-term interest she would otherwise have to pay on her loans.

As the oldest of six children, Rebekah is the first in her family to pursue a career in medicine. Huge financial challenges faced by her own family have merely increased her own motivation to make this work through loans and scholarships.

She paid her way through college by working three shifts a week at a nursing home and an assisted living facility. This experience helped her tremendously as a medical student.

“I think I’m a lot more comfortable with patients,” she says. “Also, I first learned about diseases through the eyes of patients.

“For example, when someone had a stroke, I saw what it was like when they had to ask to use the bathroom or their frustration when their arms or legs wouldn’t work. I saw how patients adapt to injury. I learned all this long before I knew about the brain and learned about cerebral accidents.”

As she learned about various diseases in medical school, Rebekah says she would often exclaim, “Oh, this is what that patient must have had.” Putting a name and face to a disease also helped with memorization.

Having a long-term focus on international medicine also provides a different perspective. “Here in the U.S., students often think, Oh, I’ll be in this specialty. So they’re not really interested in learning about other areas,” she says.

“However, when I think about the fact that I may be the only doctor around, I feel I can’t overlook anything. Everything that I have learned in medical school will come in useful some day.”

Rebekah plans to specialize in women’s health, noting that in certain parts of Africa, one in 10 women still die in childbirth, and many babies don’t survive past the first month of life. Being a female healthcare provider offers an inroad in many rural African cultures.

A member of the school’s Christian Medical Society, Rebekah has taken more than half a dozen more medical mission trips, which have only whetted her appetite. She visited Haiti almost a year before the earthquake and handled triage in a mobile medical clinic, seeing more than 100 patients in a day with issues ranging from malnutrition and parasites to infections and allergies from poor living conditions.

She says, “It motivates me to learn more and gives me perspective on what I’ll be doing some day.”

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