Sunday, May 31, 2009

Street sense: Formerly homeless, UW med school grad has traveled long road

Jennifer Jenkins took a break between her third and fourth years of medical school to practice what is called "street medicine" with an organization in Pittsburgh. She made "house calls" on the streets, handing out medicine, socks and sandwiches. And she was glad to do it. Jenkins, 35, was once there herself.

"There's nothing special about me," says Jenkins, sitting in a cafe on Willy Street just days after graduating from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "You should see the resilience of the homeless people on the street."

Jenkins, who spent about five years in her early 20s bouncing between the streets, shelters and "benevolent couches" of strangers and friends, was born in Willingboro, N.J., the oldest daughter of a West Point graduate. Her dad moved the family between Army bases until Jenkins was 8, when they settled in Milwaukee. They didn't have much money, even when her father returned to law school and got his degree. Jenkins says her father wasn't outgoing enough to bring in clients.

Her family life was extremely unstable and touched by violence and abuse, says Jenkins, who has a brother and a sister.

"I had to grow up very fast," she says. "But sometimes when you do that, even though you may have the practical know-how to move through this world, there are social and emotional lessons that might have to be learned the hard way along the way."

After graduating high school at 17, Jenkins moved to Madison to attend UW. She was put on probation in her second year due to poor grades but left school before she could get kicked out....

Read the rest of Jennifer's amazing story

Recent UW medical school graduate Jennifer Jenkins (left) hopes to devote her medical career to "outsiders," such as homeless men and women, as she was once homeless herself.