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Third-year medical student Dana Jones returns to Gary to become a doctor, inspire hometown youth

Oct. 21, 2015

When Gary native Dana Jones graduated from West Side High School in 2005, she packed up and moved to Bloomington, where she earned her IU undergraduate degree in human biology, minoring in chemistry.

Now a third-year medical student at IU School of Medicine-Northwest, Jones wanted to head to medical school right away, but gaining admission can be difficult. It turns out she had been studying for the entrance examination all wrong, she admits. She worked in retail and as a certified nurse assistant immediately after college.

Dana Jones

Dana Jones, a third-year medical student at IU School of Medicine-Northwest, enjoys the opportunity to inspire children in her hometown of Gary. | PHOTO BY ERIKA ROSE, IU NORTHWEST

“I could have given up at that time,” said Jones, “but I have always wanted to be a doctor.”

Determined, Jones enrolled in a two-year program at IU School of Medicine called the Master of Science in Medical Science, which she described as a preparatory program for the Medical College Admission Test. Completing the program results in a master’s degree, unless of course the student gets into medical school after the first year, which is the ultimate goal, and what happened for Jones.

Now 28, Jones is happy to be among those finishing a medical degree at the Northwest campus in Gary, where she was raised and where she returned to be close to family. In fact, she regularly uses her burgeoning arsenal of medical knowledge to counsel them informally.

“They call me Dr. Jones already,” she quipped.

The third year of medical school is a time of exploration, when students get out in the field, shadow area doctors, and rotate through a number of clinical experiences in different specialties. Once focused on becoming either an interventional cardiologist or a surgeon, Jones has experienced the rewards of pediatrics and family medicine, thus far, and is looking forward to working alongside physicians of other specialties this year.

“With family medicine, I love when the doctors say they have been there for 30 years. It’s almost like they are family. I love that aspect. I love how a doctor works with a patient, and their children and their grandchildren,” Jones said. “I see something good in each thing I’ve done so far. I’ve got a lot to consider.”

However, Jones’ clinical rotations have also taught her something else: that her desire to become a doctor is rooted in more than just science. Much like her own mentors who continue to inspire her towards medicine, she is learning that she is an inspiration to others in her own unique way.

The future physician loves to talk to pediatric patients during her clinical rotations, for instance, and encourages them to ask her questions.

“If you plant the seed in their minds, maybe they can run with it,” she said. “Maybe it will grow and flourish and the next thing you know, they’ll be interested in medical school. I feel like maybe I can push them to consider it. If I can plant that seed, it feels amazing to me.”

Jones also likes the idea of working in the very clinics and hospitals where she grew up. She senses a particular bond with patients she encounters and begins sharing her background -- her story about growing up in Gary, overcoming the challenges of getting into medical school and her dreams of returning to serve those with whom she shares a kind of hometown trust.

Jones has come to realize that regardless of the medical path she takes, she wants to be making a difference, and influencing others.

“I truly believe that if you are determined, if you put your mind to it, you can get anywhere in life,” Jones said. “I definitely want to serve the hospitals and people in my own community.”

Jones said that she initially decided she wanted to complete her medical education in Gary in order to be near her family. However, that decision has proved to be the best decision in so many ways. Not only did she receive a scholarship when she committed to complete her third and fourth years of medical school at the Northwest campus, but she discovered the quality education that is unique to this region.

“I initially came here because I wanted to come back to Gary to be near my family, but I know now that this was the best decision I could have made,” Jones said. “This campus has everything that could have helped me get to this point. The professors are amazing.”

Jones' experience aligns with several priorities in the university's Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success and education to improve the state and nation’s health.

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