Jennifer Hoefert always knew she wanted to spend her career helping people. It’s the “how” that changed.
Hoefert, 26, a former deaf education specialist and second-grade teacher, will receive a post-baccalaureate certificate in premedical studies at Commencement May 20.
The post-baccalaureate program in University College in Arts & Sciences helps adult students who lack an undergraduate background in the sciences earn the requirements needed for medical school.
With the help of WUSTL chemistry, biology, calculus and genetics classes, Hoefert has been accepted into seven medical schools across the country.
Hoefert says she considered a career in medicine as a teenager, but working in education felt like a natural fit. Third in a family of nine, Hoefert spent a lot of time caring for younger children, from babysitting to coaching a swim team in her hometown of Godfrey, Ill.
She chose to attend Fontbonne University for its renowned deaf education program, but her sophomore year was interrupted when she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
“I spent a lot of time in the hospital and had several surgeries, which renewed my interest in medicine,” Hoefert says. “But I wanted to give teaching a fair try first.”
Hoefert graduated from Fontbonne, summa cum laude, in December 2006 and began work as a teacher’s aide at the St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf. That spring, she read an article about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’ schools.
“There were hundreds of kids in New Orleans without a teacher. I wanted to go somewhere I was needed,” she says.
She moved to Louisiana to teach second grade in August 2007. While there, Hoefert volunteered at a local hospital, organizing activities and game nights for pediatric patients. She kept in touch with friends in medical school. As the school year ended, she decided she wanted to give medicine a try.
Still, Hoefert didn’t have the science credits medical schools require; Fontbonne’s deaf education program hadn’t included classes like chemistry and physics. After researching her options, Hoefert enrolled in UCollege’s post-baccalaureate premedical program in August 2008.
“It was a great program for what I needed,” Hoefert says. “The university has an excellent reputation, the people are supportive, and its affiliation with Children’s Hospital and Barnes is a big plus.”
While taking classes, Hoefert took advantage of the connection, shadowing Brad Warner, MD, the Jessie L. Ternberg, MD, PhD, Distinguished Professor in Pediatric Surgery at the School of Medicine, and working as a research assistant in the Department of Radiation Oncology.
Hoefert says the transition from education to science required a change in how she approached her classes. In education courses, she says, students focus on writing papers and creating lesson plans; for science, it’s more about studying facts to prepare for a test.
“It was a challenge, but everyone was coming from a career or program that wasn’t necessarily science-oriented,” says Hoefert, who led the University College chemistry help desk this past year. “We help each other through everything. It’s a great network.”
In addition to leading the help desk, Hoefert is writing a guide for students beginning the “General Chemistry” class. The guide contains a review of math and chemistry concepts and tips for how to approach studying and learning chemistry.
Hoefert’s teaching background made her invaluable for her colleagues, says Elizabeth Fogt, director of advising and student services for University College.
“Jen is very gifted at being able to explain the same concept in different ways, which is incredibly helpful when working with students from a range of backgrounds,” Fogt says. “The fact that she can do so speaks to how solid her knowledge of chemistry is.
“She is a terrific teacher and has a genuinely good heart,” Fogt says. “I can see her as a fantastic faculty member at a medical school, if that’s what she chooses to do.”
Hoefert is keeping an open mind as to which aspect of medicine she’ll pursue. She is certain, however, she’ll become involved in community or international health care, working in underserved areas in the United States and around the world.
It all goes back to Hoefert’s childhood goal of “helping people” — a goal she has met several times over as a teacher and student. And, with WUSTL’s help, she’ll be ready to do it again as a doctor.