Five years ago, my father was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma. My family had to travel 12 hours, from Bentonville, Arkansas, to MD Anderson in Houston for each of his treatments. The long trips were hard on us — both emotionally and financially.
But I remember his doctor told me, “If your dad does not give up, we will not give up,” and they didn’t.
I always had wanted to help people, and witnessing the passion and commitment of my father’s doctors made me realize I wanted to become a surgical oncologist.
In high school, I have done everything I can to prepare for this career. I have taken nine college level courses. I volunteered at Mercy Hospital in Northwest Arkansas over the summer. And when the Ignite Professional Studies program launched in my school district last year, I knew it would allow me to gain more of the skills I will need to one day reach my goal.
Created by Bentonville Public Schools, Ignite helps high school juniors and seniors with career passions learn practical skills that can give us an early advantage in our careers or college studies. Whether you’re interested in construction, technology, filmmaking or, as in my case, medicine — the program provides real-world opportunities to learn what it means to work in a chosen field. It helps kids decide if the job we think we want is really the one that we want to spend our lives doing.
Here’s how the program’s director, Teresa Hudson, explains what she hopes students will get from Ignite:
“We want all of our students to leave with a real understanding — is this the career I want to pursue, and what’s the best way of getting where I want to go?”
In my first semester of Ignite, my classmates and I did clinical and hospital rotations, learning how hospitals tick. I learned how patients are admitted, and I was able to watch doctors perform surgeries. I have seen everything from an amputation to an ankle reconstruction to the removal of a tumor from a patient’s lung. It was eye opening to hear the patients’ experiences, to see how the doctors talked with them and to witness the operations up close.
In the second semester, we have the opportunity to focus on specialties that interest us.
Ignite is giving students like me a chance to decide where our true passions lie and to take early steps toward pursuing them.
My dream? I want to start a world-class cancer center in the Midwest — so that families like mine have greater access to the treatment they need.
The Ignite program has strengthened my confidence in my goals for the future. I believe I can make a real difference for people like my dad — and for our community.
Next fall, I’ll be heading to my first-choice college, University of Arkansas, where I want to study pre-med and then complete a dual doctorate in surgical oncology.
I know what I want to do with my life, and Ignite has given me a head start.
The Ignite Professional Studies program is a modern career and technical education program for high school juniors and seniors in Bentonville, Arkansas. The program, launched last year, is supported by the Walton Family Foundation.