issue Spring 2021

Represent the Field

By Yadira Sanchez Olson, Photo by Michael R. Schmidt

A medical mystery plaguing her family that was solved by a thorough doctor/ patient conversation provided the impetus for the journey that has taken Laurine Tiema-Benson, CMS ’22, from the North Side of Chicago to the classrooms of Rosalind Franklin University.

After her Kenyan parents landed at the airport from a visit to their country of origin, Ms. Tiema-Benson’s mother fainted and was taken to an emergency room. For weeks, doctors were unable to pinpoint what was affecting her.

It was a frightening time for the then 15-year-old, Ms. Tiema-Benson recalled. An in-depth dialogue between her mother and a doctor prompted a new battery of tests, which revealed malaria was the culprit. Shortly after, Ms. Tiema-Benson had her mom back home.

“That touched me really deep,” Ms. Tiema-Benson said. The experience served to plant the seed that a profession in health care might align with her vigor and dedication.

“Laurine brings a fantastic energy and dedication to the community.”

Years later, while attending Emory University in Atlanta, Ms. Tiema-Benson had an encounter that similarly sparked a vision for her future — she shadowed an African American female physician.

“That really encouraged me, because I was able to see myself,” said Ms. Tiema-Benson, who would be the first physician in her family. “You can’t be what you can’t see, and when I saw her, that just sealed the deal for me.”

Today, after successfully advancing through mileposts that included RFU’s Pre- Matriculation Program (PMP), the first-generation American is one of many students who are not only studying medicine at RFU, but are also using the opportunity to work toward changing systems that have disenfranchised vulnerable communities in health care.

As a student volunteer with the Interprofessional Community Clinic (ICC) in 2019, Ms. Tiema-Benson was guided by Clinical Director Melissa Chen, MD. Looking back on their work together, Dr. Chen said she was immediately impressed by Ms. Tiema- Benson’s thoroughness and dedication.

Dr. Chen mentored Ms. Tiema-Benson as she conducted a project to identify how the ICC can improve its reach in the Black community. That work has provided insight now used to recruit and train students volunteering at the facility through RFU’s Interprofessional Clinic Initiative. The results have also prompted a strategy to improve the clinic’s community outreach.

“Laurine brings a fantastic energy and dedication to the community,” Dr. Chen said. “She exemplifies the next generation of healthcare healers who are not only great doctors, but also leaders in addressing community needs.”

After graduating, Ms. Tiema-Benson plans to visit Kenya alongside her husband — and to be that African American female physician who is an example for others who have a dream.

“My acceptance to RFU positioned me to be a future physician who can sit at the table and advocate for more access to health care for underserved populations,” Ms. Tiema-Benson said, adding that she plans to be “a face others can see to represent the field.”