Three summers ago, Cristina Fernandez was preparing for her first year as a biology major and cross-country runner at Seton Hall. Her passion for medicine and helping others was the driving force behind her studies, and she wasted no time getting involved with clubs that shared similar passions. Fernandez joined the Seton Hall chapter of MEDLIFE her freshman year despite it only having about five members, but the chapter’s annual summer trip to South America would prove to be an eye-opener for what Fernandez planned to do after college.
She would not only find herself providing health care and seminars to the locals of Riobamba, Ecuador, but she would also see the impact of what service trips like those have on the people they are meant to help first hand. While working in the clinic one day, a young boy she had seen throughout her time in Ecuador escorted her to a small show the local people put on for the MEDLIFE volunteers. As the they began to dance, the little boy guided Fernandez into the dancing circle with the rest of the congregation.
Now, almost two years later, Fernandez has been named as one of five recipients of the 2020 Student Servant Leader Award at Seton Hall. The award is meant to honor students who exude the characteristics of servant leadership on and off campus, and the three years of hard work and commitment Fernandez put into the organization since she arrived earned her the recognition.
While maintaining her studies and training with her cross-country team, Fernandez has completed two mission trips in Ecuador and Lima, Peru. During those two trips, Fernandez and her team helped set up mobile clinics in the impoverished communities within and around the surrounding areas.
When Fernandez first joined MEDLIFE at Seton Hall, the chapter had just five active members. It faced a lot of initial challenges before it was recognized as an official club on campus, but the increasing number of biology majors and students involved with nursing program at Seton Hall has helped improved its presence on campus. Much of the organization’s improvement and growth came under Fernandez’s leadership as co-president during her sophomore year.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that MEDLIFE is only for people within those fields,” Fernandez said. “It’s for anyone who wants to make a difference. MEDLIFE is all about providing quality health care and improving education within these communities. We teach kids how to brush their teeth and the importance of good hygiene, and we educate families on practices of good health that they may not have been taught.”
Fernandez added that along with establishing clinics and providing educational seminars, she has also helped build irrigation systems and small infrastructure within these communities. While MEDLIFE does emphasize providing health care to low income families and areas, the programs on these international trips provide various opportunities for chapter members to engage with and help the community outside of medicine.
For Fernandez, the experiences she has overseas through MEDLIFE have only continue to inspire her passion for helping others and getting involved in the medical field. She knew coming to Seton Hall that her studies would lead her to a profession in the medical field, but it’s been her experiences with MEDLIFE that have solidified her desire to work closer with impoverished communities both domestically and internationally.
“Going on my first trip to Riobamba, Ecuador just confirmed it for me,” Fernandez said. “I remember the fist day I was working in the clinic, and I kept texting home that this was what I wanted to do. My heart felt so full being able to interact with these patients, making them feel comfortable and taking away their anxieties before they saw the doctor. I don’t know what the right word is, but I was in awe at the power of medicine despite being an athlete who has had countless injuries. I can see the impact that it makes, and it inspires me to be able to help people in their circumstances and improve their quality of life.”
Her passion for her work with MEDLIFE shows in the way she maintains her busy schedule as a student-athlete as well. Fernandez juggles the early morning training sessions of cross country with the rigorous daily schedule of a biology major but ensures that her passion for helping others always enables her to find the time to ensure she is active with the organization.
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.