Going to college can be especially challenging for first-generation college students, and even more difficult for students from low-income or single-parent homes. Katrina Dejeu stayed focused on becoming an intensive care unit doctor despite going through tough challenges in her life. Katrina is graduating from Portland State University in Fall, 2019, with a Bachelor of Science in Health Studies: Health Sciences and she’s in the Pre-Medicine advising track.
She has always been interested in healthcare. When she was young she always imagined herself in the field of nursing. Even though money was tight, she knew going to college was the first step to achieving her goals. She applied to PSU because it was close to home and more affordable than other universities. And she knew PSU offered resources to help her be a successful college student. “TRiO is one of the main reasons I decided to go to PSU. I got an email from TRiO, and they suggested I take a Summer Bridge class. It helped me adjust to college and learn about PSU’s resources.”
TRiO is a program that helps students overcome class, social and cultural barriers to higher education. TRIO students are first-generation, low-income and/or from culturally diverse backgrounds. They get an advisor who works with them throughout their time at PSU. TRiO hosts workshops to set students up for success. They even provide a computer lab and resource rentals, including books, laptops and calculators. Katrina helped other students when she became a Peer Outreach Mentor in her junior year.
Katrina started in the Pre-Nursing track. Her classes were going well but she faced some challenges during her first year that made her worried she’d have to quit college. She is the second oldest of four children and her mom is a single parent. Katrina works so she can help support her family and pay rent. Due to difficult personal circumstances, Katrina and her family became homeless.
“We didn’t have any immediate family we could rely on. We stayed at motels with whatever money we had, and sometimes we stayed in our cars. When you’re homeless, you don’t want to do anything. I remember working a job and going to school, but I had no motivation to do anything else. It was scary. The stress made me not want to go to school anymore.”
The first person Katrina went to for help was her TRiO advisor, Linda Liu. “I just cried to her,” says Katrina, “and she listened and referred me to other PSU resources that could help. She even helped me write emails to my professors explaining what was going on and how they could help work around my situation.”
Katrina reached out to PSU’s Center for Student Health and Counseling. “Being homeless was a stressful time for me, and I just needed someone to talk to. It was comforting talking to a counselor because they don’t pass judgment.” SHAC even connected Katrina with resources in the Portland community that could help her family find shelter. “We were able to find an apartment because of the resources I was given,” says Katrina.
PSU students taking five or more credits are charged a Student Health Fee, which covers most medical and counseling services at SHAC. The counseling services at SHAC include individual counseling, group counseling and more. Katrina overcame that stressful time and even got scholarships and grants to help her pay for college, including the Ignite Scholarship. This program supports pre-health students so they can reach their healthcare career goals. The Ignite Scholarship is a one-time $5,000 award for pre-health students. As part of the scholarship, these students serve as Ignite Mentors, where they connect with incoming pre-health students and help them develop strategies for dealing personal and academic issues. “I really like mentoring others. It’s rewarding to meet students from all walks of life and help them achieve their goals.”
Her healthcare knowledge and leadership experience came in handy when she started volunteering and working in the healthcare field. She gives back by volunteering as a lab assistant at Outside In, a clinic dedicated to providing medical services to homeless youth and other marginalized people. At Oregon Health and Science University, Katrina works as a student lab assistant for a stem cell research lab. Katrina’s TRiO advisor helped her get a job as a scribe for Adventist Health in the emergency department; she assists physicians by taking notes and completing medical documentation.
It was the thrill of working as a scribe that made Katrina think that becoming a doctor might be a better fit. She learned in her classes that her interest in analyzing lab results and making decisions about patient treatments aligned with doctors. But becoming a doctor felt out of reach. “I thought because my family is low-income and my mom is a single parent that I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to medical school, and it takes many years to complete.”
All she needed was a little push to start her down her dream path. “My supervising doctor at Adventist told me he saw me as more of a doctor than a nurse, because my personality would be best in a leadership role,” says Katrina. “I was surprised to hear that, and it made me believe I could actually become a doctor. I kept talking to my mom about it, and one day she told me, ‘Just do it!’ That convinced me. I wouldn’t let my fears of not being able to afford medical school or being a good enough student get in my way.”
During her junior year, she officially switched to the Pre-Medicine advising track after talking with her Pre-Health advisor. Katrina and her advisor looked over the classes she needed and discussed when she should apply for medical school.
After she graduates, Katrina plans to get her Doctorate of Medicine in Internal Medicine. She wants to get a critical care fellowship, so she can work in an ICU. “I like the adrenaline rush of working in the ICU. Those doctors have to perform under pressure. I want to be able to save people’s lives in emergency situations. That would be such a great honor for me.”