Before she saw her first patient at TriValley Family Practice in Canastota in January, Rural Medical scholar Cynthia Jackson looked at the Post-it note given to her by her preceptor, Harry Capone, MD.
It read: RTR.
“He wanted me to see patients as people,” Cynthia said. “He wanted to know where they worked, if they liked to knit, things like that. Medicine has to do with how you relate to the patients, and he does that very well. He’s almost like a friend (to his patients), and he instills a sense of community here.”
When Cynthia saw patients, she kept in mind Dr. Capone’s philosophy that being a physician begins and ends with the same concept. It’s a relationship.
Dr. Capone said he heard the RTR mnemonic device at a leadership conference from a physician who had adapted it from a college crew coach. The original meaning was, “Row, Team, Row!”
Dr. Capone – an Upstate RMED student in the mid-1990s — said Cynthia’s warm personality, calm demeanor and willingness to learn were evident at TriValley Family Practice.
“She takes constructive criticism well, and takes everything with the appropriate gravity but doesn’t let things get to her,” Dr. Capone said. “I’ve never seen her ruffled. She’s smart, takes constructive criticism well and has the right blend of humility and smarts.”
Before coming to Upstate, Cynthia graduated from Columbia University (economics and pre-med) and started a family.
“The feeling of wanting to be a physician never left,” Cynthia said. “I started my family early, and that allowed me to re-evaluate my priorities and commit to (medical school).”
She chose Upstate in part because her mom (Elsie Dieguez-Jackson, RN) and stepfather (Mark K. Jackson, MD) live in Central New York. Cynthia enrolled in the College of Medicine in 2011, but she and her husband, Andre, found out she was pregnant — with twins — so she put it off another year.
“I didn’t plan it this way, but I’m much more appreciative,” Cynthia said. “I’m glad to have taken the time to make an informed decision.”
Cynthia said she had a positive experience in RMED and in each of her clerkships. “As a third-year student I can spend time with patients, which is harder to come by for residents and attendings,” she said. “RMED is so different, so unique and personal. You can give patients a lot of attention.”
In RMED, Cynthia appreciated getting to know patients. Many of them had an impact on her, she said, in particular a woman who was “somewhat non-compliant” and as a result was in the TriValley office frequently.
Cynthia took time to talk with her and learn her social history. By the end of one visit, both were in tears — but after that, the patient started taking better care of herself, Cynthia said.
During her pediatric rotation, Cynthia spent time feeding a premature baby who had respiratory problems. It was rewarding even though it had nothing to do with medicine, per se. Another patient, a teenager, opened up to Cynthia about her social issues, including gender identity.
These encounters, plus a five-week psychiatry rotation working with inpatients at Upstate University Hospital, are leading Cynthia toward specializing in psychiatry after initially considering pediatrics.
“What I loved about ‘peds’ translated to psychiatry,” she said. “I like working with people who can’t advocate for themselves.”
Cynthia said she never realized how disenfranchised mental health patients are. “They’re very vulnerable,” she said. “I was able to spend a lot of time with them.”
Finding and managing time is crucial for a medical student, especially one who has four young children.
After school and on weekends, Josh, 8, and Caleb, 6, take guitar and violin lessons, and are learning chess and a second language – Mandarin. The 4-year-old twins, Hope and Grace, start kindergarten in the fall, when Cynthia will be immersed in fourth-year courses and electives.
It will be another busy year of balancing medical school with family life. But there will be time for visits to the local library and trips to the playground.
“You can still be a mom and pursue this,” Cynthia said. “I like to share that message.”