Jordyn Farewell, set to graduate in May from the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, has always been, well, a little bit different. When her classmates in Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas thought dissecting a pig was gross, she thought it was “the coolest thing ever.” When she didn’t do particularly well in her first two years at Baylor University in Texas and counselors and professors told her to forget about getting into medical school, she forgot about them instead and became an all “A” student.
When her first try at getting into medical school was a dud — only two medical schools gave her an interview and neither gave her a seat — she cried, but didn’t whine and give up her dream. Instead, she strengthened her background and won graduate student of the year as she picked up a master’s in medical sciences at the University of North Texas Health Center, an accomplishment that helped her gain entry into the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine with an Engelstad Foundation scholarship.
“I have to be true to myself,” says the young woman who loves the adrenaline rush she receives by parachuting out of airplanes, diving into bodies of water from high cliffs, going big-game fishing with the flair of Ernest Hemingway, riding dirt bikes as fast as they will go over rugged terrain. “My father let me be myself and we’ve done a lot of things together. We skydive, cliff jump, fish, and ride dirt bikes together. We used to do the cliff jumping at Lake Mead but it’s gotten so shallow we’re afraid to do it there now.”
Her penchant for being true to herself – yes, she loves Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way” – was evident again in the past year. She could have graduated last May but instead was one of three students who took a research year. She completed a clinical research fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, working on projects focusing on breast reconstruction, hand surgery, and medical education. “These are all things I am very passionate about. I took this time to attend local, national, and world conferences. This gave me many incredible opportunities to learn from leaders in the field of plastic surgery and meet amazing faculty mentors, residents, and colleagues.”
There are no physicians or other medical professionals in Farewell’s family. A sister is in nursing school and her parents have worked in the casino industry, so it was commonplace to spend evenings and weekends attending shows and eating dinners on the Strip. She can’t remember why she became so enamored with medicine at a young age. She does remember telling her mother that she wanted to dress as a doctor, stethoscope and all, for a career day at the age of 7. “It’s a mystery,” she said, unable to recall a pediatrician or TV medical show that made an indelible impression on her.
Her love for science, she said, grew during her freshman year at Faith Lutheran. Dissecting a pig is a day she still remembers with fondness. While most of her classmates had a difficult time stomaching the exercise, she was fascinated by learning how a pig’s system worked. “I love the hands-on of science – you can see what you're learning.”
What spurred her on to a medical career was her grandmother’s bout with a lung disease that proved fatal during Farewell’s freshman year of college. “It was a really tough time for our family. My grandma was an integral part of our family and one of my favorite people in the world. I remember reading my freshman year biology books trying to figure out everything about the lungs, thinking I had a chance to help the doctors and her care team. Shortly after we lost her, we lost my step-father’s parents to lung cancer and then Alzheimer’s disease. I knew then that I wanted to try and advance medical care.”
During her first two years at Baylor University, Farewell said the sickness, and then deaths, of loved ones made it difficult to concentrate. When some advisors and professors told her to give up her dream of a career in medicine, Farewell said she became angry: “These experiences fueled my fire, and I really began to work harder. I knew there was no other career I’d rather pursue.”
One professor, she said, still believed she could enter the medical profession and invited her to work alongside him to create a research course at the school that focused on laparoscopic surgery training skills. “Through this, I was able to start designing research projects, formulating and testing hypotheses, and mentoring younger pre-medical students. It’s where I really started to enjoy research, academics, and mentorship.”
Farewell admits being devastated about not getting into medical school right after college.
“But I knew all I wanted to be was a physician. I couldn’t quit. So I decided to make myself stronger academically. That year getting my master’s at North Texas turned out to be one of the best years of my life so far. I learned so much and made my best friends. It was a great example of how life often turns out as it’s supposed to – even when I think it’s so far from my original plan.
“Everything turned out better than I could have imagined here at the medical school. Having the Engelstad scholarship has allowed me to concentrate on my studies and is something I’ll never forget. I now plan on giving back and investing in young, future generations of physicians throughout my career.”