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Kalyn Campbell: From Navy training to medical school

Date: Friday, March 13, 2020

Kalyn Campbell, portrait

The transition to medical school can be tough. For Kalyn Campbell, a fourth-year student in the Carver College of Medicine, it helped to know she wasn’t alone.

For Campbell and other medical students at Iowa, a community-centered approach ensures students have the support they need to tackle medical school’s toughest challenges. 

“Initially, I wanted to enter politics,” says Campbell. “Then I realized I didn’t want to spend my life worrying about what other people think of me. I didn’t want to have to worry if I went to the grocery store in my pajamas.” 

Realizing the political arena wasn’t a fit, Campbell focused on reevaluating her interests. 

ER experience provides direction

With the help of a multitude of science classes and career quizzes, she decided to give health care a shot. During her undergraduate years at Xavier University, Campbell procured a job through a friend as a scribe in the emergency room. 

“I was just trying to earn my $10.50 an hour and be useful,” says Campbell. “I ended up loving it so much that I knew I was on the right track.” 

While she’d discovered her calling, Campbell postponed attending medical school after graduation in order to pursue a goal she’d had for many years.

“Ever since 9/11 I’d wanted to serve in the military,” Campbell says. “I was discouraged from enlisting during high school, so I waited until I received my undergraduate degree, that way I could enlist as an officer.”

After graduating from Xavier, Campbell entered the Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, with the goal of becoming a naval flight officer.

“Essentially, I was going to be Goose from Top Gun,” says Campbell. “But I found out pretty quickly that no matter what I did, I got horribly air sick.” 

A sense of community

When specialized training intended to cure her air sickness failed, Campbell decided it was time to move on to medical school, a decision that brought her to the Carver College of Medicine.

After visiting other medical schools, Campbell felt she belonged at Iowa.

“We’re encouraged to interact with one another and with faculty,” says Campbell. “It builds a sense of community, and that’s what I wanted. I was worried about not having a place to belong. At Iowa, I knew I would.”

She says there’s one thing she’s appreciated the most about her time as a medical student: the people. 

“They’re why I’m here,” says Campbell. “People here are so welcoming and will absolutely go out of their way to help you.” 

In addition to the people, she also placed emphasis on the diversity that’s available to medical students at Iowa.

“It’s hard to get this volume of every kind of patient,” says Campbell. “You have patients coming here for their primary care; you’ve got crazy surgical cases coming from Minnesota, Illinois, North Dakota, and South Dakota; and then you’ve got research excellence on top of that.”

Specializing in surgery

Once in medical school, Campbell decided on a specialty in general surgery. 

“I love working with my hands, and I just really wanted to be where the action is,” she says.

From her clinical clerkship experience in the Department of Surgery, there’s one case that stands alone for Campbell. She distinctly remembers one patient who underwent a complicated 16-hour procedure, followed by a long-term recovery period.

“I knew how difficult it had been for her. I saw her three times a day, every day, until she left. She knew me by name,” says Campbell. “When she finally got to leave, she hugged me and told me she knew I was going to make a great doctor one day.” 

Kalyn's results

Kalyn matched in general surgery at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN.