Scholarship Winner | Kathryn del Valle

By Joel Hoekstra

Gaining perspective

When Kathryn del Valle was in high school, her mother fell ill with a neurological condition that required frequent doctor appointments. As del Valle accompanied her mother on many of these visits, she gained insight into how good physicians approach their work.

“They would listen intently and deliberately,” she says. “They wanted to understand everything. I came to appreciate just how much it matters when a doctor really seems to care about you — not about just your disease, but about you and your circumstances and your family.”

She says she was also struck by the “sleuth aspects” of the job — the way a doctor puts clues together to draw conclusions and make a diagnosis, much like a detective might work to solve a case. 

Her mother eventually regained her health and, after graduating from high school, del Valle left home in Minnesota for California to attend Stanford University. Her skills in writing and rhetoric led her to major in history, but she also completed a minor in biology and ultimately decided to apply to medical school. 

Del Valle chose the University of Minnesota because it is known for having a strong clinical training program, it felt like home, and it offered scholarship support in the form of the Martin and Charlotte Janssen Endowed Scholarship for Medical Students, which gives preference to students from Minnesota. 

“Besides the obvious financial incentive, it signaled to me quite clearly that the U of M really wanted me to be here, and that was invaluable for me,” del Valle says. “It was also a huge testament to the school’s confidence in me, which was both overwhelming and humbling.” 

Working with the elderly

Now a fourth-year medical student, del Valle says she has been impressed by the support she has found among students and staff. What’s more, she observes, the Medical School provides students with many opportunities even early on to participate in clinical settings and encourages them to engage with the campus and the wider community. 

As a second-year medical student, del Valle led elderly patients with dementia and other medical conditions on tours of the U’s Weisman Art Museum. “I’ve always been interested in the humanities, so this allowed me to tap into that side of me while also providing service,” she explains.

It also fit well with her interest in the elderly. In high school, a long-term volunteer experience at a nursing home eventually led del Valle to work there as a dietary aide. While in college, she helped a geriatrician with research for a longitudinal study of geriatric health. 

“I love older people. They’re hilarious,” del Valle says. “I enjoy their sense of humor and hearing about their life experiences —especially people in their 90s, who have lived through the Depression or World War II, or who grew up on family farms in remote places without most of the things we now see as essentials.

“For me, it’s wonderful to be around older people because it keeps everything in perspective,” says del Valle, who matched to a residency at the Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medicine in internal medicine, a specialty that promises regular interaction with older patients. 

“When you’re in medical school, it’s really easy to get bogged down in the everyday stresses of work and school. But when you’re around people who have lived a long life, it makes you take a step back and say, ‘This isn’t going to matter in 20 years — or even a month.’”   

To support Medical School scholarships or to learn more, visit give.umn.edu/p/scholarships, or contact Dan Brasch at dbrasch@umn.edu or 612-624-6453.

Published on March 28, 2017

Photo caption: As a second-year medical student, Kathryn del Valle led elderly people with dementia and other medical conditions on tours of the Weisman Art Museum. (Photo: Brady Willette)