Jessica Najarian-Bell ’10, a CentraCare pediatrician, said one of the reasons she persevered the pre-med program at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University is because she literally learned to run the race. To balance the academic commitment, she found an outlet in running. And Mani Campos, a professor of biology and long a runner himself, not only served as an advisor but also coached her to complete her first marathon. Through med school at Creighton, residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and subsequent clinical work, she’s completed seven more.
“I really delved into the physiology of running through one of Mani’s classes and that speaks to the awesomeness of Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s because the academics were very rigorous,” Najarian-Bell said. “I felt very prepared going into medical school. Biology, anatomy and physiology were all great and my chemistry classes were wonderful. There’s a waterfall that comes at you at the next level and you need to be ready for that. But I also found something I enjoyed in running and looking at VO2-max and treadmill tests and all these things that were awesome to be able to do as an undergrad.”
She also was a music minor, playing organ and piano, and was on the CSB swim team. She took a gap year, retook the MCAT, and experienced things she knew she wouldn’t have the opportunity to do again – like coach swimming, work in her family’s ice cream store and as a waitress. She also went to Nepal and India immediately after graduation to work on a project with the Asian Studies department about the lack of terminology in those areas for Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia and how the populations care for their elderly.
“That was a big part of my interviews for medical school, that experience and how it impacted my life,” Najarian-Bell said. “Exploring the passions you have is very helpful because that’s one of the goals of medical school is to find what inspires you and drives you.”
What drives her these days are kids – and not just the four of her own. She practices at CentraCare Plaza, where she conducts well visits, sick visits and monitors newborns after they’ve been discharged.
“When I got to my rotations in med school, I started thinking ‘OK, what do I not care about getting called at 2 a.m. for?’” Najarian-Bell said. “For me, it’s kids. I don’t mind getting up in the middle of the night when I’m on call. I actually enjoy that, and that’s what makes medicine and the whole world go around.”
She says it’s normal to not know what area of medicine interests you the most until you get to clinical rotations. But she also advises anyone thinking about being pre-med to make contact with those who can tell you more about it.
“Everyone knows somebody who works in this field, it seems,” she said. “Ask them about it. Say, ‘Hey, can I talk more with you about this or come and follow you someday to see what this is like?’ I love learners, and all my colleagues do, too. We want the younger generation to become whatever they want, but we especially need strong, hard-working physicians and people to work in the medical field. Whatever we can do to impart that, we want to do.”
Her final advice is to do what makes you happy.
“For me, it’s running,” Najarian-Bell said. “That’s something I need to do to center me. You can study all day long, but you need to have a balance. Finding that is instrumental throughout college and your career. That was something I learned in school, partly from Mani, and it compelled me to deal with the rigorousness of what I was trying to do.”