Dr. Rebecca (Jelsema) Jansen
I entered Calvin with the intent of going to medical school. Thankfully, before beginning my college education, I was informed that I could be “pre-med” without majoring in the sciences. While many people assume medical schools want students to major in chemistry or biology, a humanities major can actually make one stand-out in the applicant pool.
Why did you choose to major in history at Calvin?
I chose to study history because I had always enjoyed studying the subject both in school and in my free time, and I knew that I would have little time to pursue this interest while at medical school!
How did your time at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?
Overall, my time at Calvin rendered me tremendously prepared for medical school. Here are just three examples: First, it helped me to develop a solid work ethic. In all of my classes I had to work hard to earn good grades. After our first round of exams, many of my current peers quickly discovered that our medical school had higher expectations than their respective undergraduate institutions. In contrast, because my Calvin professors provided challenging coursework and prepared me well for graduate studies, I had a very easy transition into medical school.
Second, Calvin helped me to understand the importance of discernment. When reading history texts, we were taught to look beyond the surface. Who was the author? What is the context of the story? What was the stated purpose of their text? What was their actual intended purpose? What biases existed? Now when I read medical journal articles, I find myself asking these same important questions about studies and purported findings. I don’t take medical information at face-value.
Third, my Calvin history classes helped to overcome some of my personal biases and cultural stereotypes to become a more compassionate health care provider. I began to grasp the complexities of race, social class, education, and culture in my American history classes. Without trying to minimize personal responsibility and the decisions individuals make, I am better equipped to understand my patients as people shaped by their history, just as I have been shaped by mine.
What are some of your memories of the Calvin History department?
Working on my honors thesis and watching the progress I made—from a general topic to a forty-page paper in four months! It was a great blessing to be able to work so closely with a faculty mentor.
Getting graded papers back. I always looked forwarded to reading the critiques regarding both what was well done and what could use improvement. I appreciated that my professors took the time to carefully read and comment on my work—they didn’t just slap a grade on the top of the page.
Annual dinner at the van Liere’s. Professor Bratt’s Colonial American History class—three straight hours every Wednesday night and never a boring moment. Arranging our desks in a giant circle in Professor Bays’ Asia and the Pacific class to discuss great books.
Do you have any advice for current students or those thinking of majoring in history at Calvin?
I really enjoyed majoring in history at Calvin, and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering it. If you are unsure, try a class or two to see whether you enjoy it. One nice feature of a history major is that it requires relatively few credits compared to some other majors. I was able to complete a full pre-med course load, all core, and all of my history classes in four years.