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Living the dream

Nontraditional student pursues her dream of becoming a doctor with help from scholarships

Rachel Easter (Cert.’18/H&S) first knew she wanted to be a doctor when she was 5 years old, but the idea seemed like an improbable dream.

“My mom was a teacher and my dad was self-employed,” she says. “They barely had enough money for us to eat. There was no money for school, and definitely not enough money for medical school.”

Over the next several decades, Easter grew up, went to college and explored a number of possible career paths in the fine arts, small business administration and finance. She became a mother, experienced marriage and divorce, overcame postpartum depression, grieved her brother’s unexpected death and cared for her father after a suicide attempt. Looking back on these experiences, Easter sees that each one helped prepare her to be the doctor she was meant to be.

“I took the long, circuitous route to medical school,” says Easter, now 37 and in her second year in the VCU School of Medicine. “I've lived life, and every life experience has put me in the most advantageous position to be a kind, caring, empathetic doctor. I feel like I’m thriving and getting to where I need to be.”

Easter is the oldest member in her class as well as the only member with a child. Though she is determined to fulfill her dream, the high cost of medical school is a risky undertaking for a nontraditional student whose family depends on them, she says.

“The amount of risk that a nontraditional student takes on is terrifying,” Easter says, “but it also speaks to the level at which we are committed to success. The stakes are so high that we're dedicated to achieving our goal at all costs. We’ll do whatever it takes.”

Easter is the grateful recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Drs. Julie C. Moller and John B. Sanford Endowed Scholarship and the Joseph Collins Foundation Scholarship. In addition to reducing her need for student loans, the awards further fueled Easter’s drive to succeed. 

“It makes me feel like someone believes in me,” Easter says. “Someone sees something in me that is worth it, and I've got to prove that they're right. I've got to make them proud.”