Westmont Magazine Patient Listening
Heather Thoelecke ’00 has known she wanted to be a doctor since she was in seventh grade. But she had no idea how difficult the road to that goal would be — or how those difficulties would change her ideas about caring for the sick.
Heather has faced the reality of medical need in her own home. Her father was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a disease that is an enigma to many physicians. She watched as he went from doctor to doctor, who brushed off his complaints and concluded his illness was “all in his head.” Finally, he found one who listened to him and tried to get to the bottom of the mysterious symptoms.
Observing this process has influenced Heather’s choice of specialities and has steered her toward primary-care medicine. She is drawn to listening to people’s stories and developing relationships with her patients.
Heather has a strong interest and background in science. She majored in biology at Westmont and spent her summers helping biology Professor Jim Marcum in his lab. This work involved her in identifying a molecule essential in tissue formation in vertebrates, and she wrote a theoretical paper on the position of sponges in the evolution of multicellular animals.
“Heather is obviously one of our more outstanding biology students, and she will make major contributions to the medical profession,” Professor Marcum comments. Westmont has an excellent record placing students in medical school, and Heather is now studying medicine at the University of Southern California.
Due to her father’s illness and inability to work, Heather had to pay her own way through Westmont. She worked all over Santa Barbara, tutored in the biology department, and assisted at the American Indian Health and Services clinic. Fortunately, she also received financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, and even a gift from an anonymous donor who deposited money directly into her account. She explains, “God consistently provided all the money I needed for school, and each year I have received more than I could possibly have expected.”
Even now, in her first year of medical school, she has received a significant scholarship to help with the cost of school. She is excited about her time at USC, where she has an opportunity to focus on patient care. In just the second week of classes, she was able to go to the hospital to talk and interact with patients.
Heather hopes to use her time in school, and as a doctor, to pay attention to her patients and to help people in tangible, practical ways. She has seen firsthand with her father, and now heard doctors describe, the tendency just to “treat” patients and not listen to them or consider them as people. One day, “Dr.” Thoelecke wants to reverse that trend.