Commencement 2017: Student’s personal experiences motivate her to pursue career as patient advocate

Providence native graduates URI with a triple major

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Jarolyn Fernandez. Photo by Nora Lewis

KINGSTON, R.I., April 18, 2017 — Jarolyn Fernandez could not be more prepared for a career as a patient advocate. She graduates in May with a triple major in health studies, communication studies and Spanish. But it was her upbringing in Providence as the child of immigrants from the Dominican Republic that has driven her to help people navigate the health care system.

“My background and my life have inspired me to do this work,” Fernandez says. “Growing up, I acted as an interpreter for my parents. I had to develop the skills to help my parents.”

Her family’s difficulties navigating health care and social services networks meant they often missed out on resources. Fernandez, who will be the first member of her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, wants to help families in similar situations.

“My dream job is to be an advocate and communicate with people to minimize disparities, help people who don’t understand the system and work with health care professionals so they learn to speak in the language of the patient,” she explains. “My majors make sense. They correlate.”

Fernandez hopes to find a position working with underserved populations. Later on, she plans to attend graduate school to study public health and health care communications and marketing.

To earn all 150 credits needed to receive degrees in three majors in four years in two Colleges — Health Sciences and Arts and Sciences — Fernandez became an expert in time management. She took 19 credits every semester and enrolled in summer classes. On top of that, she worked part-time, volunteered as an interpreter at the Rhode Island Free Clinic, led the Sigma Alpha Professional Agricultural Sorority and served as a mentor for URI 101 classes and for the Community Service Learning seminar.

If that is not daunting enough, during Fernandez’s freshman year her mother had a minor stroke. She moved home, commuting for the remainder of her college years. Amid all these demands, she also completed an internship and independent study at the Providence Community Health Center.

Despite the challenges, Fernandez said she is simply grateful that her parents came to the United States. “I am always thankful to them for that. If I was born in another country, I might not have had this opportunity to go to college and pursue my dream,” she says.